What Will Obama’s Immigration Proposal Look Like?
The White House has confirmed, again, that it plans to move forward on immigration reform this month. But what would an Obama-backed bill look like?
It’s a safe bet that Obama will address immigration either in his inaugural address on Jan. 21 or in his State of the Union a few weeks later. But speculation has already begun over the framework of a White House plan.
The Los Angeles Times reported earlier this month that the White House and lawmakers could “dust off more than 300 pages of draft legislative language for a large immigration bill that went through a time-consuming Cabinet-level review in 2010 and was quietly handed to members of the Senate.”
But the Times reported that effort died before a bill could be brought to the floor due to lack of support.
While any framework is expected to include elements of previous immigration reform efforts, one document could tell us a lot about what the White House believes is a priority: its 2011 blueprint for immigration reform. Here’s what’s worth noting:
• Increased border security. In its blueprint, the White House says it will continue its current policy of supporting a large Border Patrol as well as unmanned drone patrols and electronic surveillance. It also supports more training for Border Patrol and immigration officials, greater penalties for “immigration-related prosecution efforts,” and expanding use of “alternatives” to immigration detention.
• Enhanced enforcement on businesses that employ undocumented immigrants. The White House wants phase in the mandatory use of the E-Verify system over a period of several years, while making the oft-maligned program more efficient. It also wants to increase civil penalties for businesses that knowingly employ undocumented immigrants and strengthen penalties for fraudulent use of Social Security cards, while modernizing them to make them “fraud resistant.”
• Improving legal immigration. Under its plan, the White House would support legislation that grants a green card to foreign students who earn advanced science and technology degrees in the U.S. It also wants to enact the DREAM Act to provide a pathway to citizenship to undocumented youth seeking a higher education or military service. It backs creating a new visa for foreign entrepreneurs who want to start businesses in the U.S. and a temporary-worker program for low-skilled, non-seasonal and non-agricultural workers. It would also make changes to existing visas for high-skilled and temporary agricultural workers. The White House also wants to enact family reunification measures, including lifting caps on legal immigration for immediate relatives of U.S. citizens.
• A path to legal status for otherwise law-abiding undocumented immigrants. President Obama backs the opportunity to gain legal status, and eventually citizenship, for undocumented immigrants who pass criminal and national security background checks. Eligible immigrants would have to pay a registration fee, fine and back taxes as well as learn English and American civics. After eight years, eligible undocumented immigrants would be eligible for permanent legal residency, and then citizenship five years after that. Undocumented immigrants would have to go to the so-called “back of the line” to get a visa behind those seeking legal residency who live outside the U.S.
Enacting immigration reform will be difficult and the process could get even more complicated with impending battles over increasing the debt limit and dealing with automatic “sequester” spending cuts during the next two months. But if and when President Obama unveils his immigration plan, expect him to rely heavily on this document.
(Photo: Flickr, MCS@Flickr)