Senate to Consider Comprehensive Immigration Reform
Washington, DC - As 2006 commences, the U.S. Senate is expected to consider legislative action on comprehensive immigration reform. Senate proposals up for consideration include the Secure America and Orderly Immigration Act (S.1033) introduced by Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Edward Kennedy (D-MA), the Comprehensive Enforcement and Immigration Reform Act (S.1438) introduced by Senators John Cornyn (R-TX) and Jon Kyl (R-AZ), and the reform packages (S. 1916, 1917, 1918 & 1919) introduced by Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE). In addition, Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA), Chairman of Judiciary Committee, has signaled his intentions of introducing a compromise bill that combines elements from the McCain-Kennedy, Hagel, and Cornyn-Kyl bills.
Each of the Senate proposals contains a combination of guest worker program for aliens present and outside the U.S., border and worksite enforcement, and family reunification and backlog reduction. The McCain-Kennedy and Hagel proposals call for a guest worker program that provides a path towards permanent residency. In addition, the proposals exempt immediate relatives of U.S. citizens from annual cap on family-sponsored immigrant visas and increases employment-based sponsorships. In contrast, the Cornyn-Kyle bill proposes a guest worker program that does not authorize a path for permanent residency and does not provide any change to family-based preferences, but does increase the per-country limits for both family and employment-based immigrants.
Immigration advocates remain confident that the Senate will adopt comprehensive immigration reform rather than the enforcement-only approach adopted by the House of Representatives. On December 16, 2005, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005 (HR 4437). The bill, introduced by House Judiciary Chairman James Sensenbrenner, Jr., incorporates border security legislation with new penalties for violators and new requirements on employers who hire non-citizens.
“To fix our dysfunctional immigration system, immigration reform legislation has to be bipartisan in its formulation, comprehensive in its approach, and workable once fully implemented. We are encouraged that the Senate appears headed in this direction,” says Frank Sherry, Executive Director of the National Immigration Forum. The advocacy group believes that Congress should incorporate a balance between enforcement and expanded legality, combining border security measures with provisions that accelerate reunification of families, widening legal channels to meet America’s labor market demands and creating a process for millions of migrant workers currently in the US on the path to legal status and permanent residency.
The Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to mark up immigration reform legislation early this year, perhaps as early as February. After the Senate convenes, the House and Senate will reconcile their differences in joint conference committee. If passed by the Senate, comprehensive immigration reform is likely to meet stiff resistance from House negotiators led by Representative Sensenbrenner who view such measures as the guest worker program as a form of amnesty.