Senate to Vote on Three-Prong Plan for Unauthorized by Memorial Day
While the Senate did not vote on comprehensive immigration reform legislation by its April 10 recess, senators did reach a bipartisan compromise that the Senate plans to take up again in mid-May. Senate Majority leader Bill Frist (R-TN) has said the Senate will vote on the bill by Memorial Day.
Meanwhile, the Senate voted on April 26 to divert $1.9 billion from a $106.5 billion emergency defense-funding bill to pay for new aircraft, patrol boats, and other vehicles for border enforcement efforts, as well as communications equipment and other improvements.
On the same day, key senators met with President Bush to work out differences on the number of amendments the Senate would discuss during their immigration reform debate. Though President Bush has been reluctant to express a clear stance on the bill, senators present at the meeting reported he was generally in support of the compromise deal.
The compromise bill (known as the Hagel-Martinez bill for the senators leading its creation (Chuck Hagel (R-NE) and Mel Martinez (R-FL)) differs from the Judiciary Committee endorsed proposal in several regards.
Visas for new temporary workers. The bill would allow 325,000 temporary workers to enter the country annually, reduced slightly from the 400,000 limit set in the Senate's proposal from late March.
Limits on permanent visas. The new proposal would increase the number of employment-based green cards temporarily to 450,000 (the Judiciary proposal would have increased the number to 290,000). After 10 years, the limit would drop to 290,000. As in the previous bill, spouses and children of employment-based immigrants would not count against the numerical cap.
Legalization for unauthorized immigrants. Unauthorized immigrants who have been present in the country for at least five years prior to April 5, 2006, and worked at least three of those years would be granted temporary status. After six additional years of work, immigrants who meet the requirements — a background check, the payment of fines and back taxes, and proof of either English ability and civics knowledge or ongoing English and civics study — could apply for lawful permanent resident status. The green cards issued to these immigrants would not be counted against the annual numerical limitations on permanent immigration.
Unauthorized immigrants who have been in the United States since at least January 7, 2004, could apply for "deferred mandatory departure," which would allow them to remain in the country for one year, or up to three years with the payment of a fine. During that period, such immigrants could apply for a temporary or permanent visa but would be required to exit the country before reentering under this visa. Temporary visas issued to this group would not count against annual numerical limitations for any visa type, but green cards issued to them would count against annual caps.
However, for 10 years, 30 percent of employment-based green cards for low-skilled immigrants would be reserved for people who had been present in the United States since January 7, 2004.
Unauthorized immigrants who entered the country after January 7, 2004, would not be granted any new path to legal residence.
The compromise immigration reform bill that is currently before the Senate contains several provisions intended to promote the integration of immigrants into the United States.
As in the Judiciary Committee proposal, the bill would establish a competitive grant program to provide financial assistance to nonprofit organizations certified by the Office of Citizenship to offer civics and English as a second language (ESL) courses and activities. It would also offer grants to organizations working toward the "patriotic integration" of immigrants.
The compromise bill would authorize grants of up to $500 per legal immigrant for tuition, fees, books, and other resources for study at accredited educational institutions in preparation for meeting the requirements of the naturalization process. Immigrants who could prove English fluency would be eligible to apply for citizenship after four years of residency in the country, rather than the usual five years.
In order to fund these programs, the bill would create a Citizenship Foundation and mandate that no less than 1.5 percent of total appropriations to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) be dedicated to activities of the Office of Citizenship. The provision stipulates that immigration fees should not be raised for the purposes of funding the Office of Citizenship.
These provisions were introduced in an amendment offered by Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), approved by a Senate vote of 91 to 1.
Under new language added as part of the Hagel-Martinez compromise, the bill would also provide integration measures targeted specifically at potential participants in a temporary worker program. It would provide funding to community organizations to to provide English and civics education as well as to assist immigrants in applying for the program, permanent resident status, and citizenship. Two percent of fees and fines paid by temporary worker program participants would be dedicated to funding this program.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced in April the second phase of the Secure Border Initiative (SBI), which focuses on interior enforcement: identifying and removing criminal aliens, absconders, and visa violators; building strong worksite enforcement tools; and targeting criminal organizations involved in human smuggling and document or immigration fraud.
The first phase of SBI, launched in November 2005, focused on controlling the country's borders.
The blueprint for the Secure Border Initiative included several proposals for strengthening interior enforcement. Also, President Bush's budget proposal for fiscal year (FY) 2007 calls for funding for several interior enforcement initiatives, including an electronic program to assist employers in complying with immigration laws and funding for new internal investigators.
This latest announcement provided further detail on these efforts and described new proposals, such as a change in tactics for enforcing workplace immigration laws.
Some analysts have criticized the announcement, calling it a political maneuver intended to prove the government is dedicated to enforcement as the Senate debates opening the country to expanded legal immigration. Others praised the dedication to enforcement but questioned whether sufficient funding would be provided to carry out the proposed actions.
