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How the immigration deal got made

Posted on by Ruby Powers in citizenship, DREAM Act, education, Immigration Law Leave a comment
By: Manu Raju and Carrie Budoff Brown and Anna Palmer (POLITICO)
April 17, 2013 05:03 AM EDT
The meeting was supposed to be a half-hour update for immigration reform proponents — but they weren’t about to let the Democratic senators get off that easily.The advocates were furious that Democrats might cave to Republican demands to make the pathway to citizenship contingent upon border security benchmarks, including the sign off of governors from southwestern states. They felt locked out of the process. And now, they had no idea what the negotiators were trading away just weeks before the Gang of Eight’s immigration bill was slated to be publicly released.

Frank Sharry, a longtime proponent of a comprehensive bill, aggressively protested the border language to Democratic Sens. Chuck Schumer, Dick Durbin and Robert Menendez — and as a whole, the group warned that if an anti-reform governor like Arizona’s Jan Brewer were given veto power, the emerging proposal would be a “big problem for us.”

(Also on POLITICO: Tragedy interrupts immigration momentum)

Schumer stayed at the February session an extra 40 minutes, even missing his flight back to New York, to reassure advocates that they weren’t being sold out. But he also advised them to step back in line: “This is what we have to do to get a path to citizenship. You have to understand that.”

The intense back-channel talks between members, staffers and outside groups have produced the most sweeping immigration bill in six years. The legislation comes after weeks of tense member-level meetings — often with powerful special interests they had to keep at bay in order to craft a fragile, bipartisan coalition. The deal required painful compromises, suffered near breakdowns and endured cooling-off periods, including when the group walked away from the negotiating table for part of the Easter recess before re-engaging in the horse trading.

Powerful aides to several senators, particularly to Schumer and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), pieced together a compromise driven as much by trying to get the policy right as by giving the senators a way to sell it politically.

Rubio emerged as a source of constant attention, concern and lobbying within the group. Republicans and Democrats were desperate to keep him in the fold, convinced that they needed his support to sell the proposal to deeply skeptical conservatives.

(DOCUMENT: Senate Gang of 8 immigration reform bill)

“By the way, tell your boss he already paid for the caterer, he’s got to go through with the wedding now,” Schumer’s chief aide Leon Fresco, fired off in an email to Rubio’s negotiator, Enrique Gonzalez, when it looked like the Florida Republican was getting wobbly late last month.

President Barack Obama was forced to step in and personally convince Republicans that he was acting in good faith after the apparently inadvertently released draft of a White House bill.

After 24 meetings among senators themselves and marathon sessions between staff for months, the senators struck a deal that, if passed, would enact the most significant changes to immigration laws in nearly three decades. But to get there, they’ve had to cajole their longtime allies to get behind the effort and aggressively move to limit defections from major players who have the power to stop the bill in its tracks. And they went to great lengths to prevent media leaks, even instituting a self-imposed rule to thwart the press from staking out their consequential meetings.

(CARTOONS: Matt Wuerker on immigration)

“There is always tense times in these kinds of things,” said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a leader of the group. “But there was always a commitment to get things done.”

This account of the behind-the-scenes drama that culminated Tuesday with the release of a bipartisan bill was drawn from dozens of interviews with key players at the White House and in Congress who were directly involved in the talks.

Recruiting Rubio

Nobody would have predicted it a year ago, when the leading Republican presidential candidate was touting “self-deportation” as a solution for dealing with the country’s undocumented population.

But Obama’s 40-percentage-point win among Hispanics changed the dynamic, literally overnight. Top conservative pundits, such as Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly, removed a major obstacle when they endorsed a pathway to citizenship. Even Republican Party leaders suggested it was time to take up the issue.

And the major Republican players on immigration, after years of distancing themselves from Democratic proponents of reform, wanted to give it another go.

“We’re getting the band back together,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told Schumer in a phone call the weekend after the November electionreferring to the 2007 group that worked unsuccessfully for a comprehensive bill. Schumer claimed his heart went “pitter-patter” when he heard McCain would be involved.

And yet, the same circle of negotiators from past reform efforts just wouldn’t do.

The experience from 2007 was seared into memories, studied and analyzed for clues of past mistakes and how proponents could make it right the next time. The politics in 2013 for Republicans supportive of immigration reform were as favorable as they had ever been, diminishing the odds that a fevered, impassioned right wing would scuttle the reform effort before it even started. McCain and Graham knew the issue inside and out, but they lacked gravitas with conservatives.

The group needed a protection policy, and top Democrats and Republicans came up with the same solution: Recruit Rubio.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) urged Graham and McCain to include Rubio in the talks, while Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) lobbied Rubio at the Senate gym.

The tea party darling and 2016 presidential prospect pushed his own version of the DREAM Act to legalize young undocumented immigrants last year, but like most Republicans, he had his doubts about a comprehensive approach to overhauling the system and favored dealing with the issues one by one.

Durbin told Rubio that a pathway to citizenship needed to be a central part of the talks. If that’s the case, Rubio responded, then tougher border security measures must be part of the plan, and the cost of legalizing 11 million undocumented immigrants needed to undergo a rigorous review as well.

“He said [a pathway to citizenship] would have to be under some pretty strict circumstances, and I said, ‘Let’s talk,’” Durbin recalled on Tuesday.

Thus, they had their first deal — one in a series of concessions, allowances and considerations that Rubio would secure from Democrats and Republicans over the next three months on policy, politics and PR strategy, all with a single-minded goal of keeping him on board and conservatives at bay.

The negotiators rounded out the group with two freshman senators whose home states underscored the imperative of getting something done. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), as a border-state official, was one of the original architects of comprehensive immigration reform during his time in the House. And Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) owed his election victory to Hispanic voters, who rewarded him for his full-throated endorsement of immigration reform on the 2010 campaign trail when even other Democrats weren’t talking it up.

