(WASHINGTON) — The announcement Monday of a proposal for immigration reform inspired renewed excitement for some involved in the fight, but other players in the debate felt a sense of déjà vu.
Monday afternoon, senators introduced a framework of changes previewed over the weekend, with President Obama and a secret group from the House of Representatives expected soon to follow suit.
The press conference was held by Sens. Chuck Schumer, John McCain, Dick Durbin, Lindsey Graham, Bob Menendez, Marco Rubio, Michael Bennet and Jeff Flake. Menendez called it “meaningful and comprehensive” immigration reform.
But former Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla., who worked on this same issue under President George W. Bush in 2007, said this proposal “is a lot like what we did five years ago — remarkably so.”
Martinez said it puts “a little more emphasis” on dealing with legal immigrants who overstay their visas, shifts from framing the policies as reuniting families to rewarding skilled laborers, and the phrase “guest worker” — which was a point of contention then — is now absent.
But in terms of things like creating a path to citizenship and requiring an electronic verification system for employers to determine an applicant’s legal status, “All of these things are exactly what we did before,” Martinez said.
To Martinez, this replay is a good thing. He said a “political evolution” and a new appreciation for Hispanic voters created a positive climate for reforms this time around.
But Ira Mehlman of the Federation for American Immigration Reform said he is not impressed.
“It’s essentially the same legislation that was offered and rejected in 2007,” Mehlman told ABC News. “It includes nothing for the primary constituency — namely the American public. It’s all based on what the immigrants and particularly the illegal immigrants want and what employers want.”
The two plans focused on achieving bipartisan support, molding immigration law to meet the needs of the economy, and the condition that reform would only happen simultaneously with the strengthening of border security.
The difference, according to immigration lawyer Cori Alonso-Yoder of immigrant-focused non-profit Ayuda, is the messaging in this proposal.
“The message is very helpful to people who are used to hearing a not-welcoming tone towards immigrants,” Alonso-Yoder said on Monday. “I think that’s sort of what distinguishes this from efforts that we saw in 2006, 2007 things that I think were more harsh on immigrants.”
This time around the plan alludes to racial profiling and human trafficking, two issues Alonso-Yoder said her clients “confront on a daily basis and are dealing with on a daily basis.”
She said she believes the intent in this legislation is good and that it will have some success — at least outside of the House of Representatives.
“My concern is just seeing how this will all sort of play out in a system that is already filled with patchwork fixes, and how deep this reform will go, how broad it will sweep,” Alonso-Yoder said.
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