Immigration reform dominated the agenda inside the Beltway during the final week of January.
A bipartisan group of U.S. senators introduced a blueprint to revamp the nation’s immigration laws. The plan included four key objectives:
• Developing a “tough but fair” path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants living in the United States, conditional upon securing the country’s borders and improving tracking of individuals here on visas legally;
• Allowing businesses to hire lower-skilled noncitizen workers in a timely manner when it can be proven that Americans were given the first opportunity but were unavailable or unwilling to fill those jobs;
• Creating an effective employment verification system that would prevent identity theft and curtail the hiring of illegal workers. The industry maintains that the current E-Verify system is flawed;
• Reforming the legal immigration system to better recognize accomplishments that will help strengthen the economy. This includes awarding green cards to immigrants who have received a Ph.D. or master’s degree in science, technology, engineering or math from an American university.
The plan was received with cautious optimism by the National Restaurant Association, National Council of Chain Restaurants and the International Franchise Association.
The group of senators who proposed the plan includes Michael Bennet, D-Colo.; Dick Durbin, D-Ill.; Jeff Flake, R-Ariz.; Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.; John McCain, R-Ariz.; Robert Menendez, D-N.J.; Marco Rubio, R-Fla.; and Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.
President Barack Obama urged Congress to act quickly on immigration reform in a speech in Las Vegas a day later. In his address he outlined three pillars of immigration reform: better enforcement of immigration laws, providing a path to citizenship for the more than 11 million undocumented immigrants already in the U.S. and reforming the legal immigration system.
Meanwhile, the House of Representatives is said to be working on its own immigration bill.