ABC News' Devin Dwyer reports:
Two years since a failed attempt at overhauling the nation’s immigration policy, a coalition of House Democrats re-introduced legislation today that would represent the biggest change in U.S. immigration law in 20 years.
Illinois Democrat Rep. Luis Gutierrez and 87 co-sponsors from the Black, Hispanic, Asian, and progressive caucuses unveiled a plan they say will fix the immigration system and strengthen America’s economy and security.
At a press conference today, Gutierrez said job losses and the recession, a protracted health care reform effort and other competing domestic priorities should not delay legislation legalizing illegal immigrants.
“Opponents of immigration reform will use it as a wedge issue and will blame everything from unemployment to rising health care costs on immigrants,” he said. “The immigrant ‘blame game’ is one of the most predictable, most deplorable elements of public debate in our nation.”
“We’ve waited too long. Now with this bill, let’s end the blame game and turn our immigrants into Americans.”
Under the Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America’s Security and Prosperity Act of 2009, illegal immigrants who have a job, are in school or serve in the U.S. military would “earn legalization” by registering with the government, passing criminal background checks, learning English, and paying taxes and fees. They would then receive a six-year “provisional” visa and later, having met the requirements, would be eligible for a green card.
“This bill promises to put an end to the interminable waits immigrants face when attempting to reunite with loved ones and provides real solutions to streamline the immigration process,” said National Immigration Law Center executive director Marielena Hincapie. “Such provisions are a major first step to fix a system that has for too long been a poster child for bureaucratic inefficiency.”
The bill also promises to ramp up border security by creating a Southern Border Security Task Force, increase the number of border agents and inspectors at U.S. ports, and provide more federal funds to border states for their protection efforts.
It would establish “significant civil penalties” against employers who unknowingly hire undocumented workers and “serious criminal penalties” for businesses who do so deliberately.
Immigrant rights groups praised measures that would impose oversight of Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Department of Homeland Security operations against illegal immigrants and treatment of detainees.
The bill would expressly prohibit DHS raids at specified “community, educational and religious locations” and guarantee access to legal counsel to detainees, among other measures.
Dan Stein, president of Federation of Americans for Immigration Reform (FAIR), called the proposals an “amnesty bill” and said it would be bad for a recovering U.S. economy.
“We can’t afford to bring people into the country who don’t earn enough to cover the cost of sustaining them here,” Stein said. “It’s why the country is broke…This country is not a byproduct of uncontrolled, unlimited immigration. We’ve limited it substantially many times over the course of our history. When are we going to stop pretending that the era of limits don’t apply to the United States?”
Democrats hope that with Congressional majorities and the support of President Obama their plan to reform immigration will not suffer the fate of George W. Bush’s plan in 2007. That bill died in the Senate after an emotional and polarizing national debate exposed opposition to reform across party lines.
“We know we stand where the President of the United States stands. We know we say what the President of the United States has said. It is time to have a comprehensive fix to a broken system of immigration laws,” said Rep. Xavier Beccera, D-Calif.