Democrats Introduce Immigration Reform Bill
By Maia Jachimowicz
Migration Policy Institute
June 1, 2004
This month's Policy Beat highlights the recent Democratic immigration reform
bill introduced May 4, evaluates preliminary reactions to the bill, and
compares it with President George W. Bush's proposal of January 7.
For a detailed look at the provisions of the SOLVE Act,
On May 4, four months after President Bush's statement on immigration reform
related article), senior
Democratic Senator Edward M. Kennedy (MA) and fellow Democratic representatives
Robert Menendez (NJ) and Luis Gutierrez (IL) introduced new immigration
reform legislation. The Safe, Orderly, Legal Visas and Enforcement Act of 2004
(SOLVE) bill aims to address, among other issues, the security risks and social
problems associated with an unauthorized immigrant population estimated at nine
million people, the economic imperative for US employers to fill needed, often
low-wage jobs, and the social imperative of reuniting families and maintaining
strong worker protections for all workers. With over 30 co-sponsors from 11
states, the House and the Senate versions of the bill have garnered strong
support from fellow Democrats wishing to respond to the White House's
election-year announcement, and present their own approach to the contentious
issue of immigration reform.
Mustering Support for SOLVE
Although only recently introduced in Congress, the SOLVE Act has widespread
recognition. Immigrant rights groups, labor unions, and civil liberties groups
throughout the nation have, for the most part, expressed support for the
legislation. It is striking in its similarity to the bipartisan Immigration
Reform Act of 2004: Strengthening America's National Security, Economy and
Families (the so-called "Hagel-Daschle" bill) introduced in late January.
However, the added worker protections and this Democratic response to what has
historically been considered a Democratic issue, have in many ways made the
SOLVE Act a "major" piece of reform legislation.
Unlike President Bush's January 7 statement on the principles of immigration
reform, which is vague on many points, in particular the terms for renewing
temporary visas, the size of the proposed temporary worker program, description of
enforcement efforts to deter new illegal flows, and the size of the increase of
available permanent immigration visas, the SOLVE Act provides specific and
detailed provisions. Some of the provisions, however, have received a fair
amount of criticism. Similar to their reaction to President Bush's immigration reform
statement, the restrictionist camp within the Republican Party views this bill as a general amnesty to
reward lawbreakers. Furthermore, they contend that without a strong and
detailed enforcement component to deter future illegal immigration flows, no
bill is viable.
Others across the political spectrum have raised concerns about the daunting
administrative task of processing several million applications in a timely
manner while still maintaining assiduous security examinations. Moreover, these
critics assert that the country's significant benefits backlog, reaching over
six million in 2003, must be addressed in a way that benefits all current and
future applicants. Some analysts, recalling the experience of the Immigration Reform and Control
Act of 1986 (IRCA), which included a program to legalize
over three million unauthorized immigrants, fear that the requirement to submit
proof of residence and employment will give rise to a new and stronger tide of
Mexican government officials, generally speaking, are in favor of the proposed
legislation. Prior to the attacks of September 11, the US and Mexico were
negotiating a broad bilateral migration management plan, the so-called "whole
enchilada." Many of the same elements, namely regularization for unauthorized
Mexican immigrants and an expanded or revised temporary worker program, have
been incorporated into the SOLVE Act.
Visions for Reform
Broadly speaking, the SOLVE Act aims to achieve the same goals that President
Bush identified in his January 7 address: to enhance national security, serve
America's economy, protect the wages and working conditions of all residents,
and prevent future exploitation and the need for human smuggling along the
border. However, the two proposals diverge in one very important way. Whereas
the White House's statement is firm in its assertion that working immigrants
receive only temporary legal status up front - after their visa has expired
they are required to return home - the Democrats have proposed that successful
applicants be granted permanent status. Proponents of the SOLVE Act argue that
under Bush's plan, immigrants will fall back out of status before returning to
their home country, thereby increasing the unauthorized immigrant population.
Furthermore, they highlight evidence indicating that immigrants are more likely
to invest in their community and their own skills when granted permanent
instead of temporary status.
Although the immigration debate has begun, neither political party believes
legislative action, particularly a major overhaul of the immigration system, is
likely to occur in an election year. Yet, political realities in an election year have special meaning. With the 2004
presidential election predicted to be tight, both parties are eager to appeal
to the growing body of Latino constituents, many of whom reside in the "swing"
states where immigration is an important topic. The SOLVE Act proves to be yet
another phase in an evolving immigration reform debate.
For more information see:
Proposes New Temporary Worker Program
Immigrants and US Labor Unions
Foreign Born in the US Labor Force
Occupation and Industry of Foreign-Born Workers
in the US
Unauthorized Immigration to the US
Maps of the
Foreign Born in the US
International Agreements of the Social
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