At the core of both the White House and Senate proposals is a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States today. Both proposals also include border reform, updating the legal immigration system and reducing current backlogs, and expanding employment-based visas to include more green cards for high-skilled workers.
There are differences, as well. For example, Mr. Obama’s framework makes more overtures to progressives, including support for equal treatment of same-sex couples for immigration purposes, curbing border patrol abuses involving racial profiling, and immigration court reform.
The Senate proposal is more centrist, making the path to citizenship conditional on first completing enhanced border-security measures and requiring legalization applicants to go to the “back of the line” before obtaining their lawful permanent resident status – or eventual citizenship. Because extraordinary backlogs in visa processing currently exist, most people expect the Senate to authorize additional visas to reduce the backlog. Nonetheless, legalization applicants would likely wait many years to receive their “green cards.” Obama’s plan calls for a more straightforward path to citizenship with fewer strings attached.
The Senate proposal also explicitly calls for a reformed and expanded temporary-worker program flexible enough to meet the demand for jobs when the economy is good and to scale back accordingly when it is not.
In short, the Senate proposal seeks to balance often conflicting interests and concerns – border security vs. legalization, a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants vs. fairness to those who went through legal channels, and the need for immigrant skills and labor across the whole economic spectrum vs. concern for worker protections and increasing opportunities for native-born workers.
The Senate plan aims to earn buy-in from both Republicans and Democrats on issues such as border enforcement, visa reforms, and temporary workers to garner broader support for full reform and legalization.