Senators Propose Bipartisan Immigration Reform
A bipartisan group of U.S. senators on Jan. 28 proposed a new immigration framework that – were its principles to become law – would open up citizenship options for millions of immigrants in the United States.
The plan, “Bipartisan Framework for Comprehensive Immigration Reform,” was released by four Democrats, led by Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, and four Republicans, featuring Arizona senator John McCain – the day before President Barack Obama was set to announce his own plans to reform the country’s immigration system.
The framework offers four “pillars.”
“Tough but Fair Path to Citizenship”
Undocumented immigrants who currently live in the United States would gain a way to become citizens, according to the framework. Under this pillar, any legislation would beef up border security.
This pillar contains the most important parts of the proposal, according to Jacki Esposito, director of immigration advocacy at the New York Immigration Coalition.
But Esposito is cautious. “This framework includes only principles and does not lay out what the law would look like,” she says. “We will need to work out the specifics regarding the path to citizenship as well as the process by which future immigration will be treated under the law.”
“In addition, it seeks to reunify family members by addressing the long visa waiting periods under current law,” says Esposito. “The proposal also acknowledges the lack of oversight of Customs and Border Protection by calling for greater accountability mechanisms and training of the agency.”
But, she adds, “spending additional resources on border enforcement is an unnecessary and wasteful aspect of the proposal given that unauthorized border crossings have hit historic lows.”
“Reform Our Legal Immigration System”
The existing system would be changed “to better recognize the importance of characteristics that will help build the American economy and strengthen American families.”
As part of this pillar, the framework proposes to provide green cards to immigrants who achieve a Ph.D. or master’s degree in science, technology, engineering or math from universities in the United States.
“Employment Verification System”
The framework says that a new system would “prevent identity theft and end the hiring of future unauthorized workers” – problems suffered by the current method employers use (or don’t) to verify whether a new worker is legal.
Employers would be responsible for making sure they stay above the law when they make new hires. Esposito says the enforcement mechanisms in general are problematic.
“Specifically, we have questions about the triggers around enforcement laid out in the proposal as well as the type of employment verification system being considered,” she notes.
“Improved Process for Admitting Future Workers”
It is well-known that undocumented immigrants work many jobs that are crucial to the economy. The framework acknowledges this and vows to put in place better systems “to serve our nation’s workforce needs, while simultaneously protecting all workers.”
The goal here appears to be to create a “guest worker program” for jobs that citizens don’t want. The proposal would allow employers to hire immigrants if they can prove they tried and failed in recruiting Americans to fill the jobs.