CHICAGO (FAXX/jGLi) – The bipartisan immigration reform bill introduced April 17 morning by the Senate “Gang of Eight” has been broadly criticized in the afternoon as “non-inclusive” by eliminating among others the ability of a U.S. citizen to petition siblings as U.S. permanent residents and the inability of Filipino World War II veterans to petition their children.
Filipino American Lawrence Benito, chief executive officer of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR), told this reporter during a
press conference Wednesday in his office in downtown Chicago, Illinois, “The proposed legislation is not yet a bill. We need to ask the American people to call their senators and their congressmen to pass a bill that will be inclusive.
“During the press conference, we heard stories from families and people who are directly impacted by the proposal, specially Filipino families, who have been waiting for more than 20 years to have their visas approved, and the elimination of family petition visas, particularly siblings, who can no longer be petitioned by a U.S. citizen.
“We also heard concerns of children of Filipino World War II veterans, who could not petition their children.”
A press release received Wednesday by this reporter from John Normoyle, press secretary of Assistant Senate Majority Leader Richard Durbin (D-IL), one of the members of the Senate “Gang of Eight,” said Senator Durbin and seven other Senate colleagues had introduced the highly-anticipated immigration reform measure, saying, “America’s immigration system is broken and it is time for a bipartisan effort to fix it. This common-sense, compromise proposal will secure America’s borders, advance our economic growth, and provide millions of immigrants with an accountable path to citizenship.
“Today’s bill introduction is the first step. There will be hearings, amendments, and a full and fair debate on the Senate floor. The time for this debate is now and I look forward to joining my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to pass this measure.”
The bill – the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act – creates an accountable path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants living in the United States; creates an effective employment verification system to end the hiring of unauthorized workers; finishes the job of securing our borders; and creates a rational approach to future legal immigration.
Mr. Durbin, who worked hard to ensure the inclusion of “DREAM Act” that would allow a select group of immigrant students with great potential to contribute more fully to America in the bipartisan proposal, said the version of the DREAM Act in new legislation would give these students a chance to earn citizenship in five years if they:
- Came to the U.S. as children (15 or under)
- Were present in the U.S. before December 31, 2011
- Graduate from high school or obtain a GED
- Pursue higher education or serve in the military
Under the bill, Dreamers who received Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) will be grandfathered into provisional legal status. Dreamers, who have been deported, will be able to obtain legal status if they would be eligible to apply but for the fact that they were deported. The bill also would repeal the law that prevents states from providing in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants.
Protecting American Workers
The new legislation also includes a number of important protections for American workers that Senator Durbin authored. These provisions would require users of the H-1B and L visa programs to first hire qualified America workers before looking for foreign workers; increases wages in the H-1B programs; prohibit companies that specialize in outsourcing American jobs from hiring any additional foreign workers if 50% of their workforce is H-1B workers; prohibit the displacement of America workers by hiring an H-1B worker unless the percentage of Americans in their U.S. workforce has stayed the same or increased; and gives new powers to the Department of Labor to oversee the H-1B and L visa programs, including the ability to investigate and audit H-1B dependent companies.
The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act is cosponsored by Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY), John McCain (R-AZ), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ).
Hearing on the measure will be held on Friday (April 19) and Monday (April 22) before the Senate Judiciary Committee chaired by Sen. Patrick Leahy, whose committee will elevate it to the Senate floor for further debate before it is submitted to a vote by May. If passed in the Senate, the bill will later be forwarded to the House of Representatives for consideration or to be reconciled with the House version.
Among the features of the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013 are:
Border Plan: DHS Secretary will come up with strategy within six months before the registration period for the Registered Provisional Immigrant (RPI) status for a “persistent surveillance of the (Southern) border at 90% effectiveness rate for “apprehensions and returns in high risk border sector” with a $3-billion appropriation.
Triggers: Prior to the registration of RPI, “E-verify must be mandatory and operational and biographic entry-exit system at air and seaports must be
implemented also. After five years, if the 90% effectiveness goals are not met, the Southwest Governors Commission would recommend an additional $2-billion to achieve border security goals. National Guard will be asked to assist in border security operations.
Legalization: Immigrants who entered the U.S. before Dec. 31, 2011 and have been physically present in the U.S. since that time are eligible to apply for RPI status provided they pass background check, have not been convicted of a serious crime, pay any assessed tax liability and pay fees and a $500 fine. It will be valid for six years and will allow RPI holder to work and to travel. This will include espouses and children on the same application.
