July 29, 2005

A Look at the Three Immigration Reform Bills in Congress

By Elena Shore

Congress is expected to enact the first major overhaul of immigration policy since 1996. On the table are three immigration reform bills that could dramatically reshape the country’s immigration policy on key issues including legalization, guest worker programs, deportation, employer sanctions and police and border enforcement. The bills, proposed by Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas); Senators John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.); and Senators John Cornyn (R- Texas) and Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), present three distinct plans for immigration reform.

The proposal generally seen as the “toughest” on illegal immigration is the Cornyn-Kyl proposal, introduced in the Senate this week by Senators John Cornyn (R- Texas) and Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.). The bill creates a two-year guest worker visa (renewable up to two times if the worker returns for one year in between renewals); provides no pathway to legal residency; and proposes that the undocumented immigrants who already live in the United States return to their countries of origin within the next five years to register to enter the country legally as temporary workers.

“Beyond the notion of returning the rule of law to the border,” said Sen. Kyl, “the single most important aspect of this bill is that it does not reward those who have broken the law, and does not constitute amnesty.”

The Cornyn-Kyl bill has been criticized by the National Immigration Forum for leading to an underground black market of illegal workers and not providing enough protection for workers and their families. It has also been called impractical. A July 20 article in Spanish-language daily La Opinión reports that “critics say it is unrealistic to think that the 10 to 15 million undocumented immigrants who have roots in this country, jobs, houses and children who are U.S. citizens, would leave voluntarily.”

According to the National Immigration Forum, “the only proposal on the table that is truly comprehensive, bipartisan and realistic” is the Kennedy-McCain bill introduced in the House and Senate in May. Written by Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA) and Representatives Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), and Jim Kolbe (R-AZ), the bill provides legal channels for workers to come to the United States; incentives for the undocumented immigrants already here to register to work and eventually apply for permanent residency; protections for workers; and tough enforcement of laws at the border and in the workplace.

“The past debate has long been polarized between those who want more enforcement and those who want more visas,” said Senator Kennedy. “But to repair what is broken, we need to combine increased enforcement and increased legality. Better border control and better treatment of immigrants are not inconsistent — they are two sides of the same coin.”

The Senate Judiciary Committee is reviewing the bills and is expected to rewrite an immigration reform bill that combines the two.

A third immigration reform bill is being introduced in the House of Representatives by Texas Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee. Jackson Lee’s proposal provides a pathway to legal permanent residence for undocumented immigrants and asylum seekers; protection for workers; increased border enforcement; and does not include a new guest worker program.

Here is a look at some of the key provisions of each proposal:

Kennedy-McCain: Secure America and Orderly Immigration Act of 2005

• Legalization: Undocumented workers and their families can apply for a work visa, pay $1,000 fine and after six years of working, may apply for Legal Permanent Resident status (not guaranteed), and must pay another $1,000 fine. Students under 21 may substitute school for work for the six-year requirement.

• Guest Workers: Will receive a three-year work visa renewable one time for another three years. After four years, work visa holders may apply for Legal Permanent Residence. Workers unemployed for more than 45 days are subject to deportation.

• Employer Sanctions: Fines will increase for employers who hire undocumented workers. Social Security Administration will be responsible for verifying worker status under new electronic immigration verification system.

• Border Enforcement: Mandates Department of Homeland Security to develop National Strategy for Border Security and increases aerial and ground surveillance. Department of Labor inspectors will examine employers’ records of worker immigration status.

• Workers’ Rights: Guest workers will be covered by employment laws. They may not be used to replace striking workers. Extends protections against citizenship discrimination to all Legal Permanent Residents and temporary workers.

• Job Training: None.

• Family Reunification: Visas issued to immediate relatives will no longer be deducted from worldwide cap. Doubles number of employment-based visas. Relaxes financial requirements for sponsors.

• Asylum and Refugee Issues: None.

• Deportation: Protects immigrants from unscrupulous immigration law practitioners.

• State Reimbursement: Reimburses border states for detention of undocumented immigrants. Provides federal reimbursement for emergency health services for undocumented.

• Diversity Visas: None.

