National Immigration Forum

Practical Solutions for Immigrants and America


Historic Vote on Immigration Scheduled For Thursday

March 15, 2006

Senate Judiciary Committee Expected to Address Undocumented Immigrants as Part of Comprehensive Reform

Washington, DCThe Senate Judiciary Committee is slated to continue marking up comprehensive immigration reform legislation this week.  Chairman Arlen Specter (R-PA) seems intent on completing work on the bill by Thursday (in order to meet a deadline imposed by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN)). The highlight of the week is expected on Thursday when the Committee takes up the question of how to treat the estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants currently living and working in the United States.  The following is a statement by Angela Kelley, Deputy Director of the National Immigration Forum, a pro-immigrant advocacy organization based in Washington.

The Senate Judiciary Committee will be taking a historic vote this week.  The moment of truth is at hand.  

The question is what to do about the estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants living and working in the United States.  Some say they should be rounded up and shipped home.  Others say they should be forced to go home first before applying for a chance to come back.  And some say they should be allowed to work here legally without having a meaningful chance to become citizens. 

But a growing number of policy makers and Americans are beginning to understand that the only realistic way of putting immigration on a legal footing once and for all is to combine smart, targeted enforcement with legal mechanisms that bring immigrants and immigration out of the shadows, under the rule of law, and puts immigrants on a path to eventual citizenship.

The most sensible and workable proposal on the table so far is a bipartisan proposal backed by Republican Senators such as McCain, Brownback, Graham, and Martinez, and Democratic Senators such as Kennedy, Lieberman, Obama, and Salazar.  They support a multi-step, multi-year process by which immigrants here illegally come forward, register with the government, pay a fine, submit to security screening, clear up back taxes, study English, and wait in line—all as a means of paying for past transgressions and earning permanent residence. 

When the Senate Judiciary Committee reaches the title of the pending legislation that addresses the 12 million undocumented immigrants already here, we are hopeful that a program that is workable and pragmatic—in the spirit of the McCain-Kennedy Secure America Act—will be offered and approved by a bipartisan majority.

In the end, getting control over immigration requires that we walk and chew gum at the same time.  We have to get tough at our borders and at workplaces on the one hand, and get smart about the economic realities of immigrants already here and others expected to come to fill available jobs. 

The House of Representatives has already shown the nation how not to reform our immigration system in a meaningful and realistic way.  Get-tough, enforcement-only approaches have been ineffective at suppressing immigration and have fostered a flourishing black market in smuggling, fake documents, and exploitation. 

It is time for the Senate Judiciary Committee to lead the way towards intelligent, comprehensive and balanced reforms that give the nation the chance to regulate immigration and the nation’s workforce in a way that serves our national security interests, encourages economic growth, and renews our commitment to citizenship. 


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