Commentary: Comparing Immigration Reform Proposals

Infographic courtesy of the Urban Institute.

Both the President and the Senate’s “gang of eight” introduced proposals for comprehensive immigration reform this week. They agree on key principles revolving around enforcement, employment, a path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants, and solutions for problems plaguing the system. But they also differ in several ways.

Immigrant advocacy groups have expressed their approval. The National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) Educational Fund issued the following statement:

NALEO Educational Fund applauds the bipartisan efforts of U.S. Senators who today released their framework for moving comprehensive immigration reform forward. The principles acknowledge that our nation is struggling as a result of our broken immigration system, and aims to address this issue in a fair and humane manner that brings the more than 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the country today out of the shadows.

“The statements from President Obama and the bi-partisan group of Senators this week give us hope that immigration policy reform will soon become a reality. Our community members are deeply affected by every facet of our nation’s immigration laws and enforcement practices,” said Deepa Iyer, Chair of the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans (NCAPA). “Our communities also have sent the message that changes in immigration policy are critical in uniting families, accessing employment, education and health care, and living without fear of detention and deportation.”

There are several differences between the president’s and senators’ frameworks however, as outlined by the Urban Institute. Surprisingly, a key sticking point is no longer the fate of the estimated 11 million plus undocumented immigrants, but that of lesbian and gay binational couples and their families, who number less than 30,000. Because of the Defense of Marriage Act, U.S. citizens and permanent residents are not able to sponsor their same-gender foreign-born partners and spouses, unlike their heterosexual counterparts. While the president’s plan has a provision for gay families, the senators’ plan does not.

Conservatives in Congress warn against insisting on an LGBT-inclusive provision in any comprehensive immigration legislation.

“I think it is a red herring,” said Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) when asked about this issue. “I think then, do we want to guarantee a tax payer free abortion? I’m telling you now, if you load this up with social issues and things that are controversial, then it will endanger the issue.”

The idea of throwing LGBT immigrant families under the bus has advocates displeased. Fair Immigration Reform Movement (FIRM), a network of community-based immigrant advocacy organizations in 30 states, released a statement saying they are “disappointed by the exclusion of the Uniting American Families Act to ensure fair treatment of LGBT families from the bill.” The Uniting American Families Act would guarantee the equal treatment of gay couples. Immigration Equality, a group that works on behalf of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) immigrants, shared this dissatisfaction.

“We were disappointed that the bipartisan framework did not specifically include lesbian and gay families,” said Steve Ralls, Immigration Equality’s Director of Communications. “Earlier this year, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus released their priorities for immigration reform and we were on their list that they wanted to see included.”

The administration and GOP leadership appear committed to passing immigration reform this year but there are no guarantees about what form it will take, whether it will be truly comprehensive and inclusive or not.

Fi2W is supported by the David and Katherine Moore Family Foundation and the Ralph E. Odgen Foundation.

AboutErwin de Leon
Erwin de Leon is a Policy Researcher and writer based in Washington, DC. He writes on immigration, LGBT, and nonprofit issues. You can follow him on Twitter at @ErwindeLeon.