Senate Takes First Step Toward Immigration Overhaul, Long Road Ahead

April 19, 2013

By Leslie Wollack

After months of negotiations, the Senate Gang of 8 introduced an immigration overhaul bill, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013, last week. Hearings have been scheduled before the Senate Judiciary Committee and lawmakers hope to have the bill to the full Senate this summer.

NLC President Marie Lopez Rogers, mayor, Avondale, AZ responded to the introduction of the bill in a statement.

Mayor Rogers said, "Today has been long in coming. Cities have advocated for fixing our nation's broken immigration system for many years. For too long the badly performing system has placed numerous financial and social strains on our local communities and created obstacles to helping immigrants fully contribute economically, as well as culturally, to our nation."

The bipartisan proposal was introduced by Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), John McCain (R-AZ), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY). The 844-page bill creates a link between an earned pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants in the United States and border security.

The bill creates a minimum 13-year path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants and includes an expedited track for the so called "DREAMers" who were brought into the country by their parents as a young age.

Local governments would be eligible for a small competitive grant program for integrating immigrants with English language and civics programs. Additionally, states and local governments would be included in a requirement that employers are subject to E-verify requirements. The bill reauthorizes the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program and authorizes new grants for communications equipment for state and local law enforcement along the nation's southern border.

A new program for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) students would be funded by fees on employers. The proposal also includes increases in the H1B worker visas to incorporate efforts to bring more physicians and health professionals into underserved areas.

The bill contains a new visa program for low-skilled workers and a new agricultural worker program.

Visa fees and penalties would supplement a $6.5 billion federal investment in border security designated as emergency spending to hire 3,500 additional Customs and Border Protection Officers. Further, a Border Oversight Task Force would make recommendations and review immigration and border enforcement policies and strategies. State and local governments would have representation on the commission.

After three months of negotiating details of the legislation in secret, lawmakers will now have an opportunity to make changes to the bill in the Senate Judiciary Committee where a mark-up has been scheduled for early next month. They will also have an opportunity to weigh-in during debate on the Senate floor. On the House side, a separate group has been developing a companion House bill where there is likely to be a very intense debate.

In her statement Mayor Rogers added, ""While we will wait to comment on specific proposals in the legislation as the process plays out, NLC will be working to make sure the unique needs of our nation's cities and towns are reflected in the bill. The nation has already waited too long for reform."