The group tried to expand to 10 members, but Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) clashed with McCain over whether to do a comprehensive bill or a piecemeal approach. Had Lee joined, Democrats were prepared to recruit Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.).

But in retrospect, it turned out to be the right mix of liberals and conservatives, veterans and newcomers, taskmasters and political tacticians.

Schumer spent time early on assuring the group that his party, including Obama, didn’t want to jam Republicans. They wanted a solution, not a political issue, for the next election. The process would be fair, Schumer said, and each senator had an equal vote inside the negotiating room. In a subtle nod to that political equanimity, they alternated meetings between McCain’s office and Schumer’s office, and sometimes met off the Senate floor during votes.

McCain forced the group to work quickly, assuming that the political will to get something done would diminish with each passing week. And Schumer swore that the negotiations would not become a repeat of the 2009 bipartisan health care talks led by Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) that dragged on for months. No media stakeouts at each meeting, Schumer insisted.

“This isn’t Baucus Beach,” a senior Democratic aide said, referring to the area outside Baucus’s office where reporters camped out during the health care talks and harangued senators for details.

The group spoke so frequently that Schumer memorized the seven other senator’s phone numbers. They even developed their own inside jokes.

In one of the first meetings, Schumer was reading aloud the agenda when his chief immigration aide, Leon Fresco, a precocious Cuban-American lawyer from Miami who approached negotiating sessions like they were debate camp, piped up to correct his boss after he had misspoke.

“Shut up, Leon,” McCain told Fresco, prompting the group to erupt in laughter. McCain repeated that same line — “Shut up, Leon” — whenever Schumer opened the meetings with a review of the agenda.

Fresco turned out to be a dominant force in the talks, as did Rubio aide Gonzalez, another Hispanic-American immigration attorney from Florida whom Rubio hired earlier this year to represent him in the talks. The two became friendly as they haggled over dinner with the rest of the Senate aides, a mix of Hill newcomers like them and low-key immigration veterans like Kerri Talbot, who represented Menendez (D-N.J.), and Joe Zogby, counsel to Durbin.

Fresco came to Schumer in 2009 on the recommendation of fellow Yale Law School classmate Serena Hoy, a top immigration aide to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). After immigration talks failed in 2010, Fresco ingratiated himself with the press-savvy Schumer by coming up with sure-fire media hits. He tipped off the senator to a $45 baggage carry-on fee instituted by Spirit Airlines, which Fresco flew back and forth to Miami, and Schumer promptly introduced a bill to ban it, garnering blanket coverage.

Fresco, who Schumer called “my immigration genius,” brought that political eye to the talks, repeatedly coming up solutions that allowed both parties to claim victory.

“Brutal” talks almost fall apart

Just as the group moved forward internally, an administration slip-up pulled them back.

The leak of the White House draft bill to USA Today in February seemed to confirm the GOP’s worst fears that Obama didn’t really want the group to succeed. Schumer felt blindsided and Rubio declared the liberal document “dead on arrival” in the Senate.

Obama, who had a confrontational relationship with McCain and Graham since the Benghazi attacks, called the two Republicans to the White House — and in a breakthrough for the trio, they left convinced that the president would back them up.

But the next problem was just around the corner.

The group had made it a top priority to avert the same labor and business battles attracting future low-skilled foreign workers that doomed the immigration bill in 2007. Yet the issue still proved to be one of the chief obstacles again, leading to an impasse. By several accounts, it amounted to the low point in the negotiations.

“The issue at one point looked like it just stopped us cold,” Durbin acknowledged.

Lawmakers had wanted wanted to issue a joint statement before they left for the Easter break saying a deal had been reached on all the major points of contention. But that never happened.

On March 20 and 21, just before the recess, the group was holed up in a conference room just off the Senate floor. Late on the night of March 20, Schumer tweaked an offer previously rejected by the GOP senators, but this time the Republicans believed they could live with it.

But labor balked.

Schumer called up Richard Trumka, head of the AFL-CIO, who told the senator, “I know you’re trying. But we’d need this language changed,” according to a source familiar with the call.

Labor unions began to accuse the U.S. Chamber of Commerce of not working in good faith.

Staff and the senators were drained — particularly since those talks occurred just off the Senate floor and through the night during a marathon budget voting session that went until nearly 5 a.m.

It got so bad that they took a break to cool off over the recess.

“We kinda went to our respective corners and had to rethink,” Flake said, describing the talks as “brutal.”

He said he thought the group “wouldn’t salvage it.”

“Coming back to the room and trying to hash it out — we all invested so much time and effort into this and to see it break down like that, it didn’t sit very well,” Flake said.

While negotiations stalled in Washington, four of the gang members headed to the Arizona border with Mexico — publicly keeping a positive face on the progress they were making while revealing few details on how they planned to pay for the billions expected to go to border security.

At that time, staff dialed back their negotiations to give everyone a break from the heated and marathon sessions. After the breakdown, the AFL-CIO’s Ana Avendaño, the Chamber’s Randy Johnson and Fresco continued to try and hammer out the details — and they continued to narrow their differences until they struck a March 29 agreement over a plan to balance the need for foreign workers with the concerns over costing American jobs.

Not wanting one of them to back out, at 9:30 that night from his Brooklyn home, Schumer held a conference call with Trumka, and Tom Donohue, the Chamber leader, and both said “yes.” Donahue suggested the three should grab dinner to celebrate, and Schumer offered to pay for the bill.

The Saturday after the deal was reached between the Chamber and the AFL, Schumer called White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, who was being briefed about the talks.

Upon learning of the deal, McDonough said: “You guys are kicking ass.”

But on Easter Sunday, Schumer was surprised when Rubio blasted out a statement saying that it was premature to consider a deal in hand, prompting media speculation that the Florida Republican was poised to drop out of the talks.

Fresco shot an email to Gonzalez later that day, urging him to keep Rubio on board. And a worried Schumer called Rubio that Monday night, and the two men spoke by phone, assuaging the New York Democrat’s fears that the Florida Republican was wavering over the proposal.

