As of Tuesday, the other corner is filled by the Comprehensive Enforcement and Immigration Reform Act of 2005, a measure proposed by GOP senators John Cornyn of Texas and Jon Kyl of Arizona.
There is an apparent glaring gulf between both measures on the crucial issue of earned legal residence.
The Kennedy/McCain bill offers undocumented immigrants the potential achieve legal status while remaining in the U.S.
Initial scrutiny of the Cornyn/Kyl bill appears to limit legal status to a renewable temporary worker visa issued to undocumented or illegal immigrants after they have first agreed to “Mandatory Departure” from the U.S.
And in a move that is certain to spark furious debate, the Cornyn/Kyl bill proposes to terminate the diversity visa, or “Schumer” visa program, currently the only means by which the majority of would-be Irish immigrants can hope to secure a green card.
The Cornyn/Kyl bill was unveiled at a press conference on Capitol Hill where observers are now expecting the Senate Judiciary Committee to consider immigration reform next week.
Sources say that Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, Sen. Arlen Specter is planning a hearing on Tuesday, July 26 during which reform proposals will be discussed.
However, immigration observers acknowledge that a judiciary hearing could be delayed in the context of the expanding debate over the replacing of outgoing Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O’Connor.
An immigration hearing was not yet listed on the Senate Judiciary Committee schedule posted on the Senate’s website at press time.
The entry into the reform debate of the Cornyn/Kyl bill has been keenly anticipated as both men are seen as likely reflecting the Bush administration’s views on how reform should proceed.
Cornyn is chairman of the Senate’s Immigration, Border Security and Citizenship subcommittee while Kyl chairs the Terrorism, Technology and Homeland Security subcommittee.
A statement posted with the unveiling of the new bill said it would dramatically strengthen enforcement, bolster border security, and comprehensively reform immigration laws.
“This bill strengthens our border enforcement and comprehensively reforms our immigration system. We need both stronger enforcement and reasonable reform of our immigration laws,” Cornyn said.
“Beyond the notion of returning the rule of law to the border, the single most important aspect of this bill is that it does not reward those who have broken the law, and does not constitute amnesty,” Sen. Kyl said.
“As a nation, we have made both of those mistakes and learned from them – they are the reason we now have an undocumented population as high as 15 million,” he said
The Cornyn/Kyl bill proposes a range of measures aimed at shoring up border security. What passes for its earned legalization aspect is outlined in a section entitled “Mandatory Departure and Reentry in Legal Status.”
This section proposes to allow “aliens who are present in the U.S. illegally to apply for Mandatory Departure, which enables them time to depart the United States voluntarily and reenter the country through normal legal channels (e.g. as temporary worker).”
The bill continues: “Aliens granted Mandatory Departure status are ineligible to obtain permanent resident status (i.e. green card) while in the U.S. – they must depart and reenter through normal legal channels
“Aliens are registered, fingerprinted, and checked against all available criminal/terrorist lists
“Aliens are issued secure, biometric identity documentation. The documents will function as identity documents and employers will use document readers to verify identity and employment authorization
The bill “Provides incentives for aliens to depart the United States immediately, but all aliens are required to depart prior to five years.”
“Aliens who return to home country within a short period of time may quickly reenter through legal channels as a temporary worker and are not required to spend up to 10 years outside of the country.”
The reference to ten years relates to the current bar placed on re-entry to anyone who has been illegally in the U.S. for more than a year.
The bill further proposes “aliens who fail to depart are ineligible for any other immigration benefit for a period of ten years.”
A section of the bill headed “Circular Migration and Visa Backlog Reduction” contains what is likely to be a particularly contentious aspect of the Cornyn/Kyl proposal.
It proposed “temporary worker investment funds to encourage aliens to return home” but more crucially “reduces visa backlog waiting times by allowing the recapture of unused visa numbers and terminating the Diversity Visa Program.”
While the numbers of Irish applicants securing visas annually in the diversity visa lottery has been in decline in recent years it remains just about the only way that an Irish national without the highest end job skills can hope for legal status outside of marriage to a U.S. citizen.