Both the size of the United States' unauthorized population and the inability of the immigration system to adequately handle influxes have returned comprehensive immigration reform to the national debate. Several legislative proposals are pending before the 109th Congress.
These bills recognize the size of the unauthorized population, but each proposal advocates a different method for reducing it, including in some cases by trying to anticipate and accommodate further flows through guest worker programs.
The two leading proposals are the "Secure America and Orderly Immigration Act" (S. 1033/ H.R. 2330), a bipartisan, bicameral bill introduced by Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Ted Kennedy (D-MA), and concurrently by Representatives Jim Kolbe (R-AZ), Jeff Flake (R-AZ), and Luis Gutierrez (D-IL); and the "Comprehensive Enforcement and Immigration Reform Act" (S. 1438), sponsored by Senators John Cornyn (R-TX) and Jon Kyl (R-AZ). The "Secure America and Orderly Immigration Act" also enjoys the sponsorship of Senators Sam Brownback (R-KS), Joe Lieberman (D-CT), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Ken Salazar (D-CO) as well as 15 additional House co-sponsors.
Both of these proposals have, to varying degrees, embraced the "three-legged stool" approach established by the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) of 1986: enforcement, employer sanctions, and legalization.
Two other comprehensive immigration reform bills have been introduced in the House: the "REAL GUEST Act" (H.R. 3333) by Representative Tom Tancredo (R-CO) with two co-sponsors and the "Save America Comprehensive Immigration Act" (H.R. 2092) by Representative Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX) with 21 co-sponsors. Jackson-Lee supports the Kennedy-McCain bill and views her legislation as a complementary bill that addresses specific issues.
Below is a comparison of each piece of legislation on four areas: enforcement, employer sanctions, legalization, and guest worker programs.
For an expanded comparison, please download the side-by-side chart (PDF).
The authors of each bill have addressed the public desire for stronger immigration enforcement in various ways.
The Cornyn-Kyl bill puts forward a robust and detailed plan for increased border and interior enforcement. The bill would
The Tancredo bill also emphasizes enforcement. It would
The Kennedy-McCain bill gives DHS more latitude in designing the measures it sees as necessary for effective border control. The bill would
The Jackson-Lee bill does not focus strongly on enforcement, but it would increase by 5,000 the number of CBP inspectors over the next five years, and would allow state and local government to determine whether or not to participate in immigration law enforcement.
In response to President Bush's (unspecified) request for stronger employer sanctions against those who continue to employ unauthorized immigrants, each bill's authors have crafted new ways to penalize such employers.
In regards to employer sanctions, both McCain-Kennedy and Cornyn-Kyl would create a series of similar mechanisms for enforcing employer violations of labor laws. These bills would
The Tancredo bill would also require a work authorization system and would provide more severe penalties for employers who violate labor laws. Specifically, the bill would replace penalty ranges with flat fees set at more than double the current maximum amounts.
In contrast, the Jackson-Lee bill focuses primarily on the adverse impacts on minority native-born employees, encouraging employers to make attempts to advertise and contract American minority employees. It also establishes immigration status-related intimidation as an unfair labor practice.
Opportunities for Unauthorized Immigrants
The greatest variation among the legislative proposals is their approach to the current unauthorized population. While the Jackson-Lee and Kennedy-McCain bills would offer ways for the currently unauthorized to achieve legal status, the Cornyn-Kyl bill only would provide the opportunity to accept Deferred Mandatory Departure status (with no chance for permanent adjustment of status), and the Tancredo bill would offer no program at all for unauthorized immigrants.
The Cornyn-Kyl bill would
The Kennedy-McCain proposal seeks to implement "earned legalization," in which unauthorized migrants would
Similarly, the Jackson-Lee bill would
Guest Worker Programs
While the Jackson-Lee bill does not consider formal guest worker programs, the other bills each contain a provision to deal with the flow of foreign temporary workers to the United States.
Types of visa
The Cornyn-Kyl bill would
The Kennedy-McCain bill would
In contrast, the Tancredo bill would eliminate all current H visa categories and replace them with a single H category that would give H-visa holders 365 days over a two-year period, subject to renewal. H-visa holders would not be eligible to adjust to LPR status under any circumstances.
Portability of visas
The Cornyn-Kyl and Kennedy-McCain bills would vest their new guest worker visa categories with portability. The Tancredo bill does not address the issue.
Employer's role and visa allocation
Under the Kennedy-McCain H-5A program
Under the Cornyn-Kyl proposal
The Tancredo bill also would require employers to demonstrate that they have attempted to hire an American worker. Additionally, it would require employers not to have laid off citizen workers in the previous six months.
Requirements for participation
The Cornyn-Kyl bill would
The McCain-Kennedy bill would
The Tancredo bill would
The Kennedy-McCain bill would allow the families of H-5A workers to accompany them to the United States, whereas the Cornyn-Kyl bill would only allow for a 30-day visit during any one year. The Tancredo bill would make no provisions for families of guest workers.