On January 29, 2013 President Obama gave his “The Time is Now” speech which ushered in his administration’s Comprehensive Immigration Reform legislative initiative. A day earlier, a bipartisan group of four Republican and Four Democrats (the “gang of eight”) also announced that they will introduce comprehensive immigration legislation. Because the president received 70 percent of the Hispanic vote in November, it was greatly anticipated that one of the first major legislative initiative of his second term would be for immigration reform.
The framework of the President’s comprehensive immigration reform legislation includes some of these key elements:
- Continuing to improve the security on our borders;
- Cracking down on the companies that hire undocumented workers;
- Providing undocumented immigrants the chance to earn their citizenship and hold them accountable by requiring that they learn English, pay taxes and a penalty, move to the back of the line, and pass background checks;
- Calling for same sex couples to be given equal treatment in immigration law
- Streamlining the legal immigration system for families, workers, and businesses
An important and positive part of both reform plans is the proposal for a special, faster path to citizenship for Dreamers. Undocumented immigrants who came to the United States under the age of 16 and have lived in the country for at least five years can apply for the relief, so long as they are under the age of 30. They also must be either an honorably discharged veteran of the Coast Guard or armed forces, or a student who has graduated from high school or obtained a GED. They will not be eligible if they “pose a threat to national security or public safety,” including having been convicted of a felony, a “significant” misdemeanor or multiple misdemeanors (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/15/obama-immigration-order-deportation-dream-act_n_1599658.html)
It is highly likely that a comprehensive immigration reform bill will eventually pass and become law. However, the White House and Congress will have to reconcile differences in their respective frameworks. In particular, some believe that the President’s position on immigration reform including the recognition of same-sex couples will be a stumbling block with respect to conservative republicans, especially those in the House of Representatives. Additionally, the immigration advocacy community is concerned about the emphasis on enforcement and border security. There is language in the “gang of eight” immigration reform framework that calls for a Southwest Border Commission, comprised of local and state officials and community members. The Commission will assess the progress of border security measures as a part of a process toward citizenship for the 12 million undocumented immigrants in the country. (http://belfercenter.ksg.harvard.edu/publication/22721/immigration_commission_brings_border_states_to_table.html). The fear is that by making enforcement and security the cornerstone of reform, it will lead to a further rise in the number of undocumented immigrants detained in an already over-burdened and fractured immigration detention system.
However, we welcome the bipartisan commitment to enacting comprehensive immigration reform legislation. We hope this will be the beginning of the end of one of the country’s most significant civil and human rights issues. We applaud the efforts of the President and the Senate.
For more information please, access the following links:
ABC New/Univision 3 Flashpoints in the New Senate Immigration Reform Blueprint (http://abcnews.go.com/ABC_Univision/flashpoints-senate-immigration-reform-blueprint/story?id=18337197&page=2)
The White House Immigration Reform (http://www.whitehouse.gov/issues/immigration)