Immigration Reform: Five Years Later, What's New?

2013 Proposal Similar to 2007 with New Emphasis on Individual Immigrants

BySarah Parnass
January 28, 2013, 6:04 PM

Jan. 29, 2013 -- The announcement of a proposal for immigration reform inspired renewed excitement for some involved in the fight Monday, but other players in the debate felt a sense of déjà vu.

Monday afternoon, senators introduced a framework of changes previewed over the weekend, with President Obama and a secret group from the House of Representatives expected soon to follow suit.

The press conference was held by Senators Chuck Schumer, John McCain, Dick Durbin, Lindsey Graham, Bob Menendez, Marco Rubio, Michael Bennet and Jeff Flake. Menendez called it "meaningful and comprehensive" immigration reform.

But former Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla., who worked on this same issue under President George W. Bush in 2007, said this proposal "is a lot like what we did five years ago -- remarkably so."

Martinez said it puts "a little more emphasis" on dealing with legal immigrants who overstay their visas, shifts from framing the policies as reuniting families to rewarding skilled laborers, and the phrase "guest worker" -- which was a point of contention then -- is now absent.

But in terms of things like creating a path to citizenship and requiring an electronic verification system for employers to determine an applicant's legal status, "All of these things are exactly what we did before," Martinez said.

RELATED: Immigration Reform Plan Includes Pathway to Citizenship

To Martinez, this replay is a good thing. He said a "political evolution" and a new appreciation for Hispanic voters created a positive climate for reforms this time around.

But Ira Mehlman of the Federation for American Immigration Reform said he is not impressed.

"It's essentially the same legislation that was offered and rejected in 2007," Mehlman told ABC News."It includes nothing for the primary constituency -- namely the American public. It's all based on what the immigrants and particularly the illegal immigrants want and what employers want."

The two plans focused on achieving bipartisan support, molding immigration law to meet the needs of the economy, and the condition that reform would only happen simultaneously with the strengthening of border security.

The difference, according to immigration lawyer Cori Alonso-Yoder of immigrant-focused non-profit Ayuda, is the messaging in this proposal.

"The message is very helpful to people who are used to hearing a not-welcoming tone towards immigrants," Alonso-Yoder said Monday. "I think that's sort of what distinguishes this from efforts that we saw in 2006, 2007 things that I think were more harsh on immigrants."

This time around the plan alludes to racial profiling and human trafficking, two issues Alonso-Yoder said her clients "confront on a daily basis and are dealing with on a daily basis."

Related: 'Dreamers' React to the New Immigration Reform Framework

She said she believes the intent in this legislation is good and that it will have some success -- at least outside of the House of Representatives.

"My concern is just seeing how this will all sort of play out in a system that is already filled with patchwork fixes, and how deep this reform will go, how broad it will sweep," Alonso-Yoder said.

The collapse of President George W. Bush's 2007 immigration bill may be a bad sign for Obama -- who is expected to announce his own plan today -- and others hoping to change the immigration system.

"Mr. Bush placed telephone calls to lawmakers throughout the morning, but members of his party abandoned him in droves, with only 12 of the 49 Senate Republicans sticking by him on the key procedural vote that determined the bill's fate," the New York Times reported on June 28, 2007. "Nearly one-third of Senate Democrats voted, in effect, to block action on the bill."

Candy Hill of Catholic Charities USA said the men and women who count on her organization for information about these developments "have been down this road before."

"People have had their hopes up and then dashed," Hill said. "We've been close before -- on the DREAM act, for example -- only to have it fail."

Like Alonso-Yoder, Hill and her colleagues are cautiously optimistic about the plan they say follows in the footsteps of 2007 but with a new tone in Washington. For now, they say they are hitting the ground, getting out as much information as possible to those who could benefit from this legislation.

"I don't think there's enough available to celebrate," Hill said. "The celebration comes when we've negotiated a bill, and the president has actually signed it, and we can actually deliver that service to people that have been waiting for a long time."

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events