The U.S. Senate passed an immigration reform bill which has been characterized as historic. No doubt passing bipartisan legislation is nowadays, but we really should hold the balloons, confetti and champagne for actual passage of reform through the obstructionist House. That being said, it’s worth going over what the hefty Senate bill holds and Politico provides an excellent summary. Here are the highlights:
- Border security and enforcement has to be super-sized before undocumented immigrants can get green cards. Provisions include doubling the number of Border Patrol agents and completing 700 miles of fencing along the border we share with Mexico, as well as requiring all employers to verify workers’ legal status electronically.
- In the meantime, however, some of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants can gain legal status or “registered provisional immigrant status” six months after enactment of the bill. The eligible ones are those who arrive prior to Dec. 31, 2011, and never left since then; do not have felony convictions or multiple misdemeanors; and pay hefty fines and back taxes. Individuals who were brought to the country as children would be able to get green cards sooner.
- More visas would be made available for highly educated and skilled foreign workers. Immigrants with “extraordinary abilities” such as professors, researchers, multinational executives and athletes, would be exempted from existing green-card limits. The Diversity Visa Lottery Program, which randomly awards 55,000 visas to immigrants from countries with historically low rates of immigration to the U.S., would be eliminated.
- Guest worker programs would be set-up for low-skilled workers in agriculture, construction, long-term care, hospitality and other industries. Farm workers already here illegally could qualify for green cards if they remain in the industry another five years.
- The family reunification program would be upended. U.S. citizens will no longer be able to sponsor their siblings and adult children.
Should some form of this bill somehow survive the House and make it to the President’s desk, it will be far more conservative and limited than it is now.