© 2021 254 North Front Street, Suite 300, Wilmington, NC 28401 | 910.343.1640
News Classical 91.3 Wilmington 92.7 Wilmington 96.7 Southport
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Sticking Points Throw Wrench In Immigration Reform Bill


In Congress, lawmakers are in the thick of trying to figure out new immigration legislation, and as we've been reporting, the Boston bombings have thrown a wrench into that process since it appears the attacks were carried out by legal immigrants. More on that elsewhere in today's program. We wanted to break down the other major sticking points, since there are a lot of them.

And here to help is Fawn Johnson, who covers immigration for The National Journal. Welcome to the studio.

FAWN JOHNSON: Pleased to be here.

CORNISH: So this bill is like 800-plus pages and we're only going to get to the surface here, but I want to jump into one big sticking point and that's the idea of a trigger for border security. So essentially, it seems the big issue here is that some lawmakers say that there needs to be a way of properly certifying that the border is secure before anyone can get on that so-called path to citizenship. So do I have that right?

JOHNSON: Yeah. That's right. And the issue is that a number of the Republicans who are on the fence about whether or not to vote for the bill want to believe there's going to be really strict border enforcement and, inside the border, employment places as well, if they go ahead and allow this population of undocumented immigrants to get legal status. So they're trying to write the legislation such that it's almost impossible for the Department of Homeland Security or any other part of the administration to back away from their obligations at the border. But as you can imagine, that's very hard to write into specifics without taking away some of the authority of the Homeland Security secretary, for example.

CORNISH: And moving onto another sticking point, I understand that guest worker programs, also still an issue, even though I thought that there had been some resolution with this between business groups and unions.


CORNISH: But what's going on there? Why is it still causing complications?

JOHNSON: I actually think this is the biggest problem with the bill going forward. And the problem is that the actual numbers that would be allowed in are way off in terms of their actual agreements. So on the labor side of things, you're looking at 10 to 20,000 a year, up to as many as 50,000 a year. Whereas on the business side, they are wanting things like 500,000.

CORNISH: That's quite a gap.

JOHNSON: So there's a lot of distance, and there are a number of people who just think that without those bigger numbers, the guest worker program won't work at all. And then there are others who may not necessarily disagree with that, but they say it's worth it to go forward anyway because of the other pieces of the bill that matter a lot to them.

CORNISH: Let's get back to the big idea here, the path to citizenship, and it seems like there's some disagreement and sticking point here about that moment when somebody does get citizenship, like how that process is going to work. Talk a little bit about that.

JOHNSON: Well, and also, I think that this is an issue of confusion even if you totally are on board with the idea that someone can have a long path to citizenship. It's hard to know how they will be registered, for example, what kinds of proof do they have to show? If they have been being paid under the table for a number of years, how do you calculate their back taxes and who certifies it?

And those are the kinds of questions that are going to come forth as people are coming forward and trying to register first for legalization and then eventually for citizenship. Now, on citizenship, they have a little bit longer, but on the initial legalization piece, the question of what you have to say or certify or show when you come forward is still very much in flux. And I think people are just now beginning to try and figure out what the bright lines are on that question.

We do know that the administration and the people who are proposing the bill want the requirements for immediate legalization to be lax enough that all who are eligible will come forward because what you don't want is people still hanging out in the shadows after you've gone to all this effort to make sure that they become part of our documented population.

CORNISH: Fawn Johnson covers immigration for The National Journal. Thank you so much for speaking with us.

JOHNSON: It's a pleasure. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.