We have had some exciting news on the Comprehensive Immigration Reform front recently. Both President Obama and the ‘Gang of Eight’ bipartisan senators have released their plans for reform. So far, these are only a set of principles or plans and none of this is law or policy just yet. Both plans have similarities and some very key differences as well.
Both plans are notable in that they create a a Path to Citizenship for Unauthorized Immigrants. This is absolutely progress. Both call for immigrants to obtain a temporary status first. Individuals in this status must wait until the existing legal immigration backlogs are cleared before getting in line to apply for lawful permanent residency. Both plans call for extensive border security and enforcement. In addition, both would award a green card to immigrants who have received a PhD or Master’s degree in science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM fields) from an American university. Obama’s stapling a green card to a STEM graduate’s degree would additionally require the graduate to have found employment in the United States. Both plans also provide a path for citizenship to the DREAMers, individuals who entered the United States as minor children typically brought by their families and who did not knowingly choose to violate any immigration laws.
1. Border Security: this is the big difference between the two plans. For creating a Path to Citizenship. the Senators’ version would be Contingent Upon Securing the Border and Combating Visa Overstays. When do we know that the border is secure? The Senators state: “We recognize that Americans living along the Southwest border are key to recognizing and understanding when the border is truly secure. Our legislation will create a commission comprised of governors, attorneys general, and community leaders living along the Southwest border to monitor the progress of securing our border and to make a recommendation regarding when the bill’s security measures outlined in the legislation are completed.” A commission of people on the Southwest border will make this determination? Incredible. My interpretation of that is that no one will get a green card. Border Security is a concept that seems to have moving goal posts. In a recently released report by AILA entitled, BORDER SECURITY: MOVING BEYOND PAST BENCHMARKS, AILA reports that border security benchmarks of the past immigration reform bills have been met or exceeded. Here is more analysis of this issue from the Immigration Policy Center. Some would question the sincerity of the Senators for reform by requiring before the granting of a path to citizenship. President Obama’s plan calls for tough border enforcement, but does not make that make border security a precondition to the granting of a green card.
2. Path to Citizenship: Under Obama’s plan, eligible undocumented immigrants, DREAMers, and agricultural workers follow the same path. They would qualify for and obtain temporary status, go to the back of the visa wait list, and then obtain their permanent residency. The Senators’ Plan would have a separate line for both DREAMers and Agricultural Workers.
3. Start Up Visa: In a welcome move, President Obama has included the Start Up Visa in his plan. The Senators plan did not mention this.
4. Visa Backlogs: President Obama’s plans does address the backlog issue by recapturing unused visas and temporarily increasing annual visa numbers. The Senators’ Plan does not mention this.
5. Agricultural Guest Program: under the Senators’ Plan, “Due to the utmost importance in our nation maintaining the safety of its food supply, agricultural workers who commit to the long term stability of our nation’s agricultural industries will be treated differently than the rest of the undocumented population because of the role they play in ensuring that Americans have safe and secure agricultural products to sell and consume. These individuals will earn a path to citizenship through a different process under our new agricultural worker program.” The Agricultural Guest Worker plan has been an ‘oldie but goodie’ for the GOP for a while. This one has the added feature of creating a Path to Citizenship. From the quoted language, one can infer that border security would not be a precondition to obtaining status under this program. Obama’s proposal would strengthen the H-2A temporary agricultural program, Agricultural Workers could also obtain temporary status as detailed in Earned Citizenship, but would also go to the back of the visa wait line the same way as all other immigrants seeking a Path to Citizenship.
6. Expand opportunities for investor visas: Obama’s plan would permanently authorize immigrant visa opportunities for regional center (pooled investment) programs. This is for the EB-5 Program. The Senators’ Plan does not mention this.