Still, there were ample issues left to resolve. But the group leaked details of the agreement to create the impression that a deal was imminent on the overall bill.

The full group did not meet again until the middle of last week when an agreement appeared to be within reach, electing instead for staff-level talks and negotiations among a smaller number of senators as they worked through the remaining sticking points over the specifics of high-tech visas and a separate agriculture-worker visa program.

As the rest of Washington and country gets a look at what the group spent months negotiating, the senators are optimistic that they struck the right balance, even as the compromises will anger many people.

Sharry, the legalization advocate, said he can now see what the negotiators were trying to do on border security.

Rubio can tell conservatives that the border will finally be secured, employers will be required to check the immigration status of their workers, and visa holders will be tracked. But Democrats can say border security benchmarks won’t impede the path to citizenship.

“It is pretty clever,” Sharry acknowledged this week. “They are both right.”

Tarini Parti contributed to this report.

© 2013 POLITICO LLC

The Charismatic Leaders Behind Immigration Reform

Posted on by Ruby Powers in immigration bill, Immigration Law, Immigration Trends, Legislative Reform Leave a comment

The Charismatic Leaders Behind Immigration Reform

hASAED9KRUoUm0E_5iMM8Gk4g61nZhrIXp2Ua65vG20The tens of thousands of people who gathered Wednesday in front of the Capitol to rally for comprehensive immigration reform had two clear messages for Congress: reform must include a direct path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States, and “The Time Is Now.”

 

While there are many issues at stake, the genius of the movement is that it has not been designed to be about “one person, or group or ethnicity,” but rather about the greater whole.

As the rally filled the Capitol’s west lawn, a bipartisan group of senators worked furiously on final negotiations on the comprehensive immigration reform bill that should be introduced early next week, according to news reports. “We are writing the bill as we speak,” said Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), who is a member of the Senate’s Gang of Eight. The Los Angeles Timesreports that the bill’s first draft is about 1,000 pages, but not all senators have signed off on every section, with provisions related to agricultural workers and border security still being worked out. Yet they are close, Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) said after a briefing yesterday. “We are closer now than we have been in 25 years for serious immigration reform,” he said. “This president is behind it. And there is a strong, growing bipartisan effort in the Senate to support it. We hope that the House will do the same.” 

While those at the rally had a clear message, they did not speak with a single voice. Attendees came from across the country and represented a range of groups, both old and new members of a growing coalition in support of immigration reform. Busloads of supporters came from states as far away as Michigan, Florida, and Alabama. Participants wore colorful t-shirts and carried the banners of labor unions, women’s and business groups, Latino, Asian and African coalitions, as well as LGBT organizations.

As an NPR report analyzing the immigration reform movement put it, the movement’s success may very well lie in how “decentralized” it is. While there are many issues at stake, the genius of the movement is that it has not been designed to be about “one person, or group or ethnicity,” but rather about the greater whole. And as one rally participant interviewed for the NPR piece put it when asked who the leader of the movement was, she replied, without hesitation, “the people.”

The wide range of issues at stake in immigration reform also explains why it has been so hard to get a comprehensive bill and why these bills end up being 1,000 pages long. The interlocking puzzle pieces of immigration reform are tricky, and it is critical to put them together right. One issue cannot be addressed without impacting others and all of them must ultimately work together seamlessly. That is why this bill has taken so long to produce and why negotiations can be tricky. So as the Senate hammered out the final details, the rally participants showed their support and appreciation for the bipartisan work being done, while continuing to apply pressure on lawmakers to get it done as quickly as possible and not to forget any of them in the process.


Why Are Some Still UnDACAmented?

Posted on by Ruby Powers in citizenship, immigration bill, Immigration Law, Processing of Applications and Petitions Leave a comment

Why Are Some Still UnDACAmented?

AdministrationChildrenDeferred ActionIntegrationStudents,Undocumented Immigration

by Patrick Taurel

7448553910_0a2bc46804_zThe latest USCIS DACA numbers from March show that the agency has received roughly 470,000 applications, which means that just under half of those estimated to be eligible have applied. While the success reflected by the 470,000 figure is not to be downplayed, the new numbers beg the question: What about the other half million? Why are they still unDACAmented?

 

It’s time to turn our attention to the rural areas and getting those young people DACAmented.

Hard data isn’t available yet, but the organizations working tirelessly to help young people apply for DACA believe that a large percentage of eligible immigrants are living in rural America, which presents them with a range of challenges. Estimates show that roughly one quarter of all DREAMers live in rural communities and that upwards of half of them need to enroll in a qualifying adult education program to become DACA-eligible. If we hone in on the migrant farmworker population — which contains about 55,000 DREAMers – over 80% would need to take steps to meet the education requirement. 

Apart from the educational hurdle, there is a substantial financial one.  Migrant farmworkers generally earn a little over $11,000 a year, making the $465 DACA filing fee cost-prohibitive. As if these obstacles weren’t enough, itinerant farmworkers are particularly hard-pressed when it comes to producing evidence of continuous residence since June 15, 2007 (a requirement of the program) and gaining access to legal services.

Anecdotal evidence bolsters these conclusions. Recently, the Florida Dream Coalition, working in conjunction with volunteer law students from the University of Miami and Florida International University, organized several DACA workshops throughout central Florida. During the workshops, immigrants described the obstacles they faced to applying for DACA.  Those living in rural communities provided consistent answers: they didn’t know about the program; they live far away from legal service providers; they fear that the government will try to deport them if they apply; they don’t meet the education requirement; and, above all, the application fee is too high. At the Gainesville DACA clinic, the Harvest of Hope Foundation, a non-profit providing migrant farmworkers with emergency and education services, pledged funds to cover the filing fees of local DACA applicants. Nearly every individual at the clinic that day needed financial assistance.

