Two key Democratic senators have introduced comprehensive legislation that would overhaul the nation's immigration laws, giving Latino voters and immigration advocates a parting gift heading into November's midterm elections.
The bill, introduced late Wednesday by Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Robert Menendez, D-N.J., and Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., as the Senate prepared to begin its pre-election recess, is largely viewed as a marker to help spur consideration of an overhaul of immigration laws and policy when the new Congress convenes in January.
Lawmakers and aides privately concede it is highly unlikely that Congress would take up immigration reform in the post-election lame-duck session.
But the Menendez-Leahy bill makes good on campaign promises by congressional Democrats to try to advance changes in immigration laws.
The bill covers the three main areas that immigration advocates say must be part of any comprehensive package: beefed-up enforcement of the nation's immigration laws; a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants in the country; and a system for bringing temporary workers into the country to meet the needs of employers.
It essentially puts legislative language to an immigration overhaul blueprint laid out by Senate Democratic leaders earlier this year. The bill would create a process under which an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the country could obtain their citizenship.
But it would require that increased border security measures and provisions to better enforce the nation's immigration laws are met before illegal immigrants can apply for legal status. And the bill specifies that illegal immigrants cannot jump ahead of those who have been waiting in line for their citizenship.
The bill would also create an independent commission to determine quotas for employment-based work visa programs. The idea of creating a commission is controversial, as business groups fear the panel would favor labor interests over the needs of employers.
The bill also includes the so-called AgJobs provision, which would overhaul the work visa system for agriculture workers, and the so-called DREAM Act, which would enable certain young adults who were brought to the United States illegally as minors to obtain their green cards.