Democrats said their main goal is to reunify families separated when family members work in the United States. The plan would do so by reducing the time it takes for the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service to approve family-based and employment-based petitions.
"The fact that a sibling of a United States citizen born in the Philippines must wait 22 years to be able to access legalization is just one example of our unjust immigration policy," according to a statement of immigration principles the Democrats released Thursday.
Republican leaders had no immediate reaction to the proposal. Democrats also made clear their intent to provide safety and security at the country's borders as well as to reform the temporary worker program under H-2A visas.
The guest worker program allows foreigners, most of whom are from Mexico, to work on a temporary basis in the United States when employers, mainly in the agriculture sector, have a shortage of workers.
Democrats want to extend the program and provide immigrants with access to educational opportunities and job advancement that would increase their economic success, which Democrats say would contribute to the U.S. economy.
"Any such program cannot stand alone. It must be accompanied by legalization reforms and it must not undermine the jobs, wages and worker protections of U.S. workers," said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., also chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Immigration.
Kennedy said foreign temporary workers must be given the same labor protections available to U.S. workers, which include the right to organize and to change jobs freely. Temporary workers also should be given legal protection for their wages, hours and working conditions.
Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, and co-chairman of the House Democratic Task Force on Immigration, said that for Democrats the immigration issue was not a strategy to gather votes from immigrants but a commitment to do the right thing for immigrants and the United States.
Daschle said that it was too early to give a specific date on when the bill would be introduced to Congress.