“We have a right, and duty, to maintain and secure our borders, and to keep our country safe and prosperous. As a nation founded, built and sustained by immigrants we also have a responsibility to harness the power of that tradition in a balanced way that secures a more prosperous future for America.”
“We have always welcomed newcomers to the United States and will continue to do so. But in order to qualify for the honor and privilege of eventual citizenship, our laws must be followed. The world depends on America to be strong — economically, militarily and ethically. The establishment of a stable, just and efficient immigration system only supports those goals.”
“As a nation, we have the right and responsibility to make our borders safe, to establish clear and just rules for seeking citizenship, to control the flow of legal immigration, and to eliminate illegal immigration, which in some cases has become a threat to our national security.”
“All parts of this Act are premised on the right and need of the United States to achieve these goals, and to protect its borders and maintain its sovereignty.”
These are the opening lines to S. 744, The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act which recently passed through the Senate in a unique bipartisan support which saw “The Gang of Eight” [Chuck Schumer (D-NY), John McCain (R-AZ), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Robert Menendez (D-NM), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ)] come together and draft this immigration bill (commonly called The Schumer/McCain Immigration Reform Bill).
If enacted by the House of Representatives this Bill will become the most sweeping modernization covering immigration into the United States in decades. A brief rundown of S. 744 reveals that it calls for much stricter enforcement in areas of border control while loosening but not speeding up the arena of documenting those seeking legal entrance to the United States and will give a straighter path to citizenship for those already in the country, even those who entered by illegal means.
Even before the House would pass this bill, which may not be likely in its current form, the bill allows for some parts of the legalization process to begin almost immediately, including a bit called the RPI-Registered Provisional Immigrant program. RPI lets those in the U.S. illegally to become lawful and permanent residents of the country when registered through the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
S. 744 requires the implementation of an additional 700 miles of fencing, and in certain highly sensitive areas, double-fencing; as well as, the hiring, training and deployment of over 38,000 border patrol agents by July 2017.
The bill will fully institute and enforce the E-Verify Employment Verification System to ensure that employees are adhering to federal hiring practices of immigrants and carries with it stiff penalties and even imprisonment for those violating E-Verify specifications.
Those already registered under the DREAM and AgJobs Act are automatically incorporated into S. 744’s RPI program and become eligible to receive legal and permanent residency status and the not so swift road to citizenship.
Some aspects of the Schumer/McCain Immigration Act will go into effect prior to House passage, some immediately after and other sections, such as the Family and Employment based areas will be instituted gradually over time to ensure that the immigration services and DHS does’t become overwhelmed . Those in America on student visas and graduate from any U.S. university with a degree in the sciences or any related field deemed important to market demand, the well being and development of U.S. resources and national security may be granted a faster path to legal, permanent resident status, if that is their desire and they pass certain security checks.
Other areas S. 744 addresses and tries to repair over the current immigration policy is how to better handle and enforce America’s court processes concerning the detention, deportation or imprisonment standards as it relates to illegal immigrants caught within the borders of the United States of America. This bill, while tending to streamline current policy also increases the penalty for certain criminal activities done by illegal immigrants on American soil and for those citizens of the U.S. who engage in illegal transport of said illegals across the border into the territorial domain of the United States of America.
As stated, S. 744 received bipartisan support in the U.S. Senate and passed with an overwhelming margin with a 68 for and 32 against vote. Senators Bob Corker (R-TN) and John Hoeven (R-ND) amended the bill with their Border Surge Amendment which also passed with a majority on the Senate floor. Now the Bill must face a majority Republican House of Representatives and while Speaker of the House John Boehner, (R-OH) is adamant that immigration reform is a must he and many in the Republican party are not convinced S. 744 is the bill that will get the job done, at least not in its current form.
So, what concerns certain powerful and influential Republican House members that would give them pause over the tenants of S. 744?
Many Republicans in the House object to the idea that an illegal immigrant residing in this country will be given any kind of path to legal residency regardless of their length of time in the country because they simply have broken the law and showed themselves untrustworthy of the faith and trust of the legal residents to be law-abiding residents once their illegal hurdle has been jumped. The thinking of these lawmakers is that if these immigrants were willing to supplant the laws of the land as illegals then once they are assured of resident status they may see it as an opportunity to continue their impropriety. Whether this can be seen as a rational view is debatable but it is still one of the main concerns for some House Republicans even though statistically crimes committed by those in this country illegally are much lower than the overall population of the country. It should also be noted that 9/11 was caused by legal documented workers in this country from Saudi Arabia, not illegal aliens.
