Immigration Reform: An Explainer
The future of the U.S. immigration system lies in the House of Representatives. President Obama, Speaker John Boehner, and lobbyists from a range of industries have called on Congress to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill. The Senate has already passed a comprehensive bill that fundamentally reforms immigration, deportation, and border security. The Senate bill provides a pathway to permanent U.S. citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States, and also takes significant steps to further militarize the U.S.-Mexico border by adding 700 miles of fence and 20,000 new border patrol agents.
Now it’s up to the House of Representatives to either pass a bill similar to the Senate’s, or draw up a completely different approach to immigration reform.
So what’s in the immigration reform plans being floated in the House? Here’s a brief explanation of the three major plans that House members are currently debating. It’s important to note that while these bills will be authored and introduced by Republicans, none of them will be brought to the floor for a vote unless they gain support from a majority of House Republicans. Speaker Boehner has vowed not to hold a vote on any immigration bill that does not meet the requirements of the “Hastert Rule.”
H.R. 15 (The Senate Plan)
H.R. 15 is sponsored by Rep. Joe Garcia (D-FL), and is largely the same as the immigration overhaul bill that passed the Senate this spring. The bill does replace the Senate plan’s border security provision with a different reform, however. Instead of “militarizing” the border, H.R. 15 focuses more on surveillance to secure the border. The bill calls for regular reports by the Department of Homeland Security regarding surveillance and control of the border; it also calls for a strategy to gain “situational awareness and operational control” of the southwestern border in the next five years.
The key provision in the bill — and perhaps the reason that it is supported by only three House Republicans so far — is a clause that would grant undocumented immigrants citizenship after a period of 10 years. Under the bill, after undocumented immigrants pass thorough background checks and pay fees for back taxes, they will be able to apply for provisional citizenship.
The limited public support for H.R. 15 by House Republicans may not show an accurate picture of just how popular comprehensive immigration reform is in Congress. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) claimed in an interview with TheWashington Post that 40 to 50 House Republicans support comprehensive immigration reform, but refuse to publicly break with Republican Party leadership. If House Democratic leaders could rally unanimous support from their caucus, they would need just 20 Republican votes to pass H.R. 15 — if Speaker Boehner would bring it to the floor for a vote.
The Issa Plan
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) has stated he intends to introduce an immigration bill that will be a compromise between the Senate bill and the House Republicans’ piecemeal approach. Instead of granting undocumented immigrants complete citizenship, Issa’s plan would grant some undocumented immigrants temporary legal status. Issa toldPolitico about this approach to immigration reform: “It’s halfway – and it always has been – halfway between full amnesty and simply rejecting people. I think if we’re going to break this logjam that’s occurred for my whole 13 years I’ve been in Congress, we have to find middle ground.”
The plan would make it possible for 11 million undocumented immigrants to gain full legal citizenship for a period of six years. Issa argued this would in turn bring illegal immigrants “out of the shadows,” and would help law enforcement officials identify illegal immigrants invovled in crime. “If somebody has a nexus that would reasonably allow them to become permanent residents and American citizens, we should allow them to do that,” Issa said, adding, “Our view is that long before six years, people would be in those categories heading toward some other pathway, in a guest worker program, or of course, have left the country.”
Issa’s “come out of the shadows” assessment of his plan for immigration reform is, according to critics, extremely flawed. ThinkProgress, for example, points out that criminal deportations are already prioritized by the Department of Homeland Security, and Issa’s plan would “only maintain or worsen the status quo.”
The Kids Act (The Cantor Plan)
The Kids Act will purportedly be introduced by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) at some point. The Kids Act is essentially a version of the DREAM Act, which allows immigrants who were illegally brought to the United States as children to gain permanent citizenship.
Cantor’s push for DREAM Act-like legislation to be voted on in the House has the backing of a few key House Republicans — not least of whom is Speaker Boehner. “This is about basic fairness. These children were brought here of no accord [sic] of their own. Frankly, they’re in a very difficult position and I think many of our members believe that this issue needs to be addressed,” Boehner said about immigrants who would be protected under The Kids Act.
While President Obama favors a comprehensive approach to immigration reform, he does support the general idea behind legislation like the DREAM Act. Obama, through an executive order, granted “deferred action” status to young immigrants who would be granted citizenship under such legislation. The Obama administration also granted work permits to 99 percent of DREAM-eligible undocumented immigrants who applied, according to the conservative National Review.
Other House Republicans like Bob Goodlatte (VA) and Trey Gowdy (SC) have publicly endorsed Cantor’s plan because they view it as a compromise between the Senate bill and not supporting any immigration measure at all. Other Republicans aren’t convinced.
As Andrew Stiles reports in the National Review, opponents of Cantor’s plan view it as a measure that will open the door to executive orders and a larger overhaul of the immigration system by Democrats. “What is to stop the administration from simply issuing another round of non-enforcement orders (written or oral) that would eviscerate any attempted limitations in your bill?” Kenneth Palinkas, president of the National Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Council, wrote in a letter to members of Congress.
Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr