The last time the U.S. enacted comprehensive immigration reform was 1986, when the Immigration Reform and Control Act granted amnesty to millions of undocumented workers while tightening laws on hiring practices. Twenty-seven years later, it seems that immigration reform is once again at the forefront of the nation’s politics.
The “Gang of Eight” in the Senate — four Democrats and four Republicans — has been crafting a bipartisan immigration reform bill for months, hoping to address the issue of undocumented immigrants already in the country as well as the prevention of such immigration in the future. Though not formalized yet, the bill has been said to create a new visa system, tighter border security, better enforcement hiring laws, and improved legal immigration.
As with any such comprehensive reform, there have been points of contention thus far.
The first major point of contention is the creation of a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants currently in the U.S. Republicans were wary of granting a sweeping amnesty, while Democrats insisted that it was essential. The Gang of Eight reached a compromise on this aspect of the plan recently by creating a route that, in Senator Lindsey Graham’s (R-S.C.) words, is “earned, long, hard, and fair.” Immigrants wishing to pursue this route will need to pay back taxes and learn English — measures that should pacify Republican opposition.
The second major point of contention is the creation of a guest worker program. The pro-business U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the largest U.S. labor union group, the American Federation of Labor, were having trouble agreeing on measures that would allow employers to petition for workers while maintaining the wages and rights of the workers themselves. As of Friday evening, however, Senator Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) managed to strike a deal between the two giants. The immigration reform bill will introduce the new W-visa for low-skilled immigrants in non-agricultural jobs related to hospitality, construction, janitorial staff, etc. Beginning with 20,000 issued visas in 2015, the program will expand throughout the decade, addressing the need for low-skilled workers in the U.S. while providing protected jobs to those who apply.
With these main disagreements resolved, the next step for immigration reform will be writing the bill in language both parties approve and securing the votes necessary to make it law. Most of the Gang of Eight is optimistic about their chances of passing this legislation, stating that “every major policy issue has been resolved.”
But a key player, Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), seems cautious. In a separate statement released Sunday, Rubio warned the public that reports of bipartisan agreement are “premature” and that any “legislation will only be a starting point.”
Still, the fact that so much time and energy has been spent crafting bipartisan solutions, as well as Obama’s prioritization of immigration reform as a “legacy item” and the Republican recognition that reform is crucial to wooing the Hispanic vote, ensures that when the Gang of Eight presents this bill to the Senate next week, it stands more than a fighting chance.