By Keshab Raj Seadie, Esq. Special to www.nepal24hours.com:
The comprehensive immigration reform bill that the gang of eight drafted looks closer to being approved by the Senate and being sent to the House. The Senate took a major step toward overhauling the nation’s immigration laws Monday, June 24th when it passed an amendment to improve border security on a 67-27 vote. The compromise amendment adds nearly 20,000 Border Patrol agents to southwest border with Mexico, as well as agreeing to complete 700 miles of fence along the boundary with Mexico, and deploy $3.2 billion in technology upgrades similar to equipment used by U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. This keeps the Senate on track to pass the entire bill by the end of the week. The original bill added 3,500 Customs and Border Security officers to screen people crossing the southwest border through ports of entry. Democratic senators, who are in the majority, all support the bill, as do about a third of Republicans. Senate passage, should it occur, does not guarantee a vote in the Republican-led House of Representatives, or passage if a vote is held. Only approval by both houses of Congress will send the bill to the White House for President Barack Obama’s signature.
In the House, conservative republicans oppose citizenship for anyone living in the country illegally. Those opposing the legislation, like Texas Senator John Cornyn, say they do not believe it will succeed in blocking future illegal border crossers. Cornyn declared that he “cannot support an amendment cobbled together at the eleventh hour that doubles the border patrol without knowing how much it will cost or whether it is even the right strategy.” He expressed concerns that the measure still omits a real trigger or objective measure to see if the proposed strategy is working. Opponents also argued the legislation amounts to an amnesty for immigrants who broke the law by living illegally in America. Many in the GOP-controlled House prefer a piecemeal approach rather than a sweeping bill like the one the Senate is producing. The amendment, which received strong bipartisan support, was designed to satisfy Republicans who fear a repeat of 1986, when Congress last passed a sweeping immigration law. Then, the nation’s three million unauthorized immigrants were allowed to get citizenship, but the promises of securing the border were never met, leading to the 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the country today.
The Senate bill was crafted by a bipartisan group of senators, known as the Gang of Eight. At its core, the Senate bill would create a 13-year pathway to citizenship for an estimated 11 million immigrants living illegally in the United States. Individuals in unlawful status may apply to adjust their status to the legal status of Registered Provisional Immigrant. In this status they can work for any employer and travel outside the US. The status shall last for a 6 year term that is renewable if the immigrant does not commit any acts that would render the alien deportable. After 10 years, aliens in RPI status who have not committed a crime, worked in the US regularly and maintained continued presence, demonstrated knowledge of Civics and English and paid all taxes may adjust to Lawful Permanent Resident Status through the same merit based system everyone else must use to earn a green card. In order to be eligible for RPI Status, the immigrants must have been in the US prior to Dec 31 2011 and have maintained continuous physical presence since then .The measure also would create a new program for temporary farm laborers to come into the country, and another for lower-skilled workers to emigrate permanently.
At the same time, it calls for an expansion of an existing visa program for highly-skilled workers, raising the H-1B visa cap from 65,000 to as high as 180,000 over time. – a gesture to high-tech companies that rely heavily on foreigners. On the employment green card categories, the bill exempts derivative beneficiaries of employment-based immigrants; aliens of extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business or athletics; outstanding professors and researchers; multinational executives and managers; doctoral degree holders in STEM field; and physicians who have completed the foreign residency requirements or have received a waiver from the annual numerical limits on employment-based immigrants. Moreover, a new nonimmigrant classification known as the W-Visa will be created which would allow aliens to come to the US to perform services or labor for a registered employer in a registered position. The annual cap on the W visas would be limited for the first four years – 20,000 for the first year; 35,000 the second year; 55,000 the third year and 75,000 the fourth year. For each year after the fourth year, the annual cap will be calculated according to a statistical formula.
The Act also introduces some sweeping changes to the existing legal immigration criteria. The bill amends the existing category for married sons and daughters of citizens of the United States to bar anyone from entering who is over 30 years of age. It repeals the availability of immigrant visas for siblings of U.S. citizens once 18 months have elapsed since the date of enactment. It also repeals the Diversity Visa Program (DV) (although aliens who were or are selected for diversity immigrant visas for fiscal years 2013 or 2014 will still be eligible to receive them.)
The main contention lies within the legalization of illegal immigrants segment of the bill, since that is the area Republicans are most opposed to. Senate officials said some changes were still possible to the bill before it leaves the Senate – alterations that would swell the number of votes in the House in favor. “Now is the time to do it,” President Barack Obama said Monday at the White House before meeting with nine business executives who support a change in immigration laws. “I hope that we can get the strongest possible vote out of the Senate so that we can then move to the House and get this done before the summer break” beginning in early August.
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