Border Security, Economic Opportunity
and Modernization Act of 2013
The Senate of the Congress has introduced and approved for debate a 867 page bipartisan legislative bill to revamp the immigration laws of the U.S. While it is not yet law and may be modified within the Senate and by the House of Representatives before the President will sign it into law, it is a representation of what may eventually reform the existing Immigration laws.
This Bill purposes the following salient reforms:
- Backlogs of pending immigration cases would be sped up.
- A fundamental shift in our immigration system long focused on family ties, placing more emphasis on the immigrants' skills and employment potential, similar to the criteria of Canada and various other countries.
- A "path to citizenship" for the approximate 12 plus million illegal immigrants currently in the U.S., provided they entered the U.S. prior to January 1, 2012, and stayed continuously, thereby terminating their misdemeanor criminal offense for illegal entry. "Registered Provisional Legal Status" would be gained 6 months after the President signs the Bill into law provided certain criteria were met. This provisional legal status would remain for 6 years and then the recipient would be eligible to renew for another $500. Then, 10 years after which, upon paying a $1000 fine, these immigrants could obtain green card status and 3 years after that petition for citizenship. Neither the green card nor citizenship would be automatic. People brought to the U.S. illegally as youths would have a much faster path to citizenship. They could get green cards in 5 years and would be eligible for citizenship immediately thereafter. It is important to remember that under current law, illegal re-entry into the US to avail oneself of these new benefits after formal removal can be a felony.
- Criteria to invoke this path to citizenship include, filing all appropriate applications with the USCIS with yet undetermined filing fees, paying a $2000 per person penalty (at least $500 initially), passing all background checks, payment of all income taxes, having never committed a felony nor more than 3 misdemeanors, (ability to demonstrate the ability to speak and read English may be a final passage requirement), ineligibility for federal benefits like welfare or health care.
- The waiting period for citizenship after obtaining a green card (permanent resident status) would be lowered from 5 years to 3 years.
- Additional funding would provide 3500 more customs agents nationwide and authorize the National Guard to be deployed to construct more fencing and surveillance equipment for tougher border security and for prosecution of immigration cases.
- One hundred percent surveillance of the border to ensure that 90 percent of attempted border crossers are caught or turned back.
- Revamp the employer mostly voluntary employment verification system called "E-Verify" to a mandatory employer system within 4 years.
- Prevent citizens from bringing siblings to the U.S. and allow citizens to sponsor married sons and daughters only if these children are under the age of 31.
- Establish a "Agriculture Worker Visa System". Farm workers in the U.S. illegally who have already worked in the U.S. for 2 years and continue to work in this industry could qualify for green cards after 5 years.
- Establish a "Merit Based Visa" 5 years after the new law is enacted beginning at 120,000 visas per year, awarding points based on talent, employment and family ties. This is similar to the Canadian immigration system.
- Establish a "Start Up Visa" for foreign entrepreneurs trying to enter the U.S. to start their own companies.
- Remove the current limit on the number of green cards awarded to people of extraordinary ability in business, science, education, arts or athletics, or to outstanding professionals, doctors and others.
- Increase the number of visas available for educated workers filing specialty jobs in the technology sector.
- Create a "W Visa" for low skilled workers to enter the U.S. for jobs in construction, long term care, hospitality and other industries, ultimately up to 200,000 visas a year.
- The Diversity Visa Lottery Program would be eliminated.
- The annual cap on the number of sponsored spouses and children of Legal Permanent Residents eligible to come to the U.S. would be eliminated.
- Asylum officers would have increased authority to adjudicate asylum claims to address the backlog of asylum cases in immigration courts.
- Finally, there is discussion about adding a section to track when legal immigrants leave the U.S.
Congressional House of Representatives Purposed Immigration Reform Bill
While the Senate has purposed an immig>ration reform bill which needs to be approved by the House of Representatives and signed by the President before becoming law the House of Representatives has now acted in a similar fashion. A bipartisan group of representatives have on June 6, 2013 reached a deal in principle on immigration reform.
Called the Strengthen and Fortify Enforcement Act or "SAFE" if enacted into law it would:
- Create more enforcement of illegal immigrants moving prosecution from the civil to the criminal arena, giving state and local jurisdictions more power to enforce federal immigration law. Remove of unauthorized immigrants would remain with immigration court. State and localities could regulate from the carrying of work identification documents & drivers licenses to work authorizations & state residency,
- Create increased detention and reduce the provisions of bond on arrest of flight risk immigrants,
- Increase penalties for immigrant violations and broaden the spectrum of behaviors subject to such penalties as well as reduce the current standard of evidence necessary to find an immigrant inadmissible. Also expedited removals (deportation) without court access would be expanded for many types of criminal activity,
- The definition of "aggravated felony" a term used in immigration law to define those cases which mandate automatic deportation and permanent banishment with no considerations for other family members would be expanded. Such examples would include; expanded passport, visa or immigration fraud, harboring of illegals, improper entry and reentry, conviction of two or more drunk driving offenses, or shoplifting,
- Change unlawful presence occurring after illegal entry from a civil infraction to a crime punishable with a fine and/or six months of jail time. Subsequent offenders would be subject to a fine and two years in prison. This jail time could even apply to one day holders due to flight delays,
- Increase ICE agents by 8,260 new positions and provide all agents with body armor, m-4 rifles and Tasers as standard issue weapons, and
- Eliminate the Department of Homeland Security discretion to temporarily prevent the removal of "Dreamers" under DACA thus making them all eligible for deportation despite having been brought to the U.S. as children of their illegal nonimmigrant parents.
- The SAFE Act returns to an immigration philosophy of reduces the number of illegal immigrants in the U.S. through the attrition of arrest and deportation.
We at Charleston USA Immigration Law Center will endeavor to monitor all updates to the Senate Bill & House Bill to provide a synopsis of what is being purposed as well as what will eventually be signed into law as the new immigration reform.