National Immigration Forum

Practical Solutions for Immigrants and America


Specter Draft Immigration Bill: Right On Architecture, Wrong On Key Provisions

March 02, 2006

Washington, DC - Late last week, Senate Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter (R-PA) introduced a "Chairman's Mark," a draft comprehensive immigration reform bill that will serve as the basis for Judiciary Committee consideration beginning on Thursday, March 2.  The Chairman's Mark borrows elements from other Senate immigration reform bills, including McCain/Kennedy, Cornyn/Kyl, and the Hagel immigration bills, but also borrows from House-passed enforcement-only legislation and adds newly unveiled elements as well. 

The following is a statement by Angela Kelley, Deputy Director of the National Immigration Forum, a pro-immigrant advocacy organization based in Washington.

First the good news: The Senate is preparing to embark on a very different debate on immigration reform compared to the controversial enforcement-only bill approved by the House of Representatives in December of last year.  We are confident that Senator Specter, the son of refugees, cares deeply about fixing our broken immigration system and will preside over a serious discussion of problems and solutions in the coming weeks.

The challenge is clear: can Congress find the right mix of border security, effective enforcement at the point of hire, a controlled, legal future flow of needed workers and close family members, and a realistic path to earned residency and eventual citizenship that restores the rule of law to our immigration system.

And while Senator Specter gets the architecture right–enforcement, family visas, worker visas, and an attempt to deal with the current undocumented population–a number of key provisions will have to be significantly improved for the final product to both pass and work.

First, we must make sure the legislation deals realistically and sensibly with people already living and working in our country without legal status.  It is neither realistic nor desirable to round up and deport 11 million people.  But the Specter proposal will exclude many undocumented from ever becoming part of America's future, thereby perpetuating the problem of illegality the bill must solve.  And for those who come forward, few initial applicants for work permission will be eligible for any form of permanent residence and citizenship.  After more than 200 years of American immigration anchored in citizenship, with all of the rights and responsibilities that come with full membership, it would be unwise and un-American to begin to consign mostly Latino workers and families to, in effect, a permanent sub-class of second class non-citizens. 

Second, the Specter mark requires that future flow immigrant workers leave the U.S. for a minimum of a year after two three-year temporary visas.  Forcing trained and established workers to leave the U.S. after six years will either disrupt businesses in the U.S. if it works, or result in a burgeoning population of workers who "jump the program" and remain illegally.  We need a realistic program that corresponds to economic needs and human realities.  A path to permanent residence for some as well as incentives for circularity for some would be the best mix of temporary and permanent visas.

Third, the Specter bill draws on some of the more problematic provisions of the House-passed Sensenbrenner bill (H.R. 4437).  It criminalizes immigrants without papers, which may amount to a backdoor effort to force state and local police to add immigration enforcement to their already full platter of duties.  It also expands the definition of "alien smuggling" so that people who come in normal, everyday contact with undocumented immigrants may be criminally charged. 

Finally, to even participate in the plan the Chairman envisions, undocumented immigrants must sign away access to judicial review, the ability to redress errors in paperwork, and meaningful appeals while seeking legal status.  They could not appeal a future deportation ruling through the legal system, for example.  The courthouse door will slam in the face of millions of immigrants hoping to put themselves on the right side of the law.

These are just some of the many ways in which the Chairman's plan falls short in its current form.  The Judiciary Committee has a great deal of ground to cover to make sure that the plan that emerges creates a safe, legal, and orderly immigration system going forward.

Any plan that creates a permanent second-class of almost, but not quite, Americans is unacceptable and destined to fail politically and practically. 

Any plan that rejects permanent residency, citizenship, assimilation, and full participation in American society is destined to fail politically and practically.

Any plan that does not create fair and workable legal channels for future immigrant families, workers, and workers' dependents is destined to fail politically and practically.

The Senate must roll up its collective sleeves to craft a realistic plan. 


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