Human Rights and Civil Society

Bipartisan Senators release preliminary framework for immigration reform

* Due to technical difficulties, the publication of this article was delayed from its original postdate of April 22, 2013.

Image from Print designed by Shepard Fairey and Ernesto Yerena.
Image from Print designed by Shepard Fairey and Ernesto Yerena.

04/22/13 – (by gomeznathalie) On Tuesday, April 16, a bipartisan framework for immigration reform was introduced in the U.S. Senate, a long awaited immigration reform bill that may serve as an opening for what could become a path to citizenship for the millions of undocumented migrants living in the United States. According to Reuters, “under the proposal, undocumented immigrants who came to the United States before December 31, 2011, and [who] had stayed in the country continuously could apply for “provisional” legal status as soon as six months after the bill is signed by the president.” The preliminary bill that has yet to pass through the legislative process was outlined by the so-called Gang of Eight, which is composed of four Democratic senators­−Charles Schumer of New York, Dick Durbin of Illinois, Robert Menendez of New Jersey, and Michael Bennet of Colorado−and four Republicans−John McCain of Arizona, Jeff Flake of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, and Marco Rubio of Florida. However, the proposal stops short of proving to be anything close to an amnesty, as under the bill, immigrants would have to wait a minimum of 13 years to attain permanent citizenship entitling them to federal benefits.

The bill, which looks to appease both platforms, aims to expand access to low and high skilled labor for U.S. businesses by easing the application process for undocumented migrants−both educated and uneducated, skilled and unskilled−to obtain visas, although the bill discourages “companies from hiring cheap foreign labor or filling jobs with immigrants when U.S. workers are available.” It also imposes “new pay requirements designed to keep the hiring from depressing wages for U.S. technology workers,” as reported by Reuters.

Under the bill, applicants can work within the country legally once they have paid the appropriate penalty fees and back taxes, and have proven that they have not committed any serious crimes. Full benefits can be attained after ten years, at which time an undocumented applicant can apply separately for a green card or seek permanent residency in the United States. The proposal calls this process an “expanded merit-based immigration system,” which dictates that in addition to the ten-year wait, an additional three year-wait is required. The processing comes at the cost of about $2,000 (USD) per applicant in total penalties assessed (not including application fees).

On the subject of border security, ABC News reports that, among its many provisions, the bill has also proposed to enhance border security, especially in ‘high risk’ areas like Arizona, with up to $4.5 billion (USD) in spending allocated toward drones, sensors, and border patrol agents. Further, “the bill sets a goal of stopping 90% of illegal crossings at the riskiest sections of the southern border with Mexico, either by catching people or forcing them to go back to their country,” reports Reuters.

Despite the bill’s advances and strong support nationwide, New York Daily News highlights the major criticisms of the proposal, pointing out that the hundreds of thousands of individuals who migrated to the United States after the cutoff date of December 31, 2011, would be excluded if the bill were to pass as is. The report also adds that aside from its $7 billion (USD) cost to implement, “the fact that this bill contains the toughest border immigration enforcement measures in the history of the U.S. at a time when border crossings are at a historic low doesn’t seem to make much sense,” a point for which Senator John McCain has been largely criticized. In his report titled “Measuring the Effectiveness of Border Enforcement,” the Bernard L. Schwartz Senior Fellow of the Council on Foreign Relations, Edward Alden, confirms this reality: “The number of apprehensions at the southwest border with Mexico has dropped dramatically over the past decade, from more than 1.65 million in the FY2000 to a low of 340,252 in FY2011. The number rose slightly last year, in FY2012, to 356,873, levels that are lower than any years since the early 1970s.” Alden attributes the falling rate of border crossings to the suffering economy. “The main driver of falling apprehension numbers is certainly the weaker U.S. economy and higher unemployment, coupled with a somewhat stronger Mexican economy and violence on the Mexican side of the border that has made transit more dangerous,” he said, adding that “U.S. border enforcement has likely discouraged illegal entry as well.”

Another flaw critics have noted is that the bill does not directly address the issue of visa overstays, though the provision of ‘continuous illegal residency’ may signal coming changes to the status quo in that overstays can gain provisional status via the bill provided they meet the cutoff date. On the issue of visa overstays, Alden reports that “the commonly accepted estimate is that more than 40% of the unauthorized migrants currently residing in the United States did not cross the borders illegally. Instead, they arrived in the United States on a lawful tourist, student, business, or other visa and then violated the terms of that visa by remaining in the United States.” The issue of visa overstays has been largely ignored within comprehensive immigration reform initiatives, even though it is a seriously important issue considering the vast amount of unauthorized migrants from all over the world who reside in the United States without proper paperwork now, although they initially entered the country with such. The bill in question, however, may begin to change that.


“A Bill: To provide for comprehensive immigration reform and for other purposes.” Senate of the United States: 113th Congress 1st Session. 2013.

Alden, Edward. “Measuring the Effectiveness of Border Enforcement.” Council on Foreign Relations. March 14, 2013.

Silverleib, Alan, Crowley, Candy and Acosta, Jim. “With Deal in Hand, Senators to Roll out Immigration Plan.” CNN. April 15, 2013.

Cowan, Richard, and Rachelle Younglai. “Senators Unveil Immigration Reform Bill.” Reuters. April 16, 2013.

Gomez, Alan. “Senate ‘Gang of Eight’ Releases Immigration Bill.” USA Today. April 17, 2013.

Avila, Jim, and Serena Marshall. “Bipartisan Senators Roll Out Historic Immigration Bill.” ABC News Network. April 18, 2013.

Ruiz, Albor. “Albor Ruiz: Introduction of the Senate’s Immigration reform Bill Is the First Step in What Will Be a Long Battle  .” NY Daily News. April 21, 2013.

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