In his first news conference since winning re-election, President Obama signaled that a comprehensive immigration reform bill will likely be introduced early next year and will address key issues such as border security, enforcement of laws prohibiting the employment of undocumented workers, and the fate of the estimated 11 million people who currently reside in the United States without legal status. Citing the effect of Latino voter turnout as part of the reason for both parties’ newfound momentum on immigration reform, President Obama voiced support for a process allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain a “pathway to legal status,” including eventual citizenship, if they are in the United States “simply to work,” do not engage in criminal activity, learn English, and pay back taxes and possible fines. The president also indicated a willingness to see legislation cementing his administration’s deferred action program and a path to citizenship for young undocumented immigrants known as DREAMers.
For their part, Republican leaders have actively joined the immigration debate by framing the need for comprehensive reform as sound economic policy that will lead to increased tax revenue, wages, and transparency. On Tuesday, November 27, retiring Senators John Kyl (R-Arizona) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) also unveiled the Achieve Act, a version of the DREAM Act which aims to provide legal status to the estimated one to two million young undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children. The new Achieve Act, which is unlikely to advance in the remaining days of the current congressional session, requires applicants to enter the country before age 14, live in the United States for at least five years, and be subject to regular pathway for permanent residency and potential citizenship. In addition, the Achieve Act will offer three visa categories: a broad six-year visa; a four-year employment visa for students; and a permanent nonimmigrant visa with a renewable five-year term. Unlike the DREAM Act, the Achieve Act will also bar access to federal loans and other federal benefits, as well as public welfare benefits for permanent visa holders.
In further evidence of immigration reform’s recent prominence among legislators of both parties, the House of Representatives is expected to shortly re-consider the STEM Jobs Act for immigrants with advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The bill, which recently failed to obtain the requisite two-thirds majority for passage, has been amended to include a provision that would permit the spouses and minor children of “green card” holders to wait for their permanent resident status approval within the United States rather than overseas, as is currently the case.