The immigration reform bill presented by the “Gang of Eight,” a bipartisan group of senators who crafted the 844-page legislation to remedy the highly politicized issue of approximately 11 million undocumented residents within U.S. borders, passed with overwhelming support by a tally of 82-15 in the Senate chamber.
Upon further review, the 20-page outline of the “Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013” reads more like a comprehensive plan to combat border violators than a proposal to allow undocumented immigrants to legally integrate into America’s socioeconomic framework.
With a dominant focus on border security and a dissuasive, bureaucratized system of provisions and fees, the bill faces many challenges in encouraging legal migration to the states.
The policies set forth by the bill grant undocumented immigrants the right to apply for provisional immigrant status contingent on a few grounds. First, the Homeland Security Secretary is tasked with implementing a strategy, 180 days after bill passage, which will combat illegal entry across the U.S.’s four southern border states, particularly in “high risk areas” — areas where more than 30,000 apprehensions occur each year.
Once a strategy is devised, $4.5 billion will be appropriated to ramp up border security, build double- and triple-layered border fences and increase border violation prosecutions three-fold.
Only then can an undocumented immigrant begin a one-year application process, which costs $500 plus taxes, which may grant him or her Registered Provisional Immigrant (RPI) status. Individuals retaining this status are not eligible for any federal benefits, such as Social Security or Medicare, yet they would be eligible to work and travel outside the U.S.
This status must be renewed every six years, with all fees due upon renewal, until a timespan of 10 years has been reached. At that time, the individual may apply for a green card and then to be a legal resident, barring a $1,000 fee and several other requirements, including regular employment and knowledge of civics and English.
Additionally, those who entered the U.S. before 2012 and before turning 16 and who have earned a U.S. high school diploma or GED — known as “DREAM Act-eligible individuals” or “DREAMers” — would have their fees waived and can obtain a green card and become citizens in five years.
The bill tends to favor professional and merit-based non-immigrant visas, depending on the circumstances of the individual.
Visa allotment is determined by quotas, though certain provisions stipulate that professional work visa issuance may be subject to employer fines, as determined by the Department of Labor, if businesses hire more than 30 percent foreign workers.
A new class of visa, the “W Visa,” is introduced to allow foreign low-skilled workers an opportunity to be employed within the states, though much like professional visas, registration fees and quotas would likely dissuade employers from hiring such workers.
The bill’s tone sets the standard for an uninviting immigration and foreign worker policy, littered with contingencies, stipulations and uncertainties, contrasted by a seemingly more aggressive punitive system against undocumented immigrants. Given these choices, it seems unlikely that any of these measures will help solve illegal immigration in the U.S.