Another Try at Comprehensive Immigration Reform

Another Try at Comprehensive Immigration Reform

            On June 22, U.S. Senators Menendez (D-New Jersey), Reid (D-Nevada) Durbin (D-Illinois), Leahy (D-Vermont), Kerry (D-Massachusetts), and Schumer and Gillibrand (Ds- New York) introduced the "Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2011." Senator Menendez introduced a similar bill in Congress last year, but it never got out of committee. This bill is indeed comprehensive at over six hundred pages (albeit with wide margins).

            The first part of the bill creates a "lawful prospective immigrant status" for certain people in the United States without authorization as of June 1, 2011. It lays out the prerequisites, fees, fines, and rules for such status. A person who obtains it may eventually convert to "lawful permanent resident status," that is, qualify for a "green card." The next major segment is the "DREAM Act," for people brought to the United States when younger than 16. Some of them can obtain conditional permanent resident status, then complete at least two years of higher education or honorable military service before converting to permanent resident status (LPR) status. Next, the Senators propose an "AgJobs" program and "Blue Cards" for up to 1.35 million agricultural workers over five years. Those workers could eventually convert into permanent residents. Other sections would reform the existing nonimmigrant agricultural-worker (H-2A) program and family unity policies.

            The next large part of the bill is about worksite enforcement, including a phased-in mandatory verification system to confirm employment eligibility. Then, the Senators include provisions to improve border and interior enforcement of the immigration laws, including the system for detaining aliens.

            In the next part of the bill, they would set up a "Standing Commission on Foreign Workers, Labor Markets, and the National Interest." Next, they offer a variety of proposals on both family-based and employment-based immigrant visa programs. A piece of this part of the bill is the "POWER Act" to protect workers from exploitation and retaliation by employers. Then the Senators move to measures aimed at integrating noncitizens into the community. They close with a few other, mainly humanitarian measures.

            As might be expected, the proposal has gotten mixed reviews. The American Immigration Council, American Immigration Lawyers Association, Service Employees International Union, and other groups welcomed the bill. The Federation for American Immigration Reform liked some provisions, although it was skeptical that they would be implemented, but it criticized the "amnesty" provisions as bad policy and unwanted by the public. FAIR prefers something along the lines of the Legal Workforce Act (H.R. 2164), introduced June 14 by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas), which concentrates on the mandatory verification system.