A bipartisan group of senators known as the “Gang of Eight,” on Tuesday released its bipartisan immigration reform bill, earning both praise and condemnation from liberals and conservatives.
Four Republican senators, John McCain, Jeff Flake, Lindsey Graham and Marco Rubio and four Democratic senators, Bob Menendez, Dick Durbin, Charles Schumer and Michael Bennet, introduced the immigration reform bill on Tuesday, which has received the support of President Barack Obama.
“Our immigration system is broken and the status quo of having 11 million undocumented people living under de facto amnesty will only continue if we do nothing to solve this problem,” Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio said in a statement.
President Barack Obama endorsed the proposed immigration reform bill that has been in negotiations for months and called for its early approval.
“I urge the Senate to quickly move this bill forward and, as I told Senators Schumer and McCain, I stand willing to do whatever it takes to make sure that comprehensive immigration reform becomes a reality as soon as possible,” Obama said in a statement issued by the White House.
According to Rubio’s office, the bill “contains the most severe measures of border control in U.S. history.”
Proponents emphasized that the measure will not grant amnesty to the more than 11 million undocumented immigrants who live and work in the United States, but could take more than a decade for those in the country without authorization to become legal residents.
According to Rubio’s office, while undocumented immigrants, with no prior criminal record, could start to apply for probationary legal status, issuance of more permanent status hinges on meeting tough standards for border security.
Among other things, the bill provides $3 billion for increased border surveillance including unmanned aerial drones and $1.5 billion for construction of a double-layer fence to be built by the National Guard.
The bill would also increase penalties for hiring people in the country illegally, while at the same time creating a temporary guest worker program in the agricultural industry. It would increase the number of visas for highly skilled, hi-tech workers, a proposal called for by the country’s business interests. Those visas would replace visas that were previously given to siblings and other relatives of legal residents or citizens, as part of the family reunification priority in the current immigration system.
Immigration rights activists are for the most part calling the bill a positive sign that immigration reform could be passed this year, but many have also cautiously said the bill is a “starting point,” and requires changes.
Most experts agree that the bill still has a long way to go:
“The introduction of a comprehensive immigration reform bill in the U.S. Senate today is just the first step in a long legislative fight,” according to Stephen Yale-Loehr, an authority on U.S. immigration and asylum law and professor of law at Cornell University Law School.
“For example, the Senate bill would eliminate green cards reserved for foreign siblings of U.S. citizens and married children over 30 years of age. Proponents of family immigration will be up in arms over this cut.” Yale-Loehr said a similar proposal in 1989 met a quick death in the Senate. He said the $4.5 billion cost could also derail the bill.
“With Republicans still controlling the House and Democrats controlling the Senate, the path to comprehensive immigration reform is just as hard as ever. If you thought getting health care reform through Congress was tough, immigration reform will be even tougher.”