U.S. Immigration Bill Could Exclude Many

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A bipartisan immigration bill soon to be introduced in the Senate could exclude hundreds of thousands of immigrants here illegally from ever becoming U.S. citizens, according to a Senate aide with knowledge of the proposals.

The bill would bar anyone who arrived in the U.S. after Dec. 31, 2011, from applying for legal status and ultimately citizenship, according to the aide, who spoke on condition because the proposals have not been made public.

It also would require applicants to document that they were in the country before Dec. 31, 2011, have a clean criminal record and show enough employment or financial stability that they’re likely to stay off welfare.

Those requirements could exclude hundreds of thousands of the 11 million immigrants in the U.S. illegally from the path to citizenship envisioned by the bill, the aide said.

Although illegal immigration to the U.S. has been dropping, many tens of thousands still arrive each year, so the cutoff date alone could exclude a large number of people. That may come as a disappointment to immigrant rights groups that had been hoping that anyone here as of the date of enactment of the bill could be able to become eligible for citizenship.

But Republicans in the immigration negotiating group had sought strict criteria on legal enforcement and border security as the price for their support for a path to citizenship, which is still opposed by some as amnesty.

The new details emerged as negotiators reached agreement on all the major elements of the sweeping legislation.

After months of closed-door negotiations, the “Gang of Eight” senators, equally divided between the two parties, had no issues left to resolve in person, and no more negotiating sessions were planned. Remaining details were left to aides, who were at work completing drafts of the bill.

“All issues that rise to the member level have been dealt with,” Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a statement Thursday. “All that is left is the drafting.”

Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois said the bill probably would be introduced on Tuesday.

The landmark legislation would overhaul legal immigration programs, require all employers to verify the legal status of their workers, greatly boost border security and put millions of immigrants living in the U.S. illegally on a 13-year path to citizenship. A top second-term priority for President Barack Obama, it would enact the biggest changes to U.S. immigration law in more than a quarter-century.

Deals gelled over the past two days on a new farm-worker program and visas for high-tech workers, eliminating the final substantive disputes on the legislation.

Next will come the uncertain public phase as voters and other lawmakers get a look at the measure. Already, some conservatives have made it clear their opposition will be fierce.

Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., complained that the bill would ensure that millions get amnesty but border enforcement never happens.

“This is also why it is so troubling that (Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.) has rejected the GOP request for multiple hearings and that members of the Gang of Eight have publicly announced their intention to oppose any amendments,” Sessions said in a statement Thursday. “To proceed along these lines is tantamount to an admission that the bill is not workable and will not withstand public scrutiny.”

Pro-immigrant activists also were gearing up for a fight even as they expressed optimism that this time, Congress will succeed in passing an immigration overhaul bill. Many of those pushing for the legislation were involved in the last major immigration fight, in 2007, when a bill came close on the Senate floor but ultimately failed.

“I think it’s a pretty remarkable breakthrough that eight ideologically diverse senators are working so well together on such a challenging issue,” said Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, a group advocating for an overhaul of U.S. immigration policy. “And I think the fact that they’ve come up with a bill they can all support and defend suggests that it’s the heart of a bill that will finally pass into law.”

Once the legislation is introduced, it will be considered by the Senate Judiciary Committee, which has scheduled a hearing for Wednesday and likely will begin to amend and vote on the bill the week of May 6. From there, the bill would move to the Senate floor.

Both in committee and on the floor, the bill could change in unpredictable ways as senators try to amend it from the left and the right. The Gang of Eight — Schumer, Durbin, and Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., Marco Rubio, R-Fla., Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., Robert Menendez, D-N.J., and Michael Bennet, D-Colo. — have discussed banding together to defeat amendments that could significantly alter the legislation.

Even more uncertain, though, is the Republican-led House, where a bipartisan group is also crafting an immigration bill, though timing of its release is uncertain. Many conservatives in the House remain opposed to citizenship for immigrants who have been living in the U.S. illegally.

- AP

Obama’s Immigration Reform Push to Begin This Month

obama_13The Obama administration will begin a push for immigration reform this month, the Huffington Post quoted an unnamed administration official as saying in an article on Jan. 2. The specifics of the potential bill are far from clear, however. Democrats have expressed a desire for a bill for comprehensive reform, from immigration assistance for undocumented workers to policy changes seeking to promote foreign investment in U.S. housing. Republicans have also indicated a willingness to change certain immigration laws; however, it is less clear what areas of immigration reform they are willing to look at, and “comprehensive reform” may not ultimately pass, replaced by laws targeting only certain areas.

