The long-awaited, much-debated Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2010 has arrived. And to the surprise of no one in the immigrant rights movement, it’s kind of a letdown. While the bill includes basic reforms that the immigrant rights movement has been demanding for decades, the bill is weighed down by heavy enforcement which are supposed to help comprehensive reform win bipartisan support.
The bill, introduced by Senators Bob Menendez and Patrick Leahy, opens with the promise that the nation’s undocumented will not be allowed to adjust their status to become authorized immigrants until a set of so-called “triggers” are met. The pre-conditions for legalization call for increased militarization of the border and increased interior enforcement, including bringing Immigration and Customs Enforcement staffing up to 6,410 agents and 185 work site enforcement auditors. No one could become a legal resident until Customs and Border Protection brings its ranks up to 21,000 border patrol agents—a number it is already on pace to achieve soon—and until the controversial E-Verify program is fully implemented and mandatory for employers.
The bill includes AgJOBS, a bill to benefit immigrants who do agricultural work, and the DREAM Act, which would allow undocumented youth who commit to college or the military the right to permanent residency. Advocates have been trying to win passage of the two smaller immigration fixes, considered low-hanging fruit for immigration reformers, all year long but to no avail. The Menendez bill also attempts to prevent the creation of more SB 1070’s by restating explicitly that states do not have the right to enact their own immigration laws. But immigration restrictionists are not a crowd easily deterred by things such as constitutionality.
Most importantly, the Menendez bill includes the Uniting American Families Act, which would allow citizens to sponsor their same-sex partners. Currently, gay couples are locked out of marriage sponsorship provisions that hetero couples have always had access to.
Menendez said that he’s hoping to push the bill during the lame duck session, which would give the massive 857-page bill just weeks for debate. There is little chance the bill will make it out of committee or even onto the floor for a vote during this session. Menendez and Leahy introduced the bill on Wednesday, hours before Congress adjourned for midterm elections until November 15. Menendez insists his bill is just laying the groundwork for a new class of congressional leaders. “A lot of senators are retiring and might be willing to look at the issue,” Menendez said on Sunday. “We need something to jump off from if we’re going to go into it in the early part of the next Congress.”
Many have speculated that Menendez introduced the bill as a last-ditch effort to remind Latino voters that Congressional Democrats are not the ones to blame for the lack of movement on immigration reform during Obama’s tenure.
“[Americans] don’t want partisan bickering and demonizing, they want a commonsense solution that addresses the realities of the situation, stops the flow across our borders and protects our economy,” Menendez said in a statement last week. “If we can put political grandstanding aside and work together on a comprehensive, middle-of-the-road bill like this one, we can bring all sides to the table.”
But it’s the kind of attempt at earnest, good-faith governing that comes off more like naivete these days in the face of an intractable Republican party, who want to have it both ways. They’ve put up a brick wall against any attempt to move immigration reform this year, most recently in September when they killed the defense authorization bill because it included the DREAM Act and a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal. But this weekend John Cornyn showed up on the Sunday talk show circuit to blame President Obama for not delivering on his promise to get immigration reform done in his first year of office.
Perhaps in an effort to combat their obstructionist reputation, Utah Senator Orrin Hatch introduced the Republican response to CIR 2010 with his own “Strengthening Our Commitment to Legal Immigration and America’s Security Act” on the same day that Menendez and Leahy introduced their bill. Hatch’s bill offers a host of stronger immigration enforcement ideas without offering much in the way of solutions for what to do about the estimated 11 million Americans who are undocumented.
The Immigration Policy Center has a thorough rundown of the Menendez bill.