President Obama unveiled broad proposals for comprehensive immigration reform, adding to a similar set of principles [PDF] released the day before by a bipartisan working group of eight senators. The release of these proposals signals a new momentum behind immigration reform, but many details must still be resolved, and any proposal from House Republicans is likely to be markedly different from the plans released thus far.
Both the president’s and the senate framework would establish a path to legal status and eventual citizenship for undocumented people currently living in the United States. Students that were brought to the country as children and have lived here for some time, aka “DREAMers” after the DREAM Act, would have a faster path to legal status through higher education or military service. Under the senate proposal, establishing this path to legal status would be contingent on meeting certain benchmarks to increase border security. President Obama also stresses border security, but does not make other parts of his plan contingent upon actions in this area.
Both plans would establish a provisional or probationary legal status which undocumented people could apply for immediately. In order to attain this status, applicants would need to register with the government and pay a fine and back taxes and pass criminal background checks. Undocumented people, except for DREAMers and certain agricultural workers, would have to wait until the existing immigration backlog is cleared to be eligible for a green card, and, in the Senate’s case, until the requisite border security actions have been taken. Notably for community colleges, both proposals would require undocumented individuals to learn English and civics before they could obtain a green card. Such a requirement would almost certainly place a huge additional burden on the already strained adult education system.
Both proposals would automatically grant a green card to foreign graduate students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields upon completion of their programs and take other steps to encourage foreign talent in this area to come to and stay in the U.S. A separate measure introduced by a bipartisan group of four senators would also do this, as well as increase the number of H-1B visas for skilled foreign workers and take other steps to encourage foreign workers to come to the U.S.
The Senate Committee on the Judiciary has announced its first hearing on the proposals for February 13.