Four Democrats and four Republicans brought their efforts to success when they completed crafting a new immigration bill April 16. The 844-page bill was broad in scope, addressing illegal immigration, new visa programs for highly skilled foreign workers, family rights to immigrate, border security, a new guest worker program, new requirements for employers and many other issues. It was a heroic example of bipartisanship realized by gritty closed-door negotiations.
The Gang of Eight, the nickname for the eight senators who brought the bill to completion, consisted of Republican senators Marco Rubio of Florida, John McCain and Jeff Flake of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina; and Democratic senators Chuck Schumer and Bob Menendez of New York, Richard Durbin of Illinois and Michael Bennet of Colorado.
Senators from both conservative sides and the more liberal immigrant advocates expressed objections to the proposed bill, which is expected to begin formal hearings April 19 in the Judiciary Committee and hopefully go to the Senate for a vote in late May or early June.
One of the bills new proposals was to base selection of immigrants more on a person's skill, education, and employment and less on bringing in extended family members. The bill would gradually shift from a 75 percent pro-family system, to a 50 percent family, 50 percent skilled worker arrangement. It would be a point-based merit system. Such an approach is long overdue as thousands of positions in the U.S. go unfilled for lack of experienced workers.
As for family members, however, “Dreamers,” people who as young children were brought over by their parents, would receive accelerated approval for legalization. The same would hold for young immigrants whose visas have expired.
One of the main considerations of the bill provides a path to citizenship for millions of immigrants living here illegally. These people would need to pass a criminal background check, pay a penalty and back taxes and be granted the status of “registered provisional immigrant.” They are not citizens or permanent residents. But they also are no longer illegal. They would need to spend 13 years here with this provisional title before being able to apply for citizenship.
During their registered provisional period, immigrants would not receive federal benefits, would need to be earning 25 percent above the poverty level, and would have their status revoked if they committed a serious crime and did not meet requirements for working, paying taxes and having a physical presence.
Other new efforts would be directed at increasing security along the Mexican-U.S. border. The legal status of the provisional immigrants would depend upon the country beefing up border security and being able to show that 90 percent of immigrants trying to enter illegally would be turned back. The Department of Homeland Security would be required to spend as much as $6.5 million during the next ten years on bolstering enforcement and extending the fence along the Southwest border of the U.S. Even the use of drones to patrol the border is being proposed.
The bill would establish two new guest worker programs. One program would be for farmworkers and the other would be for low-wage earners such as housecleaners, gardeners and other similar types of workers. The farm-worker programs would be for people who want to come to the states temporarily and then who would return to their home countries when their visas expire.
After the monumental work it took the eight Senators to come up with this bill, it would be a shame if the bitter factions in the Senate and House kill it or dilute it to the point of being meaningless.
As a Los Angeles criminal defense attorney, Vitaly Sigal represents immigrants throughout the county. To learn more about what this bill means to you, or to speak with Mr. Sigal regarding your circumstances, contact our law office today.