Immigration Reform: Stop the Presses! (On second thought … never mind …?)

Let’s review the recent history again, shall we? Last December, Rep. Luis Gutierrez introduced CIR-ASAP, a comprehensive immigration reform bill, in the House of Representatives, with support from 90-odd members of the House. For members of the House who were anxious about their prospects in the coming mid-term elections – back when the economic news was still pretty gloomy – House Speaker Nancy Pelosi assured Democratic members they would not have to take difficult stands on controversial issues like immigration reform, unless the Senate went first.

The comprehensive immigration reform baton then passed to Senators Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who were said to be crafting the immigration-bill-to-end-all-partisanship, a consensus measure that could garner enough centrist support to break the CIR impasse once and for all. Late last winter, after some much-publicized exchanges with President Obama, Senators Schumer and Graham released – well, not a bill exactly, but a “blueprint” for a bipartisan CIR bill. Senator Schumer quipped that immigration reform was ready to go forward soon – once they found a second Republican to sponsor it. Even erstwhile mavericks like Senator John McCain (R-AZ) no longer were willing to buck their party, leaving Senator Graham the one courageous – albeit lonely – voice on the Republican side still supporting CIR.

In recent days, just as Schumer and Graham seemed ready to pass the baton to their Senate colleagues – that is, ready to introduce their much-awaited joint legislation – Senator Graham pulled his support from the bipartisan CIR effort, ostensibly angry that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid planned to bring up immigration reform before the energy bill, another of the bipartisan measures on which Senator Graham had been working for several months.

Bereft of all GOP support at this point, the Democrats are finally ramping up their efforts. At the end of April, tacking into the hot winds of the campaign season, Senate Democrats released – well, not a bill exactly, but a slightly bigger blueprint – the Reid-Schumer-Menendez plan. The plan calls for heightened border security, by:

  • increasing the pool of ICE, Border Patrol, and USCIS workers available to plug the holes in our borders, as a prerequisite to providing a path to citizenship
  • enhancing the ability of immigration authorities to detect, apprehend, and remove persons who entered the U.S. unlawfully, or overstayed lawful visas
  • ending illegal employment through biometric employment verification, using a fraud-proof Social Security card

The plan also calls for reforms of our legal immigration system to maximize economic gains, by:

  • streamlining the immigration process to enable more highly-skilled people to work here temporarily and/or emigrate to the United States
  • making green cards immediately available to foreign students with advanced degrees from U.S. universities in science, technology, engineering, or math, if they have offers from U.S. employers in fields related to their respective degrees
  • providing a new H2C visa program that would provide up to six years of non-seasonal, non-agricultural employment for lower-skilled foreign workers

The plan likewise calls for remedial measures to fix the longstanding backlog of green card cases and speed the reunification of families long divided by bureaucratic snarls. Most importantly, it would provide a path to citizenship for the estimated 10.8 million undocumented immigrants currently in the United States. Under the proposal, all illegal immigrants in the U.S. would be required to come forward for registration and a rigorous screening process, designed to weed out individuals deemed a threat to public safety or national security. Illegal immigrants also would have to pay taxes, and wait at the “back of the line” until all current visa backlogs are cleared. (See Reid-Schumer-Menendez Draft: Conceptual Proposal for Immigration Reform, available on the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) WebSite.)

The Reid-Schumer-Menendez Draft is certainly a step in the right direction. It provides a much greater degree of specificity than the Schumer-Graham “blueprint” did, several weeks back. None of this will do anyone any good, though, if they don’t introduce an actual bill in the very near future – and time is running awfully short.

Disclaimer: The information provided here is of a general nature and may not apply to any specific or particular circumstance. It is not to be construed as legal advice nor presumed indefinitely up to date.