Since the election, President Obama and various congressmen have been deeply discussing our nation’s broken immigration system. Although no complete legislation has yet been formally introduced, both the President and Senator Rubio have been working rigorously to craft their own proposals for immigration reform. While these proposals broadly address similar immigration issues, they differ subtly in their details.
President Obama calls for comprehensive immigration reform. He argues that the piecemeal approach allows for certain necessary legislation not to pass, and it enables the United States to delay, once again, on significant reform. Obama’s primary objective is to create a direct path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented Americans. This pathway would enable law-abiding undocumented immigrants to gain legal status after proving they’ve been present in the country for an extended period of time, paying a registration fee, paying fines and back taxes, undergoing a background check, and learning English and American civics. Under this system, it would take approximately eight years for an undocumented immigrant to become eligible to apply for legal permanent residency, and five additional years for citizenship. In addition to this, he would like to pass the DREAM Act, which would provide a special pathway to citizenship for students in universities or the military. President Obama also intends to address current problems with legal immigration by attempting to reduce the immigration backlog. His solution is to create more visas to reduce the overall time needed to obtain one. He specifically wishes to enact family reunification measures, including lifting caps on legal immigration for the immediate relatives of U.S. citizens. Finally, the President supports the creation of a special visa for foreign students who have earned advanced science and technology degrees from U.S. universities, as well as the establishment of a new visa for foreign entrepreneurs who want to start businesses in the United States.
Though all of these subjects are addressed in Senator Rubio’s immigration outline as well, he approaches them differently. Rubio claims that a piecemeal method would be better suited to immigration reform because it would prevent “bad laws” from getting passed with necessary legislation. Like President Obama, he supports legal status for law-abiding undocumented Americans if they meet certain qualifications (residing in the U.S. for a substantial time period, understanding English, paying back taxes, etc.), but he does not think that they should receive a “special” path. He feels that the time needed for undocumented immigrants to earn permanent residency and citizenship should be longer (without being indefinite) in order to deter others from choosing this path over legal entrance into the United States. Senator Rubio also believes that Obama’s Deferred Action (DACA) program is not enough for the undocumented youth. Although he does not endorse the DREAM Act, he prefers a faster pathway to citizenship for young undocumented immigrants who meet certain qualifications and attend college or serve in the military. He also agrees that more visas are necessary to fix the United States’ current immigration system. However, he feels that these visas should be reserved for highly skilled workers only, and the number of visas reserved for family members does not need to change.
Despite the differences in their policies, Senator Rubio and President Obama also call for some of the same measures. They both agree that a dependable nationwide employee verification system needs to be established to check the legal status of all workers. One program of this kind, E-Verify, already exists, but it is only used by less than 10% of U.S. businesses and it has been criticized for being unreliable and sometimes inaccurate. Increased border control and the creation of a guest worker program, which would allow low-wage workers to enter the United States legally, are also priorities in both of their plans.
Given the similar nature of both plans, the Obama administration is confident that a bipartisan deal on immigration is possible. “This is now important to both parties,” Senator Schumer assures, “that neither the fiscal cliff nor guns will get in the way.” President Obama is expected to further discuss immigration reform during his State of the Union address next month.