Comprehensive immigration reform is such a divisive topic that it any legislation requires bipartisan support to pass. The good news is that the "Gang of Eight," four Democrats and four Republican senators, have successfully developed a bipartisan bill, simultaneously solving both Democratic and Republican concerns. This is a testament that in Washington the difficult legislation could pass.
The bill will reach the Senate floor and the House, but will have to go through the amendment process. Specific metrics and other figures can be different in the final version — if it makes it to President Obama's desk.
The issue has a rich history, being raised every generation or so. Among the high points has been President Ronald Reagan's 1986 law granting amnesty to 3 million illegal immigrants. Now there are over 11 million undocumented people in the United States.
In recent years though, however, it has become a more pivotal issue, showing a greater divide among Democrats and Republicans. So much so that in the past two president elections, Obama gained approximately 70% of the Latino vote. Mitt Romney's comments on self-deportation did not help swing Latinos to vote Republican. This bill is successful because it is flexible and shows that both parties have a compassionate side, nullifying the possibility of making it another election issue.
Among the four basic pillars of the comprehensive legislation is the pathway to citizenship. To solve this problem, the Gang of Eight has placed the emphasis on a much more secure border. The cutoff for immigrants applying is December 2011; the chances of those that came before that date will depend on how secure the border has become.
The metrics decided by the eight senators is that 100% of the border will be under surveillance, including drones, with a 90% rate for catching illegal entrants. Again, these figures are up for debate when the bill is placed before the rest of Congress.
The legislation is flexible when dealing with undocumented immigrants who came as minors and agricultural workers who help maintain the U.S. agricultural industry. Future funding for these security measures will be factored in to the final bill.
As for how the formal process of applying for citizenship will look or how long it takes will remain up to congressional debate and likely future Department of Homeland Security officials. Currently, the new immigration system's application framework is stated below:
Once the enforcement measures have been completed, individuals with probationary legal status will be required to go to the back of the line of prospective immigrants, pass an additional background check, pay taxes, learn English and civics, demonstrate a history of work in the United States, and current employment, among other requirements, in order to earn the opportunity to apply for lawful permanent residency. Those individuals who successfully complete these requirements can eventually earn a green card.
PolicyMic's own Roger Pattison brought up the good point that this current reform must take into account past experiences before correctly solving the illegal immigration question. The guest worker program was a difficult pillar to reach an agreement upon, considering it involved the Chamber of Commerce as well as major national unions such as the AFLCIO.
Under the proposed bill, a new visa program, the W-visa, would be created for year-round labor that will fill important needs for businesses. Under the current system, a large number of immigrants enter legally with visas, but remain after their visa expired.
The current H-2B visa program is only allowed 66,000 per year while the W-visa, which will begin in 2015, will start at 20,000 and gradually increase to a maximum of 200,000; flexible enough depending on certain metrics like the unemployment rate.
Aside from border security, the proposed legislation also focuses on business and employment security. To attain this goal, the E-Verify system is amplified. It will hold businesses accountable and hopefully protect against identity theft.
Since employment is a main reason for the influx of undocumented workers, and this new immigration system targets visa reform along with a pathway to citizenship, than theoretically the number of future violations should be reduced. If there were an easier way for undocumented immigrants to utilize their new opportunities, what would their justification be for obtaining a job illegally?
The Senate's Gang of Eight will propose their legislation this week, in line with President Obama’s timeline. Anybody who has seen Schoolhouse Rock's video on how a bill becomes law knows that the process certainly does not end there.
This proposed bill can pass the Senate and the House because of the work put into making all the different pieces, from the citizenship question to the visa program and border security, come together. If these eight diverse senators could reach an agreement, it bodes well for their respective parties.