NEW YORK – Prospects for broad, commonsense immigration reform in 2013 have improved with the attention of the nation’s political leaders Monday and on Tuesday.
On Jan. 28, a bipartisan group of senators released a framework for broad immigration reform that includes a conditional path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
The following day, President Barack Obama set out similar proposals to guide the upcoming debate over a new immigration process, including an eventual road to citizenship.
“We have to make sure that every business and ever worker in America is playing by the same set of rules. We have to bring this shadow economy into the light so that everybody is held accountable – businesses for who they hire, and immigrants for getting on the right side of the law. That’s common sense. And that’s why we need comprehensive immigration reform,” Obama said, speaking at Del Sol High in Las Vegas, Nevada.
He sought to win public support for changes that would give an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants a chance to become citizens.
“Now is the time,” he declared, diving into the politically explosive issue with broad proposals for putting millions of illegal immigrants on a clear path to citizenship while cracking down on businesses that employ people illegally and tightening security at the borders.
Filipino Americans were encouraged by President Obama’s plan. They are particularly hopeful that the family reunification part of clearing the backlog goes through. It is estimated that there are more than 400,000 Filipino immigrants in the Philippines who have applied for permanent residence to the United States.
A family member has sponsored most: parents, or a brother or sister. The wait could be frustrating in some cases – more than 20 years. Families are separated for decades before reuniting – if at all.
When asked to comment on this issue, Fil Am lawyer Felix Q. Vinluan told the Philippine Daily Mirror: “the President’s and the Senate’s versions of the comprehensive immigration reform bill, once it becomes law, will favorably impact a big number of Filipino immigrants in the United States, meaning, the undocumented ones. “
He said they have been waiting for this law to be enacted since Obama’s first term.
“Now, we see a light at the end of the tunnel. The bipartisan move of the senators is something that is a function of the Republican loss in the last general elections. They now understand that for them to win next time they have to court the Hispanic and Asian votes.”
Jose Antonio Vargas, a Filipino Pulitzer prize-winning journalist, and a high-profile figure who is undocumented, expressed hope on Obama’s new immigration policy. Vargas has been promoting the passage of the Dream Act and has become a popular public figure in a national campaign for immigration reform.
“Obama, as only a lame-duck president can, is staking his claim and going for the history books. And just as important as putting pressure on a bitterly polarized and often paralyzed Congress, Obama is framing the issue economically and culturally. He reminded us that, in recent years, one in four technology startups in America were created by immigrants, as were one in four new small businesses,” Vargas posted in his Facebook account Wednesday.
But Tony Figueroa of Jersey City was cautious with his remarks. Figueroa said this might change when special interest groups, lobbyists, get involve in the process.
“There will be a lot of compromises made that could result in a much different bill than what was announced. That does not even consider that the House of Representatives could also make a lot of changes based on the will of their constituents. That would need a major reconciliation of the Senate and House versions,” he said. “Right there is the potential for a very different bill than the senators announced”
Vinluan, on the other hand, was optimistic that the President may sign the bill sometime in the middle part of this year. “If I were to make an educated guess, this immigration reform package would be in the nature of Sec. 245(i), like the one we had during the Clinton years. Beneficiaries need to be in the U.S. at a certain cut-off date, and would have to pay a penalty fee, among other conditions,” he said.
President Obama said that during his first term, his administration “took steps to try and patch up some of the worst cracks in the system.”
First was strengthening security at the borders to “finally stem the tide of illegal immigrants.
Second was enforcing efforts on criminals who are here illegally and who endanger communities.
And third was taking up the cause of the DREAMers – the young people who were brought to this country as children.
“But because this change isn’t permanent, we need Congress to act – and not just on the DREAM Act. We need Congress to act on a comprehensive approach that finally deals with the 11 million undocumented immigrants who are in the country right now. That’s we need,” Obama said.
In his speech, President Obama laid down four principles to guide the debate on immigration reform:
First, continue to strengthen our borders. Second, crack down on companies that hire undocumented workers. Third, hold undocumented immigrants accountable before they can earn their citizenship; this means requiring undocumented workers to pay their taxes and a penalty, move to the back of the line, learn English, and pass background checks. Fourth, streamline the legal immigration system for families, workers, and employers.
While Obama noted that it would not be a quick process, he also expects a “rigorous debate about many of the details, and every stakeholder should engage in real give and take in the process. “We can’t allow immigration reform to get bogged down n an endless debate.”
The bipartisan group includes Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Il.), Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Sen. Bob Mendez (D-NJ), Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO), Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Sen. Jon McCain (R-AZ), Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ). (Contessa Rita Bourbon contributed to this story.)