Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) has changed his strategy to push forward meaningful immigration reform. He has shifted his efforts from coming up with new legislation to suggesting reconsideration of a comprehensive immigration bill adopted by last year’s Senate Judicial Committee, in an effort to garner key Republican support.
“He strongly feels we have to get moving,” said Laura Capps, communication director for Senator Kennedy. “The Judiciary Committee is well familiar with and invested in this bill.”
In collaboration with Senator John McCain (R-AZ), Kennedy has been working throughout the winter on broad immigration reform. The two senators were hoping to introduce a new bill to the Senate this week. However, they have had difficulty in reaching an agreed-upon bill that would be conducive to a large majority of the Senate.
This weekend, Kennedy adopted the new approach of returning to previously adopted legislation as a starting point for the reform debate. “Senator McCain certainly thinks this is a good place to start as long as it’s a bipartisan effort,” said Melissa Shuffield, spokeswoman for the Republican Senator from Arizona. “This still has to be amended. This still has to be debated and he’ll be working with people on both sides of the aisle and the White House to come to an agreement on some kind of comprehensive reform.”
The bill that was adopted by the Senate Judiciary panel last spring, while different in certain ways from the bill eventually adopted by the Senate two months later, shares basic tenets with that bill. Both bills aimed to increase border enforcement and both supported a version of the guest worker program that would provide a path to legal citizenship for the nearly 12 million undocumented workers currently living in the U.S.
The differences between the two bills, however, resided in the method of providing that path to citizenship. The Judiciary Committee’s bill would give a path to citizenship to any person in the U.S. as of January 7, 2004 who had learned English, paid a fine and back taxes, and had a clean criminal record and work history. The bill that passed the Senate in May 2006 allowed only those illegal immigrants who had been in the U.S. for more than five years that path to citizenship. All others would be required to return to their home country and apply for guest worker status. And undocumented workers who had been in the U.S. for less than two years would be required to return to their home country without a proposed path to citizenship.
The Judiciary Committee’s bill allowed for 400,000 new guest worker visas each year, and allowed for increases in that cap if demanded by the economic market. The Senate bill dropped those numbers to 200,000 and removed the ability to expand the cap.
The question today is what will happen in the upcoming debate about immigration reform. Will the shift in power from a Republican-dominated House and Senate to a Democratic majority lead to immigration reform that supports the economic needs of U.S. businesses? Or will the reform eventually passed be more conservative in its provisions?