With tensions still high over the immigration debate, Senator Edward M. Kennedy released the following statement today, along with a summary of key provisions of the comprehensive immigration reform legislation passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee Monday night. Passed with a vote of 12-6, the committee’s mark-up preserved the main provisions of the McCain-Kennedy immigration reform bill: a guest worker program for foreign workers that provides an opportunity for earned legalization and a program for the 12 million undocumented workers in the United States that would allow for earned legalization.
Senator Kennedy said, “The nation is ready for a realistic solution to repair our broken immigration system. Leaders in the labor, business and religious community are coming together in an unprecedented way to meet this challenge. Our bipartisan legislation deals with all aspects of the issues in a way that protects our security and is consistent with America’s values and the American Dream.”
Below is a summary of the key provisions of the Comprehensive Immigration Reform bill:
Senate Judiciary Committee, Comprehensive Immigration Reform Bill – Key Provisions
· Strengthened Border Security
o Doubled Border Patrol—adds 12,000 new agents (2,400 each year for the next 5 years).
o Doubled Interior Enforcement—adds 1,000 investigators per year for next 5 years.
o New Security Perimeter—adds new technology at the border to create “virtual fence”
o Tightened Controls–expands exit-entry security system at all land borders and airports.
o Construction of Barriers—mandates new roads and vehicle barriers at borders.
o Construction of Fences—provides additional border fences at specific vulnerable sectors.
o New Checkpoints—authorizes new permanent highway checkpoints near border.
o New Ports of Entry—authorizes additional ports of entry along land borders.
o Increased DHS Resources for Transporting Aliens—requires DHS to expand ability to retrieve aliens detained by local police.
o New Criminal Penalties for Tunnels—creates new crime for construction, financing, and use of unlawful tunnels.
o New Criminal Penalties for Evading Immigration Officers—creates significant criminal penalties for evading or refusing to obey commands of immigration officers.
o New Criminal Penalties for Money Laundering—creates significant criminal penalties for financial transactions related to money laundering or smuggling.
o Comprehensive Surveillance Plan—mandates new land and water surveillance plan.
o Expanded Anti-Smuggling Efforts—mandates assistance to secure Mexico’s southern border.
o Improved inter-agency coordination on alien smuggling– requires DHS to develop and implement plan to improve coordination between DHS, ICE, CBP and any other state, local or tribal authority involved in efforts to combat alien smuggling.
· Additional Interior Enforcement
o Increased Document Fraud Detection—increases access to anti-fraud detection resources.
o Biometric Identifiers–new fraud-proof immigration documents with biometrics.
o Expanded Detention Authority—provides new authority to detain dangerous individuals and mandates detention of “other than Mexicans” apprehended at the border.
o Increased Detention Facilities and Beds—requires DHS to acquire 20 new detention facilities to accommodate at least 10,000 detainees.
o Expanded Terrorist Removal Grounds– expands authority to remove suspected terrorists.
o Expanded Aggravated Felony Definition—increases penalties for participation in smuggling and other crimes plus revises and expands definition of aggravated felony.
o Increased Criminal Penalties for Gangs—alleged gang members criminalized and barred.
o Faster Removal—tightens removal period, adds new penalties for failure to depart.
o Increased Criminal Sentences—enhances sentences for repeat illegal entrants and variety of other crimes.
o New Removal Grounds—adds new passport and fraud offenses as ground for removal.
o Removal of Criminals Prior to Release—expands immigration hearings in prisons.
o State and Local Police Authority—authorizes state and local law enforcement officers to investigate, apprehend, arrest, detain or transfer to aliens to federal custody.
o Immigration Status in NCIC Database—requires inclusion of information about immigration status violators in NCIC database.
o Prohibits Time Limits on Background Checks—bars any immigration benefits until background checks are completed.
o Criminal Penalties for Aid to Undocumented—makes aiding undocumented a crime, but provides defense if aid is purely humanitarian.
o Assistance to States—provides reimbursement for costs of prosecuting and imprisoning undocumented criminal aliens.
· New Employer Requirements
o Stronger Employment Verification Procedures—strengthens the employment verification procedures of INA §274A.
o Penalties for Employers Who Hire Undocumented Aliens—establishes criminal and civil penalties and provides for injunctive relief against certain employers who hire undocumented labor.
o Additional Worksite Enforcement and Fraud Detection Agents— adds 10,000 new worksite enforcement agents (2,000 each year for the next 5 years) and 5,000 new fraud detection agents (1,000 each year for the next 5 years)
· Path to Legal Status for Undocumented Currently in the United States
o Undocumented in U.S. as of January 2004 can apply for 6-year visa that includes work authorization, travel permission, and ability to bring family
o 3/10 year bars waived, must show good character, pay $1000 penalty and pass background checks
o After 6 years, can apply for “green card”, must pay taxes, learn English, pay another $1000 fine
o Will get LPR status (“green card”) after current family backlogs are cleared
o After 5 years as LPR, can apply for citizenship
· Family Unity and Family and Employment Visa Backlog Relief
o Those in current family backlogs will get “green cards” before any of the currently undocumented
o New family preference cap of 480,000, adding 260,000 new visas per year to eliminate backlogs
o New employment-based cap of 290,000, adding 150,000 new visas per year
o Spouses and minor children not counted against employment based cap
o 30% of employment-based cap reserved for “essential” workers
o Provisions for widows, orphans, and lower threshold for affidavits of support
· Temporary Worker Program with Labor Protections and Path to Permanent Status
o New program for 400,000 new temporary “essential” workers per year, adjusted by market triggers
o 3 year visa, renewal for 3 years, with portability to work for employer of choice
o Current undocumented who entered U.S. after January 2004 are eligible, must leave country to apply, 3/10 year bars are waived
o Employer has to seek U.S. worker first; labor protections and market wage requirements
o Can apply for permanent status (“green card”), within the new employment-based cap; can self-petition if worked for 4 years, otherwise employer can petition
· Reforms to Agricultural Worker Program
o Farmworkers who show that they performed at least 150 days of agricultural work in the U.S. during the 24 month period ending December 31, 2005 can get temporary resident status (“blue card”); spouse/minor kids get status too
o To earn permanent status (“green card”), farmworkers must perform agricultural work for at least 100 work days per year for 5 years, OR perform 150 days per year for 3 years. Participants may work outside agriculture but only if they are continuing to meet the annual agricultural work requirement.
o The earned legalization program has a cap of 1.5 million.
o The H-2A temporary foreign worker program will allow employers in the dairy industry to hire workers even when they are year-round workers.
· Path to Legal Status for Undocumented High School Students (DREAM Act)
o Students who enter U.S. before age of 16 and are present for 5 years preceding date of enactment, and who have graduated from high school (or GED), can apply for 6-year conditional resident status
o Within 6 years, if graduated from college or completed two years in a degree program, or served in Armed Forces, conditional status becomes permanent status (“green card”)