Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) unveiled their bipartisan blueprint for comprehensive immigration reform Thursday, a move hailed by President Barack Obama as progress on an issue for which he has been criticized for ignoring.
“The American people deserve more than empty rhetoric and impractical calls for mass deportation. We urge the public and our colleagues to join our bipartisan efforts in enacting these reforms,” the Senators said in a Washington Post editorial posted online Thursday.
The Schumer-Graham outline entails four key components: a biometric Social Security identification card for employment verification; strengthened border security and interior law enforcement; a process for admitting temporary workers; and a controversial path toward citizenship for illegal immigrants currently living in the United States.
Under the proposal, employers would be allowed to hire illegal immigrants only if they were unsuccessful in recruiting Americans for open positions. Undocumented workers living in the country would have to pay fines and back taxes and perform community service in order to earn citizenship. They would also have to pass background checks and become proficient in English.
Obama called the blueprint “promising” and said it should be the basis for moving forward with legislation. But he stopped short of pledging to make immigration reform a reality in 2010, vowing only to “to do everything in my power to forge a bipartisan consensus this year.”
“My administration will be consulting further with the Senators on the details of their proposal, but a critical next step will be to translate their framework into a legislative proposal, and for Congress to act at the earliest possible opportunity,” Obama said.
The president has been on thin ice with proponents of immigration reform who say he has failed to lead on the issue. He promised to pass comprehensive reform in his first year in office, which didn’t happen, and he further angered Hispanics by making scant reference to the issue in his State of the Union address.
Graham and Schumer have been working for months to craft their bipartisan proposal — and to find an additional Republican to sign on as a co-sponsor. So far, they have been unsuccessful on that front.
“The fact that Lindsey and I put it together and the fact that the president praised it shows real progress,” Schumer told reporters.
The release of their framework comes days before tens of thousands of people are expected to rally in Washington, D.C., to demand action on immigration reform. Some sponsors of that rally say the Schumer-Graham proposal is a good first step but that more is needed.
Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, said the blueprint is missing several elements “that are absolutely essential to workable immigration reform.” He cited provisions relating to family reunification, temporary status for undocumented farm workers and conditional permanent residency for students who arrived in the country as minors.
Noorani added that Obama’s promise to throw his weight behind the issue “is a down payment” on working to make immigration reform happen in 2010.