Late last night, the Gang of 8 filed its comprehensive immigration reform bill: the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013. Try saying that 3 times quickly. If the name wasn’t difficult enough, try reading the bill – 844 pages! By halfway through the 17-page outline – yes, just the outline – of the bill, I was spent. While the bipartisan Gang of 8 should be commended for coming together and crafting this bill, some of its provisions require mathematical calculations that remind attorneys why most of us pursued undergraduate degrees that were devoid of math.
The senators will hold a press conference later today to announce the reform bill, and only time will tell if it will be enacted. Depending on who you talk to, that could be a very big if. Although the bill’s future remains largely uncertain, one thing is known. If legislators pass the law, they will have successfully added yet another cumbersome immigration acronym to join the likes of IIRIRA (also IIRAIRA), AEDPA, and IMMACT90, as the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act looks poised to become… BSEOIMA. (Pronounced bee – see – oi – mah?)
After President Obama met with Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and John McCain (R-AZ), two members of the Gang of 8, to discuss the reform legislation, in a statement released Tuesday afternoon the President acknowledged that the bill is “clearly a compromise, and no one will get everything they wanted, including me.” While the bill fell short of meeting his approval on all issues, the President characterized the bill as “largely consistent with the principles that I have repeatedly laid out for comprehensive reform.” The President stated he would put his support behind the bill and that he is “willing to do whatever it takes to make sure that comprehensive immigration reform becomes a reality as soon as possible.”
As expected, the initial reports have reflected reactions from across the spectrum. From conservatives, who view the bill as granting amnesty to the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S., there are promises to fight the bill and engage in delay tactics designed to eventually kill the legislation, as had happened to 2007 immigration reform efforts. On the opposite end of the spectrum are reform proponents who believe the bill is too restrictive and burdensome. And there are those somewhere in the middle, who, like the President, appear to have accepted that the process must be one of compromise if it is to have any chance of becoming law.
So, how will it become law? I would be remiss if I didn’t provide this educational gem from my childhood, courtesy of Schoolhouse Rock!:
While Senators Schumer and McCain confidently set a deadline of June for passing the reform bill, as you just learned in that instructive video above, several more hoops must be jumped through before the little guy moves from just a bill to actual law. The Gang of 8, however, has declared that it will remain unified, and plans to oppose any efforts to dismantle or defeat the bill. Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on the legislation will begin this Friday and will continue into next week. In the weeks that follow, other senate committees will hold hearings. Senator Schumer said they expect to have the bill on the Senate floor by late May or early June for a vote, and then the bill will proceed to the House. Given the nature of the legislative process, those hearings and debates could lead to changes to the bill before a vote. As Senator McCain acknowledged, “This is the beginning of a process, not the end.”
Listed below are some key provisions.
- The bill allocates up to $6.5 billion in border security measures including surveillance, additional agents, and fencing along the border with Mexico.
- Within 5 years, all employers will be required to use the E-Verify system.
- The border security efforts hold the keys to triggering mechanisms that will open the pathway to statuses ultimately leading to citizenship. Under the bill, that pathway will not open until the U.S. government meets certain standards set for 1) border security, which will be determined through a certain mathematical formula; 2) employer verification; and 3) the “entry-exit” system to track visa holders.
Legalization and Legal Immigration
Registered Provisional Immigrant Status
- Individuals without status will have one year, with the possibility of an extension, to apply for a probationary status called “Registered Provisional Immigrant” (RPI), but only for those who were in the U.S. before December 31, 2011; maintain continuous physical presence; pay a $500 penalty; and do not have a certain criminal record, such as an aggravated felony, a felony, or 3 or more misdemeanors. RPI status is granted for 6 years and is renewable. Spouses and children of RPIs can receive RPI status if in the U.S. Individuals with RPI status are allowed to work in the U.S. and travel outside of the country. Those in removal (deportation) proceedings or with removal orders entered against them may be eligible to apply for RPI status.
- Individuals outside of the U.S. who were previously removed (deported) from the U.S. for non-criminal reasons may apply and return to the U.S. under RPI status if they meet certain eligibility requirements including having a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident (green card) spouse or child, or they themselves are eligible for the DREAM Act.
- After 10 years in RPI status, individuals may adjust to lawful permanent resident status under a new Merit Based System* if the applicant pays a $1,000 penalty, maintains continuous physical presence, has paid taxes as an RPI, has worked regularly in the U.S., and knows English and U.S. civics. All individuals currently stuck in the family and employment backlog for green cards will first have to be current before RPIs may adjust.
*A new system in which points are awarded based on education, employment, length of residence in the U.S., and other factors.
DREAMers and Agricultural Program
- DREAMers and those who qualify for the Agricultural Program will be eligible for permanent resident status in five years, and for DREAMers, they will be eligible for citizenship upon receiving their green cards.
- The bill will eliminate the 4th preference family-based category (siblings of U.S. citizens) after 18 months from the date of enactment.
- The family-based preference categories will be reduced from 4 to 2, consisting of unmarried adult children, married adult children who file before age 31, and unmarried adult children of lawful permanent residents.
- “Immediate relative” will expand to include a child or spouse of a lawful permanent resident.
Diversity Visa Program
- The Diversity Visa Program will be eliminated.
- The bill increases employment-based visas in multiple areas, including for certain professions holding advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics.
- Foreign entrepreneurs can seek a new startup visa for creating their own companies in the U.S.
- The cap on H-1B visas will increase from 65,000 to 110,000, with the cap eventually reaching a ceiling of no higher than 180,000 depending on a mathematical formula.
- The bill creates the W visa, a new nonimmigrant category for lower-skilled workers. Another methodology will be used to calculate the numbers available annually, starting April 1, 2015.
There are, of course, numerous other terms, provisions, and definitions, all of which I could not possibly cover here. That’s why there’s an 844-page document waiting for any interested readers. As the legislative process moves forward and hearings and debates commence, more will come to light. For more details now, however, click here. Happy reading.
No new law has been passed yet. Be careful of scams. Please warn your friends and family. Do not pay a deposit for legal services for a law that does not exist and may never exist.