Senate Immigration Bill Passes
May 25, 2006
Washington, DC – The following is a statement by Frank Sharry, Executive Director of the National Immigration Forum, a pro-immigrant advocacy organization based in Washington, DC.
Today, the U.S. Senate achieved a historic bipartisan breakthrough in the Senate in favor of comprehensive immigration reform. In stark contrast to the unworkable and punitive House bill enacted last December, the Senate bill has the right architecture and the right elements for comprehensive immigration reform.
The bill would legalize an estimated 8 to 8.5 million undocumented immigrants and their families over the next 6 to 8 years; reunite close relatives separated by our out-of-date family immigration system within the next 6 years; create legal channels for future flow immigration so that those coming to fill available jobs do so with vetting and visas instead of smugglers and fake documents; put undocumented farm workers on a path to earned legal status; and allow undocumented students the same chance at a college education as their peers. It also includes robust enforcement measures, including a smarter employer verification system than what we have today.
During the course of the floor debate, most of the multiple amendments to gut the legalization programs and limit participation were defeated. A strong bipartisan coalition of senators, including leadership from both sides of the aisle, stood together to block significant erosions to the bill’s core provisions. We salute their demonstrated commitment to bipartisan problem-solving on a difficult issue in an election year.
This important bill is also imperfect. We remain concerned that some of the enforcement provisions go beyond their stated purpose. For example, a range of Title II enforcement provisions will harm legal immigrants, asylum-seekers, and others we should be seeking to protect. The bill’s earned legalization program was drafted to be less generous than the bill that passed the Senate Judiciary Committee in March. And the bill suffered hits on the floor as well, including a dramatic reduction of new worker visas needed to replace the unauthorized flow with a legal flow. We will fight to improve the bill when it is conferenced with the House so that if a final bill is enacted it will work on the ground.
We know that the road ahead is an uncertain one. We do not and will not accept that a conference process between House and Senate needs to “split the difference” or accommodate the hardliners who crafted the Sensenbrenner bill (H.R. 4437) with its criminalization of undocumented immigrants and those that assist them. And if the bill does not fulfill the promise of comprehensive reform by meeting a basic standard of workability, then it would be better for Congress to pass no bill rather than a bad bill. Enforcement-only measures or half-baked reforms have been tried in the past and failed.
But with all the doubts surrounding what’s next, our commitment is clear: we want a good bill and we want it enacted in this Congress. The American people are demanding a solution that brings immigration out of the black market and under the rule of law and immigrant workers and families are asking for a path to citizenship and the American Dream. Thanks to the leadership of the Senate, victory is at least and at last imaginable. May the Senators’ demonstration of political courage and bipartisan cooperation inform and inspire all of the key actors in the next act of this drama.