On January 28, 2013, senators from both parties released their framework for what they would like to see in an immigration reform bill. Senators Schumer (D-NY), McCain (R-AZ), Durbin (D-IL), Graham (R-SC), Menendez (D-NJ), Rubio (R-NY), Bennet (D-CO), and Flake (R-AZ) announced that they understand that the current U.S. immigration system is broken and shared four basic pillars that guide the legislation they are now drafting.
- Create a tough but fair path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants currently living in the United States that is contingent upon securing our borders and tracking whether legal immigrants have left the country when required;
- Reform our legal immigration system to better recognize the importance of characteristics that will help build the American economy and strengthen American families;
- Create an effective employment verification system that will prevent identity theft and end the hiring of future unauthorized workers; and
- Establish an improved process for admitting future workers to serve our nation’s workforce needs, while simultaneously protecting all workers.
The plan includes increased efforts to secure the borders by adding new infrastructure, personnel, and technology, including unmanned aerial vehicles and surveillance equipment. The outline also includes a commitment to enhance training and oversight of border agents and strengthen prohibitions against racial profiling and inappropriate use of force. The senators also plan to require the development of an entry/exit tracking system to ensure that those in the United States with temporary visas depart the country as required.
While these measures are being implemented, the senators’ plan would require undocumented individuals to register with the government. Registration will include background checks and payment of back taxes and penalties. After this process is complete, and after the proposed enforcement measures have been completed, individuals will be eligible to earn “probationary” status by passing further background checks, learning English and civics, and proving their work history and current employment, among other things. Probationary immigrants will not be able to access federal public benefits under this plan.
People currently without lawful status will only be able to receive a green card after everyone already in line at the time the legislation is enacted has received theirs. Recognizing that not all circumstances are the same, the senators would develop different processes leading to citizenship for individuals who qualify under what has been introduced in past years as the DREAM Act and AgJobs.
In addition to providing a path to permanent residence and citizenship for the undocumented, the senators’ plan also includes remedies for the legal immigration system that encourages innovation and economic growth and also strengthens American families. Their plan would reduce backlogs in both the family and employment visa categories so that in the future, the legal immigration system will be seen as a viable, and indeed the only means of entering the United States.
The senators would require development of an effective employment verification system that will both assure employers that their staff is legally authorized to work and hold them accountable for knowingly hiring unauthorized workers. Such a program would also be designed to prevent identity theft and will include due process protections.
The plan would award green cards to individuals who have earned Master’s degrees or PhDs in science, technology, engineering, or math (the so-called STEM fields) from American universities. The eight senators’ plan would also allow employers to hire lower-skilled workers if they have been unsuccessful in recruiting Americans to fill positions and would tie the number of lower-skilled workers permitted to enter the U.S. to how well our economy is creating jobs.