Highlights and “Lowlights” of the Bipartisan Senate #Immigration Bill

 Courtesy of America’s Voice Educational Fund

The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013 (S. 744) is a bipartisan bill with many excellent provisions, and others of concern.  Following are highlights and “lowlights.”

Highlights

Most undocumented immigrants in the country today can get on a road to citizenship, starting with Registered Prospective Immigrant (RPI) status.  Some immigrants will have an accelerated path to citizenship.

 

After 10 years in RPI status, formerly undocumented immigrants can apply for green cards.  Once they have green cards, their wait for citizenship is shorter than the traditional process (3 years versus 5 years).

 

Families can apply for immigration status together, saving money on expensive fines. If one person loses his or her status, other family members can remain on the path to citizenship.

 

Immigrants of all countries will benefit from the legislation, including those who did not participate in a discredited DHS program based on national origin profiling. 

 

Depending on how the provisions are implemented, homemakers, retirees, day laborers, and other deserving immigrants with different circumstances can apply.

 

Information contained in applications is kept confidential, and employers are encouraged to help immigrants meet documentation requirements.

 

If DHS denies an application for RPI status, the immigrant has the right to judicial review.

 

Certain groups of long-term residents have a streamlined path to citizenship:

 

ü  Anyone here lawfully for 10 years (such as individuals with TPS or DED) are eligible for green cards starting 2014, and citizenship after 3 more years

 

ü  Participants in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program can have their applications for RPI status expedited

 

ü  DREAMers who have received degrees can apply for green cards within 5 years, and citizenship immediately thereafter.  There is no age cap at time of application.  DREAMer fines are also reduced

 

ü  Farmworkers can participate in a special “blue card” program with lower fines and a 5 year path to legal permanent residency, if they continue to work in agriculture

 

A limited group of immigrants who were deported may return to their families in the U.S. under a discretionary waiver: DREAMers, and parents or spouses of U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents.

 

Eligible immigrants who face deportation between the day the bill becomes law and the day the RPI program is up and running will still have a chance to apply.

 

Provisions will help many families reunite after years of separation and allow some families to remain together in the future.

 

Right now, some immigrants have to wait several years or even decades to reunite with loved ones in the United States.  This bill allows everyone waiting in line for a family or employment-based visa to immigrate within the next 8 years.  

 

Children and spouses of legal permanent residents can apply for green cards without delay. 

 

Other immigrants in line for a family-based visa can wait in the U.S. rather than abroad.  They can also work to help support their families while in the U.S., as can the spouses of H-1(b) visa holders.

 

A new work-based visa program will replace unauthorized migration with legal workers who have labor rights and a path to citizenship.

 

The bill creates a W visa for individuals seeking work in the service sector, hospitality, construction, and other industries excluded from existing visa programs. 

 

The W visa program includes labor protections for immigrant and U.S. workers, including wage standards, workplace safety requirements, recruitment requirements, and whistleblower protections.

 

W workers have the right to change jobs and apply for green cards.  Their families can come with them to the U.S and work. 

 

The bill will add other key labor protections into law.

 

It takes away key incentives for employers to hire and exploit undocumented immigrants, by giving them the right to back pay if they are unjustly fired and by protecting whistleblowers.

 

New labor protections are built into agriculture visa programs to ensure workers are treated fairly.

 

While making E-Verify mandatory for all employers, the bill does include important due process protections for workers who are incorrectly labeled unauthorized to work.

 

Some provisions begin to restore fairness for immigrants after years of punishing policies that eroded rights and opportunities.

 

Immigrants in detention will have the right to request release from a judge in a timely manner, and judges are encouraged to consider alternatives to detention.  The bill also gives judges some discretion to dismiss deportation cases against longtime residents who meet very limited criteria.

 

Children, mentally disabled individuals, and other extremely vulnerable people in deportation proceedings will finally have a right to government-paid counsel, as needed.

 

The bill will codify, expand, and fund Legal Orientation Programs for immigrants in deportation proceedings.

The bill will eliminate the arbitrary one year filing deadline for asylum, strengthening our nation’s commitment to protecting refugees.

