Immigration reform package gains momentum
The Bush administration on Thursday reached agreement with a bipartisan group of senators on an immigration reform bill that would implement the President's long-standing goal of a guest worker program.
The plan would increase resources for border security, including 18,000 more border patrol agents, automated surveillance towers, and fencing, and set up a real-time system for employers to verify the work eligibility of new hires, according to the White House. As part of a tougher anti-fraud regime, workers will also be required to present more verifiable documentation and employers will face stiff penalties for hiring unauthorized persons.
The Department of Homeland Security in the past two years has cracked down on many companies, including the warehouse and distribution sector, that hire undocumented workers. Companies often complain they have no way of knowing whether an applicant is in the country illegally.
DHS said it has worked out agreements with the Social Security Administration to share 'no match' information so that someone cannot use a Social Security ID to pose as a legal worker.
The temporary worker program, initially capped at 400,000 persons, is designed to give authorities a handle on who is entering the country for security purposes while also providing a relief valve for illegal immigrants to fill needed jobs that many Americans don't want to do. Workers will be limited to three two-year terms, with at least a year spent outside the United States between each term.
The plan tries to wipe the slate clean with illegal immigrants who are currently in the country and give them an eventual path to citizenship. To obtain legal status they will have to pass a background check, remain employed, maintain a clean criminal record, pay a $1,000 fine and receive a tamper-proof biometric card to apply for a work visa. In the future they will be able to apply for a green card after paying an additional $4,000 fine, completing English language classes, return to their home country to file their green card application and demonstrate merit under a new merit-based system that selects immigrants based on skills and attributes they will bring to U.S. society.
Under the merit-based system, future immigrants applying for permanent residency in the United States will be assigned points for skills, education, and other attributes, including: ability to speak English; level of schooling, with added points for training in science, math, and technology; job offer in a specialty or high-demand field; employer endorsement; and family ties to the United States.
Some sectors of the trucking industry have argued that greater immigration or a temporary worker program could help alleviate the shortage of truck drivers needed to haul freight.
Most of the changes to the visa system would only go into effect after the new border controls and employer enforcement efforts have been implemented.
The Senate will begin debate on the measure next week and the House will take it up in July.