The Senate immigration bill would grant a pathway to citizenship to some illegal immigrants who have been deported from the country a provision that gets at the heart of the debate over family unification versus fairness to those waiting legally at home.
Under the legislation, adults who have been deported but who have children who are U.S. citizens would be allowed to apply to get back into the country under the proposed program, as would young adults who were brought to the U.S. as children, who have been nicknamed “Dreamers.”
That is one of a number of tricky balances that the so-called Gang of Eight senators who wrote the immigration bill tried to strike.
They introduced their bill just before 2 a.m. Wednesday, rushing a self-imposed deadline to begin a national conversation on how to overhaul the immigration system.
“It is the product of months of negotiations and is the most comprehensive immigration reform initiative in three decades,” said Sen. Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat who was one of the negotiators. “It accomplishes something the American people have been asking for true bipartisan compromise.”
Those compromises are evident throughout the bill.
The proposal allows illegal immigrants to gain legal status and, eventually, to get on a pathway to citizenship but only if steps are taken to secure the border. It offers legal status only to those who arrived in the U.S. before 2012.
A glance through the bill also shows repeated areas where the negotiators tried to strike a balance between family reunification and other immigration priorities, such as sought-after categories of workers.
The points-based part of the proposed system is designed to capture that rebalance. It would award points based on educational attainment, work history and caretaking of family members.
The worker-versus-family balance has existed in U.S. immigration law for decades, and was underscored by the 1965 legislation that wrote the basics of the current system.
Businesses, though, argue that the system has not met their needs because it places low limits on skilled and seasonal workers. Analysts say the demand for foreign workers is part of the reason illegal immigration has ballooned over the past three decades.
While improving immigration for business needs, the Senate bill takes major steps for family reunification, including provisions allowing some deported immigrants to apply to come back.
Under the bill, immigrants who were in the U.S. before 2012 but were deported, who do not have serious criminal records, and who have a child or spouse who is a U.S. citizen, could apply for the same legalization program as the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants still in the U.S.
Immigrants who would have qualified for the Dream Act a proposal that would have granted legal status to those 30 and younger also would be able to apply.
It’s unclear how many immigrants would be included, though advocates point to hundreds of thousands of cases of parents being deported while their U.S. citizen children remain in the U.S.