Pro-Immigrant Groups Welcome Senate Immigration Bill

Alfonso Aguilar, Executive Director of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles (LPCP), lauded the new Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013 unveiled on Tuesday by the bipartisan “Gang of Eight’ in the Senate, but said that the guest-worker program it creates is “needlessly small and unrealistic.”  LPCP has long advocated for creating a workable guest-worker program that allows the market—rather than the federal government—to determine how many visas are needed.

The immigration bill “is a major step forward towards finally fixing our dysfunctional immigration system. The legislation seriously addresses all the different aspects of the immigration problem,” said Mr. Aguilar. “It would guarantee operational control of the border and would implement tough measures to properly and effectively enforce our immigration laws domestically, while providing a difficult, but fair, process for undocumented immigrants to come out of the shadows and attain legal status and, eventually, citizenship.

“We are encouraged that the bill recognizes the need to manage the future flow of immigrants.  However, the proposed guest worker program is needlessly small and unrealistic.  There is no way it can meet the demands of our labor market.

“The reality is that if there are not enough work visas available, immigrants will continue to enter illegally and shortly we’ll have a new community of undocumented immigrants.

“A workable guest worker program is not only important for businesses who cannot find American workers, but it’s also essential to avoid separating migrant workers for extended periods of time from their families in their home countries.

“We are hopeful that through the regular legislative order, the proposed guest worker program can be expanded and improved so it’s more responsive to the needs of the market.”

American Immigration Council: 

“The Senate has been working for months and the country has been waiting for years for this kind of broad and deep immigration reform legislation. Introduction of this bill will launch a critical debate on how best to reform our brokenimmigration system,” said Benjamin Johnson, Executive Director of the American Immigration Council. “These Senators are confronting the critical immigration challenges we face and are due a great deal of credit. There is much more work ahead but our hope is that all members of Congress will set aside old thinking and divisions and do what is right for American families, workers, and businesses.”

Immigration Works President Tamar Jacoby:

As recently as nine months ago, today’s bipartisan breakthrough was beyond imagining.

Now, not only is comprehensive immigration reform back on the agenda inWashington, but Republican lawmakers are equal partners in the effort. Momentum is building – in the Democratic-controlled Senate and the Republican House. And today, after many weeks of grueling negotiation, a bipartisan group that spans the American political spectrum has introduced what could emerge as landmark legislation.

This is a remarkable development, to be welcomed by all Americans, whatever their politics, who understand how poorly the existing immigration system serves the nation’s interests – economic interests, security interests, the rule of law and our heritage as a nation of immigrants.

The proposal introduced today is an ambitious blueprint. The Gang of Eight understands wisely that reform must go beyond the millions of unauthorized immigrants living and working in theUnited States. The heart of reform is fixing the legal immigration system so it works forAmericain the future, admitting the immigrants we need and preventing future illegal immigration.

This first draft doesn’t get the future exactly right, but it’s a good start – a solid framework for Congress to build on in coming months.

The best way to understand the bill is as a series of balances. A humane, practical answer for 11 million unauthorized immigrants is balanced by tough-minded determination to secure the border and enforce the rule of law in the workplace. The nation’s traditional commitment to family-based immigration is balanced by recognition of our growing need for foreign workers, skilled and unskilled. There is a path to citizenship, but not a special or automatic path. And a broad range of larger goals – enforcement-related and humanitarian – are balanced by cost concerns.

The Gang of Eight looked for sweet spots, and on many issues, it found them. But one critical piece of the puzzle is still out of kilter and needs to be improved as the bill makes its way through the legislative process.

The Senators struggled to reach consensus on a temporary worker program for less-skilled immigrants who come to fill jobs when there are no able and willing American workers. The new proposed program is a thoughtful, innovative package – vital bipartisan recognition that we need visas for less-skilled workers.

Presented as a drawing or a model without a key to indicate scale, it would inspire the highest praise.

The problem: the program is puny – less than half the size it needs to be, perhaps less than a third – and skewed by additional quotas within quotas that restrict the supply of workers to particular industries, including construction.

Why this matters: in the early 2000s, when the economy was booming, several hundred thousand unauthorized workers entered the country every year to fill low-skilled jobs for which there were not enough willing and able Americans. And if the new visa program is not ample enough, it will not succeed in replacing this illegal flow with a legal workforce.

