The debate over the most sweeping reform to our nation's immigration system is about to get real.
This week, the 18 bi-partisan members of the Senate Judicial Committee began debating the immigration reform proposal first introduced on April 17th - what's good, what's bad, what we want to happen with the legislation moving forward. More than 300 amendments--ranging from the good, the bad and the downright terrible--have been offered by Democrats and Republicans. Not all these amendments will be offered for a vote though - some will be combined and some will not be raised at all.
And now we move on to the straight-up education part of this post! Here are 6 things we think you need to know about the immigration reform bill today, complete with a handy graphic to share on Facebook.
#1 - This bill is a loooong time coming.
For the first time in *years*, we have a real chance to modernize our immigration and enforcement systems; keep families together and put 11 million aspiring Americans on a dignified roadmap to citizenship. If this bill becomes law, undocumented immigrants can finally come out of the shadows and fully participate in our economy and our democracy--and future immigrants can come here legally.
#2: A path to citizenship.
An achievable path to citizenship for 11 million aspiring citizens who are currently undocumented is finally within reach.
If you're an undocumented immigrant who arrived in the United States before Dec. 31, 2011, haven't committed a felony, have a job, and pay a $500 fine and back taxes, you will immediately gain the status of "registered provisional" under this law. This measure will allow undocumented individuals to legally stay in the U.S. without fear or risk of deportation.
Ten years after being granted "registered provisional" status, applications for permanent residency would be allowed to start. In conclusion: the recognition-to-citizenship process would take a total of 13 years and require approximately $2,000 in fines from each adult affected.
#3- Keeping families together.
S. 744 contains provisions to reunite families separated by immigration detention and deportation.
Approximately about 23 percent of deportees have U.S. citizen children, many of whom end up in foster care upon separation from their mothers and fathers. S. 744 contains provisions to reunite families separated by immigration detention and deportation with children, spouses and/or parents who are U.S. citizens or permanent residents would be eligible to petition to return to the U.S. to be with their families. They would apply for Registered Provisional Immigrant status, or RPI, the 10-year visa that can then lead to a green card.
Keeping families together is the humane and right thing to do.
#4: We haven't forgotten about the DREAMers...
The commonsense immigration reform bill released on April 17th includes a broad version of the DREAM Act. It would create a faster five-year path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who came to the country before the age of 16.
Another big plus in the DREAM Act provisions is that they include no upper age limits for applicants. To qualify for a speedier path to citizenship, DREAMers who entered the country as children must have been enrolled in college for two years, graduated from college or served in the military for at least four years.
S. 744 also acknowledges the importance of farmworkers to the industry and authorizes workers who continue working in agriculture to apply for permanent residence five years after the bill's enactment.
#5 - Protection for workers.
Exploited immigrant workers who blow the whistle on employer abuse will be eligible to apply for special visas. Employers who underpay or abuse undocumented workers will face 10-year imprisonments and enforced backpay compensation.
The bill also provides expansive new protections against exploitation and discrimination by foreign labor contractors - including prohibiting foreign labor contractors from misleading workers and establishing new disclosure requirements in an effort to prevent human trafficking.
E-Verify is a flawed system, but the bill will make improvements designed to provide workers with redress in case of system errors or employer misuse. Employers will be be mandated to begin using an improved version of E-Verify - an online system for determining the legal status of current and prospective employees - within five years.
By giving immigrants a voice at work, it will make not only their own workplaces safer--it will also have a ripple effect through entire industries, making work safer for all workers.
#6 - Achievable border security.
We have the strongest border security in American history.
S. 744 includes a significant expansion of enforcement - at the border, through the mandating of employment verification and in the interior. To construct a workable and humane immigration system, we need to target enforcement, spend resources wisely and respect basic rights. We also need to stay vigilant to make sure border security measures don't become an excuse to stop the undocumented from receiving legal status and earning citizenship.
While this bill is not entirely perfect, it would represent a marked improvement over the current dysfunctional system. The bill, S. 744, needs support from both parties to move through Congress and to the President, and could be passed as early as June 2013. This short timeline makes it all the more urgent we make our voices heard now and throughout the month of May as amendments we like and dislike are introduced. If you're not already a part of our rapid response immigration action team, join us now.
We need to stand together to make sure these changes will work as they're supposed to and that they're fair to all workers. The only way this bill will become a law we can all live with is if we keep pushing to make it happen.
SEIU is committed to working with the Senate and House to make sure that Congress passes sensible and fair immigration legislation that will create a roadmap to citizenship without burdensome barriers, protect all working families, and strengthen future immigration channels.