Lessons from North Carolina lend credence to the theory that there is an urban/rural divide within the applicant pool.  If you compare USCIS figures to estimates produced by the Immigration Policy Center, it turns out that about 40-50% of the eligible DREAMer population has applied for DACA.  Except in North Carolina.  In North Carolina, roughly 16,500 out of an estimated 18,000 — 90% — have applied. What explains the disparity?  Farmworker organizers report that North Carolina’s farmworker outreach network is exceptional. In which case, North Carolina may provide the model for effective DACA implementation throughout the country.

If indeed many of the remaining unDACAmented youth are in rural America, future outreach efforts must be targeted accordingly, placing appropriate emphasis on linking would-be applicants to qualifying adult education programs. It also means that the availability and accessibility of microloans and scholarships for DACA filing fees will play a make-or-break role for tens of thousands of individuals going forward.

Let’s not miss the silver-lining, however. If this hypothesis is correct, then outreach in urban areas has largely been a success. The impassioned, outspoken and social media-savvy DREAMers at organizations like United We Dream and its affiliates deserve immense credit for getting the word out about DACA.  Half a million applications in 8 months is no small feat. Now it’s time to turn our attention to the rural areas and getting those young people DACAmented.

Photo by Neighborhood Centers

 


Immigration bill filed in Senate; opponents hope to use delays to kill it

Posted on by Ruby Powers in citizenship, immigration bill, Immigration Law, Immigration Trends, Legislative Reform Leave a comment

By ,

A bipartisan group of lawmakers formally filed an 844-page immigration bill on the Senate floor early Wednesday, setting the stage for months of public debate over the proposal.

Leading Capitol Hill opponents of the proposal to overhaul the nation’s immigration systemare coalescing around a strategy to kill the bill by delaying the legislative process as long as possible, providing time to offer “poison pill” amendments aimed at breaking apart the fragile bipartisan group that developed the plan, according to lawmakers and legislative aides.

Read the bill

Gang of 8

 

Senate immigration proposal

Read the full text of the proposal, with key sections annotated by Washington Post reporters.

Should Congress create a path to citizenship?

Yes
53%

No
47%

CAST YOUR VOTE

Results from an unscientific survey of Washington Post readers

The tactics, used successfully by opponents of an immigration bill during a 2007 debate in the Senate, are part of an effort to exploit public fissures over core components of the comprehensive legislation introduced Tuesday by eight lawmakers who spent months negotiating the details.

The authors of the bill are considering whether to formally embrace it at a news conference Thursday, a move designed to build momentum for the plan. Conservative critics cautioned Tuesday that the legislative process must not be rushed.

An open process “is essential to gaining public confidence in the content of the bill. We know it’s complicated,” said Sen. John Cornyn (Tex.), the top GOP member on the Senate Judiciary Committee’s immigration subcommittee. “I can’t see any reason to undermine confidence by trying to jam it through without adequate time for people to read it and to hear from their constituents.”

Cornyn aides said the senator is not necessarily against the bill. They said he is encouraged by the bipartisan progress but wants adequate time for debate.

Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) called the pace of the legislative process — with Judiciary Committee hearings set for Friday and Monday — a “serious problem.” Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) suggested to the conservative National Review that caution on immigration is important in light of early speculation that the Boston Marathonbombings might have been carried out by a foreign national with a student visa — speculation that authorities said is not based on any specific finding.

The highly anticipated legislation crafted by the eight Democratic and Republican senators is divided into four sections: border security, immigrant visas, interior enforcement and reforms to nonimmigrant visas (workplace programs).

“We have always welcomed newcomers to the United States and will continue to do so,” reads the introduction. “But in order to qualify for the honor and privilege of eventual citizenship, our laws must be followed.”

The bill states that illegal immigration has, in some cases, become a threat to national security and that strengthening the laws will help improve the nation economically, militarily and ethically.

Aides said Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) filed the bill after 1:30 a.m. on behalf of himself and his seven colleagues in the working group, known as the “Gang of Eight”: Democrats Robert Menendez (N.J), Richard J. Durbin (Ill.) and Michael F. Bennet (Colo.), and Republicans Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.), John McCain (Ariz.)Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Jeff Flake (Ariz.).

The bill has several major components, including a 13-year pathway to citizenship — predicated on new border-control measures — for up to 11 million immigrants in the country illegally; new visa programs for high- and low-skilled workers; reductions to some categories of family-based visas; and a greater emphasis on employment and education skills.

Lessons from ’07

Read the bill

Gang of 8

Senate immigration proposal

Read the full text of the proposal, with key sections annotated by Washington Post reporters.

Should Congress create a path to citizenship?

Yes
53%

No
47%

CAST YOUR VOTE

Results from an unscientific survey of Washington Post readers

Democrats and immigration advocates, along with some GOP supporters, say they have learned from the failed immigration push in 2007, when a flurry of amendments on border control and a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants helped sink the legislation before it came to the floor for a vote.

Although the 2007 bipartisan legislation had support from President George W. Bush, the effort failed after an amendment to eliminate a new visa program for low-skilled foreign workers after five years was approved by a single vote, angering business groups and costing GOP support. Then-Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), at the time a presidential candidate vying for labor unions’ support, voted in favor of that amendment.

Schumer and McCain briefed President Obama at the White House on Tuesday afternoon.

“One thing he made clear is he wants to have an open process, but he doesn’t want to delay and drag this out because that’s the way bills get killed,” Schumer said. “That’s one of the most important points he made.”

Schumer said the goal is to have the Judiciary Committee open the bill for amendments in early May and get it to the Senate floor by early June. In a statement, Obama urged the Senate “to quickly move this bill forward” and pledged to “do whatever it takes to make sure that comprehensive immigration reform becomes a reality as soon as possible.”

Opponents take aim

Members of the Senate working group have agreed to band together to oppose any amendments of the core provisions.

But conservatives are taking aim, arguing that allowing undocumented workers to remain in the country amounts to “amnesty,” that the border-control steps are not strong enough, that the guest-worker program will undercut Americans at a time of high unemployment, and that the bill will amount to trillions of dollars in new federal costs.

