Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

April 6, 2006

Senate strikes a compromise on immigration legislation

Filed under: Border Security,Congress and HLS — by Christian Beckner on April 6, 2006

I haven’t had enough time over the last two weeks to follow closely all of the machinations of the immigration and border security in the legislation. But apparently key senators have reached a compromise tonight that is likely to pass the Senate on a floor vote tomorrow. The crux of the compromise, from the Washington Post:

The compromise would give illegal immigrants who have been in the United States for more than five years a chance to legalize their status and, eventually, to become U.S. citizens if they pay a fine and meet a series of requirements. Other rules would apply to those who have been in the country less than five years but more than two years. Illegal immigrants who arrived after Jan. 7, 2004, the date of a major Bush speech on immigration reform, would be required to return to their home countries, where they could apply for temporary worker visas….

The compromise also divides illegal immigrants into three categories: long-term, mid-term and short-term. Long-term illegal immigrants — those who have been in the United States for more than five years, would be allowed to adjust to legal status without leaving the country, provided they met a list of requirements and provided proof of their presence and employment through pay stubs, utility bills or other documents.

They must have worked for at least three of the past five years and paid all federal and state taxes. They must also pass national security and criminal background checks, demonstrate knowledge of English and American civics, pay a $2,000 fine and work for an additional six years after enactment of the law “to ensure that their status is not adjusted before those who are already in line,” the fact sheet says.

Mid-term illegal immigrants — those here for less than five years but more than two years — would be eligible for a new temporary worker program, but would have to leave the country and return through a “land port of entry,” one of 16 designated border crossings such as El Paso, Tex. They would be able “to adjust to legal status over time and would be subject to the annual cap on green cards,” according to the fact sheet.

There was no immediate word on what would be done about illegal immigrants from overseas who arrived by plane — as tourists, for example — and overstayed their visas.

Short-term illegal immigrants who arrived in the past two years would get “no benefits” and “would be required to return home.” Only then could they apply for a temporary worker visa.

This might be good politics, but a proposal like this will likely be a nightmare to try to administer. The process of trying to validate these “proof of presence” documents for millions of people would be a herculean task, requiring a huge increase in USCIS’s budget.

Even if the Senate bill passes tomorrow, we’ve still got a long way to go in this debate. The House-Senate conference will be where the real action begins.

Update (4/7): The compromise fell apart last night, and the legislation failed to move forward on two votes this morning. It appears that any passage will have to come after the Easter recess.

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