Legislative Update: April 7, 2006, Frist Border Security Bill

This morning, the Senate failed to invoke cloture on the motion for debate, which means to end actions and debate the question (i.e., the bill and amendments) on the Judiciary Bill and the Frist Border Security Bill. Many reports were flying that there was good bipartisan movement on Thursday night yet those agreed provisions in the guest worker program were still at the center of debate on both sides, and the votes to move forward and debate failed by votes of 32-67. The latest press conference has announced that the will move into their two week recess and hopefully return on April 25, prepared to move forward.

Details of bill passed by Judiciary Committee going to Senate floor:

  • People entering the United States would be able to receive a temporary work visa known as an H-2C to work in industries that do not require high skills. The visa would be for three years and could be extended for one additional three-year plan. Those admitted with the visa would be eligible to sponsor their own application for permanent resident status through a green card in the first year of renewed visa. Up to 80,000 green cards the first year, 400,000 visas would be available in the succeeding years reflecting the demand. If fewer than 400,000 visas were needed in any year other than the second year of the program, the visas could be decreased for the following year. Guest workers could leave the country and return.
  • Illegal aliens in the United States since January 2004 would be able to apply for a six-year conditional nonimmigrant visa after paying a $1,000 fine. At the end of six years of continued employment, a visa holder could apply for a green card after paying a second $1,000 fine passing a background check, paying back taxes and demonstrating an effort to learn English and civics. None of these applications would be processed until all aliens currently “in line” for visas have been processed.
  • Agricultural workers would be able to apply for a blue card if they can demonstrate that they have worked in the U.S. agriculture industry for at least 150 workdays within the previous two years before Dec. 31, 2005. Once they have worked in the industry for an additional 150 workdays per year for three years, or 100 workdays per year for five years, they would be eligible for a green card. The program would cap the number of blue cards at 1.5 million and would expire after five years. Visa holders would be eligible to work in other industries if they completed the agricultural requirements.

Border security

  • Border patrol agents would be increased by 4,000 through 2011, plus 2,000 new interior enforcement agents per year for the next five years.
  • Authorize the creation of a "virtual fence” along the southern borders of the United States, unmanned aerial vehicles, cameras, sensors, and other technology would be used to help agents monitor movement.
  • Homeland Security would be authorized to repair and extend fences in highly trafficked sections of the Arizona-Mexico border. The bill will also authorize a 150-mile vehicle barrier and all-weather roads in the Tucson sector and 150-mile vehicle barrier and all-weather roads in the Yuma sector of the Arizona border.
  • The number of alien detention facilities would be increased by 20, adding capacity for 10,000 more prisoners at any given time.
  • The bill would make it a crime to construct or finance a tunnel or subterranean passage across an international border into the United States. Penalties for smuggling would be increased.
  • Homeland Security would be required to develop and implement a plan to improve coordination between the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection and any other federal states, local, or tribal authorities to combat human smuggling.
  • The bill would require the mandatory detention and removal of persons from countries other than Mexico who try to enter the United States illegally, beginning Oct. 1, 2006. Within 60 days of the bill’s enactment, and before Oct. 1, 2006, anyone apprehended at the borders could be released on a $5,000 bond if the Homeland Security secretary would determine that the individual does not pose a national security risk.

Some amendments to be brought to the floor this week:

  • One by Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) to codify the oath of allegiance spoken by those becoming U.S. citizens. The amendment also would enable green card holders who achieved English fluency to apply for citizenship one year early—after four years.
  • One by Cornyn and Kyl that would make certain aliens ineligible for legal status if they were determined to be a danger to the United States, guilty of a serious crime outside the United States, or if they were convicted of a felony or three misdemeanors or a serious immigration violation in the United States.
  • One by Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) that would authorize $50 million annually over the next five years in financial aid to local law enforcement in areas where illegal immigration increases crime and the costs of enforcement. It would be focused on small communities within 100 miles of the U.S. border and two-thirds of the money would be reserved for use in the six states with the largest number of apprehensions of illegal aliens.