June 2006- Update on US Immigration Law Proposals

Posted by admin on Jun 14th, 2006


On May 25, the US Senate voted 62 to 36 to pass the Hagel- Martinez bill (S. 2611), which would provide limited legalization for some out-of-status immigrants while stepping up enforcement measures. Republicans were divided on the bill: 23 voted for it and 32 voted against. Among Democrats, 38 supported it and four opposed it. One independent senator voted for the bill. A day earlier, May 24, the Senate had voted 73-25 to limit debate on the bill and take a final vote on it by May 26. The Senate bill will next go to conference to be reconciled with HR 4437, a harsh anti-immigrant measure passed by the House last December. The House bill includes no legalization program.

The Senate bill calls for doubling the number of Border Patrol agents over five years, adding 14,000 agents to the existing force of 11,300; building more detention centers to hold immigrants caught at the border; and putting up 370 miles of fencing along the US-Mexico border. Within 18 months, all employers would have to start using an electronic verification system to check work authorization for new hires. Employers would be fined up to $20,000 for each unauthorized employee, and repeat offenders would face prison terms. Another of the bill’s provisions would add carrying fraudulent documents to the list of acts considered “aggravated felonies” under immigration law.

The legalization plan passed by the Senate would require immigrants with less than two years in the US to leave, while those present at least two years but less than five would have to leave temporarily but could seek a work visa to come back. Immigrants in the US longer than five years could stay and eventually apply for permanent legal status if they paid back taxes and fines of at least $3,250, continued working, and learned English and US civics. On May 23, the Senate voted 61-37 against an amendment introduced by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) which would have replaced this three-tiered system with a single plan to legalize undocumented immigrants who have lived in this country since Jan. 1, 2006.

The Senate also approved a “guest worker” program that would allow some 200,000 foreign workers per year to enter the country and ultimately seek permanent legal status. (An amendment to bar the “guest workers” from seeking permanent status was defeated.) The Senate bill includes provisions that would reduce backlogs in family-based immigration, and two measures advocates have fought for in recent years: “AgJobs,” which provides a path to citizenship for undocumented farmworkers; and the “DREAM Act,” which would do the same for students.

On May 24, a day before the bill was passed, advocates said the measure “would create deep divisions within the immigrant community and leave millions of undocumented immigrants in the shadows. The current Senate bill does not reflect the immigration reform called for by millions of immigrant communities marching the streets,” said Sheila Chung of the San Francisco Bay Area Immigrant Rights Coalition.

The House of Representatives passed its version earlier in December 2005 with a Republican-sponsored bill that would make unauthorized presence in the country a felony rather than a civil crime and would require employers to verify all employees’ eligibility to work in the United States by using an electronic database. It would also build a high-tech fence along sections of the southern border, facilitate the enforcement of federal immigration law by local officials, and require detention of all non-Mexican unauthorized immigrants apprehended at or between official ports of entry.

Currently, negotiations to reconcile House and Senate versions of the Bills have been delayed so that House Republicans can conduct hearings on immigration during July and August 2006. The move means that conference committee negotiations on the immigration bills passed by the House and the Senate will not begin until September at the earliest, creating additional doubts as to whether Congress will be able to pass immigration legislation this year.

– Immigration News Briefs published by Nicaragua Solidarity Network

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