Those factors make immigration reform “a heavy lift,” said Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a lawyer who helped Arizona draft one of the nation’s strictest immigration laws in 2008. “Twenty million Americans are unemployed or under­employed. At any other normal time, no one would breathe about amnesty.”

But supporters say the political landscape has changed dramatically since 2007. Latinos overwhelmingly supported Obama’s reelection, and GOP leaders have said the party must do more to appeal to them.

Rubio has received tacit support from conservative talk-show hosts Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity after promising the tough border-control measures will be in place before undocumented immigrants earn green cards.

“The theory in 2007 was the longer they could draw it out, a populist upsurge would bring down the bill,” said Deepak Bhargava, executive director of the liberal Center for Community Change. “But this time, we’ll match them toe to toe.”


Details of sweeping Senate immigration plan revealed

Posted on by Ruby Powers in immigration bill, Immigration Law Leave a comment
By Kelly O’Donnell and Carrie Dann , NBC News
Tue Apr 16, 2013 12:00 AM EDT
NBCNews.com

John Moore / Getty Images, file A U.S. Border Patrol agent looks into Mexico on the border near Sonoita, Arizona. A new proposal suggests allocating $3 billion for increased surveillance and manpower along the country’s southern border.

After months of negotiations, a bipartisan Senate group on Tuesday will unveil sweeping legislation to overhaul the nation’s immigration system, an effort that has been a major focus of President Barack Obama’s second term agenda and one that some Republicans view as a political necessity.

The plan outlines an emphasis on shifting legal immigration towards more skilled workers; sets ambitious goals for surveillance and security along the nation’s southern border; and offers qualifying undocumented immigrants a decade-long process – dependent on external border security triggers — towards legalization and eventual citizenship in the United States.

Included in the bill are the following provisions, according to a summary memo provided to NBC News:

  • Allow undocumented immigrants who have lived in the United States continually since before December 31, 2011 to apply for “Registered Provisional Immigrant Status” if they pay back taxes and $500 in fines, and if they have not been convicted of a felony or 3 or more misdemeanors or voted illegally. Individuals with this status can work for any employer and travel outside the country but are not eligible to receive means-tested federal public benefits.
  •  After 10 years in Registered Provisional Immigrant Status, individuals will be eligible – pending border security measures and a clearing of existing backlogs for legal immigrants – to earn a merit-based green card if they have worked in the United States, demonstrated knowledge of the English language and paid an additional fine of $1000.
  • Allow eligible DREAM act applicants and certain agricultural workers to apply for green cards within five years
  • Regarding border security, the bill would set a goal of “90% effectiveness” – meaning the rate of apprehensions and turnbacks of potential entrants – per fiscal year in the most high-risk areas of the southern border. If that goal is not met within five years, a bipartisan “Border Commission” made up of border state governors and experts will be formed to issue new recommendations on how to achieve it.
  • Allocate $3 billion for increased surveillance and manpower along the country’s southern border and an additional $1.5 billion for fencing.
  • Include a border security “trigger” requiring that no undocumented immigrant can achieve legal “Registered Provisional Immigrant” status until strategies for border security have been submitted by the Department of Homeland Security to Congress.
  •  Require an additional “trigger” that prevents those with “Registered Provisional Immigrant” status from becoming eligible to apply for Lawful Permanent Resident status until the Department of Homeland Security and the Comptroller General certify that border security strategies are operational and a mandatory employment verification system has been implemented.
  • Create a new “W” visa program to allow non-agricultural temporary workers to come to the United States to work for registered employers.
  •  Eliminate family-based visas for siblings of United States citizens as well as the Diversity Visa program while eliminating caps on visas for certain employment-based categories.
  •  Use a point system for a new “merit based” visa, of which 120,000 would initially be awarded per year, with a maximum cap of 250,000 annually. Points will be awarded based on criteria including education, employment and length of residence in the U.S.
  • Require an “enhanced E-Verify” system to prevent ineligible workers from taking jobs in the United States. Employers with more than 5,000 employees will be phased in within two years; employers with more than 500 employees will be phased in within three years.
  • Raise the annual cap on H1-B visas for high-skilled workers from 65,000 to 110,000, with provisions to prevent such workers from undercutting American wages. Set a maximum cap at 180,000 such visas.

While events in Boston Monday caused organizers to postpone a planned Tuesday press conference to roll out the bill, the legislation will be formally filed in the Senate later today. Sens. Chuck Schumer of New York and John McCain of Arizona will visit the White House to brief the president on the plan.

Related:
Revealed — a path to citizenship, shift to employment-based visas

10 things you need to know about the Senate immigration bill

Once filed, the process of examining the bill will begin in the Senate Judiciary Committee, where panel members will hold two hearings in the next week. The group is expected to continue its markup of the legislation into the month of May.

The proposal, drafted by four Democrats and four Republicans, represents the first major attempt to comprehensively address illegal immigration, border security, and the existing backlog for legal immigrants to the United States since a bipartisan bill stalled in the Senate in 2007.


3 Leaked Immigration Reform Details You Need To Know

Posted on by Ruby Powers in citizenship, Immigration Law, Immigration Trends Leave a comment

April 15, 2013

 

After months of negotiations, a group of Democrats and Republicans in the Senate are poised to release a broad immigration reform bill within the next few days.

The bill would create a pathway to citizenship for some of the country’s 11 million undocumented immigrants and earmark billions for border security.

See Also: Border Security Focus Could Backfire for Republican

Although senators working on the bill have stressed that the document still isn’t finalized, some important details have leaked in the past week.

Here’s what you need to know:

1. The Border Security “Trigger” The bill creates a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who meet certain qualifications, but applicants would need to undergo a 10-year probationary period before being eligible for a green card.

The decade-long wait comes with another caveat: The federal government will need to meet certain border security benchmarks before any undocumented immigrants can receive a green card.

