Immigration Reform 2013: Bipartisan Effort Offers Pathway to Citizenship

Early Monday morning, the bipartisan framework for comprehensive immigration reform was released to the public. The primary goal of the proposal is somewhat synonymous with what we've seen in the past ... combat visa overstays and prioritize border security before legal status can be granted. However, the group of Republican and Democratic senators also proposed a "tough but fair" path to legalization for the estimated 12 million undocumented people (excluding, DREAMers and agricultural laborers) that would require not only a fine and repayment of back taxes but also a provision that would put them behind every individual who is currently waiting in line for a green card. The proposal successfully touches upon every angle of the immigration debate however, it looks as though it may head down the path of the fiasco in 2007 where Democrats and Republicans could not reach a deal when it came down to the vote.   

This week, President Obama is set to make big on his promise to reform the immigration system. Working closely with a bipartisan group of eight senators consisting of Senators John McCain (R-Ariz.), Charles Schumer (D-NY.), and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), the coalition is reportedly close to reaching a deal on comprehensive reform measures by next Friday, February 1. 

Undoubtedly, there is sufficient political momentum in Washington to capitalize upon however, below are two factors that may make or break the deal:  

1. No to piece meals


Sweeping changes are necessary to ensure a sensible long-term solution that serves America’s interests, promotes fairness and the rule of law, and works towards strengthening the economy. Thus, the proposal would have to touch upon and amend all facets of the immigration problem including: an effective border security system; increasing availability of student-visas and employment sponsored visas for foreign students and workers with specialized skills; some path towards legalization as this would boost the number of high and low skilled immigrant workers necessary to keep the economy competitive.

2. A strong commitment to negotiation


As it stands, some members of the bipartisan group of senators have openly supported a bill that would exclusively target increasing the number of employer-sponsored H-1B visas available for foreign born workers with specialized skills in the engineering and computer programming fields very similar to the STEM Act passed in the Republican-controlled House last November.

Their stance directly contradicts President Obama’s vow to pursue comprehensive immigration reform that includes illegal immigrants, guest workers, and highly skilled tech workers. At the moment, the White House is also drafting a separate proposal that would spearhead the president’s agenda. The difference in priorities is bound to complicate the prospects of immigration reform and the president will have to demonstrate firmness as well as a willingness to negotiate. Confronting this issue once and for all would not only fulfill his promise on the campaign trail, but will also show that his presidency is not one solely characterized by gridlocks.

There is strong enthusiasm suggesting that the time is imminent for immigration reform, given the growing strength of the Latino constituency that was showcased so vehemently in last November’s elections. However, there is still a sense of uncertainty and distrust in the Latino constituency and the immigrant base as a whole, given the failed attempts at reform in 2007 and 2010 and the endless manipulation of the issue as a political wrench.

In the next several months, President Obama has the opportunity to rescind the hard line immigration practices that have become synonymous with his administration and pursue a modern immigration system that focuses on the interests of the United States and the rebuilding of the American economy. 

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Sally Nnamani

International Development grad student at The New School. Interests: immigration policy, sustainable development, private sector development, public-private partnerships. Post-Rio+20 intern at International Chamber of Commerce. Sports lover - basketball, track & field, gymnastics oh and Lebron James!!

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