Legislative Update: April 3, 2006, Immigration Bill Status

Immigration Bill Status

I. House Bill HR 4437, Rep. Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) crafted and introduced, passed in December. The big difference between the House bill and what is being proposed in the Senate is the guest worker program. The House bill focuses only on border security and enforcement. It also has much tougher provisions including strong penalties for non-documented immigrants and those who aid them. The House bill would make it a felony; punishable by up to a year and one day in prison, to be in the United States illegally and a new provision with new penalties for those caught aiding non-documented immigrants which could include doctors, clergy and humanitarian workers. Sensenbrenner has said that he will not go to conference on a bill that includes a guest worker program. However, Rep. Hastert has noted that the House could possibly support a guest worker program.

II. There are currently four bills affecting the Immigration Activity in the Senate.

1) Bill passed by the Judiciary Committee, which had an amendment to include the DREAM ACT.

2) Sen. Frist (R-Tenn.) (S. 2454) – Border Security Bill – Offered as an amendment to Judiciary Bill, said he will not support Judiciary Committee Bill

3) McCain-Kennedy Bill (S. 1033) – a number of provisions of their bill incorporated into the Spector/Judiciary Bill, the most controversial being a plan to allow undocumented residents to stay in the country and earn citizenship.

4) Cornyn-Kyl (S. 1438) – Provision that would require illegal immigrants to return home before being allowed to participate in a temporary work program for a limited time (work and return).

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 2nd 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 non-immigrant 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 work days per year for three years, or 100 work days 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 4000 through 2011, 2000 new interior enforcement agents per year for the next five years.
  • Authorize the creation of a virtual fence" along the southern borders of the US, unmanned aerial vehicles, cameras, sensors and other technology would be used to help agents monitor movement.
  • HS Secretary 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 US. Penalties for smuggling would be increased.
  • HS 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 HS 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.