A group of eight Senators today announced the outline of an agreement they reached on immigration-law changes that substantially mirrors the failed 2007 attempt to amnesty illegal aliens and increase foreign-worker numbers. The Senators’ proposal includes a legalization of illegal aliens currently residing in the United States, higher levels of legal immigration, mandatory employment verification, and a new guest worker program.
According to the announced framework, the plan includes four “legislative pillars:”
“1. Create a tough but fair path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants currently living in the United States that is contingent upon securing our borders and tracking whether legal immigrants have left the country when required;
2. Reform our legal immigration system to better recognize the importance of characteristics that will help build the American economy and strengthen American families;
3. Create an effective employment verification system that will prevent identity theft and end the hiring of future unauthorized workers; and,
4. Establish an improved process for admitting future workers to serve our nation’s workforce needs, while simultaneously protecting all workers.”
The plan would immediately legalize most illegal aliens, but would not give them access to citizenship until (1) a commission deems the borders more secure, (2) a system for verifying workplace eligibility is put in place, (3) the government shores up the system for checking whether visitors overstay their visas, and (4) those currently waiting for green cards obtain them. Illegal aliens who came to the U.S. as minors, and those working in the agriculture sector would have a more expedited means to acquire citizenship. The legalized aliens would not be immediately eligible for welfare or other public benefits.
With respect to legal immigration, the proposal would give green cards to foreign students who graduate with a PhD or Masters degree from U.S. institutions in STEM fields, reduce backlogs in the family and employment visa categories, and seek to allow in more immirants who help “build the American economy.”
Employers would be required to verify that new hires are legally authorized to work in the United States, but existing employees would not be subject to verification checks. The senators’ proposed employment verification system would make “prospective workers to demonstrate both legal status and identity, through non-forgeable electronic means prior to obtaining employment.”
The Senators also propose a new guest worker program for low-skilled workers that brings in more workers when the “economy is creating jobs, and fewer when (it is) is not creating jobs.” Employers seeking guest workers would have to demonstrate that “they were unsuccessful in recruiting an American to fill an open position and the hiring of an immigrant will not displace American workers.” Guest workers could become citizens over time.
The so-called “Gang of Eight” includes four Democrats -- Charles Schumer of New York, Dick Durbin of Illinois, Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Michael Bennet of Colorado – and four Republicans - Senators John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Marco Rubio of Florida and Jeff Flake of Arizona.
Many details of the plan must still be worked out. The announcement came one day before President Obama plans to discuss his plan for immigration-law changes. Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.), who visited Obama at the White House last week with other members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, said immigration reform “is his top legislative priority."