Thursday, January 14, 2010

Washington Post on H.R.4321

House Democrats push new comprehensive immigration bill

By Ben Pershing
A broad cross-section of House Democrats unveiled a new comprehensive immigration reform bill Tuesday, laying down an early marker for what they hope will be a major 2010 debate.

More than 80 co-sponsors have already signed on to the legislation, which is authored by Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) and titled the Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America's Security and Prosperity Act of 2009, or "CIR ASAP" for short. The bill includes provisions strengthening border security, creating a streamlined employment verification system, altering the visa program to promote the reunification of families and establishing a commission to recommend changes to the current system of H-1B and H-2B visas for skilled workers.

The measure, a summary of which is available here (PDF), also contains an "earned legalization program" for current undocumented workers, giving them the chance to get legal status if they pay a $500 fine, pass a criminal background check and show that they have made valuable contributions to American society "through employment, education, military service or other volunteer/community service."

Gutierrez and several members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus as well as the Congressional Black Caucus and other groups jammed into an overstuffed, sweltering House committee room Tuesday to release the bill and demand action.

Standing before a cadre of activists chanting "Si, se puede," and a group of children wearing shirts that said "future voter," Gutierrez said that years of hard work and negotiations on the issue had brought them "to this bill and to this meeting, which marks the final push toward comprehensive immigration reform."

Gutierrez added that the bill was "pro-family, pro-jobs and pro security ... and the time to pass it into law is right now."

Immigration reform was one of the most contentious issues of the 110th Congress, when a concerted effort to reach a compromise bill failed in the Senate despite the support of key members of both parties and President George W. Bush. Neither the House nor the Senate has addressed the topic in a substantive way in the 111th Congress, as health care, climate change and the struggling economy have all taken precedence. And with unemployment over 10 percent, there has been little political will to revisit such a controversial issue.

Reform advocates hope that calculus changes in 2010, even though Congress is often loathe to tackle tough issues in election years.

"As a candidate for president, Barack Obama promised comprehensive immigration reform, and we have brought him the road to success here with this bill," Gutierrez said.

Gutierrez is one of several House Democrats who have complained at times this year that the Obama administration was insufficiently committed to timely consideration of an immigration measure. He said in May that Obama had been "eerily silent" on the issue.

The White House did send a signal to reform advocates in November, when Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano delivered a speechpredicting "we will see legislation beginning to move" in the first part of 2010. Napolitano said Obama wanted a "tough but fair" mechanism to allow illegal immigrants to apply for legal status, and said border security had already been improved significantly.

In the Senate, Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Lindsey Graham (R-N.C.) are among those who have been working on reform measures for consideration in 2010. Democratic leaders expect immigration reform to be on the agenda, but it's not first in line.

"The administration has laid out several priorities including financial regulatory reform and clean energy legislation," said Jim Manley, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). "We hope to consider comprehensive immigration reform in addition to these issues in the first half of next year."

While Tuesday's unveiling was designed to showcase a wide range of support for the new reform bill, the measure quickly drew criticism from some quarters.

"Any bill without a temporary worker program is simply not comprehensive," said Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) a reform supporter who has worked on legislation in the past with Gutierrez.

Flake added that he was "troubled by the weakened legalization requirements in the Gutierrez bill," which does not include the tougher penalties for illegal immigrants applying to become legal that some previous legislation did, such as larger fines and the "touchback" requirement that undocumented workers go back to their home countries and then return.

Rep. Lamar Smith (Texas), the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, was much more scathing.

"This is the kind of legislation that foreign governments would promote, not the U.S. Congress," Smith said. "The amnesty bill does not hold any surprises and lays out the same vision for amnesty that President Obama and the Democrats have promised to the illegal immigrant lobby.... The bill won't pass because the American people oppose rewarding lawbreakers, which then encourages even more illegal immigration."

By Ben Pershing | December 15, 2009; 4:42 PM ET

1 comment:

Dr. Angela Valenzuela said...

But why the "touchback" requirement to begin with???
Right now, this requirement results in undocumented workers having to go back to their home countries and then return in order to get on a path to residency and then citizenship.