“The first step towards introducing bipartisan legislation is first agreeing on a set of principles, now comes the hard part,” says Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio, who is one of the eight Senators introducing the bill and optimistic that legislation can get passed this year.
The bipartisan Senate plan calls for a gradual path to citizenship for the nation’s 11 million undocumented immigrants — but the proposal says this pathway is dependent on achieving border security. Among the proposals is the creation of a commission made up of governors and law enforcement officials from states along the border to monitor progress on border security. The proposal also calls for a better tracking system to monitor the departure of foreigners coming in on visas through airports or seaports.
“I am cautiously optimistic — and as someone who has spent years between the House and the Senate trying to get comprehensive immigration reform, I’m cautiously optimistic,” said New Jersey Democratic Senator Menendez this weekend. “I see the right spirit,” he added.
Kica Matos, Director of Immigrant Rights and Racial Justice for the Center for Community Change says while she is glad to see the momentum surging for an immigration reform plan, she is concerned about making a path to citizenship contingent on increased border security. “We have already spent more money on immigration enforcement than any other agency,” says Matos. “How much more money do you need to spend? I am also worried this creates an intangible set of deadline which would create a second-class group of citizens,” adds Matos.
Simon Rosenberg, of the New Democratic Network (NDN), an organization which has advocated for immigration reform, says this bipartisan plan is a signal of tremendous progress and a real breakthrough. “The devil is in the details, though — there are some critical details to be worked out, especially as pertains to border issues,” he says. Though many legislators still argue for the need to enforce the border above all, Rosenberg argues there has not been much collective understanding on the current realities of the U.S.-Mexico border.
“This connection between border progress and citizenship for the undocumented is something that needs to be worked through in a fair and reasonable way,” Rosenberg says, also arguing that net migration from Mexico to the U.S. has dropped precipitously.
Moreover, “the nation hasn’t really come to terms with how much the Mexican diaspora has changed us, and how central Mexico is to our economic and geopolitical future,” he says, adding that for 22 states in the U.S., Mexico is the number one export market.
Yet especially for Republican legislators, the border and enforcement issue is a crucial component to the package. “Every nation has a right to protect its sovereignty by enforcing its immigration laws,” said Senator Rubio in an op-ed published yesterday in the Las Vegas Sun. “We must attain operational control of our borders, create an effective workplace enforcement mechanism, and make sure that visitors to our nation leave our country when they’re supposed to,” Rubio stated.
Still, border issues notwithstanding, Kica Matos says this is a good beginning. “We are hopeful, and our communities are demanding it,” she says.