Contentious Issues Emerge in Immigration Proposals

Efforts towards coming up with a comprehensive immigration reform bill are rapidly gaining momentum. Bipartisan groups in both the Senate and House of Representatives are now working on their own versions of a draft bill to fix the broken immigration system.

Although the bipartisan group in the Senate earlier announced that they are aiming to complete their version of the bill by the end of March, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid recently announced that they want the draft bill to go through the “normal traditional process” even if it takes more time. This is to build the support from its Republican members. The Senate is seen to complete a draft bill by June of this year at the latest.

A number of House members from both parties are also aiming to come up with a draft bill in the month of February. The draft of the House bill largely reflects the framework initially presented by the Senate. Similar to the proposed framework of the bipartisan group of senators, the draft House bill provides a “path to citizenship” to undocumented immigrants, intensified enforcement and border security measures and an effective employment verification system.

The draft House bill also conditions granting permanent residence to undocumented immigrants on the government’s success in securing the borders. However, unlike the Senate framework, it does not provide for the creation of a commission tasked to make a determination whether the borders are already secure.

For the Republican senators who came up with the proposed immigration reform framework, hinging the issuance of green cards to undocumented immigrants on border security is essential.

The proposition draws major concern because there is always the issue of whether the border is secure enough and it remains uncertain how long this process would take. President Obama, for his part, stands by his proposal to provide a clear and direct path to citizenship and not just create “some vague prospect in the future that it will happen.”

Although the proposals are generally in tune with the President’s immigration plan, this is one of the key differences between the President’s plan from the Senate’s immigration reform framework and the draft House bill. This is a critical issue which will without doubt spark long and heated debates. Another major difference is the President’s plan to provide same-sex families the same immigration benefits enjoyed by heterosexual families.

Aside from the two contentious issues, the proposals, including the President’s, put emphasis on eliminating long waits for family-based petitions, adding visa numbers to reduce backlogs and wait time for employment visas, and expediting the process for DREAMers to obtain citizenship, among others. The President’s plan particularly creates a “start-up” visa for investors and expands their opportunities in the U.S. He also recognizes the need to invest in the country’s immigration courts and provide wider discretion for judges to keep families intact.

Also, the proposals stress the need to provide advanced degree graduates of U.S. universities in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math with green cards. In fact, a group of bipartisan senators just proposed a bill called the I-Squared Act of 2013 to address the matter.

Fleshing out the details and coming up with a complete bill will be a challenge. The President is looking to having a comprehensive immigration reform bill passed in six months. Hopefully, our legislators won’t let us down.