The benchmarks? An operational border security plan, a completed border fence, a mandatory employment verification system across the country and a system to track exits at airports and seaports, according toreports in several news outlets.

The border security plan would require surveillance of 100 percent of the U.S.-Mexico border and 90 percent effectiveness in border enforcement, The New York Times reported.

If those goals are met, immigrants who completed the 10-year waiting period would be eligible to apply for a green card.

2. The Cut-Off Date Of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S., hundreds of thousands may not be eligible for the path to citizenship being offered by the Senate, the AP reported on Friday.

The bill requires that applicants prove they were in the country before December 31, 2011, the AP reported. That means anyone who arrived after that date would be excluded.

There will be other requirements, too, like proving you have a clean criminal record and that you have enough job stability to stay off welfare. How the bill defines those things — criminality and financial stability — could decide the fate of thousands.

3. More Visas for Workers The majority of immigrants who receive legal permanent residence in the U.S. get their visas because of family ties.

But the Senate bill will add a major new “merit-based” program, The New York Times reported on Thursday.

Here’s what will happen, according to the Times:

Over a 10-year period, the government will seek to clear the backlog of 4.7 million immigrants waiting to come to the U.S.

After that, the bill will create a new, merit-based visa program that will offer legal permanent residence based on work skills.

At the same time, some family-based visas will be eliminated. Siblings of U.S. citizens would no longer be eligible for green cards, the documents that show legal permanent residence.

The exact balance of family visas to employment visas in the Senate proposal isn’t clear, but the bill would focus on bringing in more workers of all skill levels.


An Immigration Blueprint

Posted on by Ruby Powers in Deportation, immigration bill, Immigration Law, Immigration Trends, Legislative Reform Leave a comment

April 16, 2013
By  (The New York Times)

 

Huge news from the scorched desert of immigration reform: germination!

At last there is a bill, the product of a bipartisan group of senators who have been working on it for months, that promises at least the hope of citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants. It is complicated, full of mechanisms and formulas meant to tackle border security, the allocation of visas, methods of employment verification and the much-debated citizenship path.

Twitter analysts spent all day Tuesday parsing just the 17-page outline that was unveiled ahead of the actual bill. There will be much to chew on in coming weeks, but it is worth a moment to marvel at the bill’s mere existence, and at the delicate balancing of competing interests that coaxed this broad set of compromises into being.

Without, however, celebrating too much too soon. The first part of the bill is a dreary reassertion of the doctrine that an insufficiently militarized border is the source of all our immigration problems — as if inefficiencies in the labor market and the ill effects of unjust laws can be fixed with more drones and fences. It throws $6.5 billion over 10 years at the southern border, and envisions the creation of a commission of border governors telling the Homeland Security Department how to spend more billions on “manpower, technology and infrastructure.”

Though foolishly costly, this border fixation will be tolerable as long as it is not fatal to the heart and soul of the bill: legalization for 11 million. The bill includes arbitrary benchmarks, or triggers, that have to be achieved before legalization kicks in. These cannot be allowed to justify delay in getting immigrants right with the law.

Here is where things get interesting. The bill gets around the “amnesty” stalemate by turning the undocumented into Registered Provisional Immigrants — not citizens or green-card holders, but not illegal, either. They will wait in that anteroom for a decade at least before they can get green cards. But they will also work, and travel freely. The importance of legalizing them, erasing the crippling fear of deportation, cannot be overstated.

That said, a decade-plus path is too long and expensive. The fees and penalties stack up: $500 to apply for the first six years of legal status, $500 to renew, then a $1,000 fine. If the goal is to get people on the books and the economy moving, then shackling them for years to fees and debt makes no sense.

The means of ejection from the legalization path, too, cannot be arbitrary and unjust — people should not be disqualified for minor crimes or failure to meet unfair work requirements. It should not take superhuman strength and rectitude, plus luck and lots of money, for an immigrant to march the 10 years to a green card.

Then there is the mere two years set aside for taking legalization applications, which is crazy: you cannot fit 11 million people through a window that small. The coming debate will be fierce. Lobbyists for business say there are far too few temporary worker visas. Advocates for families will lament the loss of visas for siblings and adult children. Environmentalists will not like giving Homeland Security unfettered access to all federal borderlands.

While there is a lot to worry about, our quick read of a fresh bill finds other encouraging things besides the opening of the pathway. It includes a good version of the Dream Act, to help young people who were brought here illegally as children speedily become citizens. It allows, amazingly, some deportees to re-enter the country to join their spouses and young children.

The Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013 will not win prizes for brevity or eloquence. But it exists; it is a starting point, something to be nurtured and improved. It will be judged by how it unlocks the potential of the immigration system, now choked by inefficiency and illegality, with companies that scoff at the law and employees who work outside it. The system has gears that fail to mesh — business with labor, parents with children, the promise of America with the people who would fulfill it. Time to start repairs.

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10 things you need to know about the Senate immigration bill

Posted on by Ruby Powers in Immigration Law Leave a comment

by Raul A. Reyes

1:00 am on 04/16/2013

The path to comprehensive immigration reform has never been smooth. Coming the day before the Senate’s “Gang of 8” were to present their immigration proposal, the tragic events in Boston may have delayed its official announcement. It is a long-awaited proposal that Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) called “a starting point” on Sunday’s Meet The Press. In anticipation of its imminent unveiling, here are the major takeaways of the Senate plan.

Illegal Immigration

1. The Senate plan includes a pathway to citizenship for the undocumented that will take 13 years. Undocumented immigrants who can prove continuous presence in the country before December 31, 2011 will be eligible to adjust their status. They must have clean records and pay taxes and a $500 fine, in addition to any fees. Then they can apply for “Registered Provision Immigrant” status.

