by Alex Meneses Miyashita
The U.S. Senate started to debate a compromise immigration proposal negotiated between Democratic and Republican legislators and Bush Administration officials.
The plan was announced May 17 by a bipartisan group of ten lawmakers along with U.S. Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez and U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff following nearly three months of negotiations. Secretary Gutierrez called it a “historic moment.”
Hispanic and immigrant advocates reacted favorably that a compromise was reached and that the plan includes a pathway to immediate legalization and eventual citizenship for undocumented immigrants who pass a background check.
‘This proposal contains this crucial element. and this debate is the first step,” said Janet Murguía, president of the National Council of La Raza.
The proposal would grant immediate temporary status to undocumented immigrants who are employed’ have no criminal record and pay a $1,000 fine. The cost to obtain a green card would be an additional $4~000 and the process could take a total of 13 years. Eligible applicants would be required to return to their home countries to apply for permanent residency.
The legalization plan would take effect once border and interior enforcement “triggers” take effect. These involve strengthening border security, including doubling the Border Patrol force, and implementing a strict employee verification program.
Frank Sharry, director of the National Immigration Forum, said the proposed fines to attain legalization are “steep” the time table lengthy, and the exit/re-entry scheme superfluous,” but added that it is “remarkable~ that a large group of Republicans are backing
the legalization of millions of immigrants.
Other proposals hailed by Latino and immigrant advocates included the inclusion of Ag/Jobs and the DREAM Act into the bill.
The former would offer a path to legalization to millions of undocumented farm workers and modify the H2-A visa program to meet the needs of the agriculture industry The DREAM Act would offer in-state tuition status o college-bound undocumented students.
In addition, advocates welcomed a plan to put in eight years most of the 4 million pending family backlogs.
However, advocates expressed concern about the future fl ow of immigrants to the .country, including the plan to create a guest worker program that would not offer a path citizenship for participants.
According to Sharry, if a path to permanent residency is not offered to guest workers, the bill will “create conditions that will lead to a rapidly increasing pool of undocumented immigrants in the future or creating a pool of second class non-citizens, defeating the goals of this reform.”
Another point of concern is a proposed change from a family-based system to a point system to determine who gets green cards in the future. Points would be given based on education, English-language proficiency and family ties.
Currently, about two-thirds of green cards are given to relatives of U.S. citizens.
Murguía said NCLR will engage in vigorous efforts~ to improve the bill.
Democratic and Republican negotiators of the bill said it was not perfect but that it offered a solid basis to start the debate.
“Now it’s time for action,” said Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.)’who was central to the negotiations. “I’ve been around here long enough to know that opportunities like this don’t come often. The American people are demanding a solution, the President is committed, Senator Reid has made this a priority, and senators from both parties are now determined to solve the crisis.”
In the U.S. House of Representatives, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who met with members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus May 17, also called for action.
“We have an obligation to the American people to pass comprehensive immigration reform,” she said. “The need is urgent.”