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Immigration reform on GOP agenda for 2014

Martin Desmarais
Immigration reform on GOP agenda for 2014
Eva Millona, executive director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, says that the recent party debate by Republicans on immigration reform is a good sign that the GOP may produce an immigration bill in the House.

It has been an up and down start to the new year for immigration reform advocates. With Republicans going public with party standards for immigration reform in late January, there was hope that House GOP leaders might move on immigration reform, but immediate party backlash had them backpedaling — though immigration advocates still believe the increased Republican debate on the issue is a good thing.

“The exciting news is that the Republican Party came forward with GOP principles on immigration reform. It was a great step going forward,” said Eva Millona, executive director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition.

Last year, the Senate passed immigration reform legislation that, among other things, would grant the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants currently in the United States temporary legal status and a pathway to citizenship. While immigration reform advocates were encouraged at the time, the legislation has yet to pass the House and GOP leaders have said they will not even allow a vote on the Senate package.

With the staunch line, the announcement of GOP immigration reform principles by House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, was highly anticipated by immigration reform advocates even though the standards were specifically created to gain support of the reform-skeptic GOP caucus.

The Republicans made it clear in their standards that a large, single piece of legislation — as pushed through the Senate — was not their vision for immigration reform. The result, if any, would be the House moving forward with a piecemeal approach that does not include a new path to citizenship for illegal immigrants currently in the country — the issues that was so contentious in debate around the Senate immigration legislation — but focuses instead on a new path to legal status.

GOP legislators called the path to citizenship “unfair to those immigrants who have played by the rules and harmful to promoting the rule of law.” The Republican suggestion is that illegal immigrants “could live legally and without fear in the U.S., but only if they were willing to admit their culpability, pass rigorous background checks, pay significant fines and back taxes, develop proficiency in English and American civics, and be able to support themselves and their families (without access to public benefits).”

In comparison to the Senate legislation, the Republican standards require a major increase in border security and immigration enforcement within the United States’ borders. The GOP tabbed this as the first step in any immigration reform. The standards state that it is “the fundamental duty of any government to secure its borders” and labeled the U.S. as “failing in this mission.” The principles called for insurance that when immigration reform is enacted there be a “zero tolerance policy for those who cross the border illegally or overstay their visas in the future.”

The GOP standards also called for fully functioning and up-to-date visa tracking system, a realistic temporary worker visa program that addresses the economic needs of the country and the implementation of “a workable electronic employment verification system.”

Also, included in the standards was the call for the opportunity for legal residence and citizenship for children who were brought to the U.S. by illegal immigrants — eligible for those who “meet certain eligibility standards,” including serving honorably in the military or attaining a college degree.

While there are some differences between the Senate bill and the GOP principles of immigration reform, MIRA’s Millona said that they are “not that far away” and it is very important to see the Republicans come out and establish concrete assertions about immigration reform.

Millona said she hopes to see a bill in the House this spring. MIRA has a calendar of immigration advocacy events coming up targeted at putting pressure on the House to come up with a bill. This includes the New England efforts of the national “Keep Families Together” campaign.

“It is going to be difficult and it is going to take a lot of effort to move forward but we [will continue to work on it],” Millona said.

The Federation for American Immigration Reform is an organization that is pushing an entirely different view on the current debate over immigration reform. The organization’s leaders say that the debate has to be more focused on the views of the American people and less on the view of the undocumented immigrants who are in this country already.

FAIR Spokesman Ira Mehlman said that his organization is concerned about any legislation passing that could allow the approximately 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States to legally compete with American workers for jobs.

According to Mehlman, FAIR does not support the Senate legislation and is not satisfied that the GOP standards for immigration reform will lead to any legislation that improves on it.

Mehlman said FAIR leaders hope the current immigration reform debate leads to beginning anew on immigration legislation. According to Mehlman, FAIR would rather the House not pass legislation and let Congress — and Republicans and Democrats — go back to the drawing board on immigration reform.

“We are more hopeful that they won’t follow suit,” Mehlman said. “They need to come back next year and start again and start from the premise that the interest of the American people is what is going to be looked at.”

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