Renewed discussion about comprehensive immigration reform emerged this month on Capitol Hill as President Obama said in his Oct. 19 weekly address that the issue is one on which he believes Democrats and Republicans can work together.
The president noted in his address that there is already a broad coalition across America that is behind immigration reform efforts and the Senate passed S. 744, a bill with strong bipartisan support, in June.
In the House, where several separate immigration bills have moved through the Judiciary Committee and Homeland Security Committee, Democrats on Oct. 2 introduced H.R. 15, a comprehensive bill that mirrors most of the provisions in the Senate bill after a bipartisan group of House members failed to craft a measure.
H.R. 15, introduced by Rep. Joe Garcia (D-Fla.) and 182 cosponsors, would provide a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants currently residing in the United States and incorporate the ABA-supported DREAM Act, which would provide an opportunity for young people brought to this county as children to earn legal status through higher education or service in the military.
H.R. 15 also features provisions supported by the ABA to enhance fairness and efficiency in the immigration adjudication and detention system. These include increasing access in immigration proceedings for the most vulnerable noncitizens such as children and the mentally disabled, increasing resources for the immigration court system, increasing the use of alternatives to detention, and enhancing oversight of detention facilities.
The major difference between the House and Senate bills is in the area of border security. H.R. 15 includes the provisions of H.R. 1417, a bill approved by the House Homeland Security Committee that would require the secretary of Homeland Security to develop a comprehensive strategy to gain and maintain operational control of the country’s international borders. The Senate bill would require an increase in the number of federal border agents and the building of a 700-mile fence along the southern border.
The ABA supports comprehensive immigration reform and applauded Senate passage of S. 744. According to the ABA, the Senate-passed bill, while not perfect, would implement steps toward accomplishing the goals of enhancing border and national security realistically and humanely, addressing the undocumented population and the need for immigrant labor, preserving family unity, and protecting the tradition of due process and judicial review.
Prospects for compromise and passage of comprehensive reform this year are not promising, however, in the aftermath of the stalemate that led to the 16-day government shutdown that ended Oct. 17. Most House Republicans have expressed opposition to the Senate bill, particularly the legalization provisions, and prefer to consider separate measures.