Senate immigration bill: A cautiously optimistic response from pro-reform groups

Undocumented immigrant Katherine Taberes, originally from Colombia, watches President Barack Obama's speech on immigration on January 29, 2013.
Undocumented immigrant Katherine Taberes, originally from Colombia, watches President Barack Obama's speech on immigration on January 29, 2013.
Mario Tama/Getty Images

The immigration reform package introduced on Wednesday by the Senate’s bipartisan Gang of Eight has received a positive but hedged welcome from pro-reform activist groups. While immigrant justice organizations and labor unions have applauded the Gang of Eight for proposing a path to full citizenship, many voiced concerns over a provision that would make citizenship contingent on increased border security.

“This bill is a starting point and we look forward to working with Congress to improve upon it,” said Fair Immigration Reform Movement (FIRM) spokesperson Kica Matos in a statement. While she called the inclusion of a path to citizenship a “monumental achievement,” she also reiterated her organization’s opposition to border triggers.

“Our families’ well-being should not be conditioned on arbitrary border measures or any political or bureaucratic process which holds their loved ones hostage to regulations over which they have no control,” she said.

The Gang of Eight proposal includes “triggers” that need to be activated before immigrants qualify for citizenship, such as “border surveillance, operational apprehension strategies, cleared backlogs, and the implementation of E-Verify work eligibility systems,” NBC News reported on Tuesday. These triggers are likely to become a major target of the ongoing campaign to liberalize immigration law.

“We will continue to work to improve this bill through the legislative process and ensure a wide and inclusive path to citizenship that will not be endangered by border triggers, will reunite all families—including LGBT families—will treat workers fairly, protect rights, and end the wasteful spending in our enforcement system,” said America’s Voice Executive Director Frank Sharry.

Matos also said her organization would fight to preserve the “family-based immigration system” and “expand the number of people eligible for the path to citizenship.”

“The cutoff date for eligibility and other unfair and unwise restrictions will leave hundreds of thousands families out of the process and create all the same moral and practical problems with which we began,” she said. “The 13-year length of the citizenship path is unjust as well as unwarranted and should be substantially shortened.”

President Obama himself offered a hedged endorsement, at best, of the proposal.

“This bill is clearly a compromise, and no one will get everything they wanted, including me,” he said after being briefed by members of the Gang of Eight on Tuesday.

Now that a bipartisan Senate bill is on the table, a handful of groups have called on President Obama to suspend all deportations. In a statement, National Day Laborer Organizing Network executive director Pablo Alvarado said “the president’s own deportation quota policy is the biggest roadblock on the path to citizenship.” The Obama administration has deported a record number of undocumented immigrants, and could soon exceed two million deportations.

Ending those deportations, said a statement from AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka “is the sensible and humane thing to do. When a war is about to end, it makes sense to reach a ceasefire rather than extend the suffering needlessly.”

Trumka, president of America’s largest labor federation, also vowed more pro-reform agitation from the labor movement in the new future.

“The labor movement’s role in the coming months is clear: continue to mobilize on behalf of not only an immigration reform bill, but a bill as compassionate and constructive as our country deserves,” he said. “And so we will dedicate presidential campaign style resources to ensuring that all workers have a place on the roadmap to citizenship, to reuniting families, and establishing long overdue worker protections.”