• Human Trafficking: Federal agencies will share information to combat trafficking and report to Congress. Creates new “witness protection” visa, increasing number from 10,000 to 15,000 visas per year. Provides protections for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and trafficking.

• State and Local Enforcement: None.

Cornyn-Kyl: Comprehensive Enforcement and Immigration Reform Act of 2005

• Legalization: No legalization.

• Undocumented Immigrants: “Mandatory departure” status for undocumented immigrants living in U.S. for at least a year by July 19, 2005. Undocumented immigrants will have up to five years to voluntarily leave U.S., but after the first year they will be fined $2,000 for each additional year in the country (fines increase each year). Those who fail to depart are barred for 10 years from applying for the guest worker program or permanent residency.

• Guest Workers: Must be employed, registered, fingerprinted, and must pass security and health screenings. If approved, they will be issued biometric IDs for employment verification and permitted to work only for employers participating in a new temporary worker program.

• Guest Worker Program: Establishes new two-year “W”visa for temporary guest workers. Visa holders must return home for one year before reapplying. May participate up to three times (total of six years of U.S. employment). Family members may visit for only 30 days per year. Home countries must sign agreement with U.S. guaranteeing health coverage, cooperation controlling illegal immigration, accepting deportees and giving access to databases.

• Employer Sanctions: 10,000 new enforcement agents and 1,000 new agents to detect application fraud. Fines will increase for employers who hire undocumented workers. Will establish new national ID system with new secure Social Security cards and electronic verification system.

• Border Enforcement: Expands expedited removal. 10,000 new border patrol agents, 1,250 new Customs and Border Protection Officers. $5 billion for technology and infrastructure at border. Harsher consequences for visa overstays.

• Workers’ Rights: No proposals.

• Job Training: None.

• Family Reunification: None.

• Asylum and Refugee Issues: None.

• Deportation: No proposals.

• State Reimbursement: $4.45 billion to reimburse states and counties for jailing undocumented immigrants and $2 billion for criminal justice processing.

• Diversity Visas: Terminates program.

• Human Trafficking: Authorizes 1,000 smuggling and status violations investigators over five years. Increases penalties for immigrant smuggling, document fraud, drug trafficking and gang violence. Does not provide protections for victims.

• State and Local Enforcement: Authorizes state and local authorities to enforce federal immigration law. Expands program to deport immigrants upon completion of jail time. Expands expedited removal. No judicial review of visa revocations.

Sheila Jackson Lee: Save America Comprehensive Immigration Act of 2005

• Legalization: Provides access to Legal Permanent Resident status for those who have been here continuously for at least five years, have good moral character and no criminal offenses. Any student who has lived in the United States and attending school for at least five years can apply for legal permanent residence.

• Guest Workers: No new guest worker program proposed. Employers must show efforts to hire workers locally.

• Employer Sanctions: No change.

• Border Enforcement: Increases the number of border and airport inspectors and enforcement against use of fraudulent documents.

• Workers’ Rights: Makes discrimination against a worker due to immigration status an unfair labor practice.

• Job Training: Fees paid by applicants for legalization must be used for job training or job creation in communities with high records of unemployment.

• Family Reunification: Doubles the annual cap of family visas from $480,000 to $960,000. Makes it easier for families of legal permanent residents to enter the country.

• Asylum and Refugee Issues: Creates fair process for judging asylum claims, includes gender-based discrimination as a basis for asylum. Makes Legal Permanent Resident status available to recipients of temporary protected status after five years.

• Deportation: Eliminates mandatory detention in expedited removal proceedings; eliminates minor crimes as basis for deportation; eliminates retroactive changes in grounds of inadmissibility and removal.

• State Reimbursement: None.

• Diversity Visas: Doubles number of diversity visas from 55,000 to 110,000 visas.

• Human Trafficking: Allocates $10 million for state and local investigation and prosecution of traffickers. Provides protections for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and trafficking.

• State and Local Enforcement: Eliminates authority of state and local agencies to carry out immigration functions and allows them to prohibit local enforcement of immigration law.

Information provided by the Planning Committee of the Community Dialogue on Immigration Reform.

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