Another sore spot in the ruling as it stands is the Senate’s rejection of Orrin Hatch’s idea to make it a requirement for those registering under the RPI provision to submit to mandatory DNA testing to allow the FBI to compare samples taken with their database of known criminals. Those against such an idea says it smacks of intrusion to a person’s right to privacy since normal citizens are not required under Constitutional protection to submit to such an invasive process and they would be correct in that assessment.
Some Republicans in both the House and Senate have objected to what they have called a sweeping admission of all illegal immigrants into legality regardless of how long they have been in the country undocumented. However, this is a false misconception as S. 744 is very clear that undocumented aliens are able to apply for RPI only if they have been in the U.S. illegally since December 31, 2011, have not been convicted of any kind of felony or a total of three or more misdemeanors, willing to pay assessed taxes, have passed an FBI/DHS background check, pay immigration fees and an additional $1,000 penalty fee for entering this country as an illegal in the first place. Also, all immigrants must meet current Federal laws as well as each State’s individual laws governing immigration into their territorial districts. The spouse and children of a registry to RPI are eligible for documentation also if they meet the above criteria. Importantly, anyone attempting legal registration through RPI that have been found to have been compliant in terrorists acts in any country will not be admitted but will be apprehended and imprisoned, put on trial or deported to the jurisdiction of the country for which they are guilty of terrorists acts.
Some Republicans and even a few Democrats have objected to the bill stating their concern over those entering through the means offered by S. 744 will become a drain on the national economy, citing a projected upswing in those on welfare, food stamps, unemployment benefits and medicare or a drain on healthcare provided by the Affordable Healthcare Act (ObamaCare). Again, S. 744 adequately addresses these concerns by stating that those designated RPI WILL NOT be eligible for healthcare under ObamaCare, will not receive medicare or unemployment benefits and are not eligible for housing or food stamp assistance. Those who received a Social Security number prior to October 2004 will continue to be eligible for earned social security benefits even though their employment was deemed unlawful because they did pay into the system.
Republicans feel that the length of RPI is too long, while others in the House believe it to be not long enough. However, the bill gives RPI status for a term not to exceed six years with renewal granted if the RPI immigrant has remained gainfully employed during that period of time with no more than a 60 day gap between jobs to allow for job searches. One bone of contention from Republicans is the idea that RPI immigrants can apply for a green card, or Lawful Permanent Residence, after 10 years of “clean” RPI status. They will, however, have to “get at the back of the line” to ensure no favoritism over those before them. S. 744 does allow for some exemptions to these policies. They include children under the age of 21 years who are usually brought to the country illegally through no fault of their own, those with mental disabilities or physical impairment of a “harsh” nature, students enrolled in a school full time, those on medical or maternity leave from their employment, and those under extreme hardships (definition of which is not spelled out in the bill and it is assumed is at the discretion of the DHS).
Those wishing to continue their RPI status after six years and before seeking Lawful Permanent Residence after 10 years must undergo another FBI-DHS background check (which includes another round of fingerprinting, one-on-one interviews with a member of the FBI or DHS and other checks determined by the federal government), pay any owed taxes, and pay the remainder of the initial un-paid portion of the $1,000 RPI penalty fee. If these and other unspecified requirements are not met at the time of renewal, applicant is subject to arrest, trial and possible deportation.
Once an RPI immigrant is granted a green card after 10 years they are eligible to become naturalized citizens of the United States of America after an additional 3 years. In other words going the illegal route and then applying for RPI then Lawful Permanent Residence to eventual naturalization will take a total of 13 years while getting in line and going the fully legal route only takes 5 years.
The objection of most Republicans and the scant few Democrats over S. 744 appears to be nothing more than political posturing with something that needs serious debate. It is no secret that many Republicans in the House and Senate simply want no road to legitimacy made available for those who have entered the country illegally. Senators Grassely of Iowa and Sessions from Alabama have made that abundantly clear with their combined filing of 126 amendments to the Senate bill that ultimately passed. Their proposals have been grossly un-American and even went as far as to try and rip families apart because of the illegal status of one or more of the parents. Yet, despite the obvious contention between them all, the Senate was able to come together in a bipartisan way and get a bill ready for the House to consider that is leveled, fair, just, strict in its protection of the country’s borders and yet continues as a beacon for those who still see America as that shining city on a hill and a country proudly founded and built by immigrants.
There are a lot of good things about S. 744. Yes, like all bills made by human beings there are flaws and weak points and those are the things that the House should be concentrating on. It is my hope that Congressman Boehner will show his leadership on this all important piece of legislation and find a way to reach across the current great divide and bring to the country a bi-partisan answer to those few weakness found in S. 744 while maintaining the teeth of all its strengths and positive elements. When you have such divergent groups such as Unions and Evangelicals, for example, agreeing that this bill is a good thing then you have likely found what feels right for America and S. 744, The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act; feels right at this juncture for the United States of America.