In a nationally televised speech last night, President Bush unveiled a five-point plan for reforms on immigration. The speech marked the first time the President has addressed a mainly domestic issue in a live prime time television appearance. The President’s remarks came just hours after the Senate renewed its debate on several immigration reform bills. The announced reform objectives included:
- Securing U.S. borders: 6,000 National Guard troops would be sent to the southern border for one year while 6,000 additional Border Patrol agents were trained. The Guard troops would mostly serve for two-week stints before rotating out of the assignment. The Border Patrol would remain responsible for catching and detaining illegal immigrants, while the National Guard would operate surveillance systems, provide intelligence, install fences and vehicle barriers, and offer other administrative support. New high-tech detection measures, including high-tech fences, new border patrol roads, and motion sensors would be installed along the 2,000 mile southern border. The President also announced the end of “catch and release,” a practice wherein illegal immigrants were caught, but released to society for a later court date due to the lack of detention space.
- Creating a temporary guest-worker program: The program would match foreign workers with willing American employers for jobs Americans are not doing. Workers would need to pass criminal background checks and would have to return to their home country at the conclusion of their temporary stay.
- Issuing new ID cards for legal foreign workers: The new tamperproof cards would include biometric technology, such as digital fingerprints, which would allow employers to more easily determine an immigrant’s legal status.
- Creating a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants: Describing the process as “earned citizenship,” illegal immigrants could proceed toward legal status by working for a number of years, paying fines and back taxes, and learning English. These persons would have to wait in line behind those immigrants in the U.S. who began the citizenship process lawfully. Much of the legislation currently being debated by the Senate contains provisions for some type of “earned citizenship.”
- Encouraging immigrants to assimilate, learn English, and become informed about U.S. history and civics.
This week, the Senate will continue its debate on S. 2611, the so-called Hagel-Martinez immigration bill. Debate is expected to conclude some time next week. If the Senate does pass an immigration bill, perhaps the biggest obstacle is yet to come—finding a compromise with the House. The House has already passed an "enforcement-only" immigration bill that offers no guest worker program or path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. It is important to note that, as of this writing, there have been no changes in current immigration law. We will continue to closely monitor the current Senate proceedings and any other immigration-related legislation in the Senate and House and will keep you updated if and when there are new developments in the law. It’s our hope that Congress and the President will bring much-needed immigration relief to improve the current system.