CHN: Immigration Deal Reached In Senate

After months of backroom negotiations, the White House and a group of Senators from both sides of the aisle reached a compromise on an immigration reform proposal.  The group of negotiators announced their agreement at a press conference yesterday.  Among those leading the negotiations were Senators Kennedy (D-MA) and Jon Kyl (R-AZ).
The proposal creates a path to citizenship for the estimated 12 million undocumented people living in the United States, establishes a new temporary worker program, includes border security and employment verification provisions, and dramatically shifts the current family preference immigration system toward one based on a point system that favors employment and other skills.

Advocates view the agreement as a clear step for moving the debate forward.  The agreement contains some positive elements that the community has been pushing for, such as the pathway to citizenship for the undocumented population.  However, there are a number of pieces that are problematic and are of grave concern to the community.  Among them is the onerous requirement that immigrants petitioning for adjustment of status return to their country of origin to submit their application for permanent residency.  Others include the creation of a new guest worker program with no pathway to citizenship, and arbitrary cut-off dates and the establishment of a point system that undermines family unification.  Advocates hope that there will be opportunities to fix these provisions as the debate moves forward.

Under the agreement, a new four-year, renewable Z visa would be created to address the undocumented population currently working and residing in the United States.  Any person who arrived before January 1, 2007, pays fees and a $5,000 fine, passes a background check, and is employed would be eligible for the visa.  After a period of eight to 13 years (the estimated time it may take to address the current visa backlog), Z visa holders will be able to gain permanent residency if they meet certain merit requirements set forth in the new point system, apply for adjustment of status in their country of origin (also referred to as “touch-back”), and pay a $4,000 penalty.  Negotiators also decided to include the DREAM Act and AgJOBS as part of the agreement, which provide students and farmworkers options to adjust their status within shorter timeframes.

A separate Y visa program would be established for a new temporary worker program.  Non-seasonal temporary workers could apply for a 2-year Y-1 visa, which could be renewed twice if the worker spends a period of one year outside the United States between each admission.  Seasonal temporary workers could apply for 10-month Y-2A and Y-2B visas. Temporary workers with Y visas who overstay their visa will be permanently barred from any future immigration benefits.  Additionally, these workers will not have opportunities to gain permanent residency.  Advocates contend that establishing a temporary worker program with no pathway to citizenship creates an underclass of workers.

These new visa programs would not begin until a set of border security “triggers” are met.  Among the triggers are the hiring of 18,000 new border patrol officers, construction of 200 miles of vehicle barriers and 370 miles of fencing, the ending of “catch-and-release” policies, having resources to detain up to 27,500 undocumented migrants per day on an annual basis, and the implementation of secure and effective identification tools to prevent employers from hiring unauthorized workers.

One of the major pieces of the proposal is the restructuring of the distribution of green cards.  The current immigration system issues green cards and visas on the basis of ties to family and employers.  The proposal replaces much of the current system with a point system that would grant green cards on the basis of education, work, family ties, and English proficiency. This new point system would go into effect after some of the current backlog in visa applications is reduced.  The goal is to eliminate the backlog of applications submitted prior to May 2005, which would help about four million families.  It is estimated that this will take eight years.   This new system would hurt families in a number of ways.  First of all, the families that submitted applications after May 2005 will have to begin the process all over again and would be subjected to the new point system.  U.S. citizens would no longer be able to sponsor siblings and adult children, and the number of visas issued to parents of U.S. citizens would be capped at 40,000 per year.

The Senate is scheduled to vote to proceed to debate of the proposal on Monday, May 21.  They will need sixty votes to continue the debate.  If the sixty votes are reached, Senators will have the opportunity to offer amendments to either improve or make the proposal more restrictive.

For an initial summary of the bill please visit the American Immigration Lawyer’s Association’s website at: