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article imageComprehensive immigration reform considered on Senate floor

By Matthew DeLuca     Jun 13, 2013 in Politics
Debate on the Senate’s Comprehensive Immigration Reform bill, SB 744, continues this week, as a series of amendments are being considered that aim to make the bill palatable for Senate and House Republicans, who so far, have opposed immigration reform.
The Senate’s Comprehensive Immigration Reform bill, SB 744, was drafted and introduced by a bipartisan group of Senate co-sponsors known as the gang of eight, which includes Senators Charles Schumer (D-NY), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), John McCain (R-AZ) and Marco Rubio (R-FL). If passed, the Immigration Reform bill will create a path to citizenship for over 11 million undocumented Americans—although, for many of these immigrants, the path to citizenship will be a long and arduous one.
The proposal will allow immigrants to apply for Registered Provisional Immigrant status, which acknowledges their presence in the U.S. and prevents deportation. Immigrants living unlawfully within the United States would be able to apply for RPI status if they are not declared ineligible due to criminal activity or security concerns. RPI status may be converted to permanent legal resident status based on a merit-point system established by the law. The system takes into account factors such as: English proficiency, education and work experience. Immigrants will be required to establish U.S. residency for ten years and will then face an additional three year naturalization period before citizenship is granted.
Additionally, provisions of the DREAM Act have been rolled into the bill, allowing for a quicker path to citizenship for certain immigrants to become eligible for permanent resident status if they immigrated to the U.S. before the age of 16, have maintained RPI status for at least 5 years and have achieved a high school diploma and completed some higher education in the United States.
Implementation of these reforms is contingent upon the formation of comprehensive border security strategy, as the terms of the bill prohibit RPI applications from being processed until Congress has been notified that implementation of a “Comprehensive Southern Border Security Strategy and the Southern Border Fencing Strategy” has begun. Additionally, the bill requires that a national E-verification system be implemented to ensure the legal status of all workers legally employed in the U.S. before RPI status may be adjusted to permanent resident status.
Under the provisions of the bill, RPI status individuals are categorically excluded from receiving federal, means-tested benefits such as Food Stamps, Section 8 and TANF. On the other hand, the bill amends the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 to allow RPI status individuals to receive higher education benefits based on state residency. Thus, the proposed policy seems to address conservative concerns that immigrants are draining valuable government resources, while also addressing the nation’s need to expand its skilled and educated workforce.
Without immigration, the US is currently experiencing negative population growth because of declining birth rates that have dropped below replacement value. The average American family, which is made up of two parents, will, on average, have less than two children. This decline in population, coupled with longer lifespans, have led to an increase in the elderly population relative to the general population. The imbalance between growing elderly populations and the current workforce, makes it difficult for the working tax-base to support massive entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare for the elderly. The proposed immigration reforms will allow the U.S. to benefit from the workforce and tax-base expansion afforded by large immigrant populations. By targeting well-educated immigrants, the policy seeks to expand the population of high earning individuals, who can contribute to economic growth rather than burden the already strained infrastructure of social welfare institutions. A supplemental “blue card,” guest worker program, which will grant temporary work visas to agricultural laborers, will fill the gap in the market for low-skilled agricultural workers.
The bill reaches the Senate floor after passing through the Senate Judiciary Committee last month, but many of the Senate Republicans, including Orrin Hatch who supported passing the bill through Committee, have claimed they will not support the full passage of the bill until stronger border security measures are added and tougher requirement are imposed on immigrants before they can begin their path to citizenship, such as paying back taxes.
Despite the work of the bipartisan coalition that drafted the legislation, the concerns of Senate Republicans seem not to have been assuaged. Forty-five amendments were proposed on Tuesday when the bill reached the floor. The amendments address issues such as tax liability and border security. For example, the amendment introduced by Senator Cornyn, proposes allowing undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship only if the U.S. border patrol maintains a 90 percent apprehension rate along the Southern border. Even bill co-sponsor, Marco Rubio, has stated that he will oppose the bill until border security measures are strengthened.
Even without Republican support, the Democrats still have the simple majority of votes necessary for passage in the Senate, as most of the Senate’s 54 Democrats plan to support the measure; however, in order to avoid a Republican filibuster that could prevent the measure from receiving a floor vote, the Democrats will need to get four or five more Republicans on board in order to attain the super majority necessary to avoid a filibuster. According to a New York Daily News report, in addition to the bill’s Republican co-sponsors, excluding Sen. Rubio, Republican Senators Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin have already expressed support for the bill. Senate Democrats are seeking passage by a wide margin in order to demonstrate broad bipartisan support for the bill that they hope will carry over to the House.
Despite positive prospects for passage in the Senate, the bill is likely to be met with harsh opposition in the more conservative, Republican-dominated House. The House has been much less friendly to the idea of immigration reform. On June 6, only a few days before the Comprehensive Immigration Reform bill reached the Senate floor, the House voted on an amendment to end the Obama White House’s policy of deferred deportation for young immigrants brought to the U.S. by their parents. The House measure is considered to be largely symbolic, as it has almost no chance of passing the Senate; however, the vote does cast doubts on the prospects for immigration reform to pass in the House. One promising note from the vote on the amendment proposed by Rep. Steve King (R-IA) was that six House Republicans voted against the party line and opposed the measure, including Rep. Michael Grimm (R-NY), who, in the past, has opposed efforts at immigration reform.
This reversal may reflect the recognition by many Republicans that the party will need to increase its appeal to Latinos in order to continue to be a nationally viable party. Of the six Republican’s who went against the party line and opposed repealing deferred deportation, all are from states with large Latino and immigrant populations. Three Representatives, Reps. Nunes, Valadao and Denham, are from California, one Representative, Rep. Ros-Lehtinen is from Florida and the last Representative, Rep. Bachus, represents Alabama.
For many House Republicans, who are becoming increasingly dependent on the growing Latino population for their reelection, supporting comprehensive immigration reform could be a way to regain some of the party’s waning support. In the 2012 presidential election, President Obama received 71 percent of the Hispanic vote and was met with uncontested support from minority and immigrant groups. If the Republicans do not move to support immigration reform soon, they may permanently alienate immigrant and minority groups that are essential to winning elections in today’s America.
More about Immigration, Illegal immigration, Immigration Reform, Undocumented immigrants, dream act
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