For several years, I’ve been listening to far Right conservatives complain about the federal government’s inaction on having a more secure border with Mexico. Many of these same conservatives, however, were against two bipartisan immigration bills that specifically tried to address their concerns about border security: the 2006 McCain Kennedy Secure America and Orderly Immigration Act; and the 2013 bipartisan Senate bill the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act. Both bipartisan bills tried to address concerns of both Democrats and Republicans by combining a gradual pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants with enhanced border security.
The 2006 McCain Kennedy Secure America and Orderly Immigration Act tried to address the concerns of border security by conservatives with a proposal to authorize the Department of Homeland Security to use aerial surveillance to develop a national strategy for border security and establish an advisory committee on border security and enforcement issues consisting of representatives from border states, law enforcement, community officials and tribal authorities.
In exchange, the McCain Kennedy bill would allow undocumented immigrants in the United States on or before May 12, 2005, to register for a temporary visa that would be valid for six years. They would have to pay a $1,000 fine and any back taxes. To obtain permanent status, workers would have to pay a $1,000 application fee, meet English and civics requirements, as well as clear security and background checks. The bill would amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to create a new temporary work visa, known as the H-5A. People entering the United States could at least initially work in industries that are not high skilled or agricultural in nature. The visa would be for three years and could be extended for one additional three-year period.
Matthew Soerens wrote a recent article for The Hill titled Honor bipartisan legacy of John McCain with immigration reform that summarized the McCain Kennedy proposal:
First, McCain-Kennedy focused on improving border security and enforcement. Though the details varied between their initial proposal and subsequent incarnations, all insisted that the U.S. government has a sovereign obligation to secure its borders — a responsibility at which, especially during those years, it was miserably failing. The proposal also focused resources on verifying that temporary visitors to our country depart at the appropriate time, as nearly half of immigrants in the U.S. illegally entered legally and overstayed their visa.
Second, McCain-Kennedy focused on facilitating legal immigration. By increasing the number of employer-sponsored visas, both permanent and temporary, the bill would have dramatically reduced the incentives to immigrating illegally while meeting the needs of the U.S. labor market. The bill also proposed expediting the process by which family members abroad are reunited to their U.S. citizen relatives — a process that, under current law, can sometimes literally last decades and often prompts the overstaying of visas.
Finally, and perhaps most controversially, Senators McCain and Kennedy insisted that immigrants in the country unlawfully must make amends for their violation of law through fines and then be given the chance to earn permanent legal status by meeting various requirements, including passing English and civics tests. (This provision did not apply to those with serious criminal infractions, who would face deportation).
The McCain Kennedy bill passed the Senate on May 25, 2006, along a 62-36 vote. The House, however, passed a separate bill with greater focus on border security and enforcement without a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants, the Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005. House Speaker Dennis Hastert refused to have a vote on the Senate bill and never formed a conference committee to iron out the details in the Senate and House bills. The House and the Senate immigration bills expired at the end of the 109th Congress.
The 2013 Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act was written by a bipartisan group of eight Senators known as the “Gang of Eight”: Senators Charles Schumer (D-NY), John McCain (R-AZ), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Michael Bennet (D-CO), and Jeff Flake (R-AZ).
The American Immigration Council wrote a special report A Guide to S.744: Understanding the 2013 Senate Immigration Bill that did a good job of summarizing the 2013 Senate bipartisan bill. This is how the bill addressed the concerns of conservatives for border security:
The bill makes enormous investments in border security, including the following: deploying at least 38,405 full-time Border Patrol agents along the southern border (including an additional 19,200 more than currently in place); mandating an electronic exit system at all ports where Customs and Border Protection agents are deployed; constructing at least 700 miles of fencing, including double fencing; increasing mobile surveillance; deploying aircraft and radio communications; constructing additional Border Patrol stations and operating bases; hiring additional prosecutors, judges, and staff; providing additional training to border officers; and increasing prosecutions of illegal border crossings. The bill specifies mandatory area-specific technology and infrastructure that includes watch towers, camera systems, mobile surveillance systems, ground sensors, fiber-optic tank inspection scopes, portable contraband detectors, radiation isotope identification devices, mobile automated targeting systems, unmanned aircraft, radar systems, helicopters, and marine vessels, among other minimum requirements. The bill mandates 24-hour surveillance of the border region using mobile, video, and portable systems, as well as unmanned aircraft, and deploys 1,000 distress beacon stations in areas where migrant deaths occur. Interior enforcement against visa overstays is also increased. The Department of Homeland Security is required to initiate removal (deportation) proceedings, confirm that relief from removal is pending or granted, or otherwise close 90 percent of the cases of immigrants who have overstayed their visas by more than 180 days in the last 12 months. A pilot program is created to notify immigrants that their visas are about to expire…
…Spending on border security will reach record levels. The bill creates a fund with $46.3 billion of initial funding to implement the Act. Additional funding will be provided by visa and other user fees, which may be increased as necessary. $30 billion will be dedicated over a 10-year period to hiring and deploying at least 19,200 additional Border Patrol agents. $8 billion will be dedicated to the Southern Border Fencing Strategy, of which $7.5 billion will be for deployment and maintenance of fencing. $750 million will be dedicated to E-Verify implementation and expansion. $4.5 billion will be spent to carry out the Comprehensive Southern Border Security Strategy, and—if necessary—$2 billion will be allocated to implement the recommendations of the Southern Border Security Commission.
