Obama’s Immigration Plan Is Far Harsher Than Reagan’s

<a href="http://www.shutterstock.com/gallery-302563p1.html?cr=00&pl=edit-00">Ryan Rodrick Beiler</a>/Shutterstock.com

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.

Draft immigration legislation being hammered out by the White House was leaked to USA Today over the weekend, and the paper had no trouble finding Republicans who balked at the president’s plan. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), one of the members of the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” who recently cooperated on a proposal for comprehensive immigration reform, called the White House draft “dead on arrival.”

Opponents of immigration reform however, see the exchange as theater—”the point of leaking the bill is to enable Rubio to say that his amnesty plan is waaay different from the dastardly Obama plan,” wrote the Center for Immigration Studies’ Mark Krikorian at National Review. As a policy matter, Krikorian isn’t entirely wrong: Rubio’s hometown paper, the Miami Herald, also got ahold of the White House’s drafts and concluded that they “closely resemble many of the reforms advanced in 2011 by Obama and, more recently, by Republican Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.” (If you’ve been reading Mother Jones, that’s hardly surprising.)

What may be surprising however, is that Obama’s bill sets out a very long road to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. As Suzy Khimm writes at the Washington Post, under Obama’s proposal, those undocumented immigrants who are eligible for legalization would likely have to wait around 13 years for full citizenship—eight years of temporary legal status before acquiring a green card, then, as is standard under US law, about another five for citizenship. (If a backlog of existing visa applications is cleared before that initial eight years, the total wait could be shorter.) Lynn Tramonte, deputy director of the pro-reform group America’s Voice, tells Khimm that Obama’s proposal would “delay citizenship another generation.”

Compare that with the Immigration Control and Reform Act of 1986 that was signed by President Ronald Reagan, which allowed undocumented immigrants to apply for green cards after a temporary legal status of just 18 months. Add in the standard five years greencard holders have to wait before seeking citizenship, and under the bill Reagan signed the path to citizenship was half as long as Obama’s would be.

So if you‘re looking for an indication of where America’s immigration debate stands in 2013, note that Obama’s liberal proposal would be significantly harsher than the law put in place by the patron saint of American conservatism more than 25 years ago. 


Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

payment methods

We Recommend