Senate Democrats foresee hurdles in defining border security metrics in immigration reform bill
Unlike President Barack Obama’s proposal, the Senate Gang of Eight’s comprehensive immigration reform framework ties the pathway to citizenship to border security.
The Senators’ framework emphasized that a “tough but fair path to citizenship” for the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States is “contingent upon securing our borders” and successfully combating visa overstays.
To put it another way, the Senate bill would require the federal government to complete certain border security and visa “enforcement measures” before any undocumented immigrant may apply for permanent resident status – or a green card – which is one step away from applying for citizenship.
“We want the border to be secure. It’s more secure than it was several years ago but it has a ways to go,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), a member of the Gang of Eight. “But we’re not using border security as an excuse or block to the path of citizenship…[We] want to make sure the border is secure but not to use it as a barrier to prevent the 11 million from eventually gaining a path to citizenship.”
At a press briefing on Thursday, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) stressed that it’s important for the bill to clearly define the enforcement measures and metrics that will be used to measure the federal government’s compliance when it comes to border security and the pathway to citizenship.
“There’s a difference between a metric and an aspiration. If we make a path to citizenship contingent on a safe and secure border – just to use that phrase – then it’s in the eye of the beholder; it’ll always be subjective The idea behind a metric is to have something measurable,” Durbin explained.
Schumer acknowledged that the border security and visa enforcement measures and metrics will be sticking points in the bipartisan negotiations over the immigration bill’s final language.
“The devil is in the details,” said Schumer (D-N.Y.). “We have serious challenges ahead, make no mistake about it. These are difficult and thorny issues and [we] have seen any one of these issues bring previous immigration bills down.”
The Senate’s framework proposes to create an advisory commission of “governors, attorneys general, and community leaders living along the Southwest border to monitor the progress of securing our homeland to make a recommendation regarding when the bill’s security measures outline in the legislation are completed.”
“The purpose of that committee is to get input from them, to have them be part of the process, for them to understand we’re not trying to roll over them but to get a great deal of input,” said Schumer.
Schumer clarified that the border states commission will not have the final say in determining when the federal government has completed the border security and visa enforcement measures. Schumer indicated that his Senate colleagues have proposed giving that authority to the Secretary of Homeland Security.
However, Schumer pointed out that if the metrics defined are specific and objective (so there’s “not that much leeway”), then the advisory committee and the Department of Homeland Security’s assessments should concur.
Excerpts from the Senate Bipartisan Comprehensive Immigration Reform Framework on border security and path to citizenship:
- “Create a tough but fair path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants currently living in the United States that is contingent upon securing our borders and tracking whether legal immigrants have left the country when required”;
- “We will demonstrate our commitment to securing our borders and combating visa overstays by requiring our proposed enforcement measures be complete before any immigrant on probationary status can earn a green card”;
- “We recognize that Americans living along the Southwest border are key to recognizing and understanding when the border is truly secure. Our legislation will create a commission comprised of governors, attorneys general, and community leaders living along the Southwest border to monitor the progress of securing our homeland to make a recommendation regarding when the bill’s security measures outline in the legislation are completed”.
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