This morning, the Gang of Eight offered their vision of Comprehensive Immigration Reform. Senators Schumer, McCain, Durbin, Graham, Menendez, Rubio, Bennet, and Flake introduced the “Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act,” an 844 page piece of legislation. This is Congress’s starting point for further discussion, debate, no doubt revision, and eventually (hopefully) the signature of President Obama. In a joint statement upon the introduction of the bill, the Senators said:
“Our immigration system is broken and it is time for a national conversation about how to fix it. We believe common-sense immigration reform is vital in order to secure America’s borders, advance our economic growth, and provide fuller access to the American dream. Our bipartisan proposal is a starting point, and will be strengthened by good-faith input and ideas from across the ideological spectrum. We look forward to multiple Senate hearings on this bill, an open committee process with amendments, and a full and fair debate in the Senate.”
I know the topic of immigration and immigration reform invokes deep feelings… both positive and negative, from the general public. People are entitled to their opinions. I have them too. But when I think about these topics, I make myself take off my lawyer hat and try to set aside my political ideology. I try to come at this issue from a very practical point of view. Our immigration system is broken. Is it practical to think that we’re going to deport 11 to 13 million undocumented foreign nationals who are presently in the United States? No. Does it make sense that we educate foreign nationals at some of our best institutions of higher education… and then tell them that they can’t stay here because there’s no visa, either temporary or permanent, that allows them to? No. Our immigration system is broken and it is about time that our national leaders, with the input of relevant stakeholders, discuss, debate and implement comprehensive immigration reform.
Very broadly, the Gang of Eight’s bill addresses such important issues such as (a) border security, (b) legalization for individuals in an unlawful status (a so-called “registered provisional immigrant status” where after ten years an individual could apply for lawful permanent residence, i.e., a Green Card, through a merit-based system), (c) elimination of backlogs in the current family- and employment-based immigrant visa categories, (d) the creation of a startup visa for foreign entrepreneurs who seek to emigrate to the United States to startup their own companies, (e) merit-based visas, where points are awarded to individuals based on their education, employment, length of residence in the U.S. and other considerations, (f) enhanced employment verification rules (i.e., mandatory participation in the E-Verify program, photo-matching, etc.), (g) H-1B nonimmigrant visa reform (e.g., raising the base cap of 65,000 to 110,000, with the potential for the cap to go as high as 180,000, and amending the current 20,000 exemption for U.S. advanced degree holders to be a 25,000 exemption for advanced degree graduates in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics from U.S. schools, along with several other changes), (i) visa programs for lower-skilled workers, and (j) a program to allow current undocumented farm workers to obtain legal status.
It will take some time for this proposed legislation to be reviewed and digested. Then the debate will begin. The debate will be spirited. Hopefully it will be constructive and not divisive.
Is this proposed legislation perfect? I’ve obviously only skimmed it at this point, but the answer is probably no. Is it a good start? It sure is. More than anything, though, “it’s about time.”