After President Obama vowed to make immigration reform one of his top priorities the day after the government shutdown, House Republicans began crafting a response. On Wednesday, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) stated that he would introduce an immigration bill next week that grants temporary legal status to undocumented immigrants. Issa’s bill will only provide six years of legal status, a far cry from the Senate bill’s path to permanent citizenship.
In an interview with Politico, Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said that the bill is “halfway between full amnesty and simply rejecting people.” The bill will also allow undocumented immigrants to travel back to their native countries while they are in-status.
Issa believes that a temporary legal status period would give undocumented immigrants enough time to find alternative ways to fully become either permanent residents or American citizens.
“If somebody has a nexus that would reasonably allow them to become permanent residents and American citizen, we should allow them to do that,” Issa said. “Our view is that long before six years, people would be in those categories heading toward some other pathway, in a guest worker program, or of course, have left the country.”
Six years, however, is hardly enough time for undocumented immigrants to adjust their status. Visas are limited and difficult to come by– green cards and high-skilled work visas have annual caps that are quickly filled up. Many undocumented immigrants have been waiting for decades for a green card — one Mexican national is still waiting 15 years after his father, a legal permanent resident, petitioned for him. There is currently a 19 year backlog of existing applications; as of June 2013, the government was still processing applications filed before August 1993 for adult children of U.S. citizens from Mexico. “Heading toward some other pathway,” in Issa’s words, would take much longer than six years. What’s more, the uncertainty of a permanent fix could deter some firms from hiring temporarily legal immigrants who could be at risk for deportation later on.
Issa’s plan also raises questions about what comes after the six years status is up. Issa says that the “come from the shadows” effort would “help the government identify undocumented immigrants with a criminal background, who would be deported from the United States.” The Department of Homeland Security already prioritizes criminal deportations, and a large chunk of these so-called criminals are deported for low-level offenses such as minor traffic violations or small amounts of marijuana possession. Issa’s plan, therefore, would only maintain or worsen the status quo.
Polls show that immigration reform is a threshold issue for Latino voters, who are a crucial demographic for the 2016 election. More than half of Latino voters would hold more favorable views of Republicans if they pass comprehensive immigration reform, as Latinos make up 70 percent of the 11.7 million undocumented population.
Extending a permanent path to citizenship is also good fiscal policy. A comprehensive immigration reform plan, like the Senate bill which was taken up recently by House Democrats, will allow the United States to reduce its federal deficit by $158 billion in the first ten-years of legalization (with an additional $685 billion in the second decade). That bipartisan bill would also help create 110,000 jobs every year, increase GDP by $850 billion and increase the income of all Americans by $470 billion.
Understanding that immigration reform is a lifeline that can connect Latinos with the Republican party, more than 300 conservative figures across the nation will make their pitch for an immigration reform overhaul next Monday.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said on Wednesday that he would like to see a vote on an immigration bill by the end of the year, but has thus far refused to bring the immensely popular Senate bill to a floor vote, even though it would pass with a bipartisan majority. During a speech on immigration reform in the East Room on Thursday, Obama joked, “Now, obviously just because something is smart and fair, and good for the economy, and fiscally responsible, and supported by business and labor, evangelical community, and Democrats and Republicans, that does not mean that it will actually get done.”