A bipartisan group of eight U.S. senators — Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Michael Bennet (D-CO), John McCain (R-AZ), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Jeff Flake (R-AZ), and Marco Rubio (R-FL) — unveiled a proposal for comprehensive immigration reform at a Monday afternoon press conference on Capitol Hill.
“We still have a long way to go, but this bipartisan grouping is a major breakthrough,” said Senator Schumer.
“This is the first step in what will be difficult, but achievable,” Senator McCain concurred. “I think everyone here agrees that it is not beneficial for our country to have these people here hidden in the shadows. Let’s create a system to bring them forward, allow them to settle their debt to society and fulfill the necessary requirements to become law-abiding citizens of this country.”
The eight senators originally unveiled their plan — which can be read in its entirety here — over the weekend. The plan is built around “four basic legislative pillars”:
-Create a tough but fair path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants currently living in the United States that is contingent upon securing our borders and tracking whether legal immigrants have left the country when required;
-Reform our legal immigration system to better recognize the importance of characteristics that will help build the American economy and strengthen American families;
-Create an effective employment verification system that will prevent identity theft and end the hiring of future unauthorized workers; and,
-Establish an improved process for admitting future workers to serve our nation’s workforce needs, while simultaneously protecting all workers
The first pillar — creating a path to citizenship for the more than 11 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States — is by far the most controversial. Under the senators’ plan, undocumented immigrants would receive temporary legal status after registering with the federal government, undergoing a background check, and paying a fine and back taxes.
Immigrants under probationary status would be unable to earn a green card until a commission comprised of governors, attorneys general, and community leaders from Southwestern states determine that new border security measures — including the increased use of unmanned aerial drones — have been successfully implemented. At that point, the immigrants would be placed at the “back of the line” for a green card, behind those who have already applied legally.
Whether the commission’s recommendations are binding will have a huge impact on the effectiveness of the plan. Although Senate staff told The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent that the enforcement commission’s judgments will only be advisory, Senator Rubio declined to confirm that at the press conference. As Sargent points out, “If this commission had the power to dictate when the citizenship process begins, it could endanger the entire enterprise by giving people like Jan Brewer veto power.”
The plan would make it easier for certain groups of immigrants to obtain legal status. Those eligible for the DREAM Act — which Republicans have repeatedly blocked in Congress — would not face the same requirements. Furthermore, undocumented immigrants who work in the agriculture industry will be exempt from the requirements “because of the role they play in ensuring that Americans have safe and secure agricultural products to sell and consume.” Finally, any immigrant who receives a PhD or master’s degree from an American university in science, technology, engineering, or math would automatically receive a green card.
Each of the senators to speak at the press conference expressed optimism that an agreement could be reached. “The politics on this issue have been turned upside-down,” Senator Schumer said. “For the first time ever, there is more political risk in opposing immigration reform than in supporting it. We believe we have a window of opportunity to act, but we will only succeed if the effort is bipartisan.”
Similarly, Senator Menendez asserted that there’s a “spirit and commitment” around immigration reform “we haven’t seen in some time.”
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