In a sudden and surprising move, Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez, D-Ill., has intrdouced sweeping legislation in the House of Representatives to reform America's broken immigration system and find a solution to legalize an estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants. The Immigration Policy Center has already put up a terrific summary of the Bill, entitled the Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America's Security and Prosperity Act (CIR ASAP) of 2009.
At its core, CIR ASAP would provide legal status to undocumented immigrants by requiring registration with the federal government, payment of a $500 fine for each adult, learning English, background checks, as well as other criteria related to crimes and immigration violations. These immigrants would then qualify for a six-year visa leading to permanent residency. CIR ASAP also incorporates the DREAM Act, providing a path to citizenship for children and young adults brought to the U.S. illegally by their parents and who have completed college and have a clean criminal record.
Introduction of CIR ASAP is surprising in two key respects. First, it places another huge piece of legislation on the Democrats' congressional agenda, with health care reform and stimulus issues still unsettled. Secondly, House members and staffers I have spoken to have indicated that the pro-reform House caucus was taking a "Senate first" approach, and would not introduce a bill and make a stand on immigration reform without first receiving assurances that immigration reform would pass in the Senate. Recall that the last CIR proposal, the McCain-Kennedy Bill, failed ingnominiously in the Senate in 1997, and House members don't want to catch heat for a bill that won't pass in the other chamber.
Introduction of CIR ASAP in the House gives off some really interesting tells. First, it appears Rep. Guttierez and the House leadership believe a) comprehensive immigration reform will pass the Senate, b) the health care debate is essentially over and a health care bill will pass, and c) it is now-or-never time for pro-immigration reform Democrats, who, if history is any guide, will as the incumbent party in power lose seats in the House and Senate in November 2010. Facing these potential losses, CIR might never pass if it doesn't pass now.
To provide some local San Jose flavor, give a read to Ken McLaughlin's article today in the San Jose Mercury News. As reported in the paper, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-CA, has not entirely deviated from the Senate first strategy, and will fully take up CIR once it is introduced in the Senate after the holidays by Sen. Charles Schumer, D-NY. A fascinating piece on Speaker Pelosi's "Senate First" legislative strategy, and her desire to protect vulnerable Democratic House members, is featured at thehill.com.
The New York Times does a good round-up on opposition to the Guttierez bill. Opponents, mostly from the Republican aisle, refer to the bill as "Dead on Arrival", amounting to an amnesty for law breakers. For other Republican opponents, the bill is not "comprehensive" enough, in that it fails to provide enough avenues for employers to hire low cost and expoitable, oops, I mean temporary guest workers, an issue I dealt with in depth in a prior entry on this blog.
Introduction of a CIR bill in the House is a terrific sign for the pro-reform camp. If you care about the success of this Bill, now is the time to learn about Comprehensive Immigration Reform, contact your member of Congress.