2. People with Registered Provision Immigrant status can live and work legally in the U.S., and travel outside the country. Another $500 fine will kick in after six years as a Registered Provision Immigrant. After 10 years, a Registered Provision Immigrant may apply for a green card if they know English, pay taxes, and pay a $1,000 fine. It will take an additional three years for a green card to be converted into citizenship. However, these provisions are all dependent upon the Department of Homeland Security meeting their border security goals.

3. DREAMers and agricultural workers will have a shorter path to citizenship. People who were brought illegally to the U.S as children and would otherwise qualify for the DREAM Act can obtain green cards in five years (and are exempted from the $500 fine). They will then be eligible for citizenship immediately. The Senate plan also includes the AgJobs Act, which will allow current agricultural workers to obtain legal status through the Agricultural Card Program.

4. Some deportees will be allowed to legally re-enter the U.S. Undocumented immigrants who were here before December 31, 2011 and were deported for non-criminal reasons can apply to re-enter the country if they are the spouse or a parent of a citizen or lawful permanent resident. This is good news for many of the nearly 250,000 deportees with citizen children; they will have a chance to reunite with their families.

Legal Immigration

5. More visas will be allocated on a merit-based system. Our current system allows roughly two-thirds of legal immigration on the basis of family unification, and 14 percent based on employment. Now the allotment for employment visas for skilled workers and professionals will gradually rise.

6. The number of H1B visas will be increased. H1B visas are for workers with college degrees or in skilled occupations. They are capped at 65,000 per year, with an additional exemption of 20,000 for people with advanced degrees. This has often proved inadequate for the number of applicants; the 2014 cap was reached in only 5 days. The Senate plan raises the yearly cap to 110,000, and the advanced degree exemption to 25,000. To prevent employers from seeking to undercut American workers, employers will be required to pay H1B workers higher wages. Employers will face additional scrutiny from the government in order to prevent abuse of the H1B program.

7. Family-sponsored immigration will be somewhat curtailed. Within eighteen months of the bill’s enactment, citizens may no longer petition for visas for their siblings. Still, clearing the existing backlog of family-based visa petitions is a key goal of this proposal. And the existing V-visa program will expand to cover sponsorship of single adult children and married adult children under age 31.

8. Lower-skilled immigrant workers will be eligible for the new W-Visa. The W- Visa will cover people working in the service sectors as well as agriculture. Employers can petition the government to allow 20,000 such workers beginning in 2015, with this number rising as high as 75,000 within four years (The construction industry is limited to 15,000 workers a year).Immigrants on W-visas can move to other employers if they choose, and will be eligible for residency and citizenship. W-Visa immigrants may not be hired to replace striking American workers. Once the W-Visa program is operational, the much-maligned H2A visa program forseasonal agricultural workers will end.

9. No more Diversity Visas. The Senate proposal will end the “Diversity Lottery,” which allots 55,000 random visas to countries that are underrepresented in our immigration system. But people who were selected for the 2013 or 2014 Diversity Visas will still be eligible to receive them.

10. No immigration equality for same-sex couples. To the almost certain disappointment of the LGBT community and their allies, the Senate plan contains no provisions for immigration equality for same-sex couples.


Rubio throwing support behind bipartisan immigration bill

Posted on by Ruby Powers in citizenship, immigration bill, Immigration Law, Immigration Trends, Legislative Reform Leave a comment

Rubio throwing support behind bipartisan immigration bill

By Vincent Bzdek, Updated: 

Look for Marco Rubio to throw his full support — and star power — behind the bipartisan immigration compromise bill that could be announced in the next several days. The question is, will his support for the far-reaching overhaul of the nation’s immigration system alienate the conservative wing of the party and damage Rubio’s chances at higher office, or will it help cement his position as a leading Republican candidate for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination?

According to Politico, the Republican Florida senator is planning to promote the bill on political talk shows starting this weekend, and will reach out to conservative radio hosts and lobby for the plan on Spanish-language news outlets.

One Senate Democratic aide told Politico Thursday: “In poker terms, he has gone all in.”

Members of the so-called bipartisan “Group of Eight” said they are close to finalizing an agreement on the comprehensive proposal that is expected to include a path to citizenship for 11 million illegal immigrants and could serve as the template for a deal between Congress and the White House.

The Post’s Paul Kane and David Nakamura reported just a couple days ago that Rubio appeared to be cautious about the proposal, anxious for plenty of hearings on the legislation.

“Senator Rubio has said from the outset that we will not rush this process, and that begins at the committee level,” said Alex Conant, Rubio’s spokesman. “The Judiciary Committee must have plenty of time to debate and improve the bipartisan group’s proposal. . . . Senator Rubio will be requesting that his Senate colleagues arrange multiple public hearings on the immigration bill. We believe that the more public scrutiny this legislation receives, the better it will become.”

It now looks as though Rubio wants to own the process now that he is preparing to sign off on the release of the bill this coming Tuesday. Yet he’s also still pushing for more hearings and a slower pace than Democrats and the White House want.

“Obviously, we’ll be informing the public, and we’ll want everyone to know everything that’s in the bill,” Rubio told Politico. “We want everyone to know as much of what’s in the bill as possible, and we will use every opportunity we have to communicate that.”

Many Republicans are unwilling to back any measure that would put illegal immigrants on a path to citizenship, so Rubio’s strategy carries some risks. Some Republicans have expressed openness to some form of legalization that stops short of a citizenship plan, but such a compromise would draw opposition from many Democrats and immigrant advocates.

His ability to bring conservative Republicans on board will be a real test of his leadership skills in the coming days and weeks.

 

 


Through the obstacle course of immigration, many paths to citizenship

Posted on by Ruby Powers in Immigration Law Leave a comment

 

By Erin McClam, Staff Writer, NBC News

 

This is the first story in NBC News’ series “Immigration Nation,” an in-depth examination of immigration in America.

The talk about reforming the American immigration system has focused on getting 11 million undocumented workers on the path to citizenship. It’s a simple idea that obscures a thorny truth.

