Saturday, April 6, 2013

The House "Gang of Eight" Working on a Comprehensive Immigration Reform Package

The Senate's Gang of Eight is wrapping up the details of its proposal. One of the big snags had apparently been some disagreement between business and labor groups on the number of employment visas that would be permitted. Business groups were pushing for a high number while labor groups were concerned that too high a number would lead to missed opportunities for American workers.

The proposal still has a long way to go and there are plenty of opportunities in committee and on the Senate floor to derail or modify the Senate proposal. But, with the Gang of Eight's initial proposal all but finished, attention is now shifting to the House, where the prospects of immigration reform have always been a little lower. That being said, it appears that most House members concede that the train has already left the station, and their best bet is to get on board and try to steer it.

The House apparently has its own "Gang of Eight": House members who have been working on a plan of their own. According to the NYT, the House path to citizenship appears to be less streamlined; there are different rules and paths depending on the characteristics of the person seeking to legalize his or her status.

The baseline path is comparable to the Senate's version. Unauthorized immigrants will have to wait ten years for a green card and then another five years for citizenship (the Senate version was three years).

But the House members have fast-tracked the citizenship path for certain groups. One of those groups are those with specified familial or employment ties in the United States. Another group that may be fast-tracked are the "Dreamers": unauthorized immigrants who through no fault of their own were brought to the United States illegally when they were children. The premise of the distinction is that these individuals do not have the same level of culpability for their actions; indeed, they had no say in the matter at all.

So is this distinction warranted for "Dreamers"? On the one hand, as noted above, Dreamers did not make the choice to break the law and come to the U.S. illegally. Additionally, because they came at an early age, the U.S. is often the only country they know. Sending them back to their country of nationality would be akin to forcing them to restart their lives in a country they often know very little about.

On the other hand, critics would argue, does this policy create an incentive for more unauthorized immigrants to come to the U.S. illegally with young children, knowing that the U.S. will not treat their children as run-of-the-mill unauthorized immigrants because of their age and lack of person culpability? If so, then perhaps the short term fast-tracking solution will end up having a negative impact on unauthorized immigration rates in the future as parents understandably risk their own stability in order to provide a better life for their children.

Certainly the law can be designed in a way to aid those already here while making clear that analogous actions in the future will not be given a pass. But that won't change the fact that the U.S. will again have this debate in a couple of decades. And the same arguments will be put forward: you will still have the "rule of law" argument going head-to-head with the lack of culpability of those who come here illegally as children.

What might change in future debates is the number of unauthorized immigrants present in the U.S. The proposed laws have a number of verification techniques and security measures designed to curtail future unauthorized entries and stays after entry. But the government does not have a good track record implementing such measures effectively. Thus, anyone who thinks that we are now "solving" the immigration issue for good is engaged in nothing more than wishful thinking.

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