Senate Passes Historic Immigration Reform BillJuly 2, 2013
The Hintzen Law Firm applauds the U.S. Senate for passing comprehensive immigration reform legislation (S. 744) by a vote of 68-32 last Thursday. This vote reflects how far the country has come in understanding the significance of immigration reform to the health and well-being of the nation as a whole. Regardless of what may come next, last week’s vote reflects the irrefutable fact that the social and economic benefits of immigration reform are tangible and achievable. There will be much work ahead to continue to perfect the policies reflected in this bill. But for the moment, it provides a reasonable framework to deal with one of the greatest issues the nation has struggled with. Key elements of the bill are as follows:
- Roughly doubling the number of Border Patrol agents stationed along the U.S.-Mexico border, to at least 38,405.
- Completing 700 miles of pedestrian fencing along the border, which would require approximately 350 new miles of fencing.
- 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.
- Implementing a system for all employers to verify electronically their workers’ legal status.
- 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 living in the U.S. illegally could obtain “registered provisional immigrant status” six months after enactment of the bill as long as:
- The Homeland Security Department has developed border security and fencing plans, per the specifications set out in the bill.
- They arrived in the U.S. prior to Dec. 31, 2011, and maintained continuous physical presence since then.
- They do not have a felony conviction or three or more misdemeanors.
- 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.
High Skilled Workers
- 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.
Low Skilled Workers
- 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.
Ryan A. Hintzen
The Hintzen Law Firm, PLLC