Immigration Bill Clears Senate, Now on to House

After the 2012 presidential election, it appeared clear that Republicans would shift their focus to the nation's fastest growing minority, Latinos, with a concerted effort to enact urgent federal immigration legislation. A country ripe for massive reform embraced a bipartisan initiative in the Senate, as soon after the presidential election, Congress began spinning their wheels to address outdated, unjust, and culturally biased immigration policies.

One week ago, we inched closer to comprehensive immigration reform when the Senate voted on a bipartisan bill, SB 744, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act. This bill signals hope for a potential 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the country. SB 744 will offer a "pathway to citizenship", while opening an expedited system for getting DREAMers and agricultural workers on the books.

The bill offers Registered Provisional Immigrant (RPI) status to qualified individuals. This "pathway to citizenship" does not offer immediate legal residency, rather a temporary lawful presence in the United States. Individuals with RPI status will be given a driver license and permission to work in the United States, but not granted most federal benefits until the later stages of the process. After 10 years of RPI status, an individual will become eligible to apply for permanent residency. The final stage of this process, citizenship, is attainable after 3 years of residency.

Though this "pathway to citizenship" is long—at least 13 years, it offers the promise of naturalization down the road. For countless undocumented immigrants who have lived in the shadows for years, this legislation represents hope that is long overdue. For questions about Registered Provisional Immigration (RPI) status, contact Houston immigration attorney, Sebastian Simon.

SB 744 includes special provisions for both undocumented youth (often called DREAMers) and agricultural workers, as it includes portions of the DREAM Act and AgJOBS. The Senate also voted to expand current visa caps, which will wipe out the growing backlog of family and employment-based immigrant visas over the next 7 years. In addition, the bill introduces a merit system, which offers visas to individuals who accrue points through education, familial ties, and employment.

While an overwhelming majority approved SB 744 in the Senate, the bill faces some serious potential upcoming roadblocks. House Republicans appear unwilling to approve any "pathway to citizenship", and will attempt to flex their political muscle in dismantling this bipartisan Senate effort. Speaker of the House, John Boehner, continuously states that he will not bring up a vote unless the bill has support of the majority Republicans, who appear not to favor the sweeping reform. House Republicans are focused on promoting patchwork legislation that almost assuredly will not offer legal status to the 11 million undocumented already living in this county.

It is somewhat ironic that Republicans, who immediately shifted their post-election focus to appealing to Latinos, may soon suffer a debilitating blow by angering those with the largest stake in immigration reform. If Mr. Boehner is not willing to budge and truly will not bring this legislation to vote without serious dilution, the Republican Party risks permanently losing a constituency that will keep them from the White House in future years.

One fact is clear: immigration reform on a federal level is long overdue. The Senate has passed a bill that will surely offer reprieve to millions, while bringing countless undocumented immigrants out of the shadows, legitimizing a large portion of the domestic workforce, and fixing a broken system. House Republicans have an important decision to make; do the correct thing in promoting legislation that puts our nation's undocumented population on a "pathway to citizenship", or risk political exile.