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Newest Information on Immigration Reform Bill (HR15)

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H.R. 15

October 24, 2013

Immigration reform is one of the most prominent discussions throughout the United States. Advocates are calling for a comprehensive plan that lays out a viable pathway towards citizenship for the roughly 11 million undocumented individuals that currently reside in the United States. One of the central issues for policy makers and conservatives has been the incorporation of stricter border control programs to stem the inflow of undocumented migrants and illicit goods such as drugs and arms. Given the competing goals of those in favor of immigration reform: citizenship and tighter border control, the proposed reform bills have made permanent residency contingent upon increased border security efforts and curbing illegal entry on the U.S./Mexico border.

On June 27, 2013 the Senate passed S.744 (Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act) a bipartisan bill addressing various components of immigration reform, including a pathway to legal status, changes and modifications to the current immigration system and incredibly strict changes to the U.S./Mexico border. Included in the Senate’s bill was the harsh Corker-Hoeven border security amendment which mandated that before Registered Provisional Immigrants (RPIs) could receive a green card (legal permanent resident status) the Department of Homeland Security had to certify all of the following five conditions:

1.    An increase of 20,000 Border Patrol Agents on the border;
2.    At least 700 miles of fencing on the border;
3.    The implementation of a mandatory E-Verity system
4.    The implementation of an electronic exit/entry system at all international air and sea ports of entry
5.    That a comprehensive Southern Border Security Strategy has been submitted to Congress.

This amendment has been criticized and critiqued by Democrats, Republicans, immigration advocates, conservatives and liberals for a variety of reasons. The most common complaint is the fact this is the indiscriminant “militarization” of the border. Other critiques from varying sides have included: that it lacks tangible markers and indicators of increased border security and that it is a frivolous waste of money, amongst others.

In a good faith effort to advance immigration reform, Democrats in the House of Representatives proposed a reform bill on October 2, 2013, H.R. 15. This bill is based on the Senate’s S.744 but makes a substantial change by removing the Corker-Hoeven amendment and replacing it with the McCaul Bill (H.R. 1417.) For a complete guide on H.R. 15, please see The Immigration Policy Center’s “A Guide to H.R. 15”. The McCaul takes a more measured and pragmatic approach to measuring border security progress and effectively negates the contingency factor of success and implementation of the border security measures to the pathway to status for undocumented individuals.

A brief explanation and analysis of the main components of the proposed H.R. 15 will be discussed below.

Title I: Border Security

  • The goal is to gain situational awareness and operational control of the border. Specifically, that 90% of illegal border crossings are deterred and that there is a substantial decrease in the trafficking of drugs and contraband  Situational awareness is defined as knowledge and understanding of illicit cross-border activity.
  • Once the plan has been submitted, the Department of Homeland Security has two years to certify that these two goals have been achieved in high-traffic areas and five years to certify that they have been achieved on the entire Southwest border.
  • If either of these goals is not achieved, the Southern Border Security Commission will be formed to provide recommendations for how to achieve these goals.
  • The bill increases border security investments with a proposed $3billion for the Border Security Results Strategy, $2 billion to carry out the Commission’s recommendations, $1.5 billion for fencing, infrastructure and personal, amongst other expenses.
  • In order to provide oversight, protection and monitoring a Department of Homeland Security Border Oversight Task Force will be created with members from the northern and southern border region.
  • This proposal has more measureable ways to assess change in flows of illegal entries on the border. It offers several contingency plans if a proposed plan is shown ineffective or difficult to implement. There is significant oversight and monitoring which can help to ensure successful implementation.