As well as provide tighter border security, the bill gave illegal immigrants a pathway to citizenship, a concern of liberals. The report summarized this part of the bill:
The bill will allow undocumented immigrants to apply for Registered Provisional Immigrant (RPI) status if they have been in the U.S. since December 31, 2011, have not been convicted of a felony or three or more misdemeanors, pay their assessed taxes, pass background checks, and pay application fees and a $1,000 penalty (which may be paid in installments), among other requirements. Applicants must also be admissible under current law, which excludes individuals who have committed certain offenses, participated in terrorist acts, or belong to other excluded categories. Spouses and children of RPIs would also be eligible. RPIs will not be eligible for federal means-tested public benefits such as Medicaid, food stamps, and benefits under the Affordable Care Act, and in general will not receive social security credit for previous unauthorized employment (except in the case of those who received a Social Security number prior to 2004)…
…The initial grant of RPI status is good for six years. RPI status may be renewed for six years if the immigrant has remained regularly employed, which allows for gaps of up to 60 days between employment periods. If the immigrant cannot show continuous employment, he or she must demonstrate income or resources not less than 100 percent of the poverty level. Note that the 2013 federal poverty level for a family of four is $23,550 per year. There are exemptions to the employment requirement for full-time enrollment in school, maternity leave, medical leave, physical or mental disabilities, children under 21, and extreme hardship. Applicants for RPI renewal must also undergo another background check, pay taxes, and pay any remaining balance of the $1,000 RPI penalty, among other requirements…
…Registered Provisional Immigrants will be able to apply for Lawful Permanent Residence (a “green card”), but they must go to the “back of the line” and have been in RPI status for at least 10 years. They will receive permanent residency only after all other applications submitted before the enactment of the bill have been processed. Like the RPI requirements, the requirements for permanent residence will include maintaining regular employment, which allows for gaps of up to 60 days at a time. In the alternative, if an applicant cannot show regular employment he or she would have to show an average income or resources of 125 percent of the poverty line during the RPI period. Exceptions are made for full-time students, children under 21, physical or mental disability, and showings of extreme hardship. Applicants would also have to show that they have maintained RPI status, paid taxes, meet English proficiency requirements (or be pursuing a course of study in English), pass an additional background check, and pay application fees and an additional $1,000 penalty…
…Registered Provisional Immigrants who have been lawfully present for 10 years before becoming permanent residents will be able to apply for U.S. citizenship after maintaining permanent resident status for 3 years. Therefore, undocumented immigrants who legalize via the RPI track will have to wait at least 13 years to become citizens.
The bipartisan bill passed the Senate on a 68-32 vote on June 27, 2013. Speaker of the House John Boehner refused to allow a vote on the Senate bill because of the informal Hastert Rule. The Hastert Rule is an informal rule that Republican Speakers of the House of Representatives have invoked since the mid 1990s. The Hastert Rule says that the Speaker will not schedule a floor vote on any bill that does not have majority support within his or her party — even if the majority of the members of the House would vote to pass it. The rule keeps the minority party from passing bills with the assistance of a minority of majority party members.
Speaker Boehner would not allow a vote on the Senate bill because the Freedom Caucus members of the House were against any bill that would allow a pathway to citizenship to illegal immigrants and wanted a bill that focused only on more stringent border security. The Freedom Caucus never offered any alternative immigration bill that addressed their concerns however. The Senate immigration bill expired at the end of the Congress.
Senator Edward M. Kennedy addresses an immigration rally on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., on April 10, 2006 to garner support of the McCain Kennedy immigration bill
In January 28, 2013, Senator McCain talked to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer about the new bipartisan immigration plan, which included stronger border security and a pathway to citizenship
On January 2018, bipartisan group of eight senators unveiled an immigration reform plan that would offer citizenship to 11 million immigrants as well as tougher border security. In this PBS NewsHour episode, Judy Woodruff talks with Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Gwen Ifill talks to Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., about how the politics of this new effort will play on Capitol Hill.