 

Tougher penalties for “notario fraud” will help protect immigrants from unscrupulous “advisors” whose handiwork can jeopardize their immigration status.

 

The bill repeals a section of the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act that made it more difficult for public universities to offer in-state tuition rates to undocumented residents. 

Lowlights

Some deserving immigrants will be blocked from Registered Prospective Immigrant (RPI) status, green cards, and citizenship.

 

Every day until the bill is passed, people who would be eligible for RPI status will be deported.

 

The December 31, 2011 cut-off date for RPI status means that hundreds of thousands of immigrants who came in 2012 and 2013 will be left out. 

 

The process will be expensive—in some cases, prohibitively so—for low-income workers and their families.  Principal applicants will pay $2000 in fines over the course of the program, plus application costs for themselves and their family members.  Application costs for the whole process could total $1000 or more per individual.

 

Due to the program’s extensive requirements, immigrants will need time to pull together the documents, money, and legal assistance necessary to file a complete application.  The bill gives them only one year to do all of this, with an optional 18 month extension.  

 

Criminal bars to legal status are more extensive even than current law, which already rejects individuals based on minor, decades-old offenses.

 

Individuals with RPI status are held to a higher standard to receive a green card than other applicants.  They have to meet an English language requirement, something that is currently part of the citizenship process, not legal permanent residency.

 

For some of these requirements, waivers are available for immigrants who cannot meet them due to hardship or other circumstances.  However, the bill puts strict limits on who can apply for a waiver, and the implementation process may go even further—barring good people who deserve flexible consideration.

 

Deported parents and siblings of DREAMers and others who obtain RPI status are unable to get a waiver and reunite with their families in the United States.

 

The intent of this program should be to reach as many people as possible so that we start with a clean slate, not make the process so difficult and expensive that many remain in the shadows.

 

In some cases, political considerations trump policy goals.

 

The border is more secure than ever, and the resources and strategies in this bill will tighten it even more.  However, the bill requires implementation of border and other enforcement elements before key steps in the legalization process can begin.  The so-called “triggers” are a stunt that plays politics with peoples’ lives, without a policy rationale. 

 

Individuals with RPI status are required to pay taxes and purchase health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, but they are barred from affordable health care options and safety-net benefits.

 

The bill eliminates some immigration avenues that promote diversity and family unity, without adequately replacing them in other programs.

 

U.S. citizens and legal residents with same-sex partners remain unable to sponsor their loved ones for immigration, even when they are legally married.  This leaves tens of thousands of American families in limbo until our justice system steps in to end discrimination.

 

Current laws that trigger deportation or bar an immigrant from legal status based on criminal conduct are quite extreme, and judges have little to no discretion to block deportations even in the most compelling situations.  The new bill expands the list of offenses that carry such grave and permanent consequences.  Convictions for illegal re-entry and document fraud can exclude ordinary undocumented immigrants from legalization.  The government will have even broader authority to define gang activity, DUI, and domestic violence crimes in a way that harms innocent people and crime victims, instead of focusing on the truly bad actors.     

 

The bill retains several injustices in the current immigration enforcement system, such as the overly-broad definition and extreme treatment of individuals with so-called “aggravated felony” convictions (which do not have to be “aggravated” nor actual felonies to trigger deportation); continuation of the flawed Secure Communities program; and the operation of a massive immigration detention system that is supposed to be civil in nature, but is criminal in design.   

 

FOR MORE INFORMATION

Alliance for Citizenship (10 questions and answers)

American Immigration Lawyers Association (section by section)

America’s Voice Education Fund (list of resources)

National Council of La Raza (FAQs in English and Spanish)

National Immigrant Justice Center (the good and the bad)

National Immigration Law Center (overview and analysis; in-depth analysis: Title I border; Title II legalization and future immigration; Title III interior and workplace enforcement)

Rights Working Group (analysis of profiling provisions)

 

About David Leopold
Past President American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), In-the-Trenches practicing immigration Attorney, Blogger, Activist, Photographer, Educator, World Traveler. All opinions are my own.

One Response to Highlights and “Lowlights” of the Bipartisan Senate #Immigration Bill

  1. Many thanks for sharing your nice internet site.

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