On April 16, 2013, a bipartisan group of eight senators, the so-called "Gang of 8," offered Senate Bill 744 to lay the foundation for landmark immigration reform. Entitled the "Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act," this proposed legislation consumes 844 pages and, if enacted, would radically change almost every important facet of the current immigration process. The sheer size of this bill precludes a detailed analysis at this early stage. An initial review, however, reveals that the bill consists of four basic elements: (1) provisions for increased border security; (2) a path to legalization for illegal aliens, which allows them to remain legally if they qualify for "registered provisional immigrant status" and also permits them to obtain permanent residence once certain border security triggers are achieved; (3) increased employment-based immigration and temporary work visas for H-1B professionals (subject to additional market test requirements) and a new "W" visa program for lower-skilled workers; and (4) enhanced employer verification that phases in the mandatory use of E-Verify over a five-year period.
The "Gang of 8" proposal follows issuance of a fact sheet by the White House in which the Obama administration outlined the key principles that it felt should be the foundation of comprehensive immigration reform. Like the Senate proposal, the President's proposal includes increased border security; enhanced employer verification with a mandatory, but phased-in, requirement for employers to use E-Verify; and increased employer-based immigrant and temporary work visas. Unlike the Senate proposal, the President's proposal would increase and streamline family-based immigration and create a speedier path to citizenship for illegals.
These proposals frame the immigration debate that will continue throughout the summer. It remains to be seen whether either proposal has the staying power to withstand those who oppose immigration reform of any kind. Also, the Congressional Budget Office has yet to evaluate the cost of these proposals, and this could prove a critical factor as the nation struggles to reduce the deficit and manage the sequester. It would be unfortunate, however, if these laudable efforts are derailed. Many studies indicate that comprehensive immigration reform could provide a significant boost to our sluggish economy by attracting the foreign investment and skilled workforce that will make the United States more competitive in global markets.