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Two Plans For Immigration Reform: What Do They Propose?
Immigration has been a hot political topic with one resounding and seemingly universal theme: Immigration policy in America is in need of major reform. The problem is that no serious attempts had been made to make this reform since an unsuccessful run in 2007.
On January 28th, 2013, a group of U.S. Senators publicly announced a plan for immigration reform. It was a unique group made up of four Republicans and four Democrats. They hope the plan will become the basis for major immigration reform in America, and that more legislators on the left and the right will be willing to compromise and support the plan, since it was born to bipartisan parents. It was no accident that their plan hit the stage one day before President Obama was expected to present his own plan for what he hopes will become a foundation for immigration reform. The following is a look at the two immigration plans.
Both plans create a path to citizenship for an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants who are already in the United States. In fact, both the President and the Senators who authored their own plan each speak highly of the others’ proposal. Along with the similarities between the plans, there are differences.
General Expansion of Number of Legal Immigrants Per Year
President Obama’s plan includes a more sweeping change that would affect a great number of immigrants who wish to become legal citizens in three ways:
- Raising the annual cap on the number of family-sponsored immigrants from the current 7% to 15%.
- Increasing the annual visa number by an unspecified amount.
- Instituting a “start-up visa” for job-creating entrepreneurs. There would also be expanded visa options for immigrants who invest in the U.S.
There is no corresponding expansion in the Senate group’s proposal, except perhaps a provision requiring a reduction in the current backlog in family and employment visas. The Senate group plan, however, provides for more exceptions and a quicker path to citizenship for more specialized groups of people. For instance, the Senate group proposes allowing more lower-skilled workers to come to the U.S. when the economy is creating a higher number of jobs, and proposes permitting workers who have proven themselves and been successful contributors in the community to earn green cards.
Border Security and Timing of Path to Citizenship
One of the biggest fights between the plans seems to be the emphasis and priority of securing the border. More specifically, the plan from the Senate group and its conservative supporters have stated that they will not support any reform that would allow a path to citizenship to be accomplished until after border security has significantly improved, and lays out specific things that must be done prior to any grant of citizenship to a now-illegal immigrant. The Republican Senators in the group and other conservatives have repeatedly pointed out that when legal status was granted to approximately 3 million illegal immigrants in 1986, the attempt to address illegal immigration backfired because many more illegal immigrants flooded into the county through a weak border. They cite this as one of the major reasons we have far more illegal immigrants today than we did at that time.
The President’s plan, while including explicit provisions that enhance border security in different ways than those proposed by the Senate group, states that the path to citizenship does not depend on the prior completion of those security measures.
Sponsorship of Same-Sex Partners
A provision contained in President Obama’s plan that is noticeably absent from the Senate group’s plan would allow U.S. citizens and permanent residents to sponsor a visa for a same-sex partner.
Other than the above issues, the two plans contain more agreement than difference.
Immigrants brought to the U.S. as children
Senate: These immigrants would have a quicker path to citizenship than others.
President: They would have the same path to citizenship as other illegal immigrants, but could accelerate the process by serving in the military or attending college.
Immigrants With Advanced Degrees
Senate and President: Both plans propose awarding green cards to those immigrants who obtain advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering or math from American Universities.
President: Also would create a new visa category for highly skilled immigrants to work in federal labs after being in the U.S. for two years.
Senate: Would have a quicker path to citizenship
President: Would have the same path to citizenship
Senate and President: Both plans would create harsher penalties for companies that knowingly hire illegal immigrants. Both plans also propose the creation of some form of non-forgeable documentation system to better determine a potential employee’s immigration status.
President: Also would phase in a mandatory electronic verification requirement on employers, with some exemptions for small businesses.
Lawmakers in Washington are deeply divided over immigration policy, so news of disagreement since the two proposals were unveiled is not surprising. The Senate group admittedly went public with its plan prior to President Obama in an effort to encourage legislators from both sides of the aisle to accept compromise and come up with something better than the current system, which most agree is in need of change. Unfortunately, early responses indicate that the passing of any compromise will be difficult to come by.
Conservative Republicans are speaking out against the ultimate outcome of both proposals, the eventual grant of legal status for around 11 million illegal immigrants currently in the country. Bob Goodlatte, Republican chairman of the Judiciary Committee stated that a path to citizenship is not something he would support. He argued for a “middle ground” in a recent session on immigration reform and asked, “Are there options to consider between the extremes of mass deportation and pathway to citizenship?”
Only time will tell whether Washington’s politicians will be able to hammer out a compromise that will benefit the United States and the immigrants that play such a vital role in her success.
Written By Brent Gunderson
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