Immigration bill to be unveiled this week focuses more on workers, less on families

McClatchy NewspapersApril 15, 2013 

— After lengthy closed-door negotiations, a bipartisan group of senators plans to submit legislation to enact a sweeping overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws on Tuesday. The controversial proposal would grant most of the 11 million people here illegally a path to citizenship and give thousands of deported individuals a chance to return, but would also adopt some of the toughest immigration enforcement measures in the history of the United States.

Those include appropriating billions of dollars to meet an ambitious goal to monitor the full breadth of the border with Mexico and stop 90 percent of illegal crossings. The money would be used to operate drones over the most heavily trafficked sections, hire thousands more border patrol agents, and continue to build and reinforce border fences _ in some places three layers deep, according to a comprehensive Senate policy backgrounder obtained by McClatchy.

The bill, expected to run just under a thousand pages, includes a host of measures. It would authorize National Guard deployment along the Southern border and give more money to local law enforcement agencies on the border.

For businesses, it would set up a special card program for agricultural workers, create a new visa for foreign entrepreneurs, welcome more workers with advanced degrees and scientific backgrounds, and set up a merit-based points system for yet other immigrants.

It also would impose restrictions on new family visas, restricting the green-card category for married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens to only those under 31 years of age, for example, and eventually ending visa availability for siblings.

The so-called “Gang of Eight” senators’ conservative leader, Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, said the legislation would accomplish three main objectives: updating the legal immigration system, increasing enforcement and dealing with those immigrants now in the country illegally.

According to a person familiar with the negotiations, bipartisan gang members Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., will meet with President Barack Obama on Tuesday at the White House to discuss the agreement. The bipartisan team also had planned a morning press conference, but McCain announced via twitter the conference was cancelled out of respect for victims of Monday’s bombings in Boston.

The other senators in the group are Democrats Richard Durbin of Illinois, Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Michael Bennet of Colorado and Republicans Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Jeff Flake of Arizona.

The Senate bill will stir strong emotions on both sides of the immigration debate. Conservative groups already have called the yet to be released legislation “amnesty” while civil liberties groups will likely claim the proposal would violate privacy rights because of mandatory worker verification systems, such as E-Verify, and requirements that immigrants carry “biometric green cards.”

Agriculture workers and young people brought into the country illegally as children would be eligible for an expedited path to citizenship. The vast majority of those here illegally who arrived in the country by Dec. 31, 2011, would be eligible to apply for temporary legal status that would allow them to live and work legally in the country.

But according to the details of the proposal, they would not be able to apply for green cards and start the citizenship process until several border security and enforcement conditions are in place. Those include finishing most of the border security fence, implementing a mandatory worker verification system and developing a process that identifies each time an immigrant enters and exits the country.

Once those parameters are met, immigrants who had been in the country for at least 10 years would be able to apply for green cards provided they paid all their back taxes, held steady employment and demonstrated a working knowledge of English.

Some individuals deported prior to Dec. 31, 2011, for minor infractions would be eligible to apply to return if they’re the parent or spouse of a U.S. citizen, permanent resident or young person granted expedited status because they were brought here illegally as a child.

According to details of the plan, the legislation would eliminate thousands of “diversity visas” under a program that grants visas through a worldwide lottery, a move immigration advocates are sure to oppose.

Advocates are also likely to balk at the reduced emphasis on family connections and the greater emphasis placed on future immigrants’ education and skills.

But the senators argue the revamped immigration system must focus more on people who can help improve the economy.

The new merit-based system, which would initially account for 120,000 visas, would award points to future immigrants based on their education, skills and time in the country, among other considerations. Some categories of employment immigrant visas for those who are deemed to have “extraordinary ability” in the sciences, arts, education, athletics, medicine and other areas, would be exempt from numerical limits.

“We’re going to go to an economic immigration system with a family component,” Graham said last week. “There’ll be a family component but no more chain migration.”

Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee are scheduled to hold their first public hearing on the legislation on Friday. A second hearing is expected on Monday.

Email: fordonez@mcclatchydc.com; Twitter: @francoordonez

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