And we’re off!
Four Republican and four Democratic senators, informally known as the “Gang of Eight,” have formally unveiled a wide-ranging immigration bill designed to overhaul the nation’s failing system. The bill’s authors–including Sens. Schumer, Graham, McCain, Durbin, Rubio, Flake, Bennet, and Menendez–stood side by side on Thursday to present their proposed solution.
“We all know that our immigration system is broken, and it’s time to get to work on fixing it,” said Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, who was first to speak at Thursday’s press conference. “Immigration reform is vital to securing our borders, jump-starting our economy, and ensuring fuller access to that great American dream.”
On the other side of the aisle, rising star Sen. Marco Rubio, who earlier in the day defended his legislation against attacks from conservative shock jock Rush Limbaugh, also spoke of the need for reform. “We have a broken legal immigration system,” said Rubio. “It’s cumbersome, it’s complicated, it’s bureaucratic. And it does not reflect the needs of the 21st century.”
Despite the senators’ apparent unified front, however, the road to drafting the 844-page legislation was not a smooth one. The bill is the product of 24 meetings among the senators themselves and marathon sessions between staff members that went on for months. If passed, it would enact the most significant overhaul of immigration laws in nearly three decades.
The main provisions of the plan include a 13-year pathway to citizenship for the roughly 11 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the U.S.; $4.5 billion to secure the U.S.-Mexico border; new visa programs for high and low skilled workers; and a shift to a system that more evenly balances granting visas based on family ties, and granting them based on merit.
So far, reactions from both the left and the right have been tepid.
“It’s not a bill that I would have written,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi on Thursday. But, she added, “my hope would be that by the time we leave here at the end of July, that this will be the law of the land.”
Speaker Boehner gave a similarly lukewarm response to the proposed legislation, but he offered its authors his congratulations on successfully working across the aisle. “I’m sure there’s parts of it I would agree with, parts that I would disagree with,” said Boehner on Thursday. “But the fact is that they’ve worked together in a bipartisan fashion to craft this bill.”
Reformers argue that while the legislation may not be perfect, the fact that it exists at all is progress, and should not go unnoticed. Arizona Congressman Raul Grijalva advocated setting criticisms aside and focusing on moving the legislation forward.
“There are issues with this bill that can be better,” said Grijalva on NewsNation Thursday. “The pathway issue needs to be better defined; the length is too long; I think there’s an overabundance of resources on security without any oversight. There’s issues there… But the fact remains that an assertive and aggressive move to move this legislation is the only way to go… The worst thing we could do is take no action.”