On January 30, President Obama announced his own immigration reform plan. It was not very different from the bipartisan group of eight Senators' plan. Two main difference are that the president's plan would not require that additional border security measures be completed before up to 11 million unauthorized immigrants could start getting into line for their green cards (or eventual citizenship). The president's plan, unlike the eight Senators' proposal, would also allow green cards based on same sex marriages.
Other than that, based on what has been announced, there does not seem to be much difference between the two proposals. Both are enforcement-heavy and benefit-light. Both would require unauthorized immigrants to go to the "back of the line" before being eligible to receive green cards. As mentioned in my two previous comments, this "line" could be almost 24 years long, based on the February, 2013 Visa Bulletin priority date for Family Fourth Preference for the Philippines.
Both plans are heavy on enforcement, such as "Stengthen Border Security" - "Cracking Down on Employers Hiring Undocumanted Workers", to quote from the president's plan, which is no different from the Senators' plan in giving priority to these goals.*
But what about reforming legal immigration? The eight Senators' plan, running to about four pages, devotes the equivalent of about one page to this goal, as opposed to about two pages total for enforcement. The president's much shorter "fact sheet" also devotes about twice as many words to enforcement as to improving legal immigration.
As to substance, other than a vague promise to reduce both employment and family visa backlogs, the Senate group of eight plan offers only one specific change relating to skilled legal immigration - more STEM green cards. Even this proposal is limited to people who have graduated with advanced degrees from American universities. This may be a good beginning, but it is just a drop in the bucket - or ocean - of what needs to be done.*
As for lower-skilled immigrants, and especially agricultural workers, there are also some vague promises, but no specifics. The president's proposal is not much different, except that it also mentions the need to provide visas to foreign entrepreneurs.
Significantly, while paying lip service to the need to attract "the world's best and brightest", neither proposal says anything about changing the culture of bitter hostility toward the most skilled and accomplished foreign professional workers which the USCIS Service Centers and the AAO have been showing in many decisions denying, for example, EB-1 and O-1 extraordinary ability petitions. More about this will appear in my future*bloggings.
In summary, both the president's and the bipartisan group of Senators' proposals seem to be more interested in appeasing anti-immigrant feeling among the public than in taking concrete steps toward real immigration reform. This is not what 71 percent of Latino voters supported last November. Nor is it what immigration advocates have earned the right to expect after four years in the wilderness of enforcement and not much else during President Obama's first term.
Roger Algase is a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School. He has been practicing business immigration law in New York City for more than 20 years.