Sen. Robert Menendez (D-New Jersey) and others introduced a comprehensive immigration reform bill on Wednesday that would require the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country to register with the government and would strengthen border security and worksite enforcement while proposing tougher penalties for misuse of social security numbers.
Like previous bills, (including another the Sen. introduced last year) the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2011 requires illegal immigrants to pay their taxes, learn English, pay a fine, pass a background check and wait in line for permanent residence. But it also includes the creation of a standing commission that would report to Congress on the number of employer-based visas needed and an LGBT-friendly measure to allow U.S. citizens or residents to sponsor their same-sex partners.
Democratic Senators Harry Reid (Nevada), Dick Durbin (Illinois), Chuck Schumer (New York), John Kerry (Massachussetts), Kirsten Gillibrand (New York) and Patrick Leahy (Vermont) co-sponsored the bill.
“This legislation signals to the American people that we are serious about fixing our broken immigration system,” Menendez said. “We stand for a complete solution —a real solution—to end undocumented immigration and restore the rule of law.”
Laura Vazquez, immigration legislative analyst for the National Council of La Raza, called the bill “an important step forward” in bringing the immigration debate back to Washington after a year in which states have passed immigration laws of their own. “This is an opportunity for other senators to come together and have a debate on the federal level, which is where we need to find solutions to this problem,” Vazquez said. “We think it presents a clear choice between a smart solution that will benefit the country versus an enforcement only solution.”
DeeDee Garcia Blase of the conservative Latino group Somos Republicans, though, says that the bill falls short for one reason: It does not include a guest worker program for future low-skilled laborers, without which she says Republican support is unlikely.
“Sen. Menendez needs to include future flow low skilled guest worker program,” she said. “The DREAM Act didn’t pass [in December] even though the Democrats held the Senate majority. If he doesn’t include a guest worker program, this bill is dead on arrival. We cannot continue to play political football in the immigration issue. Republicans and Democrats have to work toward the center.”