After months of initial negotiations, the Senate gang of eight released a comprehensive immigration reform bill that creates a 13-year path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. In addition to creating a long path to citizenship, the legislation adds new powers for the Department of Homeland Security to strengthen enforcement, attempts to clear the backlogs of people waiting for visas, and expands E-Verify. Here are the essential details about the legislation:
13-year path to citizenship: After DHS sets its enforcement goals, undocumented immigrants who have been here since before December 31, 2011 can apply for registered provisional immigrant status. If they pass the background check and pay a fine ($500 up front), this status allows them to work lawfully in the U.S. After 10 years, those with provisional status are eligible for permanent status. Three years later, they can finally apply for citizenship. Over the course of the 10-year period undocumented immigrants will pay $2,000 in fines plus taxes, and must demonstrate knowledge of civics and English.
Expedited path to citizenship for DREAMers and farmworkers: Both DREAMers and agriculture workers would receive green cards within five years, and DREAMers are eligible for citizenship immediately after.
Border security goals trigger legalization: DHS will have an additional billion more for border enforcement. The bill sets a goal of adding 100 percent “eyes on the border” and deterring 90 percent of entries at certain high-risk southwestern border areas. If the goal is not met within five years, this is where the Border Commission of state governors would step in to recommend action. Undocumented immigrants cannot obtain provisional legal status until DHS creates a strategy to achieve 90 percent effectiveness.
Deportations halted: The bill immediately halts deportations for immigrants who have been here since before December 31, 2011 and have not committed any serious crimes. It also allows those who have been deported but would be eligible for the new path to re-enter the country. Since 2000, 3.3 million people have been deported and deportations reached a record high during the Obama administration.
Mandatory E-Verify for all employers: The bill requires businesses implement E-Verify and check the legal immigration status of workers they hire.
Clears the 4.7 million in the backlogs: DHS will seek to clear the backlogs of people waiting for green cards. Certain family eligibility for visas will be eliminated, like siblings of U.S. citizens, but it also expands opportunities for spouses and minor children by exempting them from the cap on visas.
Increases visas for skilled workers and protections for non-agricultural workers: Under the bill, visas for high-skilled workers would increase 69 percent to 110,000. The bill also creates a new W-visa that allows low-skilled, non-agricultural workers to look for new employment without having their visa revoked and self-petition for permanent residency.
No protections for same-sex families: The bill excludes same-sex families from expanded protections for minor children and spouses. A straight married couple can petition for their spouses to arrive, but the Defense of Marriage Act prevents gay couples from having those same rights.
The bill was filed late Tuesday. Find the full text here.