The Senate has just voted 68-32 for a massive immigration reform bill, which now goes to the U.S. House.
However, House Republicans have said they reject the Senate’s bill and are crafting their own legislation.
The Senate bill, drafted by the so-called Gang of Eight – four Democrats and four Republicans – tightens border security, creates a path to citizenship, raises the cap on visas for highly skilled workers, creates a new visa for low-skilled workers and requires employers to electronically verify the eligibility of employees to work in the United States.
Fourteen Republicans joined the Democratic majority in the Senate to pass the sweeping measure, the most significant immigration reform bill in years.
The legislation has critics from all sides of the issue and both political parties, but its supporters, including President Barack Obama, maintain that it represents strong bipartisan compromise.
U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., voted for the bill.
U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., voted against the bill.
Reacting to the Senate action, Laura W. Murphy of the American Civil Liberties Union said, “Today’s vote moves our country one step closer to a path to citizenship for the millions of immigrants living in the shadows. While we are deeply troubled by the border militarization changes added at the 11th hour, the bottom line is that this bill will make a real, substantive difference to the lives of millions of aspiring citizens.”
She continued, “Over the coming weeks, the ACLU will pursue every avenue to have the problematic new border surge language removed, and to make other civil liberties improvements, before the bill heads to President Obama’s desk. The ACLU will continue to work with the House to adopt legislation that will not compromise civil liberties and will provide a path to citizenship for the millions of immigrants who contribute every day to the vitality of our country. We’re confident that continued public pressure will be instrumental in forcing the House to move forward on immigration reform.”
United We Dream national coordinating committee member Evelyn Rivera, whose mother was deported over six years ago after a traffic stop and who she reunited with through the border fence two weeks ago, said, “Today, 100 DREAMers were in the Senate gallery to send a message that we are watching and will continue to hold politicians from both parties accountable for delivering reform with a real, inclusive pathway to citizenship. The momentum on immigration reform is the direct result of organizing muscle across the country by immigrant youth leaders and our allies and the result of power wielded by Latino and immigrant community voters at the ballot box.”
Rivera, representing the largest immigrant youth-led organization in the nation, added, “We are deeply disappointed by the compromises that negotiators agreed to in order to secure additional Republican support for the bill. We know these deals will only add to the pain DREAMers and our parents have experienced from border militarization and record deportations.”
A look at the amended Senate bill:
-The bill sets out a series of requirements that must be achieved over 10 years before anyone here illegally can obtain a permanent resident green card. These include:
(1) Roughly doubling the number of Border Patrol agents stationed along the U.S.-Mexico border, to at least 38,405.
(2) Completing 700 miles of pedestrian fencing along the border, which would require approximately 350 new miles of fencing.
(3) Installing a host of new security measures and technologies in specified locations along the border, including specific numbers of surveillance towers, camera systems, ground sensors, radiation detectors, mobile surveillance systems, drones, helicopters, airborne radar systems, planes and ships.
(4) Implementing a system for all employers to verify electronically their workers’ legal status.
(5) Setting up a new electronic system to track people leaving the nation’s airports and seaports.
-The border security improvements are designed to achieve 100 percent surveillance of the border with Mexico and ensure that 90 percent of would-be crossers are caught or turned back.
-If the goals of a 90 percent effectiveness rate and continuous surveillance on the border are not met within five years, a Southern Border Security Commission made up of border-state governors and others would determine how to achieve them.
-Border security spending in the bill totals around $46 billion.
PATH TO CITIZENSHIP
-The estimated 11 million people currently living in the U.S. without legal government papers could obtain “registered provisional immigrant status” six months after enactment of the bill as long as:
(1) The Homeland Security Department has developed border security and fencing plans, per the specifications set out in the bill.
(2) They arrived in the U.S. prior to Dec. 31, 2011, and maintained continuous physical presence since then.
(3) They do not have a felony conviction or three or more misdemeanors.
(4) They pay a $500 fine.
-People in provisional legal status could work and travel in the U.S. but would not be eligible for most federal benefits, including health care and welfare.
-The provisional legal status lasts six years and is renewable for another six years for $500.
-People deported for noncriminal reasons can apply to re-enter in provisional status if they have a spouse or child who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, or if they had been brought to the U.S. as a child.
-After 10 years in provisional status, immigrants can seek a green card and lawful permanent resident status if they are current on their taxes and pay a $1,000 fine, have maintained continuous physical presence in the U.S., meet work requirements and learn English. Also the border triggers must have been met, and all people waiting to immigrate through the legal system as of the date of enactment of the legislation must have been dealt with.
-People brought to the country as youths would be able to get green cards in five years, and citizenship immediately thereafter.
-The cap on the H-1B visa program for high-skilled workers would be immediately raised from 65,000 a year to 110,000 a year, with 25,000 more set aside for people with advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering or math from a U.S. school. The cap could go as high as 180,000 a year depending on demand.
-New protections would crack down on companies that use H-1B visas to train workers in the U.S. only to ship them back overseas.
-Immigrants with certain extraordinary abilities, such as professors, researchers, multinational executives and athletes, would be exempted from existing green-card limits. So would graduates of U.S. universities with job offers and degrees in science, technology, engineering or math.
-A startup visa would be made available to foreign entrepreneurs seeking to come to the U.S. to start a company.
-A new merit visa, for a maximum of 250,000 people a year, would award points to prospective immigrants based on their education, employment, length of residence in the U.S. and other considerations. Those with the most points would earn the visas.
-The bill would eliminate the government’s Diversity Visa Lottery Program, which randomly awards 55,000 visas to immigrants from countries with historically low rates of immigration to the United States, so that more visas can be awarded for employment and merit ties.
-A new W visa would allow up to 200,000 low-skilled workers a year into the country for jobs in construction, long-term care, hospitality and other industries.
-A new agriculture worker visa program would be established to replace the existing program. Agriculture workers already here illegally, who’ve worked in the industry at least two years, could qualify in another five years for green cards if they stay in the industry.
-Under current law, U.S. citizens can sponsor spouses, children and siblings to come to the U.S., with limits on some categories. The bill would bar citizens from sponsoring their siblings and would allow them to sponsor married sons and daughters only if those children are under age 31.
-Legal permanent residents can currently sponsor spouses and children, but the numbers are limited. The bill eliminates that limit.
-Within four years, all employers must implement E-Verify, a program to verify electronically their workers’ legal status. As part of that, noncitizens would be required to show photo ID that must match with a photo in the E-Verify system.
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