Seven Thoughts About The Gang Of Eight’s Immigration Bill

The bipartisan “Gang of Eight” – that is, eight Senators – has released a 19-page summary of their proposed immigration reform.

If you’re not up to reading a 19 page summary, you can read Rebecca Leber’s much shorter summary of the summary. Or the Washington Post’s even shorter “key provisions” summary.

I’d recommend clicking through and reading at least one of those above summaries. If even those summaries are too long for you, here’s the Washington Post summing in just three paragraphs (and they leave a lot of stuff out):

The measure would allow most undocumented immigrants who arrived in the country before Dec. 31, 2011, to immediately gain “registered provisional” status after paying a $500 fine and back taxes, provided they have not committed a felony or three misdemeanors.

They could then apply for permanent resident status in 10 years after paying additional fees. Three years later, they could apply for citizenship, according to the plan summary. The fastest path to full citizenship would take 13 years, according to the legislation, but it could take longer in some cases, Senate staffers said.

The bill will also require the government to implement strict new border-control measures — including up to $7 billion in new surveillance drones, fencing, border guards and workplace tracking systems — before the undocumented immigrants are granted green cards. The bill stipulates that the government must surveil 100 percent of the border and apprehend 90 percent of the people trying to enter illegally in high-risk sectors.

1) When I first read that summary, I thought “high-risk” sectors meant sectors in which the immigrants face a high risk of death due to exposure or thirst. And I thought: Wow, that’s good. It’s much safer for those folks if they’re apprehended.

Of course, I was completely wrong. No one cares about immigrants dying in the Arizona desert! “High risk” means sectors where 30,000 or more immigrants illegally cross the border every year.

2) That’s actually my biggest objection to this bill – the 90% language seems designed to provide Republicans with an easy out, since there is in fact no objective way of measuring how many people succeed in secretly crossing any particular border. The 19-page summary merely says:

We will establish the following “goal” for border security–to achieve and maintain effective control in high risk border sectors along the Southern border.

This will be done in two ways:

1)Persistent surveillance in High Risk Sectors along the Southern Border; and
2) An Effectiveness Rate of 90% in a fiscal year for all High Risk Sectors along the Southern Border.

“Effectiveness Rate” definition — The number of apprehensions and turn backs in a specific sector divided by the total number of illegal entries.

Since “the total number of illegal entries” in a specific sector cannot be objectively measured, what’s to prevent Republicans from refusing to believe any number that would make the effectiveness rate 90%?

3) This bill fails to include language to help committed same-sex couples. Of course, some same-sex couples will be helped when section three of the Defense of Marriage Act is overturned (that’s not an “if” but a “when”). Once DOMA is overturned, married same-sex couples will be able to follow the same rules for immigrant spouses that all married couples use.

Which helps out same-sex couples in New York, Massachusetts, and several other states. But those who live in states that don’t legally recognize SSM will still be screwed. Or will they be? I’m not clear on this. Suppose that Patty from Mexico and Marcie from Alabama get married during a trip to New York City. Will that be enough to allow Patty to qualify as a spouse for federal immigration purposes? Or would Marcie actually have to reside in New York?

4) The 13-year program – 13 years seems too long to me – will be cut down to five years for DREAMers. That’s good. (Who are the DREAMers, you ask? Basically, young people who were brought to the United States as children. See here for a fuller definition.)

5) Colorlines reports that the Gang of Eight proposal is in some ways liberal on family reunification (although in other ways it is not – they would end regulations that give special consideration to siblings of Americans, for example).

The summary text reads:

“Individuals outside of the United States who were previously here before December 31, 2011 and were deported for non-criminal reasons can apply to re-enter the United States in RPI status if they are the spouse, of or parent of a child who is, United States citizen or lawful permanent resident; or are a childhood arrival who is eligible for the DREAM Act.”

Approximately 22 percent people deported under the Obama administration have children who are U.S. citizens, according to data obtained last year by Many families would have the opportunity to reunite if the provision becomes law. Most immigration reform advocates thought such a provision an impossibility and several Beltway advocates told me it will take a fight to keep the deportee return text of final legislation.

Homeland Security officials have said that nearly three-quarters of deported parents were removed because of criminal convictions. Those deportees will likely be barred from returning, though it’s not clear if parents, spouses and DREAMers deported for minor infractions like traffic violations will be allowed to apply to return.

So that might be something that we hear a lot of conservatives objecting to.

6) On the whole, this compromise legislation would be a step forward from status quo. For that reason, I hope it passes. It is not the legislation that would be written if Progressives ruled Congress, but obviously they don’t, and I’d rather not let the perfect be the enemy of the best we can get.

7) Of course, this is just the Gang of Eight proposal. If immigration reform legislation passes this year – and that’s a big if – it will only be after the rest of the Senate, and the Republican-led House, get a chance to make their marks.

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3 Responses to Seven Thoughts About The Gang Of Eight’s Immigration Bill

  1. 1
    Ben Helford (aka Raznor) says:

    Suppose that Patty from Mexico and Marcie from Alabama get married during a trip to New York City. Will that be enough to allow Patty to qualify as a spouse for federal immigration purposes? Or would Marcie actually have to reside in New York?

    My understanding of immigration law is that Patty and Marcie would be considered married under immigration law. The question is whether a marriage is legally valid in the jurisdiction it was performed. When I heard this explained by an attorney who had worked for ICE, she gave an example that a US Citizen could travel to Baghdad, marry his/her 14 year old (opposite sex) cousin, and since that marriage is considered valid in Baghdad, his/her cousin would get a visa under US law. The only exception to this rule, under DOMA, is same sex couples getting married in the US. So in the above example, as long as the State of New York has no problem marrying couples who are not from New York, they should be considered married under US immigration law.

  2. 2
    Elusis says:

    One caveat: Back when Homeland Security and ICE was the INS, they had a pretty big problem with people coming to the US on, say, a tourist visa waiver, then suddenly getting a bad case of twitterpation and popping off to Vegas for an Elvis drive-through wedding. In fact, it was the kind of thing that was very likely to lead to them kicking your non-US-citizen spouse, however legally minted, out on their tuchus. (I know because my fiancé and I considered it.)

  3. 3
    time123 says:

    No one cares about immigrants dying in the Arizona desert!

    People care…but the amount that the care is probably tempered by the extent to which the deceased are undertook a dangerous activity of their volition.