National Immigration Forum

Practical Solutions for Immigrants and America

Blog & Updates

Update on the comprehensive immigration reform debate

June 30, 2009 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

President Obama meets with Members of Congress: On June 25th, President Obama met with Members of Congress to discuss immigration reform.  According to reports from the meeting, the President was clear about his desire to get comprehensive reform done.  The meeting did not get in to details about what would be included in a comprehensive reform package; it was more about the politics, and the need for both parties to work on this together.


In terms of a timeline, debate on legislation should begin later this year or early next year, with both the House and the Senate working on the bill at the same time.


The meeting included Members of Congress with a broad range of views.  There were members who have been very outspoken in support of comprehensive reform, such as Sen. Robert Menendez and Rep. Luis Gutierrez, as well as vocal opponents, such as Sen. Jeff Sessions and Rep. Lamar Smith (who nevertheless are their party’s ranking members in the Judiciary Committees of the Senate and House).  Sen. Charles Schumer and Rep. Zoe Lofgren were also in the room.  These two are the Chairs of the immigration subcommittees in the House and Senate, and the legislative debate will start, when it does, in those subcommittees.


A complete list of meeting attendees can be found here:


The President, in his remarks after the meeting, said his administration “is fully behind an effort to achieve comprehensive immigration reform,” which includes an “effective way to recognize and legalize the status of undocumented workers who are here.”  DHS Secretary Napolitano has been assigned to lead a working group, to meet with leaders in the House and the Senate to start “systematically working through” the various issues making up the elements of reform.


The full remarks by the President can be found here:


A blog post about the meeting by Ali Noorani of the Forum can be found here:


Senator Schumer delivers address on comprehensive immigration reform: The day before the White House meeting, Senator Charles Schumer, who chairs the Senate’s immigration subcommittee, gave a speech at a conference organized by the Migration Policy Institute.  Mr. Schumer said that if he did not believe immigration reform could be accomplished this year, he would never have chosen to lead the immigration subcommittee.  


In his remarks, Sen. Schumer laid out his “seven key principles that the American people overwhelmingly support” for immigration reform.  These include the curtailing of future illegal immigration; gaining operational control of our border; the adoption of a biometric-based employer verification system; requiring undocumented immigrants to register and submit to a process of converting to legal status; creating more room for family-based and employment-based immigration by reducing illegal immigration; encouraging the world’s best and brightest to come here, while discouraging businesses from using foreigners to replace capable American workers; the creation of a manageable, controlled legal flow of unskilled immigrants who can be absorbed by our economy.


Schumer stressed that “the American people will never accept immigration reform unless they truly believe that their government is committed to ending future illegal immigration.”  He also acknowledged that “our border is far more secure today than it was when we began debating comprehensive immigration reform in 2005” and so it was time “for those who reflexively parrot the ‘border first’ mantra to re-engage” in the reform debate.  While the American people want immigration control, they are also “strongly against turning their country into a ‘roundup republic’.”  Expelling millions of people is something the public understands to be impractical and undesirable.


Sen. Schumer noted that his subcommittee has already held two hearings on topics included in comprehensive reform, and he will hold two more hearings in July.  One will vet different proposals for a biometric-based employment verification system, something Mr. Schumer has long advocated.


His entire remarks can be read here:


Senator Reid reiterates his commitment: While some White House spokespersons have expressed skepticism about the ability of Congress to pass immigration reform this year, Sen. Harry Reid, the Majority Leader in the Senate, has insisted that the Senate does indeed have the votes to proceed with comprehensive reform.  He has said that the main problem will be finding the Senate floor time to debate the bill before the end of the year. 


In the Senate, bills can face dozens of amendments, each with Senators speaking for and against, and this can take up a lot of the Senate’s time.  For example, the DHS Appropriations bill, which allocates funds to the Department of Homeland Security and has been passed by the House, may take up a week of Senate floor time when Congress returns in July.


Next steps in the Congressional arena will be to hold further hearings, such as those that will be held by Sen. Schumer’s subcommittee, and to draft a bill.


Center for American Progress releases principles for immigration reform: Another event that made last week notable for immigration was the release by the Center for American Progress (CAP) of their Principles for Immigration Reform.  Over the past several months, comprehensive immigration reform has been gaining support among progressive think tanks and in the progressive blogosphere.  CAP will be an important player in the months ahead as we make the case for comprehensive immigration reform.


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