TITLE II: Immigrant Visas

  • To address the issue of a pathway to legal status for undocumented individuals, the bill creates a RPI status for individuals who have been in the U.S. since December 31, 2011 and have not been convicted of a felony of 3 or more misdemeanors. Even if an individual receives RPI status they are ineligible for federal means-tested public benefits.
  • There will be a one-year delay time between when the bill becomes law and the implementation of the RPI program.
  • The RPI status is valid for 6 years with the possibility of a 6 year renewal. To receive a green card an individual will have to have been in RPI status for 10 years, have paid all current and back taxes, possess English proficiency, are employed, have demonstrable financial resources, pass a background check and pay a penalty fee. Those who obtain RPI status will have to wait at least 13 years to obtain citizenship.
  • For eligible DREAMers (those who received approved DACA petitions) will only have to have 5 years of RPI status to be eligible for a green card and then can immediately apply for citizenship after receiving their green card.
  • A ‘blue card’ will be created for eligible undocumented agricultural workers. They must meet the same admissibility requirements as applicants for RPI and have worked 575 hours or 100 work days of agricultural work during a two-year period. They may apply for a green card after 5 years and have continued to work in the agricultural field and may apply for citizenship after 5 years of having their green card.
  • A merit-based point system with two tiers will be created that allows foreign nationals to obtain a green card based on a points system for their skills, employment, family ties, age, nationality, civic involvement, English proficiency and education. There would be between 120,000 and 250,000 visas allocated each year based on a formula looking at visas requested the previous year and the unemployment rate. The first tier is for “skilled immigrants” and the second is for “less-skilled immigrants”. The goal of the merit-based point system is to clear the tremendous backlog in the current immigrant visa system.
  • The Office of Citizenship and New Americans, the Task Force on New Americans and the United States Citizenship Foundation will be created to help immigrants with integration into the larger U.S. society.
  • Other changes are: The Diversity Visa (DV) and the immigrant visa categories for siblings and adult married children of US citizens will be eliminated. A W visa agricultural worker program will also be created to replace the H-2A agricultural worker program. There will no longer be country limits for employment based immigration visas, aiding applicants from countries like China, India and Mexico.
  • Title II greatly impacts the current immigration system in favorable ways while simultaneously providing a viable way for undocumented individuals to achieve legal status. Eliminating country quotas will allow highly skilled workers from any country to contribute to U.S. based businesses. A reduction in the backlog will create a more equitable system in which families can be reunited and obtain the appropriate status in a timely fashion.

TITLE III: Interior Enforcement

  • E-Verify will be expanded and made mandatory for all employers, making it extremely difficult for anyone to work ‘illegally’ in the U.S. Employers who do not comply with these changes can receive fines up to $25,000 and two years in prison for repeat offenders.
  • The asylum system has been changed by eliminating the mandatory one-year bar in filing an asylum claim, lessens the barriers to family reunification and may designate persecuted groups with common characteristics in order to increase efficiency.
  • There are more protections against human smuggling and trafficking, forcing employers who recruit aboard to register with the Secretary of Labor, disclose the conditions of the visa, work conditions and can no longer charge a recruitment fee. The number of U visas will be increased and a pilot program will be launched to prevent child trafficking.
  • Certain immigrants such as unaccompanied child migrants and those with mental disabilities will be required to have a lawyer assigned to them. All individuals in court proceedings will have access to evidence in the government’s files.
  • Gang participation and membership will render an immigrant inadmissible or deportable. Criminal penalties for common immigration related errors are increased such as the use of fraudulent documents.
  • Overall, these are also welcomed improvement and changes. A greater responsibility will be placed on employers to hire legal workers and there will be more concentrated efforts to protect the rights and well-being of migrants and to ensure that the spread of violent criminal gangs is curtailed.

TITLE IV: Reforms to Nonimmigrant Visa Programs

  • A variety of new nonimmigrant visas are created and existed visas are improved. The H-1B cap will increase as well as the prevailing wage requirements for H-1B workers. There will be a requirement for U.S. employers to make more efforts to higher U.S. workers. A W nonimmigrant visa will be created for non-agricultural workers such as janitors. A new investor visa program will be created with the intention of attracting economic investment in the U.S. and stimulate job creation. There will be changes to the current F-1 student visa allowing students to enter with the intention of staying permanently. There will be modifications to the H-2B program.
  • These changes will positively impact the business community in the U.S. A greater availability of H-1B visas will enable more skilled workers to enter the U.S. Additionally, employers will be required to do a more thorough assessment of the availability of U.S. workers, hopefully giving more jobs to U.S. workers.

The Senate and House of Representatives appear to be in accordance with many of the issues associated with immigration reform. Border security remains one of the most contentious factors and a solution needs to be reached that stops at militarizing the border since there is no active war but does implement effective and durable solutions to protect the U.S. border.

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