Michael Bennet on the Group of Eight's introduction of massive immigration bill
Immigration has become more than a "hot-button" issue in the United States. It is a critical component to how the country functions in the foreseeable future. Undocumented immigrants are not going to stop coming into the country simply because there might be rules or laws against it.
Instead, it's up to leaders to do the natural thing: adapt to realities. And adapt is exactly what Colorado senator Michael Bennet has done.
On Tuesday, Bennet, along with eight other senators -- the "Group of Eight," including John McCain, Chuck Schumer and Marco Rubio -- introduced a comprehensive bill that would effectively overhaul the current immigration system. The Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013 addresses immigrant registration and verification, plus border security measures and enforcement. It would also implement new visa programs, eliminating the current H-2A system that allows non-U.S. workers to enter the country for seasonal or temporary agricultural work, among other things.
During a teleconference, Bennet noted the success of the rare collaboration between Democrats and Republicans, but he insisted the issue of immigration went beyond party politics . Instead, he pointed at theColorado Compact as an inspiration for the bill.
"The very first principle of the compact was the observation [that immigration] is a federal problem and it needs to be fixed at a federal level," he said. "People say it's bipartisan, but I really think it's non-partisan."
The bill is an 800-plus-page behemoth that could provide undocumented immigrants with a thirteen-year path toward citizenship, provided they meet a bevy of provisions. This path would begin in the form of obtaining Registered Provisional Immigrant status. One of the conditions that must be met before being approved is that the person in question must have been in the country prior to December 31, 2011. Other provisos include two $500 fines -- one at the first application and one at the renewal -- and an eventual $1,000 fine at the ten-year mark, after which one could apply for a status adjustment to "lawful permanent resident."
Sergio Gonzales, a legislative aide to Bennet and one of the bill's drafters, said the bill is a reflection of the cultural melting pot upon which the United States was built.
"We have a bill that recognizes our history as an immigrant country," he said. "It also revamps the way people come into this country to do the things that we need people to do."
Other notable elements of the bill include a potential $6.5 billion price tag for border security and enforcement, as well as a new three-year visa that would allow foreign entrepreneurs to enter the country providing they have a qualifying investor who is already a U.S. citizen.
The bill is scheduled to go before the Senate Judiciary Committee today, with another hearing on Monday, April 22. Bennet says supporters plan to get the bill to the Senate floor in June.
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Although Bennet believes the bill has a good chance of passing, he cautioned that Tuesday's introduction is merely a jumping-off point.
"This bill is a starting point in a long road through Congress," he says. "It's going to take all hands on deck to get this done, but I think we're at a moment where the Senate is about to legislate again."
Here's a summary of the bill, provided by Bennet's office:
More from our Calhoun: Wake-Up Call archive: "Michael Bennet's role in Colorado Compact on immigration caps senator's big week."