April 19, 2013

Immigration bill gets broad support

The measure aims to secure borders and offer a path to citizenship for 11 million illegal immigrants.

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON - Four Democratic and four Republican senators formally unveiled a sweeping immigration bill Thursday at a news conference attended by traditional opponents from big business and labor, conservative groups and liberal ones. The lawmakers argued that this time, thanks to that broad-based support, immigration overhaul legislation can succeed.

Charles Schumer, John McCain
click image to enlarge

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., left, and Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., take questions on immigration reform legislation Thursday on Capitol Hill.

The Associated Press

IMMIGRATION MEASURE STARTS
WITH BORDER SECURITY,
CHECKING WORKERS'
LEGAL STATUS

A quick look at highlights of the 844-page immigration overhaul bill:

BORDER SECURITY

The bill sets goals of surveillance of 100 percent of the border with Mexico, and catching or turning back 90 percent of would-be crossers.

Within six months of enactment of the bill, the Homeland Security Department must develop a border security plan to achieve those goals.

If the goals of 90 percent effectiveness rate and continuous surveillance on the border are not met within five years, a Southern Border Security Commission would be established with border-state governors and others to determine how to achieve them.

Before anyone in the U.S. illegally can get a new provisional legal status, the border security and border fencing plans must be in place. Before they can get permanent resident green cards, the plans must be substantially completed. And a mandatory system must be in place for employers to check workers' legal status.

PATH TO CITIZENSHIP

The 11 million people in the U.S. illegally could obtain "registered provisional immigrant status" six months after enactment if:

(1) The Homeland Security Department has developed border security and fencing plans.

(2) They arrived in the U.S. prior to Dec. 31, 2011, and maintained continuous physical presence since then.

(3) They do not have a felony conviction or three or more misdemeanors.

(4) They pay a $500 fine.

People in provisional legal status could work and travel in the U.S. but would not be eligible for federal benefits.

The provisional legal status lasts six years and is renewable for another $500.

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.

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 and researchers, multinational executives and athletes, would be exempted from green-card limits.

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.

FAMILY IMMIGRATION

U.S. citizens now 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 daughter only if those children are under 31.

EMPLOYMENT VERIFICATION

Within five years, all employers must implement E-Verify, a program to electronically verify their workers' legal status.

-- The Associated Press

"Powerful outside forces have helped defeat certain other initiatives in Washington, but on immigration, the opposite is proving true," Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said a day after senators under intense lobbying pressure blocked a major gun control package. "I am confident this issue will not fall victim to the usual partisan deadlock."

Support for the bill is already being put to the test as conservatives grow more vocal in opposition. Two Republican senators held a dueling news conference with law enforcement officials to bash the bill's security provisions, and several conservative bloggers seized on one provision of the legislation to falsely claim that it would allow people here illegally to get free cellphones.

The 844-page bill is designed to secure the border, allow tens of thousands of new high- and low-skilled workers into the country while requiring employers to verify their legal status, and put 11 million people here illegally on a path to citizenship if certain border security goals are met.

"Yes, we offer a path to citizenship to people who didn't come here legally," said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., anticipating opposition to that provision. "They're here, and realistically there is nothing we can do to induce them all to return to their countries of origin."

In addition to Schumer and McCain, the members of the so-called Gang of Eight are Democrats Dick Durbin of Illinois, Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Michael Bennet of Colorado, and Republicans Marco Rubio of Florida, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Jeff Flake of Arizona.

The bill was to get its first hearing Friday before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Standing behind the senators was a who's-who of Washington conservative and liberal leaders, representatives from religious groups, Latino activist organizations and others.

Before the senators came to the podium, anti-tax activist Grover Norquist shook hands with AFL-CIO leader Richard Trumka, then exchanged pleasantries with Neera Tanden, head of the liberal Center for American Progress. They were joined by Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention, Bruce Josten of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Clarissa Martinez of the National Council of La Raza and others, around two dozen all together.

Many of the advocates and senators present were veterans of past failed efforts at reform, most notably in 2007, when legislation pushed by then-President George W. Bush collapsed on the Senate floor.

Asked why an immigration overhaul would succeed this time, McCain turned and pointed to the advocates.

"This is a coalition. I never thought I'd be standing with Richard Trumka," McCain said. "This is why we will succeed."

 

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