Bipartisan Group of Senators Announces Outline of Immigration Reform Plan

January 28, 2013

Today, a bipartisan group of eight senators announced agreement on a broad outline of an immigration reform plan. The group included Senators Schumer (D-NY), McCain (R-AZ), Durbin (D-IL), Graham (R-SC), Menendez (D-NJ), Rubio (R-FL), Bennett (D-CO), and Flake (R-AZ). The proposal lists principles that would serve as the foundation for reform legislation; and they include the primacy of securing the borders; a path to citizenship that includes fines and strict requirements for undocumented residents; prioritizing visas for individuals with needed skills and those uniting with family in the U.S., and awarding green cards to immigrants with advanced degrees in math, science, and technology from U.S. universities; as well as enabling businesses to hire workers in a timely fashion if U.S. workers are unavailable or unwilling to fill vacant positions.

Yet, implementing many of these proposals will be complex, and many questions remain about the details of their provisions, which Congress will have to define. For example, while the senators made all of the components of the plan contingent on first securing the borders, it remains unclear what measures they will use to indicate that the borders are secure. The proposal would have a commission of governors, attorneys general, and community leaders from the Southwest border tackle this task and monitor progress toward stated goals. Therefore, the progress of immigration reform will hinge on the work of this commission and who is selected to serve on it.

In addition, the proposal offers two groups an amended path to citizenship in terms of the requirements that they would have to meet. Both undocumented children and agricultural workers will receive exemptions or amendments regarding certain requirements, but legislation would have to define how requirements would be relaxed. The senators argue for an amended process for children because they, as minors, did not have knowledge of the laws they were violating when they entered the U.S. The group of eight also note the important work of agricultural workers in securing the country’s food supply while often earning very low wages.

The outline also prioritizes two reasons for applying for citizenship: unifying families and supplying high-demand skills in the national economy. Again, future legislation and its subsequent implementation would have to define the balance of these two considerations and what proportions of a defined number of visas would be granted in in support of each goal. In any case, the senators would like to award green cards to any immigrant who has received an advanced degree in math, science, or technology from a U.S. university.

Finally, the proposal would allow businesses to hire less skilled immigrant workers in a timely fashion when U.S. workers are unavailable or unwilling to fill positions. The reforms would also offer green cards to workers “who have succeeded in the workplace and contributed to their communities over many years.” Congress would need to flesh out the details of these planks of the reform plan. For example, businesses would need to know what thresholds they would have to meet in order to demonstrate that they could not hire U.S. citizens for open positions, and workers would have know what concrete actions would demonstrate success in the workplace and contributions to their communities.

Prepared by John Connolly, 1/28/13.


For the full proposal:

For a summary from Wonkblog of the Washington Post: