Bipartisan Group Working On Immigration Overhaul

A bipartisan group of senators is laying out the framework for an overhaul of the nation’s immigration status.

Alaska’s senators are welcoming the movement.

Alaska’s share of the nation’s 11 million undocumented immigrants is relatively small. The Pew Research Center estimates there are fewer than 10,000 illegal immigrants in the state. That’s less than one and half percent of the state’s work force.

Senator Mark Begich is confident they’ll soon be on the path to living in the country without fear of deportation.

“You have eight Democrats and Republicans, four of each, pretty cross section of folks in that group, who are supporting a concept which I think is a good sign,” Begich said. “That’s a good sign for us.”

That concept is the most recent plan to overhaul the nation’s immigration system. There is no bill just yet – that’s still at least a month away.

But it’s a blueprint that’s getting positive reviews, if for no other reason than the bipartisan nature of it.

It lays out a path to citizenship for those currently living in the country illegally, but only after increased border enforcement is put in place.

It would require any immigrant to learn English to qualify for permanent resident status.

And, among other things, would stiffen penalties for employers who knowingly hire undocumented workers. The government would require an online verification system.

Senator Begich says it’s a good starting point.

“From Alaska’s parochial position, we have some issues we have to resolve, and this would be a great vehicle to do that,” Begich said.

Namely, retooling the J-1 visa program that allowed foreign students to work in Alaska’s fisheries until the State Department removed the state’s processing plants from the program in November.

Senator Lisa Murkowski says she hasn’t seen the plan, so she can’t comment any specifics. But she welcomes the progress – even if this is the first step.

“I like the fact there is clearly a very real effort to be addressing the issue,” Murkowski said. “It is an effort that goes beyond an administration proposal.”

This is not the first real effort though. Congress has attempted to change immigration policy as recently as 2010. That program would have allowed students who came to the country illegally as children the chance to enroll in college as in-state students. It failed.

Arizona Senator John McCain says there is one key difference between America in 2013 and the America of 2010.

“Elections. Elections. The Republican Party is losing the support of our Hispanic citizens,” McCain said.

If there’s anything that motivates Congress, it’s the next election.

And everyone in both chambers knows President Obama took more than seventy percent of the Latino vote in November.

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