Breaking Down the Menendez Immigration Bill
Change.org links to a good summary of the 874-page comprehensive immigration reform bill Sens. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) introduced Wednesday. The bill includes paths to legalization for non-criminal illegal immigrants in the country, provided they pay a fine and application fees. But first it focuses on increased enforcement at borders, inside the country and in workplaces.
Although the bill may not go anywhere, it contains some measures that could be aimed at finding bipartisan support, including its first section on border enforcement. Republicans have made a call for border security a central part of their message on immigration reform. From the summary:
- Expands Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) staffing, in line with this review.
- Improves training and accountability for DHS border and immigration officers.
- Enhances cooperation with Canada and Mexico, as well as local law enforcement agencies, to improve border security and coordinate crime fighting.
The bill specifically places immigration in the hands of federal authorities, clarifying the legality of state immigration enforcement efforts such as Arizona’s SB 1070 immigration law.
The next section focuses on interior enforcement, attempting to make the system less exploitable and more humane toward legal and illegal immigrants:
- Requires DHS to track the departure of noncitizens to ensure that individuals do not overstay their visas.
- Denies “visa waiver” privileges to countries whose citizens attempt to overstay visas.
- Refines existing law on illegal entry, illegal reentry and voluntary departure of noncitizens to ensure enforcement of those provisions and heighten penalties for those who commit serious offenses. [...]
- Improves detention conditions to meet basic standards; expands secure alternatives to detention.
- Ends the waiting period for refugees and asylees to obtain green cards.
Third is a section on workplace enforcement. Like the blueprint created by Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) this spring, the Menendez-Leahy bill calls for a fraud-resistant, tamper resistant Social Security card:
- Mandates the use of an employment verification system for all employers within five years. [...]
- Requires the Social Security Administration to create a reliable and secure way of verifying Social Security numbers and work authorization.
- Adds criminal penalties for fraud and misuse of Social Security numbers.
The remainder of the bill focuses on reforming the legal immigration system, which both sides agree is badly in need of improvement. The fourth section focuses on how visas will be determined and distributed, including the AgJOBS and Uniting American Families Act to improve the process for farm workers and foreign partners of gay and lesbian citizens:
- Creates a Standing Commission on Immigration, Labor Markets, and the National interest to evaluate labor market and economic conditions and recommend quotas for employment? based visa programs that Congress and the President would act on. [...]
- Creates the structure for a new nonimmigrant visa program (H?2C) to address gaps in existing worker programs that have lead to undocumented migration. [...]
- Significantly expands labor protections in current H?2A, H?2B, H?1B, and L?1 visa programs.
- Ensures that the number of family and employment green cards authorized by Congress do not expire because of processing delays; expands the share of visas that each country can access within existing quotas that limit overall immigration.
- Incorporates the AgJOBS bill, which provides a path to permanent residency for farm workers and revises agricultural employer sponsorship requirements.
- Incorporates the Uniting American Families Act, which allows permanent partners to access the family?based immigration system.
The next step is legalization for some of the 11 million illegal immigrants living in the U.S., which the Obama administration argues is necessary to maintain the economy, communities and families:
- Creates Lawful Prospective Immigrant (LPI) status for non?criminal undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. since 9/30/10. Requires applicants to submit biometric and biographical data, undergo security and law enforcement checks, and pay a $500 fine plus application fees. LPI status lasts four years and can be extended. It includes work authorization and permission to travel abroad; immediate family members are also eligible for status under the program. [...]
- Incorporates the DREAM Act, which creates a path to legal status for individuals who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children, provided they meet age and other criteria and enroll in college or the U.S. military.
In its final section, the bill establishes several programs to better integrate immigrants into American society and provide humanitarian aid to those who cannot enter:
- Enhances programs and policies to help immigrants learn English and U.S. civics, such as: tax credits for teachers of English language learners and businesses who provide such training for their employees; a revamped DHS Office of Citizenship and New Americans to assist with immigrant integration; and grants for states who work to successfully integrate newcomers. [...]
- Evaluates the factors that drive undocumented migration from key sending countries and requires the State Department to develop a strategy to reduce migration pressures.