U.S. Senator Dick Durbin
Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) expressed cautious optimism about the future of immigration reform in the United States in an address to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs Monday morning.
His outlook was primarily due to the fact that the U.S. Senate recently passed the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act authored by the bipartisan “Gang of Eight”—of which Durbin is a member. But the House of Representatives remains a challenge, he said.
Broadly speaking, the Gang of Eight’s legislation would do the following if passed, Durbin said:
- Employment: mandatory verification by businesses that employees are in the U.S. legally, and changes to work visa programs to attract both more highly skilled and low-level workers (though, Durbin emphasized, not at the expense of job-seeking Americans).
- Naturalization: create a clear, “tough but fair” pathway to citizenship for non-citizens who were in the United States prior to end of 2011 and who have no serious criminal offenses on record, and make the citizenship process smoother for foreign students who earn a graduate degree in a STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) subject at a U.S. college or university.
- Border security: add guards, extend security fence by hundreds of miles, and provide more advanced technology tools for enforcement of the border between the U.S. and Mexico.
“You may not agree with every detail of the bill we passed, but it is a step forward,” Durbin said. (With a few qualifications, NAR supports the aims of this legislation. Learn more.)
The GOP House caucus is expected to discuss the bill at a meeting today. The group probably won’t move to vote on the bill, but rather will opt to write their own version, Durbin said, and added that if the legislation that’s proposed in the House is wide-ranging and tackles key immigration issues, then an eventual compromise can probably be reached.
If not, though, Durbin said they’re in for a fight. “We can’t let them kill it,” he said. “This is a once-in-a-political-lifetime opportunity for those of us who serve. This has the potential of dramatically infusing our economy with the best and brightest. Capturing that talent, that imagination and that energy can significantly help our economy.”
More broadly, Durbin expressed optimism about the changing national conversation around immigration. Once dominated by talk radio “shock jocks,” new voices—particularly among America’s youth—have joined the conversation.
“One important change is who’s leading the debate today,” he said. “Every great movement toward human rights and civil rights has a youth element. With this immigration reform, [young people] have become those warriors.”