Details on interior enforcement plans:
Targeting unauthorized and criminal immigrants. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) will expand its work with prisons and jails to remove immigrants with criminal convictions from the country upon completion of their sentences. ICE will also add additional Fugitive Operations teams to target immigrants who abscond after being issued orders of removal. Further, ICE will increase its efforts to target and remove persons remaining in the country beyond the terms of their visa, remove immigrants who pose a criminal or national security threat, and provide immediate assistance to state and law enforcement officials seeking to verify the immigration status of individuals arrested for criminal activity.
Improving worksite enforcement. Assistant Secretary Julie Meyers announced that ICE has shifted worksite enforcement tactics from levying administrative fines to issuing criminal charges and penalties, including the seizure of assets. Recent enforcement efforts have resulted in the seizure of assets worth millions of dollars. Under the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), warnings and fines of up to $11,000 were issued to employers who hired unauthorized immigrants. Critics have accused ICE of failing to adequately enforce laws barring the hiring of unauthorized immigrants, pointing to the precipitous drop in the number of notices of intent to fine issued to employers, from 417 in 1999 to three in 2004. In addition to this new strategy, DHS is working with Congress to develop employer compliance systems and to grant ICE access to Social Security data on workers who report earnings under false identification numbers.
Targeting organized crime. ICE is working to target the proceeds of criminal organizations involved in human smuggling and trafficking, in addition to levying criminal charges against smugglers. As part of this effort, ICE will launch a new Border Enforcement Security Task Force (BEST) along the country's Southwest border. Such task forces have been created in Laredo, Texas, and in Arizona over the past year.
Cracking down on fraud. Investigators from various government departments, including Justice, Labor, and Homeland Security, will join forces in 10 U.S. cities to locate and deport, if warranted, migrants who use false information or fraudulent documents to obtain immigration benefits, including temporary or permanent visas, citizenship, or asylum. The Document and Benefit Fraud Task Forces will be located in Atlanta, Boston, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Los Angeles, New York, Newark, Philadelphia, and St. Paul.
All Georgia businesses will be required to participate in a federal program to verify the employment authorization of new employees by 2009 or earlier, depending on the size of their workforce. The "Georgia Security and Immigration Compliance Act," signed into law March 17, bars adult unauthorized immigrants from taxpayer-funded services other than limited healthcare services such as emergency treatments and prenatal care.
While other state legislatures have debated stricter immigration enforcement laws, Georgia is the first this year to sign such a bill into law.
The law also mandates the creation of a memorandum of understanding between the state of Georgia and DHS for local enforcement of federal immigration laws, and requires officials to check the immigration status of all persons held on a felony or DUI charge.
In addition, it sets prison terms for human trafficking, bars employers from claiming a state tax deduction on the wages of unauthorized immigrants, and limits the immigration services that for-profit companies may offer if the assistance does not come from a licensed attorney.
According to Pew Hispanic Center estimates, between 350,000 and 450,000 unauthorized immigrants live in Georgia. Most of the state's immigrants come from Mexico and other parts of Latin America.
Both supporters and critics of the bill have rallied at the Georgia State Capitol during the bill's debate and enactment.
Among other groups, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) denounced the bill as "unjust and unfair." Regional representatives say they are studying potential legal challenges to the bill and argue that unauthorized immigrants contribute taxes to the state and should not be denied taxpayer-funded benefits. Mexican President Vicente Fox also criticized the bill, stating that it contained "acts of discrimination."
However, both houses of Georgia's state legislature overwhelmingly supported the proposal. The bill's author, State Senator Chip Rogers (R), said he has been approached by lawmakers from South Carolina and Colorado who are interested in replicating the bills in their states. Business and agriculture groups initially opposed the bill, but curbed their resistance once the deadlines for implementation of the law were extended.
North American Summit. President Bush, Mexican President Vicente Fox, and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper agreed to cooperate on border security during the second convening of the Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP) on March 30 and 31. Bush and Fox announced the expansion of the Operation against Smugglers and Traffickers Initiative on Safety and Security (OASSIS) program to Arizona's southern border and part of Texas. OASSIS, which funds cooperative operations, has been deployed along California's border since August 2005. Bush and Harper agreed to cooperate in implementing the U.S. requirement that border crossers on the U.S.-Canada border carry a passport or special identification card by 2008. Although Canadian officials fear the requirement will obstruct tourist and commercial travel, Bush said officials would work to ensure border checks are efficient and facilitate cross-border traffic.
Remittances to Latin America. Migrants from Latin America sent home $53.6 billion last year, an increase of 17 percent over 2004, according to new data from the Inter-American Development Bank. For the third year in a row, the value of remittances was greater than foreign direct investment (FDI) and economic aid combined.
New USCIS Directorate. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has created a new National Security and Records Verification Directorate that combines the agency's fraud detection and national security and records divisions and adds a new verification division. The new directorate will manage the agency's employer verification programs as well as the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) Program, and is currently preparing to handle any Congress-mandated expansion of such programs. It will also be in charge of intelligence, antifraud, and national security work, as well as the management of close to 100 million immigration records.