The sweeping set of immigration reforms unveiled by a bipartisan group of senators may herald real change in the nation’s immigration policies, a system that hasn’t seen a major overhaul since the Reagan administration. The blueprint, drawn up by eight senators including Sen. Marco Rubio, Sen. John McCain and Sen. Chuck Schumer, advises tougher border security, a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the country and an accelerated citizenship process for DREAMers. The agreement is seen as the Senate’s opening move ahead of President Obama’s major announcement on comprehensive immigration reform expected Tuesday. With the help of NBCLatino/MSNBC contributor Dr. Victoria M. DeFrancesco Soto, here are the five biggest takeaways from the plan.
1) Sen. Marco Rubio pivots and allows for path to citizenship BUT extracts tough enforcement restrictions
Since his rise in the political scene, Republican Sen. Marco Rubio has been leery of providing citizenship status to the undocumented. Previously, Rubio has maintained that America should not reward people who came here illegally. “But now he’s changed positions, putting forward a “tough-but-sweet” approach, with a path to citizenship contingent on tough border controls and a stringent visa tracking system,” says Dr. DeFrancesco Soto. His pivot signals a shift on immigration in conservative circles and an acknowledgement that the GOP will need Latino votes in any upcoming elections.
2) DREAM act becomes a reality
“What we see in this plan is the DREAM Act folded into a larger vision of immigration reform where our young undocumented immigrants will not be penalized or live in a legal limbo and can start to contribute to our society and economy right away,” says Dr. DeFrancesco Soto. The millions of undocumented immigrants living in the country could expect to achieve citizenship under this plan, granted that they pay a fine, back taxes and go to the back of the line behind legal immigrants. Young undocumented immigrants, on the other hand, wouldn’t face the same restrictions, and could be on a fast track to citizenship.
3) Agricultural workers on path to citizenship without having to go to back of the line
While DREAMers have been at the forefront of pressuring lawmakers on an overhaul of the immigration system, agricultural workers have been conspicuously absent from the discussion. For the first time, this proposal spells out a special rationale for why agricultural workers, including dairy workers, should be given a separate channel for citizenship and should not be penalized. “The idea of giving a subset of adults who came here knowingly and illegally a special pass — that’s a completely new conversation,” says Dr. DeFrancesco Soto. The proposal cites the country’s reliance on agricultural work as a basis for the looser restrictions.
4)Explicit protections against racial profiling
“This is a direct response to the concerns surrounding SB 1070, Arizona’s anti-immigrant bill,” says Dr. DeFrancesco Soto. Here we see the Senate members getting out in front of potential civil liberties concerns.” People who live in border communities may get a chance to voice their frustrations, according to the plan.
5) Built-in flexibility based on supply and demand for guest workers
The senators have included a groundbreaking measure that allows for more lower-skilled immigrants to come to the U.S. when the economy is creating jobs and fewer when the economy is not. The precedent thus far has been a cap on immigration numbers, but this recommendation admits that the ebbs and flows of the economy should dictate the numbers of immigrants allowed. “What they’re saying here is we’re not just going to react to a need, but allow for real-time flexibility to accommodate the supply and demand of our economy’s labor needs,” says Dr. DeFrancesco Soto.
P.S.- Visa Overstays
The public’s conception of illegal immigration is largely one of people who jump the border, and often that’s an image of Mexicans. But, according to the Migrant Policy institute, close to 40 percent of immigrants illegally in the country are people from countries around the world who have overstayed their visas. “The visa overstays measure puts the focus on problems with immigration writ at large and not just immigration that crosses over our U.S.-Mexico line. It recognizes we do need to modernize our system and that it’s not just about boots on the ground but smarter tracking systems and more technological advancements,” says Dr. DeFrancesco Soto.