The long-awaited legislation -- the product of about three months of negotiations among four Democrats and four Republicans -- arrived in the Senate April 17 as the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act, S. 744.
The bill's introduction marks the first serious congressional attempt since 2007 to repair what seemingly everyone acknowledges is a broken immigration system.
The lack of enforcement of the current system has resulted in an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States illegally.
Among its provisions, the 844-page legislation includes border and other enforcement requirements that must be achieved before immigrants who are in the country illegally may gain temporary legal status, according to Senate supporters. The mandates include a universal employment verification system, as well as border security and fence plans and establishment of a commission to recommend when the security prerequisites are met.
When the border security plans are in place, undocumented immigrants can seek temporary status. To achieve such provisional status under the bill, each immigrant must, among other requirements, pass a background check, pay taxes and $2,000 in fines, and wait at least 10 years behind legal immigrants who applied before him. He will receive no federal benefits during this provisional period.
Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, described the Senate bill Thursday (April 18) as "encouragingly similar to the parameters and principles laid down by the Evangelical Immigration Table."
The Evangelical Immigration Table (EIT), a coalition of Christian leaders, "can't get into the details," Land told Baptist Press. "That will be worked out in committee and on the Senate floor, but certainly the principles that we encouraged the Senate and the House to look at are present in the bill -- securing the borders, securing the workplace, finding an earned pathway to probationary and then full legal status and citizenship, and finding a legitimate way for people to come here in ways that they can't come now because the immigration system is broken from top to bottom."
Land added, "Clearly, it is a compromise document, so no one is going to be happy with all of it. I am particularly unhappy at the low levels of guest workers that are allowed, but it's my understanding that was necessary to get labor's support."
Other advocates for broad reform, as well as the eight senators who crafted the new bill, acknowledged its imperfections.
"No one got everything he wanted," said Sen. Charles Schumer, D.-N.Y., in a Thursday news conference featuring all eight senators.
President Obama said in a written statement, "o one will get everything they wanted, including me." It is mostly consistent with his principles for reform, the president said.
Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, said the Senate bill represents "yielding on something each of us cares about to move forward on what all of us care about." He said the legislation "includes all the core elements necessary for reform."
Critics from both the left and right took aim at the Senate proposal.
Homosexual organizations decried the bill's refusal to include partners in same-sex relationships. "eaving anyone out weakens the moral authority of this once-in-a-generation legislation," said Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, in a blog post. "No one should be forced to live in the shadows of society."
Land and other evangelical leaders, however, have warned inclusion of legal residency for same-sex partners would kill support for the bill among many evangelicals.
On the right, Jim DeMint, new president of the Heritage Foundation, criticized the proposal as providing "amnesty" to people who came to the country illegally. He also warned about the costs.
"he cost of implementing amnesty and the strain it will add to already fragile entitlement and welfare programs should be of serious concern for everyone," he posted on a Heritage blog.
Advocates for broad reform denied the Senate bill offers "amnesty."
"From what we understand, the bill that was dropped this morning has accountability," Land told reporters at an April 17 news conference. After describing some of the requirements, he said, "That is not amnesty in any dictionary in the English language."
Tom Minnery, senior vice president of Focus on the Family, told CitizenLink, "Amnesty is generally a forgiveness for wrongs usually in a political context. This bill would require those who want to have status in this country to pay fines, taxes and admit they're wrong."
"Leaving things the way they are -- that's the real amnesty," said Sen. Marco Rubio, R.-Fla., the leading Senate conservative behind the bill, at the news conference Thursday.
The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the legislation Friday (April 19) and has scheduled another hearing April 22. The committee will not take votes on the bill until May, Schumer said. He also said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has made a commitment to bring the legislation to the floor in June.
Supporters of immigration reform have warned there is only a narrow window of opportunity for passage in this two-year, congressional session, which closes at the end of 2014. Land has predicted approval must happen by the Fourth of July or Labor Day.
In addition to Schumer and Rubio, the other senators who negotiated the bill are Republicans Jeff Flake and John McCain, both of Arizona, and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, as well as Democrats Michael Bennet of Colorado, Richard Durbin of Illinois and Robert Menendez of New Jersey.
EIT has called for immigration reform that:
-- "Respects the God-given dignity of every person;
-- "Protects the unity of the immediate family;
-- "Respects the rule of law,
-- "Guarantees secure national borders,
-- "Ensures fairness to taxpayers;
-- "Establishes a path toward legal status and/or citizenship for those who qualify and who wish to become permanent residents."
Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
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