No one – not members of Congress and not the American public – wants to have to revisit immigration reform in ten or 15 years. But that’s exactly where we will be if Congress fails to create a legal immigration system that can accommodate the country’s less-skilled labor needs – wondering what to do about a new 11 or 12 or who knows how many millions of unauthorized immigrants.

What’s at stake in the reform debate: not just the past – making up for decades of failed policy and its human consequences – but also the future.

Over the next two or three decades, will less-skilled immigration to theUnited Statesbe largely legal or largely illegal?

The Gang of Eight has framed the question. Now it’s up to Congress to get the answer right.

The Dream Action Coalition commended the progress of the “Gang of8” and will launch a grassroots and online effort to urge Senators John Cornyn (R-Tex) and Jeff Sessions (R-Ala) not to stand in the way of debate.

Despite the progress, Dream Action Coalition is also concerned to see certain vital provisions lacking: 1) those previously deported should have a guaranteed and quick process to apply for return and reunify with their families in the U.S.; 2) legislation should provide practical waivers for those who have not committed violent or aggravated felonies; 3) family unity should continue to be an integral component under the new immigration system.

The Senate is making headway with key provisions, however, we will continue to press to ensure that the legislation is fair, practical, and serves our communities and economy without having to wait for border security to be defined and implemented. Careful evaluation is critical, but there is an urgency: Americans are expecting Congress to reform our system, which everyone on both sides of the aisle agrees is “broken.” Senator Sessions, immigration’s staunchest opponent, should not stand in the way of modernizing our system, and Senator Cornyn should not followed his lead.

The Dream Action Coalition will work to ensure the American people are not fooled by Sen. Session’s disguised effort to delay and ultimately kill immigration reform. Lines are currently being drawn within the Republican Party on immigration between those who would reform the GOP’s image with Latinos and those who would stay the “self-deportation” course. We hope that more reasonable voices and Senator Cornyn follow their Latino constituencies, and ignore the extreme positions of their other, less in touch colleagues.

Dream Action Coalition will direct our efforts to ensure Latino voters are paying attention now, and remember going into 2014. And as undocumented and directly affected individuals, we will commit our efforts to ensure that the well being of our families and undocumented community are prioritized over the political calculations of the Democratic and Republican party.

Who Are the 11 Million?

Latino Decisions released an initial installment of this poll, showing the undocumented community’s deep ties to American citizens, their reasons for migrating to the United States and their strong desire to become full-fledged American citizens.  As Latino Decisions lays out in a blog post about the poll, “85% of undocumented immigrants have a family member who is aUS citizen” and “77% came to theUnited States for better economic opportunity or to create a better life for their family.”  Additionally, “When asked what they would do if the law changed to allow a process for them to eventually apply for citizenship, an overwhelming 87% indicated their intention to become aU.S. citizen.”

Senator Rubio: More hearings

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) issued the following statement regarding Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy’s announcement that he will hold multiple hearings on immigration legislation and that this week’s immigration hearing will be postponed until Friday:

“The Judiciary Committee’s announcement that it will hold multiple hearings on theimmigration bill is an encouraging development, and I will continue working with my Senate colleagues to schedule more hearings on this important legislation.  As we go forward in this immigration debate, we need more openness and transparency that I firmly believe will only help improve this bill and earn the public’s confidence that it will truly establish the strongest border security and enforcement measures in U.S. history, modernize ourimmigration system to help create more jobs for Americans, and deal with our undocumented population in a tough but fair way.

“I am pleased that Chairman Leahy is also postponing this week’s immigration hearing to Friday, which provides additional time for senators and the American people to review theimmigration bill being introduced this week.  This extra time will give the American people and their senators a chance to better prepare for this first major opportunity to ask questions about the bill.”

Letter Identifies Six Specific Policy Priorities

A total of 267 national, state and local faith, immigrant and labor organizations from 38 states sent a joint letter to Congress emphasizing the importance of a path to citizenship that is direct, inclusive and accessible and identifying six specific policies related to the path to citizenship that should be included in final legislation.

“Our members – who include millions of voters with undocumented family members, friends, fellow-worshipers and neighbors – are mobilizing in record numbers to make their voices heard in the immigration debate.  They, along with the majority of Americans, expect immigration reform to provide a direct, inclusive and accessible path to citizenship for all eleven million undocumented immigrants in theUnited States…”

Signers on the letter include Scott Reed, PICO National Network, Deepak Bhargava, Center for Community Change, Cristina Jimenez, United We Dream, Mary Kay Henry, SEIU, and Richard Trumka, AFL-CIO and 262 national, state and local organizations.


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