President Obama outlines his blueprint for an immigration overhaul today and lawmakers are predicting changes in legislation could happen as early as this summer. His announcement comes after a bipartisan group of senators unveiled their own set of proposals that includes a path to citizenship for around 11 million undocumented immigrants.
Major Republican players such as Sen. Marco Rubio pivoted on earlier positions to back the plan, indicating, perhaps, a shift in the GOP’s stance on the issue. But, what is most striking is how similar the senators’ proposals resemble Obama’s 2011 plan on immigration — here is a look at some of the points where the plans overlap and where they differ.
Similar: Both plans insist on strong-arm border security tactics: more border patrol agents, drones and surveillance equipment. And don’t wear out your welcome — both plans recommend swift action to remove immigrants who have overstayed their visa.
Different: The senators recommend re-training for agents to protect against racial profiling, a measure inspired by Arizona’s SB 1070 law.
Major Change: The senators’ plan offers a pathway to citizenship contingent on border security. That means a coalition of governors and law enforcement officials must certify that the borders are secure and THEN the government can move forward on a path to citizenship.
UNDOCUMENTED IMMIGRANTS IN U.S.
Similar: In both plans, undocumented immigrants already living in the U.S. can eventually become citizens provided they register with the government, pay penalties as well as back taxes, and undergo background checks. They must also learn English and the senators recommend a civics lesson as well.
Once the requirements are complete, undocumented immigrants go to the back of the line behind legal immigrants and only after every legal immigrant receives their green card will an undocumented immigrant be eligible.
Major Change: Previously, Senators like Marco Rubio were outspoken critics of a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, stressing that it was a reward for illegal acts. In negotiations, he may have pushed the group to accept the stricter border enforcement policies in exchange for agreement on this point.
DREAMERS AND AGRICULTURAL WORKERS
Similar: Both plans provide a fast-track path to citizenship for those children brought to the U.S. by undocumented immigrants, otherwise known as DREAMers.
Agricultural workers are also offered a separate channel for citizenship, provided farms and other employers show no American worker was available for the job.
Different: President Obama asks that DREAMers serve in the military or pursue higher education as a prerequisite for citizenship.
Major Change: The senators’ plan calls for undocumented agricultural workers who knowingly came here illegally to be folded into national discussion on immigration and granted a path to citizenship. It’s a sign that farms and the business communities are weighing in on the conversation.
Similar: Both plans want to encourage the best and the brightest immigrants to come to the U.S. with a premium on foreign students studying in the STEM fields. Foreign students in American universities who complete PhDs and some Masters programs in science, technology, engineering and mathematics will find a shiny new green card stapled to their diploma.
Easier said than done — both plans aim to reduce backlogs in immigration proceedings to more quickly reunite U.S. citizens with their overseas family members.
Different: President Obama pitched an idea called “Start-Up Visa.” Foreign entrepreneurs build new businesses in the U.S. with backing by American investors. If they flop, they pack up and head home. If the company succeeds, they’ll win a ticket to remain permanently.
Major Change: The senators suggested basing the annual caps on the ebbs and flow of the economy: When there are more jobs in the U.S., more immigrants can come and vice versa. It’s an innovative but possibly chaotic break from the system of static caps already in place.
Similar: The system that exists now to verify the identities of undocumented workers doesn’t adequately address identity theft and fraud. Both the senators and President Obama suggest an upgrade to the E-Verify system and a streamlined process to redress mistakes.
Different: Bosses who knowingly hire undocumented workers will be punished. President Obama suggests a fine and a civil penalty while the senators demand criminal penalties.
Major Change: The president suggests giving current undocumented workers a short window of opportunity to register in the national database before they’re deemed unauthorized. Workers found to be using fake Social Security cards or false identities will be promptly punished.
Different: The Obama plan will allow an LGBT foreign partner of a same-sex couple to apply for a green card like opposite-sex couples can receive. The Senate plan does not make such provisions for same-sex couples.
Major Change: For first time, LGBT American citizens will be able to participate in process to confer citizenship to their romantic partners the way straight couples have been able to do through marriage.