National Immigration Forum

Practical Solutions for Immigrants and America


A Big Day for Immigrants, A Bigger Day for America

March 28, 2006

Senate Committee Passes Bill That Balances Tough Enforcement With Legal Channels

Washington, DCYesterday, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted for final passage of a bill that will most likely be taken up by the full Senate later this week.  A brief summary is at the end of this statement.  The full Senate will debate this bill over the next week or two and then a bill, if passed, would have to be reconciled with an enforcement-only measure passed by the House last December, before it is considered by the President.

The following is a statement by Angela Kelley, Deputy Director of the National Immigration Forum, a pro-immigrant advocacy organization based in Washington.

The Senate Judiciary Committee buckled down and accomplished a great deal in a short period of time.  The debate was intelligent, the leadership by Chairman Arlen Specter (R-PA) exemplary, and the outcome outstanding.  This will change the tenor of the immigration debate by recognizing that immigrants are here, they are coming in the future, and that we have to establish policies that regulate reality.  This is America’s best chance for taking control over immigration. 

A coalition of Democrats and Republicans joined together to craft a forward thinking, realistic, and workable compromise.  It recognizes the need for legal immigration by expanding legal channels for workers so that more of the immigrants coming will come with a visa and not a smuggler.  It recognizes that families waiting for years and decades to be reunited should have their visas processed.  It recognizes that enhanced enforcement is needed at the border and the workplace, including enhanced employer sanctions.  However, it contains some troubling provisions that expand mandatory detention, local police authority over immigration, and curtail due process rights for immigrants, legal and otherwise.

And the Senate bill recognizes that 12 million people are here without papers and that we must rely on them to make themselves known.  To do this, the bill creates a program for undocumented immigrants that calls them forward to register with the government, makes them, pay fines, taxes, and satisfy certain criteria and background checks, and gives them temporary permission to stay and work.  This program eventually could lead to permanent residency for those who choose it.

This is a victory for sensible immigration reform and border security, but there is still so much more work to be done.  The full Senate must act, then, with the President’s help, we can hope that wiser heads will eventually prevail in the House and that we can have sensible legislation signed into law.

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The bill, as amended by the committee, would:

·         Create a process for undocumented immigrants to report themselves to the government, and earn temporary permission to stay in U.S. if they satisfy certain criteria, including fines, work history, tax compliance, and English language acquisition. Eventually they could apply for permanent residency, but would only receive it once all those who have already applied have been processed.

·         Allows for up to 400,000 work visas to fill jobs American employers cannot fill with the domestic labor market, with the cap on this program adjusted annually based on labor market needs. 

·         Tough interior and border measures including: increased resources and personnel  at the border, expanded mandatory detention, expanded state and local law enforcement of immigration laws, and expedited removal to name a few. In addition, the bill creates an employer verification system with expanded penalties for no-complying employers.

·         Expedites the reunification of families currently awaiting visas.

·         Streamlines some agricultural worker visa programs and offers a path to legal status for some agricultural workers.

·         Provides path to legal status for certain minor immigrant students.

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