On Wednesday morning, Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar (R-FL) joined a group of twelve GOP congressional members to formally introduce their version of an immigration reform bill titled the DIGNITY Plan. The plan comes days after Salazar, a freshman congresswoman who represents a majority Hispanic constituency in South Miami, traveled with other representatives to the U.S.-Mexico border near El Paso, Texas, to denounce DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas’ reversal of President Trump’s policies in the ongoing border crisis.
The proposed bill, which is currently still in its drafting stage, was rolled out by Republicans as a feasible alternative to the legislation Democratic Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Representative Linda Sanchez (D-CA) unveiled last February. The Democratic proposal provides an eight-year pathway to citizenship for the majority of the eleven million undocumented immigrants already in the U.S. More subtly, the proposed legislation also reduces most restrictions on family-based immigration and amply expands guest worker visa programs. Republicans criticized the Democratic proposal because it does nothing to enhance border security.
An early release of the Republican draft outlines five major policy changes: (1) enhancement of border security, enforcement, and asylum reform; (2) protection for Dreamers; (3) implementation of a practical solution for undocumented immigrants; (4) guest worker reform; and (5) small business support through the establishment of an American Small Business Fund.
The legislation’s largest component includes a ten-year pathway to renewable legal status for undocumented immigrants who can pass a criminal background check, among other requirements. At the end of the ten-year period, participants can enroll in the Redemption Program. The five-year program offers permanent resident status and an eventual pathway to citizenship.
As a candidate both in the 2018 and 2020 congressional elections, María Elvira Salazar emphasized her ties to the Hispanic community early on in her campaign. In a segment with Tucker Carlson back in 2019, she accused Democrats of playing political football with Hispanics on the issue of immigration since the Clinton administration. She later added that President Obama promised an immigration reform bill of “biblical proportions” but instead opted to spend all of his political capital on ensuring the Affordable Care Act’s passage.
Rep. Salazar also brings a unique perspective to the conversations going on behind the scenes in Congress. As one of the most prominent and well-recognized Spanish-language journalists in the United States, she personally covered the issues of immigration and Central American politics at length.
Not every official in the Republican Party is supportive of Salazar’s push for an embrace of a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. According to a February report by Politico, Trump aide Stephen Miller received significant pushback from Salazar during a meeting of the Republican Study Committee after giving a presentation that highlighted many of former President Trump’s tough immigration policies. One source told Politico that several members chose not to attend the meeting because Miller was speaking. Salazar plans on meeting with Miller again to further discuss their differences over immigration policy.
In contrast, Rep. Salazar highlighted during a Tuesday interview with Telemundo, “We as Republicans are going to send a different kind of message, that we are also compassionate people and that we want to help those [undocumented immigrants] living in the shadows.”
The ability of Republicans to counter some of the Biden administration’s most controversial policy proposals will depend on their ability to unify behind a certain set of political and economic principles. While María Elvira Salazar seeks to benefit Republican electoral prospects by moderating the GOP’s platform on immigration, it is altogether not clear whether her party will be willing to make this change.
The Biden administration seems to be unable to handle the crisis at the border, now that Secretary Mayorkas and President Biden himself urged migrants to remain in their respective home countries at this time. This is an ample time for Republicans to unify and deliver a concerted message to their constituents.