Comparison of Obama and the Gang of Eight’s proposals for comprehensive immigration reform

Border Patrol agent sits next to an improvised fence to protect them against rocks that are thrown from the Mexican side of the border. SOURCE: Border Patrol /Gerald L. Nino

The proposals for comprehensive immigration reform presented by President Barack Obama and a bipartisan group of eight Senators share nearly identical objectives:

1. Strengthen border security to reduce the flow of illegal crossings;

2. Grant probationary legal status to the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. and create a path for them to “earn” their citizenship;

3. Improve the employment verification system and crack down on employers who knowingly hire undocumented workers;

4. Reform the legal immigration system to attract the “best and brightest” people from around the world.

However, there are significant differences between the two proposals:

1. Unlike the President’s proposal, the Senate plan ties the pathway to citizenship to the federal government’s “success in securing our borders and addressing visa overstays.” While undocumented immigrants will granted probationary legal status to live and work in the United States (provided that they register with the federal government, pass a background check, and pay fines and taxes), they will not be allowed to apply for permanent resident status – or a green card – until certain to-be-determined “enforcement measures” to improve border security and combat visa overstays have been deemed as completed.

2. Whereas the Senate version focuses on increasing surveillance equipments and technology infrastructure to improve border security, the President’s proposal offers more extensive measures to combat illegal border crossings. The White House plan would step up enforcement against transnational crime (such as drug, weapons, and human trafficking); improve cooperation between federal and local law enforcement agencies in the southwest border states; combat passport and visa fraud; deport undocumented immigrants who have committed serious crimes in the U.S. or pose risks to national security; and improve the immigration court system to expedite cases and appeals.

3. While both the President and the Senate’s plans wound grant green cards to foreign students who’ve completed their Master’s or Ph.D. degrees in science, technology, engineering, or math from an American university, the White House also proposed expediting workers’ visa process for foreign entrepreneurs, investors, and immigrants who work in federal science and technology laboratories.

4. The President’s proposal would also cut the red tape for “vulnerable immigrants”, including those who are victims of crime, domestic violence, and persecution.

5. The Senate’s version specifically called for the enhanced training of border patrol agents and more oversight to safeguard against “racial profiling and inappropriate use of force”.

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