The five best, worst things in the Senate's immigration bill

I’ve spent a decade working as an advocate for immigration reform.  Finally, we’ve got a real bill to work with.

This month, a bipartisan group of Senators released an 844-page immigration proposal that goes a long way to fixing our current failed system. Changing demographics and politics pushed the process forward.

America has always been a country that values fairness, hard work and creativity. We’ve integrated waves of immigrants over the centuries and, together, built a stronger country.

It’s that moment again to recognize the contributions of immigrants and to make sure we have an immigration process that reflects our American values.

There’s still a long way to go before we reach the finish line for immigration reform and we need fixes to the proposed bill to make it right for today’s America. Here’s my list of the five best and five worst things in the bill.

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The Best

1. It’s bipartisan.  That’s a great start to securing the necessary votes in the Senate, and putting pressure on House colleagues to pass a similar bill.

2. There’s a path.  Most undocumented immigrants, who formerly had absolutely no way to become legalized will now have the opportunity to become “registered provisional immigrants” and get on a path to permanent residence and eventual citizenship.  DREAMers and agriculture workers get a speedier path to citizenship, too.

3. The family immigration “backlog” will be cleared.  The current backlog of 4.7 million U.S. citizens or permanent residents who have applied for their family members to come to the United States will be processed over the course of eight years, with a certain number of applications guaranteed to be processed each year.  It’s high-time families get to be with their loved ones.

4. Women matter.  Throughout the bill, women do get attention. The definition of employment appears to recognize the work of stay-at-home mom and other caregivers, working moms, and domestic workers. Spouses of applicants for citizenship will be included and will also be able to petition for themselves in cases of divorce, domestic violence or death of the primary applicant. Visas for victims of domestic violence will almost double.  There’s more that needs to happen, but this is a great start.

5. The bill establishes the first ever federal Office of Immigrant Integration.  Instead of a host of decentralized state efforts, we can now coordinate, direct and fund integration efforts from a central place.

The Worst

1. The path is long and still excludes many.  Undocumented immigrants will have to wait thirteen years to get their citizenship, which is a long time to be in limbo.  The sooner people know they are here to stay, the sooner they can fully contribute their skills and talents to America.

The bill also sets a cut off date for qualifying at 12/31/2011, leaving anyone who arrived since then in limbo.  Some of the requirements—from the fees, to the renewal process after the first six year period, to the continuous employment requirements—could leave out millions of people.

Reform that leaves out millions will not be reform—and we’ll end up dealing with the same issue all over again in a few years.  That’s not good for anyone.  We need fixes now.

2. The proposed shift to a purely merit-based system is bad for family values.  A point system that rewards higher levels of education and employment doesn’t recognize—as America always has—that our country is strongest when families are strong.

3. We’re still spending too much money on borders and fences. Spending more doesn’t help get real security—that comes when we have a common-sense immigration system that that meets our economic needs and our values.

4. Discrimination against women in future employment visa categories still hasn’t been fully addressed.  Right now, only 27% of all employment visas go to women.

Future immigration flows need to give equal value to the work that women do in essential industries like domestic work and in-home health care. While the bill, assigns points for “caregiving,” it’s unclear if this will be enough for meaningful inclusion of women.

5.  We’re past time.  It’s good that Senators on both sides of the aisle are recognizing the need to get this done but we’re about a decade late.  So let’s get it done now.

In the end, it’s critical that we recognize that millions of immigrants are here, working to contribute to America and to make life better for their families.  This bill is the start to a real solution that honors those important American values and reminds us that we truly are one America.