Democratic Senators Schumer (D-NY), Durbin (D-IL), Menendez(D-NJ), Bennet (D-CO) and Republican Senators Graham (R-SC), Rubio (R-FL), Flake (R-AZ) and McCain (R-AZ), also known as the "Gang of 8" have released a bi-partisan framework for immigration reform.
The 5 page document, "Bipartisan Framework for Comprehensive Immigration Reform" is an outline of the Senate's requirements for a comprehensive immigration reform bill. The eight drafters have all agreed to (long, expensive) pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the country, but only when strict border enforcement measures have been met.
The four basic legislative proposals included in the framework:
A Path to Citizenship: The legislation will include a tough but fair path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants currently living in the United States that is contingent upon securing our borders and tracking whether legal immigrants have left the country when required. This proposal requires "registration" of all undocumented immigrants and the approval of some kind of probationary legal status, while waiting for the enforcement goals to be met. During this time, immigrants will have to pay fines, back taxes and will be given work authorization. A Commission of Southwest border leaders will be appointed to monitor and recommend when security measures have been sufficiently met that the second phase of legalization can begin. The second phase requires that all undocumented immigrants go to the back of the line before being approved for legal permanent residence. It is unclear what this will mean in practice as the line for a green card is more than 10 years long in some categories.
Reforming our Current Legal Immigration System: Changes to our current system will reduce backlogs in the family and employment based preferences, and should attract highly skilled foreign nationals to the United States. Foreign students who achieve an advanced degree in a STEM field will be awarded a green card. In addition the new system should be rational, and de-incentivize illegal immigration, by streamlining and speeding application processes.
Employment Verification: "Create an effective employment verification system that will prevent identity theft and end the hiring of future unauthorized workers. Establish an improved process for admitting future workers to serve our nation's workforce needs, while simultaneously protecting all workers." It is notable that there is no mention of E-Verify, but the proposal is clearly heading toward nationwide-electronic verification. E-Verify cannot detect identity theft and that is a major complaint of detractors.
New Temporary Work Visa Program & Labor Protections: The proposal will provide businesses with the ability to hire lower-skilled workers in a timely manner after demonstrating that there were no American workers available for the position. This proposal sound much like our current H-2B program, which is onerous and expensive for employers. Hopefully the legislation will propose something new, rather than a rehash of existing policies.
The Senators are participating in a press conference this afternoon to lay out more of the details. Reports are circulating that this is the first time Senator McCain has signed on to an Obama administration-led initiative since 2009. Prospects for a similar broad proposal in the House are not as sunny, but I am an eternal optimist.