The 867-page immigration bill that was approved Tuesday by the Senate Judiciary Committee is far from perfect. But it goes a long way toward addressing an issue that has for far too long been all but ignored.
The wide-ranging bipartisan bill, drafted after long months of exhausting negotiations, seeks to placate both those who are rightfully concerned about the gaping holes in border security as well as those who argue that the only logical method to deal with the 11 million people now living in the U.S. illegally is to find a fair way for them to legalize their status.
The bill sets goals of surveillance of 100 percent of the border with Mexico and catching or turning back 90 percent of would-be crossers. The Department of Homeland Security will be given six months to develop a border security plan to achieve those goals, including the use of drones and additional agents and a plan to identify where more fencing is needed.
The bill calls for a new entry-exit system to be implemented at U.S. seaports and airports to track people coming and going. It also includes a measure that is likely to have a very significant impact on the American workforce: Within four years, all employers must implement E-Verify, a program to electronically verify their workers’ legal status. As part of that implementation, noncitizens would be required to show photo ID that must match with a photo in the E-Verify system.
Millions of individuals who are currently in the country illegally could obtain “registered provisional immigrant status” six months after enactment of the bill if they arrived in the U.S. prior to Dec. 31, 2011, and stayed here then, don’t have a felony conviction or three or more misdemeanors, and if they pay a $500 fine.
In a move that seeks to alleviate an oft-raised concern of conservatives, these individuals would not be eligible for federal benefits; they will, however, be allowed to work and travel within the U.S.
After 10 years of provisional status, immigrants can seek a green card and lawful permanent resident status if they are current on their taxes and pay a $1,000 fine, have maintained continuous physical presence in the U.S., meet work requirements and learn English. There won’t be any preferential treatment there, either: All people waiting to immigrate through the legal system as of the date of enactment of the legislation must have been dealt with first.
Those who came here illegally as children, people brought to the country as youths, would be able to get green cards in five years and citizenship immediately thereafter.
One of the aspects of the bill that is unlikely to find favor among legal immigrants is a proposed change to the family reunification policy. Under current law, U.S. citizens can sponsor spouses, children and siblings to come to the U.S., with limits on some categories. The bill would bar citizens from sponsoring their siblings and would allow them to sponsor married sons and daughters only if those children are under age 31.
It is often said that the art of politics is compromise. This complex proposal certainly typifies the notion of a negotiated agreement. This bill is the best chance America has had in years for a unified approach to one its most pressing problems. We urge both houses of Congress to work with each other and the Obama administration to fine-tune this compromise legislation and pass a desperately needed and long-overdue immigration overhaul.