Last Monday, just one day before President Barrack Obama introduced his proposal for immigration reform in Los Angeles, a group of four Democratic and four Republican senators, notably Senator John McCain of Arizona, held a press conference to publicize a set of bipartisan principles for reform. Senator Charles Schumer announced that the group is optimistic for formal legislation to be written by March that will hopefully pass overwhelmingly out of the Senate by summer. Legislation will be written around a set of four basic principles.
First, the bill will create a “tough but fair” path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. On day one of the bill, approximately 11 million illegal immigrants currently living and working under the radar will gain a probationary legal status that offers no federal benefits. The road to citizenship would then include fines, back taxes, learning English, and applying for a green card behind those already in line legally. However, this path would only be established after first fixing current border security problems, which would include improving technology at the border, focusing more on drug smuggling, and creating an entry-exit program to combat visa overstays. Though the last several years have seen significant improvement in border control and deportation of criminals, Republicans fear that granting citizenship without first focusing on enforcement will result in the future United States facing the same repeated dilemma of millions of illegal immigrants.
Secondly, the Senators addressed the need to reform the current legal immigration system. This reform would include awarding green cards to immigrants who obtain certain advanced degrees, therefore keeping future industrial leaders in the United States.
Along with encouraging the immigration of leaders who will will help boost the United States economy, the third principle aims to meet our nation’s workforce needs for low-skilled immigrants. To improve the process for admitting future workers, it will allow employers who demonstrate they cannot recruit a U.S. citizen to hire a low-skilled immigrant for the position. Creating these practical channels for legal immigration will allow a greater focus on those individuals actually wishing harm, and therefore better protection for all workers.
Of course, providing jobs to legal immigrants when needed also stresses the necessity for determining legal immigrants from illegals. For this, the bill would create an employment verification system so that employers can easily determine a worker’s status. Then employers who hire illegals will face increased fines. The verification system is another element of enforcement that an eventual path to citizenship would be contingent upon.
On Tuesday, the president announced his proposals for reform, largely supporting the senators’ propositions. The most noticeable disconnect between the two plans is that although President Obama did include the need to continue to focus on enforcement, he capitalized on improvements made during his first term, and did not call for more improvements before creating a road to citizenship. Otherwise, President Obama’s ideas matched up with the senators’ principles, as he called for Congress to move quickly. He ensured the crowd, “If Congress is unable to move forward in a timely fashion, I will send up a bill based on my proposal and insist they vote on it right away.”
Both the president and the senators are optimistic that 2013 will finally be the year for breakthrough in immigration reform. In the past, efforts to deal with the 11 million illegals have been shot down by Republicans, but finally it seems both parties are embracing reality. Though the bipartisan effort is commendable, it is also not without reason. In the last election, Republicans saw the detrimental effects of alienating non-white groups, and now they will have to fight for the support of new demographics of Americans. Americans need this as a reminder that their vote counts.
Joy Wilson is a fourth-year student majoring in communications. She can be reached at JW794401@wcupa.edu.