By Ashley Parker
Just days before a bipartisan group of eight senators is expected to present legislation that would make broad changes to the nation's immigration system, a group of Democrats in the House unveiled its own blueprint for an immigration overhaul.
The self-described group of moderate and pro-growth Democrats, the New Democrat Coalition, outlined four basic principles at a news conference on Thursday, including changing the country's employment and family-based immigration system to meet the needs of a global economy; ensuring that adequate resources are devoted to securing the border; mandating an efficient employment verification system to prevent immigrants from working illegally; and providing the 11 million immigrants already in the country illegally with "the opportunity to work toward permanent residency with a path to earned citizenship."
In a two-page news release, the group said its principles were inspired by the desire for growth, efficiency, fairness and inclusion.
"We are releasing these principles which outline policies on why we think there's a very strong economic argument for why wee need comprehensive immigration reform," said Representative Joe Garcia, Democrat of Florida. "Our history has shown that immigrants and their children start businesses, whether they be family owned or whether they be large start-ups, they create hundreds of thousands of jobs that make America great -- companies like Google."
The timing of the framework's release seems designed to inject the group's views into the debate surrounding immigration -- or, as they maintain in their release, "drive a productive conversation."
Representative Joaquín Castro, Democrat of Texas, said, "We're excited about the immigration debate that is taking place right now in Washington and are glad to be a part of the discussion."
However, the principles will likely serve as guiding criteria for moderate Democrats as immigration legislation winds its way through Congress; any bill is expected to start first in the Senate, and while a separate group in the House is working on its own bipartisan legislation, none of the bipartisan group's Democratic members are also members of the New Democrat Coalition.
"As the specifics of various immigration proposals come forward, we will be measuring them against the principles of the New Democrat Coalition and determining our areas as of advocacy and our overall level of support," said Representative Jared Polis, Democrat of Colorado.
The group's blueprint largely mirrors the broad immigration principles being discussed in the Senate and the House legislation. On the topic of border security, the group calls for "reliable measurements and metrics of progress in terms of security, as well as data to measure the efficiency of legitimate commerce."
"We must also continue to advocate for the necessary personnel, infrastructure and security improvements to stop the flow of unlawful immigration, human smuggling, and the trafficking of arms and drugs at all of our borders and ports of entry," the release said.
Border security is a must-have for any Republicans who will get behind changes to immigration, and the plan in the Senate is expected to include tough border security measures before immigrants in the country illegally can begin to apply for legal status.
Echoing the concerns of many Democrats and immigration advocates, the group also calls for a solution that allows the illegal immigrants already in the country to have a path to legalization -- followed by the option to apply for citizenship -- within "a reasonable time frame."
Much like in the plans being drafted in the House and Senate, the group says the illegal immigrants would first be required to register with the government and pass a criminal-background check, pay back taxes and learn English. They would also provide a faster path for those immigrants brought here by their parents as children -- the group known as "Dreamers" -- as well as an expedited path for agricultural workers.
"We've got to have an immigration system that is both efficient, that is stable, that is fair to workers and fair to employers, and if you look at the principles we've laid out, those are the things that have guided us," Mr. Castro said. "When we think about efficiency, we've got to make sure that there's a path to citizenship in a line that is moving, in a way that is productive."
In a move that is unlikely to gain much traction in the coming legislation, the group also calls for "binational same-sex couples" to be included under plans for family-based immigration.