United States - The U.S. Senate soon could vote to overhaul the country's current immigration laws and yield the prospective legalization of estimated 11 million unauthorized immigrants who currently are living in the United States. It cleared a hurdle last week when the Senate overwhelmingly voted in favor of debating the bill (SB 744) on the Senate floor.
A group of four Republican senators and four Democratic senators-known as the "Gang of Eight"-drafted the measure, which proposes to legalize the nation's undocumented inhabitants and allow most of them to apply for U.S. citizenship within 13 years if they learn English and pass a criminal background check. They also would have to pay taxes, fees and at least $2,000 in fines.
Lawmakers are at odds about the bill's proposed plan, as some Republicans are calling for a compromise that would further toughen border security by providing for the use of high-tech surveillance equipment and other enforcement measures.
The current bill's opponent, predominantly conservative Republicans in the Republican-majority House of Representatives, argue even if the bill passes through the Senate, it will not get to the President's desk for signing.
"This bill will not pass the House. As written, it will not become law," said Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas).
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida) has warned against this potential outcome and has pushed for a compromise. "If we do nothing, and this bill fails, that's de facto amnesty," he said.
President Obama has said this is "the best chance" the country has had in years to make sweeping immigration reforms. "So that's what immigration reform looks like. Smarter enforcement, a pathway to earn citizenship, improvements to our legal system. They're all common sense steps. They've got bipartisan support," he said.
The House has not yet drafted its version of a comprehensive immigration reform bill. Instead, its House Judiciary Committee is beginning to introduce a series of smaller-scale immigration proposals, including the Strengthen and Fortify Enforcement (SAFE) Act, HB 2278. It essentially proposes to grant states and localities the authority to enforce federal immigration laws to strengthen border security by equipping more immigration enforcement officers, to improve visa security and to make it more difficult for suspected foreign terrorists to enter the U.S.
Rockingham County Sheriff Sam Page testified in the U.S. House Judiciary Committee about the House bill last Thursday. Sheriff Page sat down with WFMY News 2's Good Morning Show Tuesday.
He said he opposes the comprehensive immigration reform Senate bill, as it does not propose to allocate what he believes are adequate enforcement resouces. He said therefore, it does not effectively promote public safey. "I do believe we need to fix our immigration system," he said, "but we should not put border security and inerior enforcement of immigration laws second. National security is not about politics. It's about protecting our country."
Sheriff Page said he has asked the other sheriffs in North Carolina to stand with him and collectively oppose the Senate bill. He said already, North Carolina is the state with the most sheriffs in opposition of the bill.
Of the bill's provision regarding a pathway to legal employment/legal status, Page said the National Sheriff's Association takes the position that "under the conditions and provisions of a guest worker program, persons here illegally must come forward and delare themselves to the United States government. The illegal individuals can then take the steps necessary to achieve legal status under a guest worker program. Under a guest worker program, U.S. Citizenship cannot be obtained."
Page said the Federation of American Immigration Reform estimates at least 400,000 undocumented immigrants live in the state of North Carolina. He said state and local law enforcement do not have the authority to combat illegal immigration, a key point the House's proposed SAFE Act seeks to address.
The Senate has indicated it expects its comprehensive immigration reform bill will be up for a full Senate vote by July 4.