On Thursday, April 18, 2013, the so-called “Gang of Eight”, consisting of eight bi-partisan senators, introduced their much awaited immigration reform bill. This bill, entitled the “Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013” is the result of months of negotiations amongst various groups with high interests in immigration reform. The bill sets out to improve border security, provide a pathway to legalization for undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States and revise the current lawful immigration system.
The first priority of the bill is to improve border security by allotting funding to increase equipment and improve technology used in border surveillance. Furthermore, the bill provides for an increased number of agents to patrol the southern border. It even calls for the potential establishment of a border commission that would advise the Department of Homeland Security as to how to ensure border security.
Secondly, the bill aims creating a pathway to legalization for undocumented immigrants currently living in the. The process to attaining citizenship would be a lengthy one, 13 years to be exact. During this process, an undocumented immigrant would receive a conditional resident status. This status would allow immigrants to work and travel in and out of the United States, but would not be considered permanent.
The bill also revises the current lawful immigration system by making major adjustments to the way in which people currently immigrate. The number of immigrant visas allotted based on employment would be greatly increased, including an expedited permanent residency card available for agricultural workers. People with advanced degrees in the science and mathematics would also be eligible to apply for permanent residency. While increasing employment visas, the bill also reduces family-based petitions by doing away with sibling residency applications. In other words, siblings would no longer be able to request residency for foreign-born siblings.
While the bill has been introduced and a major highlight in the news, it is important to note that there is still a long way to go before the bill becomes a final law. During this process, the bill may be changed drastically or denied. While the authors are optimistic about the bill’s approval, there are also various senators who are opposed to the measure. For example, both Texas senators, John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, criticized the bill during the initial hearings this week. Senator Sessions (R-AL) went as far as citing Biblical scripture to support his case against the bill, highlighting passages that show a country’s prerogative to deny entrance to foreigners. As seen with the very recently filibustered gun control bill, it is quite possible that the immigration reform bill of the Senate, in spite its apparent popularity amongst various groups, may not make its way past its current chamber.
On the other hand, the gang of eight is confident that the “approach is balanced. The border security triggers are strong, but achievable” (Sen. Schumer, D- NY) and “at the end of the day, it remains a fair, comprehensive and practical solution to a difficult problem” (Sen. McCain, R-AZ).