In April 2013, the U.S. Senate’s bipartisan “Gang of Eight” released a comprehensive immigration reform plan aimed at stopping illegal immigration and dealing with the 11 million immigrants who entered the country illegally.
The senators proposed bill, which spanned 844 pages, included a pathway to citizenship for the 1l million, principles of the DREAM Act to assist young immigrants who arrived illegally as children and provisions to enhance border security.
Here are some of the key details of the Gang of Eight’s plan for comprehensive immigration reform, known formally the Outline of the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013:
- A so-called “path to citizenship.” Unauthorized immigrants could obtain provisional legal status (Registered Provisional Immigrant Status, or RPI) and, after at least 13 years, apply for U.S. citizenship. During the first 10 years, the immigrants would not have access to federal benefits and would have to pay $2,000 in fines, plus federal fees and back taxes. After 10 years, immigrants are eligible for green cards.
- No one with a felony conviction would be eligible for citizenship and no one who entered the country after Dec. 31, 2011 could apply.
- With RPI, immigrants could work for any employer and could travel outside the United States and re-enter legally. Immigrants could also attend school. A significant feature of the proposal is that an applicant’s spouse and children are eligible to apply at the same time for RPI protection. However, there is no provision for same-sex couples.
- DREAM Act youths would be eligible for green cards after five years of RPI and are then immediately also eligible for U.S. citizenship.
- All RPI recipients are required to pay taxes, learn English and civics, and maintain clean criminal records.
- A new version of the AgJOBS Act enables undocumented farm workers who have been working in the country to obtain Agricultural Cards if they pay taxes and a $400 fine.
- Unauthorized immigrants who were deported for non-criminal reasons but who had lived in the United States before the end of 2011 can reapply to re-enter legally and obtain RPI status.
- The bill creates a trigger for border security goals. The proposal stipulates at six months after the law passes, immigrants can start applying for RPI only after the Department of Homeland Security gives Congress a new strategy for border security. DHS is to receive $3 billion to implement the new strategy. If there is an “effectiveness rate of 90% or higher” in the high-risk border crossing areas after five years, then the border security goal is considered reached and the trigger satisfied.
- The bill also requires employers to use the E-Verify system to check the immigration status of prospective employees and has provisions to crack down on violators.
- The proposed bill would eliminate the diversity visa program, the so-called “green card lottery,” in 2014. To replace it, the bill exempts immigrants skilled in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) from annual visa limits. It also makes provisions to admit qualified doctors, executives and managers.
The proposal would increase the skilled worker H-1B visas from 65,000 to 110,00 per year and could be expanded to 180,000 depending on the needs of U.S. employers. A provision requires employers to pay H-1B workers higher wages to avoid creating a competitive disadvantage for American workers.
- A reinvented version of a guest-worker program for low-skilled workers offers a new type of visa, called the W visa, that allows temporary workers to enter the country and fill seasonal job openings.