On Tuesday, President Obama unveiled a comprehensive plan for immigration reform based on four tenets: continuing to strengthen border security, cracking down on employers hiring undocumented workers, creating pathways to earned citizenship, and streamlining legal immigration.
Speaking in Nevada, Obama said that the bi-partisan enthusiasm in the Senate is “very encouraging,” and offered a plan that closely resembles the framework outlined by a bipartisan group of eight senators. “So at this moment, it looks like there’s a genuine desire to get this done soon,” Obama said. “The ideas I’m proposing have traditionally been supported by both Democrats like Ted Kennedy and Republicans like President George W. Bush.”
Obama’s proposal shares common ground with the bipartisan framework, but also goes further, specifically permitting binational same-sex couples to apply for legal residency. From the administration’s fact sheet:
The proposal seeks to eliminate existing backlogs in the family-sponsored immigration system by recapturing unused visas and temporarily increasing annual visa numbers. The proposal also raises existing annual country caps from 7 percent to 15 percent for the family-sponsored immigration system. It also treats same-sex families as families by giving U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents the ability to seek a visa on the basis of a permanent relationship with a same-sex partner. The proposal also revises current unlawful presence bars and provides broader discretion to waive bars in cases of hardship.
Under current law, the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) prevents the government from recognizing the marriage of same-sex couples in which one partner is a U.S. citizen and the other is not. As a result, couples cannot petition for citizenship and are often separated by deportation, at great costs both emotionally and financially to their families.
Republican senators who are considering immigration reform generally oppose the amendment, however. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) has said that protecting same-sex families is “not of paramount importance” and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) called their inclusion a mistake, adding, “Why don’t we just put legalized abortion in there and round it all out.”
McCain offered the following statement in response to Obama’s speech: “I appreciate the President’s support for our bipartisan effort on comprehensive immigration reform. While there are some differences in our approaches to this issue, we share the belief that any reform must recognize America as a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants. We should all agree that border security and enforcement is particularly important in order to ensure that we don’t repeat the mistakes of the 1986 immigration reform.”