You’ve probably heard rumblings about the Senate’s forthcoming immigration bill, “The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013". A group of 8 Republican and Democrat Senators have proposed a lengthy, contingency-laden path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants living in the United States. The bill isn’t perfect, but it represents a rare chance to fix many backlogs, loopholes, and irrational policies plaguing our broken immigration system. Immediately upon the signing of the bill, any undocumented immigrant in the United States would be able to apply for “Registered Provisional Immigrant Status”, which requires passing a background check, paying a $500 fee, and proving they have been in the US since before December 21, 2011. As an RPI, an immigrant would be able to live and work in the US without fear, and in some cases even return to visit family in the US after being deported. Those immigrants protected under the Dream Act and agricultural work permits can apply for a green card after living in the US for 5 years as an RPI, and Dreamers can apply for citizenship immediately after receiving their green card. For all the rest, it is a much trickier path to citizenship. Non Dreamer/agricultural immigrants will have to wait until the Department of Homeland Security releases a plan to make the border “90% secure”. In the Senators’ vision, this means that for every 1 undocumented immigrant that crosses unlawfully, 9 will be turned back or caught and prosecuted. This extremely ambitious goal is a nod to the pervasive fear of “amnesty” among Republican circles, and may not even be enough to convince some border-state senators and representatives. To accomplish this lofty goal, the bill lays out $3 billion in federal funding for drone patrols, beefed up border fences, increased ranks of customs agents, and National Guard deployments. Along with immediate security, the bill would strengthen training standards to prevent racial profiling while increasing capacity for border crossing prosecutions from 70 per day to 210 per day, perhaps to cut down on lengthy holding cell stays. It would appear that lawmakers want to avoid the type of lawsuits and uproar exemplified by the nasty fight over Arizona’s struck-down “Show me your papers” law. Once Department of Homeland Security has instituted a plan that it is confident can achieve 90% security, the door, or perhaps the “long hallway”, to citizenship will open for the remaining immigrant population. After living in the US without breaking any laws for 10 years, immigrants can apply for green cards under a variety of “merit-based” categories. These are divided up based upon factors including professional skills, English language proficiency, tax status, and family ties to the US. The bill has many faults. It contains many vague measures and sets a halting, pitfall-laden timetable for bringing the country’s undocumented out of the shadows. But despite the holes in the legislation, it would allow the majority of undocumented immigrants to achieve full US citizenship within 13-15 years of the bill’s signing. This would be an enormous step forward for a country that has ignored the need for immigration reform for far too long. But first the bill has to become law. Even with copious polling data showing Republicans losing their grip on a rapidly-diversifying electorate, it will be tough for the Gang of Eight to win over Republican senators skittish over their reelection in 2014. After that, It will be an absolute dogfight to convince enough Republican representatives, many now ensconced in reliably red districts, to go along with the plan and foster their party's national aspirations. Stay tuned in the coming weeks for the bill’s unveiling and unavoidably contentious negotiations.
(News and views from IBLF staff and attorneys)