Last week, the U.S. Senate took a significant step forward toward reform of our broken immigration system when it passed a truly bipartisan bill by an overwhelming vote of 68-32. The legislation (S. 744), while not perfect, creates a viable pathway to earned citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented persons currently living in the United States.
Importantly, the Senate bill includes the DREAM Act, legislation that provides an expedited path to citizenship to undocumented immigrants who were brought into the country as children. These individuals, Americans in their hearts if not on paper, will now be able to contribute their talents fully to our nation.
The legislation also increases the number of visas available to immigrants employed in high-skill and agricultural sectors, while strengthening penalties for employers who knowingly hire unauthorized workers or violate workplace rights. Passage of immigration reform would expand opportunities to a broad spectrum of American businesses and workers, increase national GDP, and decrease the federal budget deficit. Contrary to the assertions by the Heritage Foundation, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) found that S. 744 would contribute to economic growth by 3.3 percent over the first 10 years and 5.4 percent in the subsequent 10 years. Further, CBO found the Senate bill would reduce the federal budget deficit by $197 billion in the first 10 years and by $700 billion over the subsequent 10 years.
But not everything in the bill is perfect. I am troubled by the inclusion of an additional $38 billion to once again double the number of Border Patrol agents along the southern border and build 700 miles of fencing. At a time when federal workers are being furloughed and agency budgets are being slashed, this level of additional border security spending is wasteful and unnecessary. But at the end of the day, this provision was the price to pay to achieve the kind of bipartisan compromise necessary to move the legislation forward.
The Senate’s strong, bipartisan vote of 68-32 demands that House Republican leadership give it an up or down vote in the House. This was an agreement forged over years of hearings and legislative negotiating. Leading Republicans in the Senate helped craft it with overwhelming Democratic support. It was a model effort, and has earned floor time for consideration. Unfortunately, I hold little hope that House Speaker John Boehner will bring the Senate-passed legislation to the floor, but instead anticipate he will bring selective provisions, like border security that can satisfy the most conservative factions within his caucus to the floor for a vote. House Republican leadership has already indicated that the key provision of a path towards citizenship will not be considered by the House, which may only ensure the demise of any comprehensive reform.
As we recognize our nation’s history this Independence Day, let’s celebrate that America is and always will be a nation of immigrants. We are continuously revitalized by those who come to our shores to make a better life for themselves and their families. The Senate bill’s immigration reforms would ensure that the U.S. remains a vibrant and inclusive nation true to our shared heritage.