The long awaited Senate comprehensive immigration reform bill was released early this morning by a bipartisan group of lawmakers. The landmark bill promises to dramatically realign the U.S. immigration system by creating a path to legal status for millions of undocumented immigrants and others, while overhauling the existing systems to immigrate to the United States. The so-called Gang of Eight, a group of four Republicans and four Democrats has been drafting the bill for months, wrangling over the fine points and the always heated politics of migration.
The bill, at its core, is a product of compromise and, as with all attempts at immigration reform in the last generation, it tilts to the right. It leaves some undocumented immigrants without solutions by cutting them out of the path to citizenship with prohibitive fees, date cutoffs and strict criminal background checks. And the bill allocates billions of dollars to border enforcement, including resources to prosecute criminally greater numbers of people crossing back into the United States after deportation.
At the same time, on a number of points—including the bill’s inclusion of a path to legal status for some deportees with spouses and children in the U.S., and an inclusive version of the DREAM Act—the legislation goes beyond what many reform advocates believed attainable.
This obvious point-counterpoint is what President Obama suggested when he said yesterday, “This bill is clearly a compromise, and no one will get everything they wanted, including me.”
I’ll be getting into the details to ask one central question. What does this bill mean for people? The technicalities of law are important, and I’ll spend the next few days making my way through the very long bill (844 pages, to be exact) to lift up and explain the parts that matter most. The core questions that I’ll look to answer in blog posts for the rest of the day are these:
- Who’s included in the path to citizenship, who’s excluded, what are the barriers to getting onto the path, and how treacherous is the journey?
- What’s the bill do about immigration enforcement? How much enforcement is enough? I’ll be looking at the bill to find out what kind of additional immigration enforcement it includes, both at the border and in the interior. And on the flip side, I want to know if and how the bill protects immigrants from what’s currently an out of control immigration enforcement system riddled with rights violations.
- What’s the bill do to legal pathways for immigration? Who can now immigration legally? Who does the bill cut out?
On the broad strokes we already know a lot about what’s in the legislation, because a summary of the bill was released to press. Check out these stories yesterday from the New York Times and Poitico on the outlines of the path to citizenship and changes to legal immigration routes and visa programs.
We know the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act creates a long, 13-year path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. It’s not an easy path and includes steep fines, bars on people with many criminal convictions, English language requirements and other hoops. The bill also requires massive investment in more border security and other enforcement requirements before anyone can become a citizens. I’ll report back on the details of these so-called border triggers.
The legislation also shifts the balance of the legal immigration system over the next decade toward employment-based visas rather than family-based green cards.
The bill adds new visas for immigrants trained in science and technology fields, while it chops whole categories of visas for some family members, including siblings of U.S.-citizens, and other visa programs, like the Diversity Visa program that many African immigrants rely upon. Gay and lesbian couples are denied the right to petition for a green card for non-citizen partners.
At the same time, the Act promises to clear the existing family immigration backlog by admitting everyone who’s currently been waiting to reunite with family in the U.S. for years, sometimes multiple decades.
If there are particular things you want to know about the bill, feel free to post questions in the comments below. I’ll try to answer them in my writing.
As always, policy is about communities. The same is true for this bill, released in the wee hours of the morning by Sens. Charles Schumer of New York, Richard Durbin of Illinois, Robert Menendez of New Jersey, Michael Bennet of Colorado, John McCain and Jeff Flake, of Arizona, and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. The legislation is about how we live. Here we go.