Specter has crafted a bill, a so-called “Chairman’s Mark,” that draws on aspects of the two primary reform proposals currently before the Senate.
A House bill authored by Rep. Peter King, and which deals exclusively with border security and anti-terrorism measures, is being considered by two committees and is expected to come up for a vote in the 435-member House of Representatives by Christmas.
Meanwhile, President Bush delivered a speech in Arizona Monday in which he urged support for his plan for a guest worker scheme.
At the same time, Bush highlighted the need for stronger border security and tougher enforcement of immigration laws. He flatly rejected the idea of an amnesty for illegals and the undocumented.
The Specter initiative presents itself as a proposal aimed at “comprehensive immigration reform” and does indeed draw on the main competing Senate bills, one bipartisan, the other the work of two Republican senators.
The former is the McCain/Kennedy bill or, by its more formal title, the Secure America and Orderly Immigration Act of 2005.
The latter is the Cornyn/Kyl proposal, the Comprehensive Enforcement and Immigration Reform Act of 2005.
Both these bills are currently before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Chairman Specter’s proposal appears to offer the undocumented a long-term chance of securing eventual legalization.
But long in this case could mean up to 11 years.
The Cornyn/Kyl bill — the work of GOP senators John Cornyn and Jon Kyl – proposes “mandatory departure” from the U.S. for the undocumented and a temporary work visa scheme lasting up to six years on the lines proposed by the Bush administration.
The Specter proposal speaks instead of “deferred” mandatory departure. This would allow the undocumented up to five years to leave the U.S.
However, the individual would have to pay a fine upon departure from the country and for each extra year the undocumented immigrant deferred his or her departure, the fine would rise.
Once departed, the individual could apply for a temporary work visa lasting up to six years and at that point would have the opportunity to make a pitch for full legal residence.
Under this plan, and assuming the best possible scenario, a person could legally work in the U.S. for up to 11 years before beginning a process of legalization that itself could take several additional years.
The McCain/Kennedy bill – authored by GOP Senator John McCain and Edward Kennedy for the Democrats – includes a temporary work visa scheme and a path to possible legalization that does not involve first having to leave the U.S.
Specter’s proposal adheres closely to McCain/Kennedy on temporary work visas but is more closely aligned to Cornyn/Kyl in terms of enforcement and the requirement that undocumented immigrants must first leave the U.S. before they have any chance of getting back in legally.
However, a Chairman’s Mark is not necessarily the final word of its author. Often it is used as a tactic aimed at outlining possible common ground between competing bills.
The King House bill, meanwhile, is entitled the Border Security and Prevention of Terrorism Act of 2005.
Rep. King is chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee and his focus is necessarily confined to the security and control aspects of any future possible immigration reform package.
With his lengthy track record on Irish issues King is viewed by some observers as being not unsympathetic to the plight of an undocumented Irish population that various estimates place at being just a few thousand to 25,000 (an Irish government calculation) or even 50,000.
The King bill has passed through the Homeland Security Committee and has been referred to the House Judiciary and Armed Services panels.
With all the proposals now laid before Congress, currently in recess until mid-December, it would appear that the stage is being readied for a full and vigorous debate in the New Year.
Any compromise bill will almost certainly place its main emphasis on border security and enforcement of strengthened laws within the 50 states.
The question for the undocumented and their advocates is whether or not sympathetic legislators will be able to affix additional text or amendments that will provide a manageably short avenue of relief.
A central part of the debate will focus on the difference, real or perceived, between amnesty and “earned legalization.”
President Bush has not stated a view that they are one and the same but legislators in Congress opposed to the former also tend to be hostile to the latter.
Supporters of earned legalization such as Senators Kennedy and McCain, argue that earned legalization is not amnesty because the undocumented have to meet a number of requirements and pay fines before they have a chance of securing legal residence and its most visible symbol, a greencard.