Today, the much-awaited immigration reform bill received approval from the Senate Judiciary Committee, ensuring that some progress is being made and that Congress is moving forward. With all this immigration news abuzz, it's important to keep yourself aware of what's happening. Here are nine basic things about immigration reform that would be great to keep in mind for political awareness and discussion:
Essentially, the Gang of Eight is a bipartisan group of senators who are attempting to represent the interests of both parties in this highly anticipated legislation. Notable members include former 2008 presidential candidate Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and deliverer of the Republican response to the President Obama's 2013 State of the Union Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).
For now, the group's strategy is to stick together in the face of multiple amendments that are being added to the legislation at present. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), the primary author of the bill, has suggested that he would like the bill to pass the Senate with at least 70 votes to put some pressure on the Republican-dominated House of Representatives.
The Senate will begin debating the bill in June.
The bill definitely plans to address the most contentious issue of immigration reform: illegal immigration. In line with the DREAM Act — a piece of legislation heavily supported by the Obama administration and the Democratic Party — and amnesty sentiment, the bill charts out a 13 year path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented people currently in the United States. Additionally, employers are expected to heighten their use of E-Verify to confirm the legal statuses of their employees. While there has been much controversy about its inclusion in the bill, it's one thing that the conservative and moderate members of the Gang of Eight agree on. Additionally, millions more dollars are going to spent on border security to limit illegal immigration at the U.S.-Mexico border.
What most people forget is that if we are to truly reform our immigration system, an overhaul of our legal immigration structure would be more than necessary. Although the bill is not promising outright changes, it is hinting toward expanding its guest workers program with the intention of creating temporary worker visas for low-income and farm work. There has been some criticism of the bill in that it does not push the illegal immigrants to the back of the citizenship line. Instead, the path to citizenship for illegal immigrants will be more structured and could occur before many legal, law abiding, tax-paying legal immigrants receive permanent resident status.
Despite the fact that the Gang of Eight has agreed that the "core concepts" of the bill should not be compromised, there are still a few things that not all eight men see eye-to-eye on. For example, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) wants to push for the elimination of income tax credits to immigrants who are granted provisional legal status. While Sen. Chuck Schumer believes it won't be a deal breaker, Republican Gang of Eight member Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) voted in favor of Sen. Session's amendment. The head of the Senate Finance Committee, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), has also not promised to vote for the final product if these four amendments are also not added in.
1986 was the last time immigration reform took place, during the Reagan administration. It took 6 years to put together, and advocated ending the hiring of illegal immigrants, strengthening border security, and giving legal status to illegal immigrants already present in the country. While the bill was highly disappointing because there was no verifiable way to check someone's legal status and illegal immigrants kept trickling in due to the strong economy, it did legalize almost 40% of the illegal immigrants in the country at the time, according to the Department of Homeland Security.
The last attempt made at major immigration reform was in 2007. Unfortunately, it was highly criticized by members of the Republican Party at the time, decrying it as rewarding lawbreakers and not doing enough to reform legal immigration. Hopefully, the Gang of Eight can use the failures of past reform attempts to their advantage when their bill is being viewed and debated in June.
Many people are wondering how immigration reform will affect survivors of domestic violence, especially after the extension of the Violence Against Women Act. Thankfully, there are some provisions to help survivors; abused spouses and children of U.S. citizens and permanent residents can apply for legal status without fear. However, there are some obstacles. There are certain amendments that could make it more difficult for survivors of abuse: one example being Coryn #3, excluding without discretion all people who have minor misdemeanors, including victims of abuse.
After multiples pushes for inclusion in the Violence Against Women Act, what will happen to members of the LGBTQ community when it comes to immigration reform? Unfortunately, they have been almost eliminated from the conversation. Thankfully, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) is pushing two amendments through that will keep undocumented LGBTQ families together: one recognizing permanent partnerships and one recognizing marriages for immigration reform.
America, it has always been said, is a nation of immigrants. If you didn't come from somewhere, your parents did; if they didn't, someone in your family history took the brave trip here from elsewhere to better their lives. The U.S. is part of its fourth and largest migration wave; never has the demographic make-up of this country changed more since after the passing of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965. We continue to grapple with racism in the land of the free and the home of the brave, but here's to hoping that this legislation will provide insight, if not answers, into one of America's most complex — and yet most fundamental — problems.