The White House expects to work on a bill for the next several months before introducing it to Congress. A group of U.S. Senators are also attempting to form a bipartisan bill regarding immigration reform.

High-skilled workers

One area likely to receive attention is green cards for high-skilled workers. While the 112th Congress is now ended, there was a late push in the lame-duck session introduced by House Republicans that would have replaced the random lottery for green cards and instead given them to high-skilled workers. There is currently a backlog of high-skilled foreign workers seeking green cards. U.S. companies are seeking these workers because they cannot find qualified U.S. citizens to fill the positions.

While businesses support expanding the ability for companies to obtain high-skilled workers, some Democrats opposed the measure, as it would ultimately lower the total number of green cards issued to immigrants because there are not 50,000 high-skilled worker applications yearly, once the backlog is ended.

Changes in the law continue

While any comprehensive reform is at least months away, if it ever comes at all, that is not to say immigration laws are static. For example, on Jan. 2 federal authorities created a new rule that will prevent long periods of separation for certain families seeking green cards to remain in the U.S.

Currently, some undocumented immigrants who marry a U.S. citizen or who have a close relative who is a U.S. citizen must return to their home country before applying for a green card. However, this makes for situations in which families must be separated for years before reuniting in the U.S. The new rule will allow the undocumented immigrant to prove extreme hardship if separated from immediate family, potentially reducing the wait time to months rather than years.

Immigration law attorneys can help

U.S. immigration laws are shifting and complicated. Immigrants seeking green cards or temporary work visas should contact an experienced immigration law attorney to help them navigate the ever-changing landscape of immigration to the U.S.

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illinois-dlIllinois moved a step closer Tuesday to becoming the next state to allow illegal immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses after House lawmakers approved a bill requiring proof of state residency and a photograph. The House voted 65-46 in favor of bill SB957, which now goes to Gov. Pat Quinn. Quinn has said he will sign the measure.

Supporters, including a bipartisan coalition with former Republican Gov. Jim Edgar and Democratic Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, said allowing Illinois’ estimated 250,000 illegal immigrants of driving age to get licenses is an important for safety.

“This bill means safer roads for Illinois, this is going to save lives,” state Rep. Elizabeth Hernandez, a Cicero Democrat who sponsored the bill, said after the vote. “It’s the bottom line, this is a safety issue.”

“I commend the General Assembly for working together to ensure all residents can obtain an official driver license, regardless of their immigration status,” Mayor Emanuel said in a statment. “I applaud legislators from both sides of the aisle for doing what is right by acting on this critical legislation to make our City and State more welcoming to immigrants, while also making our roads safer by requiring all drivers to be trained, tested and insured.”

Washington and New Mexico currently allow illegal immigrants to obtain licenses, Utah allows permits and Connecticut officials said this week that some young illegal immigrants could apply if they qualify for a federal program. A number of other states are considering proposals.

“It’s historical for the immigrant community. It’s a long time waiting. I’ve been trying to pass this legislation for 14 years and today we made history,” Rep. Edward Acevedo, a Chicago Democrat who also sponsored bill, said on the House floor.

The Illinois legislation would make immigrants who drive to work and school eligible for temporary licenses already issued to foreign-born visitors to the U.S. The licenses couldn’t be used to buy a firearm, register to vote or board a plane, and law enforcement officials wouldn’t be allowed to use them to target illegal immigrants for deportation.

The Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, the state’s largest immigrant advocacy group, said uninsured illegal immigrant drivers cause $64 million in damage claims each year, according to the coalition’s calculation based on federal and state figures. That’s an expense covered by ratepayers’ increased premiums. Advocates say better-trained and licensed drivers mean safer roads.

Opposition to the measure in Illinois has been scarce, though some Republicans early on called it an immigration reform measure that should be left up to the federal government. Others said they feared the licenses opened the door to more fraud.

Some illegal immigrants themselves have said they might hesitate to apply because doing so means handing over an address and photo to the state government. The photo database includes facial recognition software. – Associated Press