There is no single path to citizenship. There are hundreds.

Which path you take can depend on who your relatives are, whether you are safe in your homeland or how good you are at your job — in the case of one Canadian burlesque dancer, whether you can prove that you twirl your tassels in a truly unique way.

Which path you take can depend on where you come from and how you’re trying to get here, on the whims of the federal government and on the laws of supply and demand.

You can set out on a path through your family or your job, as most immigrants do — hitching your hopes to a citizen brother or sister, or to an employer willing to be a sponsor.

You can take up arms for what you hope will one day be your country. Or you can win the lottery: Up to 55,000 spots each year go to people who line up for hours in far-flung places like Bangladesh or Kazakhstan to enter a drawing and try their luck at a new life.

So what happens once you choose your path? There are at least 4.4 million people whose first-step visa petitions have been approved and are waiting for a green card that would grant them permanent residency, the vast majority trying to enter with help from relatives in the United States, according to the State Department.

But that hardly means the path to citizenship is clear. Any number of obstacles can block the way. You can fall in love with an American citizen and move to a different path. You can be kicked off the path. Or the path can shift on you.

That is what happened to Sergio Garcia of Mexico, who has been waiting 19 years.

His father, a retired California farm worker, sponsored him for an immigration visa in 1994. At that point, the father had a green card, and the son had crossed the border without documentation, in the back of a truck.

For Garcia, Nov. 18, 1994, is what is known in the system as a priority date. To would-be immigrants, it means everything. When enough of the backlog has been cleared and your date comes up, you can take the final steps toward a green card.

More than a decade ago, enough of the backlog had been cleared for Mexicans in his immigration category that the priority date was Nov. 12, 1994 — just six days from his date.

Then the line jumped back three years, as it can when immigration officials work through a glut of cases. Since then, on the 15th of each month, Garcia has logged on to a State Department website to read the latest visa bulletin, to see whether he is any closer.

Garcia said that if he had known at the beginning that it would take two decades to get his green card, not the three to five years he was told, then he would have returned to Mexico.

“It’s probably been a month or two since I last ended up crying, because sometimes this life does get to you,” he said. “It’s not living, it’s surviving.”

The United States admits up to 675,000 immigrants legally each year, including up to 480,000 who are related to American citizens but are not spouses, minor children or parents, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

That figure includes 47,250 slots for each of the countries with the highest demand, including Mexico, the Philippines and India. Demand from these places far outstrips the supply of immigration slots.

From Mexico alone, the theoretical line is 1.3 million people long. If you are emigrating from the Philippines through a brother or sister who is a U.S. citizen, and you are getting your green card today, you got “in line” about the time the Berlin Wall came down.

And the green card is only the first step, entitling you to a five-year wait for full citizenship. In the interim, you can be rejected for a variety of reasons, including bounced checks, clerical errors on your application or adultery

“The system is just way too complicated,” said Margaret Stock, an immigration lawyer from Alaska who has testified before Congress on the issue. “It’s so complicated and difficult that people can’t absorb it. They think: There’s no way I can navigate that.”

You can pay to get on a path: 10,000 visas — and ultimately green cards — are reserved for foreign nationals who invest at least $500,000 in an American business, though the program has never reached that number in the two decades it has existed.

Some paths are shorter than others. Qualified immigrants who have temporary visas can join the military and become naturalized citizens as soon as the end of basic training. President George W. Bush expedited the military path after the Sept. 11 attacks.

And about one in 10 people legally admitted to this country every year is granted entry because of asylum or refugee status, and a one-year path to a green card, after proving a legitimate fear of persecution at home.

That happened to Parvaneh Vahidmanesh, who was in the United States on a visa when Iran was engulfed by violent protests after the disputed 2009 presidential election.

In an open letter in The Wall Street Journal addressed to Iran’s supreme leader, Vahidmanesh demanded to know why a bullet was the answer to peaceful cries of opposition. The United States deemed it too dangerous for her to return home.

Vahidmanesh applied for asylum after the Journal letter was published, was granted asylum in September 2009, got a green card a year later and is waiting to become a citizen.

She said that she feels accepted in the United States, never like a foreigner or even a guest.

“Now, I have a future,” she said. “Most important thing is freedom. I just feel freedom with all of my self here in the U.S. In Iran, I never felt that I am a free person.”

The immigration reform plan being devised in Washington, chiefly by four senators from each party, is expected to provide a means for the estimated 11 million who entered the United States illegally eventually to become citizens.

Precisely how is far from clear, as is whether the plan would include an unspecified “trigger” requiring that the U.S.-Mexican border is declared secure before any citizenship program for the undocumented can begin.

It is also expected to include some kind of guest-worker program allowing low-skilled workers to remain in the United States.

Supporters of tighter immigration controls have concerns about both elements, but most acknowledge that the country needs far more clarity on who should and should not be eligible to become an American citizen.

Mario Anzuoni / Reuters file Candidates wave U.S. flags during a naturalization ceremony to become citizens in Los Angeles in February.

Some advocates of a more permissive immigration system say that the central problem is that the United States does not issue nearly enough visas.

Even if the United States stopped approving new requests for family-based immigration visas today, it would take 19 years to clear the backlog of people waiting to join a relative in the United States, according to theMigration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan research center.

“We haven’t changed our legal immigration numbers since 1990,” said Mary Giovagnoli, director of the Immigration Policy Center, part of a Washington group that supports immigration. “Think about the cellphone that they were carrying in ‘The Wedding Singer.’ Now think about your iPhone today.”

As Garcia waits for his priority date, his shot at citizenship, he figures there is no turning back. As strange is it may sound, he said, he believes that his father was right to encourage him to embark on the path to citizenship.

“I still think this country is a great country, and I think it will give me, in the end, a better future than I could have had in Mexico,” he said. “I still truly believe in the American dream.”

Petra Cahill, Tracy Connor and Miranda Leitsinger of NBC News contributed to this report.


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