Friday, December 7, 2012

President to Press for Immigration Reform Early in the Next Congress

According to the Los Angeles Times, President Obama is preparing to press for comprehensive immigration early in the next Congress.  The plan calls for an all-out blitz as soon as talks over the country's fiscal problems dies down.  Reportedly, the campaign to press for immigration reform will focus on convincing Americans that reform will provide benefits in such areas as education, health care, business and safety.

The exact details of the President's proposal are still evolving.  Reportedly, the proposal will include a pathway to citizenship for those undocumented aliens already present in the United States, increased border security, increased penalties for employers who hire aliens unauthorized to work in the United States, and increased opportunities to hire foreign workers.

According to the Times, some Democrats believe that there is a narrow window to press for reform.  The closer it gets to the next congressional elections, the more likely members of Congress will be reluctant to vote in favor of a bill that has political risks.

Republicans, however, appear to be in favor of slower approach, tackling one issue at a time before addressing whether there should be a pathway to citizenship.  Florida Senator Marco Rubio has stated, "Portions of immigration reform can be dealt with quicker than others."  Congress, for example, could first approach expanding opportunities for science and technology workers and addressing undocumented aliens who were brought here as children before the more controversial subjects.

Recently, however, a bill to expand the number of visas available to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) workers stalled in the Senate after being passed by the House.  The fight over the bill highlighted a key difference of opinions between Republicans and Democrats over the shape of reform.  Specifically, Republicans appear to believe that in order for there to be more visas available for STEM workers, over visa categories have to be eliminated.  Democrats, by contrast, do not view reform as a zero-sum game, seeing no need to eliminate some visas in order to expand the availability of others.

One key concern for Republicans is whether they would be sacrificing their political future by supporting immigration reform now.  Specifically, conservatives, such as Rush Limbaugh, have argued that if Republicans support a pathway to citizenship, they would simply be expanding the number of Democratic voters in the future.  This is a fear that can be seen by careful analysis of the Achieve Act currently pending  in the Senate.

The Achieve Act, sponsored by Republicans Kaye Bailey Hutchison, John Kyl and John McCain, is the Republicans' response to the DREAM Act.  It would create a way for some undocumented aliens brought to this country as children to have legal status.  However, the bill would create a non-immigrant visa for such aliens, which would not itself lead to citizenship.  Thus, beneficiaries under the Achieve Act would not automatically be on the path to obtain the right to vote.

While this appears to be the most positive atmosphere for immigration reform since President Bush attempted to press for a guest worker program, the battle will not be easy.  Competing interests will need to be addressed, and in some instances overcome, if the press for immigration reform is to be successful.

By: William J. Kovatch, Jr.
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