It’s time. The opening round in the race for immigration reform began Monday in the Senate. A bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced the principles of a future bill, which includes access to citizenship with conditions.
Since December, Senators Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Charles Schumer (D-NY), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Marco Rubio (R-FL) and John McCain (R- AZ) have held private meetings to reach an agreement.
They, along with Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Michael Bennet (D-CO), support the five-page document released Monday, accessed by ImpreMedia.
In it, he mentions four pillars of immigration reform, but mostly deepens the point of how to give 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country access to citizenship.
Republican and Democratic sources described the document as a “basic skeleton” of a future bill and admitted that the path to reach the goal will be difficult. They expect progress, with more specific details during the next two months.
Citizenship for the undocumented would condition to two variables: goals that show concrete progress on border security and an improved system that allows the entry of immigrants with visas and then stay in the country. While these goals are met, people would have a provisional legal status with work permits.
“We will demonstrate our commitment to secure the border and fix the problems with visa overstays, requiring that our control measures are completed before that immigrants with temporary status have access to permanent residence,” the agreement says.
The document does not provide many details about the necessary changes in border security, but mentions things like increased drones, surveillance equipment and increasing agents at ports of entry.
It also includes the creation of a border security committee composed of governors, attorneys general and community leaders to monitor progress, along with efforts to prevent the practice of racial profiling in the area.
“Once control measures are completed, individuals with provisional status may qualify for legal residency if: they get placed at the end of the line, behind immigrants that are being processed for permanent residence; complete an additional background check; pay taxes, learn English and civics, demonstrate a work history in the United States and a job at the time of application, among other requirements. ”
It also mentions that the undocumented have to “pay their debt to society,” although there are no details which imply this. In previous years, there has been discussion around the possibility of having to plead guilty to a misdemeanor before getting papers.
Both safety goals, as placed “at the end of the line,” could involve a long wait. Republican sources insisted “the conditions are necessary to be certain that the current problems are not repeated again.”
“We do not want people who are in the legal system feel it would have been easier to enter the country paperless,” he added.
Democratic sources commented that the “time-out, on the road to citizenship, be reasonable.” “In terms of border security goals, we believe that can be completed in a few years,” they said.
The document mentions two groups that would exempt the new conditions: the youth included in the Dream Act and farmworkers. However, it specifies legal avenues be created for them.
In addition, the agreement provides that the current restrictions on access to public benefits would remain for those with temporary legal status.
It also highlights the importance of not keeping families apart and to reduce waiting times in the categories of visas and employment-related relatives.
The other pillars of the document are based on attracting highly skilled labor in the country, strengthen the system of employment verification and protections for American workers.
It is contemplated giving legal residence to those who hold a master’s or doctoral degree in areas such as science, engineering, mathematics and technology, along with the creation of an effective verification system to prevent fraud and illegal hiring.
As for the protection of workers, employers can hire immigrants “if they can prove that they were not successful in recruiting an American to fill the vacancy.”
Also, importance is expressed on creating a guest worker program that meets the needs of the agricultural industry, including the dairy sector, where Americans are not available to fill those positions.
Finally, the entry of basic labor to the United States will be allowed when the economy is creating jobs, which would be reduced during slow growth periods.
In February, the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold hearings on immigration reform. Sources in both parties predict that by mid-year there will be a bill on the table.
President Barack Obama will make a major announcement Tuesday, which could be a firm step in changing the lives of millions of immigrants.
This story was originally published in La Opinión