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              U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services

Traditionally, the path to citizenship for any immigrant involves applying for a visa. Prior to entering the United States, a person may go to the U.S. consulate and fill out all the necessary paperwork. Many immigrant workers in the U.S., however, have no visa. They are “undocumented.” Because of these immigrants, their impact on the U.S. economy, and the many different perspectives on their contributions, some lawmakers are pushing for comprehensive immigration reform, reforming immigration laws with one bill.

In 2004, Senators Edward Kennedy (D-MA), Hillary Clinton (D-NY), and Russell Feingold (D-WI) and Representatives Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) and Bob Menendez (D-NJ) introduced a bill in Congress to create comprehensive immigration reform that would mainly assist those immigrant workers seeking the necessary documentation to work legally in the U.S. They called the bill the Safe, Orderly, Legal Visas and Enforcement (SOLVE) Act. It would have created the earned adjustment program, which would have legalized undocumented immigrants who had been living in the U.S. for five years, paid a fine, and continued working and paying taxes. It would also have required them to learn basic English and civics. It would have given family-based immigrant visas to the immediate family members (spouses and children under 21) of any person who fulfilled the requirements. The SOLVE Act also would have allowed 350,000 new work visas per year, giving the new immigrants the protection of U.S. labor laws.

Pro and Con

Supporters of SOLVE argued this comprehensive reform was needed. It would encourage a policy of family reunification, bringing together unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. and their immediate relatives. Millions of unauthorized immigrants make contributions to the U.S. economy, and the earned adjustment program would allow them to integrate better into U.S. society by learning English and civics. The bill’s solution would be efficient because it would also reduce the backlog of family-based visas (when a family member sponsors an immigrant to get a visa).

Opponents of the SOLVE Act argued that it was merely a disguise for an amnesty program for unauthorized immigrants. It would not reward only those who “play by the rules” and pay the fine, learn English, and work for five years. On the contrary, those unauthorized immigrants who do not qualify for the SOLVE Act’s earned adjustment program would still be given “transitional status” and would have a second chance to meet those requirements. In addition, it would increasingly burden the U.S. economy and population by allowing the newly authorized immigrants to bring their families into the country, too. The opponents’ perspective was that the SOLVE Act would create a new black market (illegal market) for the sale of fraudulent documents.

In May 2004, the Senate version of the bill was sent to the Committee on the Judiciary. In the next month, the House version of the bill was sent to the Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security, and Claims. Neither version ever came to a vote in Congress.


For Discussion

  1. What were the main provisions of the SOLVE Act?
  2. Is it important to require immigrants to learn basic English? Why or why not?
  3. Is comprehensive immigration reform necessary? Or can immigration laws address one issue at a time? Why or why not?



Senate version of the SOLVE bill

House version of the SOLVE bill