Renewal: RPIs applying for renewal will be subject to a new background check, payment of processing fees, payment of taxes, and a $500 fine. RPIs must provide evidence of having been 1) regularly employed while meeting a requirement that he/she is not likely to become a public charge or 2) having resources to demonstrate 100% of the poverty level.
Adjustment of Status to Permanent Residency: At the end of ten years, RPIs may apply for adjustment of status, provided that they demonstrate: 1) they are admissible, 2) pay an additional $1000 fine per adult plus application fees; 3) prove they are learning English; 4) pay their taxes; 5) pass a background check and 6) demonstrate compliance with the employment requirement. Specifically, they must show: 1) they have regularly worked in the U.S. such that they are not likely to become a public charge or 2) they have resources to meet 125% of the Federal Poverty Level. Naturalization: RPIs may apply for naturalization after an additional three-year wait, making the total path to citizenship about 13 years. The bill includes a “back of the line” requirement: RPIs may not adjust status until the family and employment backlogs are cleared.
Agricultural program: Undocumented farm workers who can demonstrate a minimum of 100-work days or 575 hours in the two years prior to the date of enactment would be eligible for an Agricultural Card. Workers who work at least 100 days a year for five years or workers who perform at least 150 days a year for three years can adjust status to permanent residency. To be eligible for permanent residence, agricultural workers must show that they have paid all taxes, have not been convicted of any serious crime, and pay a $400 fine.
Legal Immigration Reforms
New Merit-Based System: Creates a “Track One” merit-based visa, which will initially be allocated 120,000 visas annually based on a points system, with the possibility of increasing the allotment by 5% (up to 250,000) in any year when unemployment is under 8.5%. Points will be awarded for factors such as education, employment family in the U.S. and length of residence in the U.S. Half of the merit visas will be set aside for high-skilled individuals and half of the cap will be for lower-skilled workers.
New “Track Two” merit-based system is created to clear the employment and family backlogs.
Lawful Permanent Residents’ spouses and children:
The current family-based categories will be revised to permit the spouses and children of lawful permanent residents to immigrate immediately.
Additional changes to the current family system: The current sibling category will be eliminated 18 months after enactment. The 3rd preference family category (adult married children of U.S. citizens) will have an age cap of 31 beginning 18 months after enactment. The backlog reduction program will include processing of petitions in phased-out family categories. U.S. citizens can petition for a sibling for up to 18 months after enactment.
New Family “V” Visa: Creates a new nonimmigrant visa for families with approved petitions to work and live in the U.S. while waiting for their green card.
Allows other family members including siblings to visit the U.S. for up to 60 days per year.
Employment-Based Reforms: Spouses and children of employment-based visa applicants, STEM graduates with doctoral degrees, certain other professionals, and certain foreign doctors are exempt from the employment visa cap. The cap on low-skilled workers is raised.
Popular programs for foreign doctors (Conrad-30), religious worker recruitment, and EB-5 investors are permanently reauthorized. Numerous other technical fixes to improve and streamline current visa programs are included (additional protections for stepchildren, widows, and other family members.)
Reforms to Non-Immigrant Visa Programs:
H-1B: Changes to the H-1B high skilled visa program includes expanding the current cap from 65,000 to 110,000 with an option to ultimately increase the cap to 180,000 visas annually based on a High Skilled Jobs Demand Index. Allows for work authorization for spouses and children. Increases requirements for recruiting and offering jobs to U.S. workers at higher wages prior to hiring foreign workers. Increases fines and wage requirements for companies that are heavy-users of H-1B visas. After three years, companies whose workforce is more than fifty percent H-1Bs are barred.
H-2B: Makes permanent the H-2B returning worker provision.
New Worker Program (W Visa): Establishes a new nonimmigrant W classification for lesser-skilled foreign workers performing services or labor for a
registered employer in a registered position. Spouses and minor children are included and are work-authorized. It is a three-year visa with three-year renewal periods. Initially, 20,000 W visas will be made available, rising to 75,000 visas in four years. The visa program cap can rise to 200,000 depending on a formula based on unemployment, job openings, number of applications and the recommendations of a newly established Bureau of Immigration and Labor
Market Research. Shortage occupation employers can hire workers outside the cap. W visa holders may switch from one registered employer to another without penalty and apply for the merits-based lawful permanent residence program or Employment-Based System. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Filipino American Lawrence Benito, chief executive officer of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR) based in Chicago, Illinois. (FAXX/jGLi Photo by Joseph G. Lariosa)