A bipartisan group of U.S. House members working on comprehensive immigration reform legislation has agreed on a 15-year path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants, two years longer than the 13-year proposal in the Senate plan.
Many Democrats and immigrant advocates, who complained that the Senate's proposal by the "Gang of Eight" was too long to wait, are of course more negative about the longer wait the House wants.
But negotiators say they need 15 years to get enough support among Republicans to keep the legislation alive.
Both House and Senate proposals require a 10-year wait before an unauthorized immigrant could apply for permanent legal status and get a green card. The wait for citizenship after that is the latest sticking point.
Immigrant advocates worry that if the wait becomes too long, the incentive is diminished for immigrants to come out of the shadows and participate in any legalization program.
Would a 15-year wait for citizenship defeat one of the main purposes of comprehensive immigration reform? Does it replace an illegal limbo for immigrants with a legal one where the penalties outweigh the benefits? What good is reform for 11 million unauthorized immigrants if they lose reasons to participate and then don't?
These are hard questions that Congress members can't answer with their political dealmaking that considers partisan point-scoring and not real-life consequences.
The Gang of Eight's proposed comprehensive immigration reform bill has started its formal journey through Congress, and already there have been volleys of poison-pill amendments intended to derail the legislation as it goes through the Senate's committee mark-up process.
Complaints from Republicans on the far right, including Tea Party favorite Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, are that the proposal doesn't do enough to stop illegal traffic across the U.S.-Mexico border. Cruz proposed an amendment that would triple the number of Border Patrol agents to 60,000 and greatly increase border surveillance equipment. His amendment was voted down in committee however.
On the left, Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., offered a proposal that would prevent Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano from deporting unauthorized immigrants to dangerous areas in their homelands. That proposal also died.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., one of the Gang of Eight leaders, says there's room for improving the bill and that he's "encouraged that we are witnessing a transparent and deliberate process" to get it amended and passed.
The path to citizenship and ensuring a more secure border (a so-called "border trigger") with Mexico remain the two major potential stumbling blocks for passage.
One reliable sign that the U.S. economy is recovering from the Great Recession is the steady increase in immigrant remittances to their homelands over the last five years.
According to research released by the Multilateral Investment Fund (MIF), a member of the Inter-American Development Bank Group, immigrant workers living in the United States are still trying to get back to the income levels they had before the recession took hold late in 2007, but remittances are stabilizing.
The MIF says that remittances sent from the United States to Latin America and the Caribbean reached $61.3 billion last year, down from the peak of $65 billion in 2008 but a substantial improvement from the steep decline in 2009 and 2010.
The Obama administration's use of "temporary protected status" has helped Haitian immigrants send money home to bolster the recovery from the devastating 2010 earthquake.
One of the many contentious ideas in the proposed comprehensive immigration reform bill is a largely overlooked provision that eliminates the diversity visa lottery (popularly known as the green card lottery) in exchange for making more visas available to highly skilled, highly educated immigrants in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, mathematics).
The tradeoff was intended to draw more votes from Republican lawmakers who believe U.S. businesses need more educated immigrants to fill openings for skilled workers.
Many Democrats in Congress oppose the move.
"A plaque at the base of the Statue of Liberty famously reads, 'Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,'" says Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-La. "One-hundred thirty years after Emma Lazarus penned those famous words, some lawmakers want to change the meaning to 'give me your scientists, engineers and STEM grads.'"
Richmond, whose district includes much of New Orleans, and other members of the Congressional Black Caucus are pushing to keep the diversity visa program going.
They correctly argue that it has been responsible for bringing people into the country who without it would not have the opportunity to come. The idea behind the lottery is to give immigrants who don't have family or prospective employers in the United States a chance to come here and help the country become more ethnically diverse.
Only 50,000 diversity visa spots are available each year.
A random selection process determines who gets them.
President Obama is continuing to press his case for comprehensive immigration reform during his meetings with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto in Mexico City.
"I'm optimistic about us getting this done because it's the right thing to do. We've seen leaders from both parties indicate that now's the time to get comprehensive immigration reform done," Obama said at a joint press conference with Pena Nieto.
"If we're going to get that done, now's the time to do it."
The Mexican president has tried to steer clear of the immigration debate in the United States, only saying to Obama that "Mexico understands that this is a domestic affair for the U.S. and we wish you the best push that you're giving to immigration."
Improving border security with Mexico could be an important factor in getting the deal done with Congress. President Obama said there is room for improvement on security issues on both sides of the border.
"We've put enormous resources into border security," Obama said, allowing also that "there are areas where there's still more work to be done."
The U.S. State Department is allowing entrants to the 2014 Diversity Immigrant Visa program --popularly known as the green card lottery -- to begin checking their status online.
The entrant status check opened May 1, and those who have entered the lottery are reminded to keep their confirmation numbers, since the government might select more DV 2014 applicants later this year.
The State Department does not notify successful lottery entrants. Check the official State Department website to find out your status. The DV-2014 registration period was from Oct. 2, 2012 until Nov. 3, 2012.
The State Department is warning entrants about a "notable increase and reporting" of fraudulent emails and letters. Beware of scammers and disreputable service providers who try to solicit fees for services. Be sure you're dealing only with the U.S. government.
It's important for entrants to check their status carefully and keep their confirmation information because the green card lottery has had its share of mistakes and glitches in the past. Keep checking until you're sure your result is correct and final.
