President Barack Obama backed a bipartisan immigration proposal on Friday. The plan, sponsored by Sens. Charles Schumer (D-New York) and Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina), would require biometric identity cards, increased border security and a “tough but fair” path to legalization for undocumented immigrants.
Obama, who pledged “to do everything in [his] power” to move toward immigration reform, has said consistently that he would only consider pushing through a bill if it had bipartisan support in Congress.
“A critical next step will be to translate their framework into a legislative proposal, and for Congress to act at the earliest possible opportunity,” Obama said. “I congratulate Sens. Schumer and Graham for their leadership, and pledge to do everything in my power to forge a bipartisan consensus this year on this important issue so we can continue to move forward on comprehensive immigration reform.”
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Martine Apodaca, communications director at the National Immigrant Forum, said, “We agree with the president that the framework is a really good start…. I think that that we have to see the details but I do think that a comprehensive immigration reform would result in higher wages for all workers, immigrant and Americans alike.”
However, said Apodaca, “there are elements that we didn’t see” which are essential to comprehensive reform, such as the Development Relief and Education of Alien Minors Act.
The blueprint for immigration reform legislation, released in a Washington Post op-ed Friday, calls for undocumented immigrants to admit they broke the law, pay a fine and back taxes and perform community service, as well as pass a background check and take English-language tests, to be considered for legalization.
The op-ed went on to state, “Our blueprint also creates a rational system for admitting lower-skilled workers. Our current system prohibits lower-skilled immigrants from coming here to earn money and then returning home. Our framework would facilitate this desired circular migration by allowing employers to hire immigrants if they can show they were unsuccessful in recruiting an American to fill an open position; allowing more lower-skilled immigrants to come here when our economy is creating jobs and fewer in a recession; and permitting workers who have succeeded in the workplace, and contributed to their communities over many years, the chance to earn a green card.”
Gabriel Arana, writing for The American Prospect’s group blog, said that though the legislation does provide a much-needed path to citizenship, “it doesn’t address the fundamental failure of the system to make these ‘illegal’ immigrants legal in the first place; there is nothing in their plan that will prevent us from being in the same situation 20 years from now. Most important, it is premised on the dehumanizing assumption that unskilled workers are outlaws that should be punished.”
The blueprint offers legal, permanent residence to people who graduate with doctoral or master’s degrees from US universities with technology, engineering or science concentrations, expands “domestic enforcement to better apprehend and deport those who commit crimes” and calls for the completion of “an entry-exit system that tracks people who enter the United States of legal visas and reports those who overstay their visas to law enforcement databases.”
However, Saul Solorzano, executive director of the Central American Resource Center, said that the contents of the blueprint are not the issue.
“The issue is not the proposal,” he said. “The issue is to get a proposal approved. They’ve been failing in the past. Congress does not work with blueprints, they work with bills.”
The proposal came out just days before a national march for immigration reform planned for Sunday in Washington, DC.
Obama, who promised he would tackle immigration in his first year in office, held meetings last week with grassroots immigration leaders as well as with Schumer and Graham. He also met with Representatives Luis Gutierrez (D-Illinois) and Solomon Ortiz (D-Texas), the sponsors of a House immigration bill. Gutierrez has said he will vote for the healthcare bill only if an immigration bill is instituted quickly, and with a presidential declaration of support.
Arana questioned the underlying principle of the proposed immigration reform legislation.
“Sens. Chuck Schumer and Lindsey Graham’s blueprint for immigration reform … does nothing but perpetuate the fundamental misunderstanding that has plagued our immigration policy for decades,” Arana wrote. “Their goal is not to fix our broken immigration system, but to solve the ‘problem’ of illegal immigrants.”