Major Points of Obama's Immigration Reform Push
Immigration has always been a testy issue in America. How do we sufficiently deal with the roughly 11 million illegal immigrants who are hiding in the shadows, while also not rewarding them with citizenship when millions of other people are waiting to immigrate legally? It's gone basically unanswered for the last couple decades. President George W. Bush had a failed attempt in 2007. But, it looks like we will most likely accomplish comprehensive immigration reform this year. On the heels of the 'Gang of 8' releasing their immigration reform proposal, President Obama made a speech, outlining his version. Let's give it a look.
1. Strengthening the border
The first part of Obama's proposal deals with strengthening the border. This is imperative because it defeats the point if people are still immigrating illegally. Fun fact, though, is that the border is stronger than ever at the moment. Deportations are at a record high and people crossing the border illegally is at its lowest point in history. But, there's always more work to be done. The realities are simple, though. Our southern border is huge. Actually controlling the entire thing completely is rather difficult. Thus, the aim should be to reduce the illegal immigration potential. As they say, don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
Opinion: I feel this portion was to appease the Republicans a bit. The reality is that the border is much more secure than it used to be. The perception is quite the opposite. Before this proposal, the Obama administration was already well on its way to strengthening the border, so I think most of this part was for show and to perhaps show off what they've already done, which should be commended.
2. Stop employers from hiring undocumented workers
This is another common sense step that everyone can get behind. Employers hire undocumented workers for numerous reasons, but the main one surrounds money. It's just cheaper labor. But, it is imperative that we stop this practice. The President's plan adds mandatory electronic employment verification. This will be phased-in over time, of course. But, this allows the employer an easy and convenient way to check whether the prospective employee is legally able to be employed.
The proposal also steeply increases the fines for hiring undocumented workers. This will obviously deter companies from doing so. It would directly negate the financial benefit of hiring undocumented workers.
Opinion: Very common sense part of the solution. There's no doubt that everyone can get behind this.
3. Pathway to citizenship
The big one. This is the most important and controversial section of any immigration proposal. Do you just deport the 11 million illegal immigrants? Obviously, that's just not feasible. Most politicians would agree to that, but you also can't reward those who broke the rules. So, what does Obama propose?
First, he would grant provisional legal status to those who are here illegally. To be granted this, though, they must come out of the darkness, submit relevant data, and pass multiple background checks. To achieve permanent legal status, they will be put in line behind all those who were trying to immigrate legally. This way, it grants them a pathway to full citizenship and does not reward them for breaking the rules.
The other main tenant includes stopping the practice of punishing the children of illegal immigrants because they came here through no fault of their own. They will be given an expedited path to citizenship if they serve in the military or go to college for more than two years.
Opinion: This is the controversial part, for sure. Some Republicans feel it is too generous to the illegal immigrants. But, we have to deal with this. Most agree that they need to have citizenship eventually. Lengthening it just to punish them doesn't make a whole lot of sense and especially economically. We want them paying taxes and contributing to society. Most studies have shown it being a net economic benefit to give them permanent citizenship.
4. Speeding up legal immigration
This last one is also quite important. Our immigration process is long and is part of the reason why people immigrate illegally. They just don't have the time to wait. In his proposal, Obama lists many ways they can speed up legal immigration. One, they will cut "red tape" for employers and make it easier. Secondly, the will "staple" green cards to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) degrees, which will motivate students to get those degrees and stay here, instead of taking their knowledge back to their home country. They will also attempt to keep families together by streamlining the visa system and clearing out the backlogs. It will also temporarily increase the number of visas given out every year.
One controversial thing, though, is how the administration will treat same-sex couples who want permanent status. They will "treat same-sex families as families by giving U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents the ability to seek a visa on the basis of a permanent relationship with a same-sex partner." Obviously, the Republicans are not thrilled about that at all.
Opinion: If we really want the illegal immigrants to be granted permanent status, it is only logical that the legal immigration system that they will be put at the back of the line in must be sped up to compensate. There's not a lot of debate around that, but the same-sex issue is going to be tougher. I, personally, believe they should be considered a family because you shouldn't be able to legislate on love. Just my opinion, though.
So, there you have it
That's it. That's his basic outline for an immigration proposal. It turns out that he is not going to send this to congress because only a day before he made his proposal, the 'Gang of 8' came together and announced their immigration plan, which encompasses a lot of what was in Obama's proposal. He was mainly doing it to push the issue and put pressure on congress to act swiftly on the issue.
It seems almost guaranteed that something will pass. In the 'Gang of 8' proposal, they do have a stipulation that the border must be secured (and verified that it is) before any legal status can be granted to the illegal immigrants. This is contentious because how do you define "secured." It's really quite subjective. You could make the argument that the border is already secured, but everyone's answer will be different. The President has told them he wants a bill passed before this summer, so they still have a while to mull it over, but I see the Republicans pushing hard for that section. We will see how it plays out over the next few months.