The idea behind this green card lottery is to give foreigners who don't have family or prospective employers in the United States a chance to come here and help the country become more ethnically diverse.
The odds of success are remote. In recent years, the government has received close to 20 million applicants for the 50,000 spots. Congress began the diversity visa program in 1995 when it authorized the idea of randomly giving away green cards each year to bring in more immigrants from countries that are under-represented in the United States.
You can add Paul Ryan to the list of prominent Republicans who has come out for comprehensive immigration reform.
Rep. Ryan, R-Wis., who was Mitt Romney's GOP running mate last year, supports the "Gang of Eight" reform efforts in Congress, saying that the proposed bill is good for the economy, good for national security and the right thing to do.
"We need it for national security reasons. We need it for the economy," Ryan said last week. "We do not want to have a society where we have different classes of people who cannot reach their American dream by not being a full citizen."
Meanwhile, last week in University Park, Texas, the five living presidents gathered to help christen the George W. Bush Library.
President Obama and Bush haven't agreed on much. But they did agree on comprehensive immigration reform. Obama praised Bush's efforts on reform and said that if the Gang of Eight bill passes, some of the credit goes to Bush.
"Seven years ago, President Bush restarted an important conversation by speaking with the American people about our history as a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants, and even though comprehensive immigration reform has taken a little longer than any of us expected," Obama said. "I am hopeful that this year -- with the help of Speaker (John) Boehner and some of the senators and members of Congress who are here today -- that we bring it home for our families, for our economy, for our security and for this incredible country that we love."
Obama said if that's accomplished, "it will be in large part thanks to the hard work of George W. Bush."
All five of the presidents who attended the library ceremonies -- including also Bush's father, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton -- expressed support for the immigration reform plan.
The Boston Marathon bombings are bringing calls from the political right to delay comprehensive immigration reform and calls from the political right to speed it up.
The two suspects in the bombings, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, are ethnic Chechens who immigrated to the United States in 2002 after the government granted them asylum. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev became a U.S. citizen last year and his older brother had a green card.
"Given the events of this week, it's important for us to understand the gaps and loopholes in our immigration system," said Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, who called for slowing down reform efforts last week.
"What happened in Boston and international terrorism I think should urge us to act quicker, not slower," Graham said, "when it comes to getting the 11 million identified...I think now is the time to bring all the 11 million out of the shadows and find out who they are."
Schumer said calls for a slowdown are politically motivated from lawmakers who oppose any reform: "Some on the hard right, some otherwise, who opposed (this) from the get-go are using this as an excuse. We are not going to let them do that."
It's a remarkable paradox that Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev became a U.S. citizen on Sept. 11, 2012, the 11th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.
Tsarnaev, 19, took the oath during a naturalization ceremony at Boston's TD Garden, along with about 2,500 immigrants from about 130 countries, federal authorities say.
His older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, was not a naturalized American but had a green card and was in the country legally. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev status as a U.S. citizen makes it much more difficult for federal prosecutors to charge him as an enemy combatant.
Both brothers are ethnic Chechens who grew up in the former Russian state of Kyrgyzstan. Authorities say the family immigrated to the United States in 2002 and received asylum from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services after citing fears of persecution based on their Chechen heritage.
Despite canceling the planned Tuesday morning press conference to release the much-anticipated comprehensive immigration reform bill in deference to the Boston tragedy, the Senate "Gang of Eight" did follow through on releasing the proposal.
Immigration reform advocates are praising the bill as a step in the right direction, noting the inclusion of a planned path to citizenship, which is fast-forwarded for DREAM-eligible youth. In addition, the demand for family unity was taken seriously, as the proposal outlines the provision that those who have been deported, but have a U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse OR a U.S. citizen child, may be able to apply to come back to the U.S. to rejoin family.
The bill ties the reform to increased border security measures, including the goal of reaching a 90% effectiveness rate (defined as "number of apprehensions and turn backs in a specific sector divided by the total number of illegal entries") in certain areas of the southern border. It notes $3 billion for a "comprehensive" southern border strategy and another $1.5 for a southern fence-centric strategy.
The first adjustment from undocumented to "registered provision immigrant" (called RPI) cannot occur until triggered by the completion of the strategy proposals. After that, the next adjustment of status would be from the "registered provision immigrant" to a lawful permanent resident, but is contingent on significant roll out of those proposals. This adjustment is also contingent on the introduction and use of a nationwide employment verification system and a national exit system that records information from passports or visas.
The proposal notes eligibility requirements before being given this RPI status, and also bars RPI persons from receiving most of the benefits of the Affordable Care Act and some tax benefits.
Another major portion of the bill includes the creation of a "W" visa program, aimed at lower-skilled workers of a foreign residence who come to the U.S. for temporary employment. Much of the legalities, numbers, and provisions of this program will fall under the supervision of a new agency: the Bureau of Immigration and Labor Market Research. The workers may only work with employers registered with this program. There are certain wage, safety and workers' rights provisions that those employers must meet.
Other interesting portions of the bill include creating a border commission if border security goals are not met, hiring 3,000 more CBO agents, and raised caps on H1-B visas. A second portion -- called the Agricultural Job Opportunity, Benefits, and Security Act (AgJOBS) -- offers a path to citizenship for undocumented farm workers and allows some of the "fast-forwarded" stipulations that DREAM-eligible youth are allowed.
(Note: the above outlines a cursory reading of the proposal. Full reading of the proposal is available at: www.scribd.com)