Senate Immigration Reform Bill Hinges on Border Security, Fees, Biometric Data

Senate Immigration Reform Bill Hinges on Border Security, Fees, Biometric Data

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Details of the “Gang of 8”-negotiated immigration reform measure were released late Monday. The group planned a big press conference to discuss the details of the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013 — until the Boston bombing forced the Senators to change plans.

Instead, two of the Senators involved, Charles Schumer of New York and John McCain of Arizona, were set to meet with the president Tuesday. The bill will be reviewed Monday at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. As we previously reported, the entire immigration reform hinges on enforcement, so much so that benchmarks that must be met before anyone can gain status.

The deal comes after months of negotiations, not only between the bipartisan group of Senators, but labor and business leaders in conjunction with a massive outpouring of social and activist organization. The bill has been expected for several weeks now, and includes:

  • Heavy border enforcement measures to the tune of 3,500 new border agents, and an up to $7 billion investment in surveillance drones, fencing, and more.
  • The introduction of a biometric data into the immigration process: “employers would be required to certify that noncitizen workers presented a ‘biometric green card’ that matches a photo stored in an e-verify system.”
  • The bill requires that 100% of the border be watched with a 90% rate of apprehensions in high risk sectors before anyone gets a green card.
  • Only people who arrived before Dec. 31, 2011 would be allowed to pay a $500, back taxes to gain “registered provisional” status, only if they are felony-free and/or don’t have three misdemeanors on their record.
  • These people will not be eligible for public benefits.
  • From there, they could gain permanent resident status in 10 years, plus more fees. Three years after that, for a total of 13 years, they could apply for citizenship.
  • DREAMers would be able to apply for a green card in five years, and then citizenship immediately after.
  • But 70,000 green cards that have been allocated to family members of U.S. residents will be eliminated.
  • While 220,000 green cards will be created for professionals, such as scientists and professors.
  • Part of this will be a new W Visa for low-skilled workers, such as agriculture and construction — but no more than 33% of these visas could be used for construction.

In a January speech focusing on immigration, President Barack Obama said he would propose his own immigration bill if Congress did not produce one. In the same speech he also highlighted what he considered to be the vital points of any immigration bill. These included, especially: border enforcement, background checks, taxes, learning English and “going to the back of the line.”

Although Obama has not produced actual legislation, his office has been responsible for several executive orders that have changed, procedurally, how Immigration and Customs Enforcement uses its resources to target people for deportation.  Perhaps most notably has been the DACA, or deferred action for childhood arrivals, process which has brought up to 1 million young people into the fold by allowing them to apply for work permits and legal status.

The last time comprehensive immigration reform came before Congress was in 2007, when the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act and it ultimately died in both houses.  Some of the sponsors of that legislation, such as Senators McCain and Menendez, have obviously kept their legislative priorities somewhat steady in the ensuing years. Then, in 2010, there was a crucial Senate move that prevented the DREAM Act from coming up for a vote (technically in the Senate, the bill failed to reach the 60 vote threshold).

Now that there is legislation to work with, no doubt that both Republicans and Democrats will have their way with provisions of the law. House Republicans in particular, even somewhat sympathetic ones like Congressman Raul Labrador, have been very vocal of their disapproval of any law that would provide a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

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