But the project’s most novel – and thorny – elements lie in how it would deal with the millions of unauthorized residents already here, who will be required to register with the government if they want to become citizens. In order for these residents to take the next step, however, America’s borders will have to be deemed secure and the immigration laws enforced.
In putting the principles into legislative language by their target date in March, the senators will need to decide the necessary metrics or milestones to measure progress on border security and immigration enforcement.
The bipartisan road map calls for beefed up border patrols, including advanced technological assistance like unmanned aerial vehicles, and a system that tracks when visitors enter and exit the country, among other measures.
The plan also calls for a commission of governors, attorneys general, and community leaders from Southern border states to offer their recommendation when the border has actually become secured.
But that proposal raises questions of how the commission will be constructed, whether it alone will determine when border security has been achieved, and which metrics will be used to determine when the bill’s requirements are met.
“In theory, I think [the border commission] sounds fine, but in actuality the border is never 100 percent secure,” says Susan Cohen, chair of the Immigration Practice at law firm Mintz Levin in Boston. “But it’s much more secure now than it used to be, and I think that it’s not unrealistic to think we could get to a point where some commission could certify it as secure for that purpose.”
It’s an important concern, because whichever mix of policy prescriptions ends up in the final bill, the outline calls for all of the pieces of the enforcement puzzle to be assembled before a single undocumented immigrant receives a green card.