A look at the immigration overhaul bill now before the Senate, and details of a compromise border security amendment proposed Thursday by GOP Sens. John Hoeven of North Dakota and Bob Corker of Tennessee. The amendment has been agreed to by Democratic and Republican authors of the bill and is expected to be voted on within the next few days:
In the underlying bill:
—The bill sets goals of 100 percent surveillance of the border with Mexico and 90 percent of would-be crossers caught or turned back.
—Within six months of enactment of the bill, the Homeland Security Department must develop a border security plan to achieve those goals, including the use of drones, additional agents and other approaches; and develop a separate plan to identify where more fencing is needed.
—If the goals of a 90 percent effectiveness rate and continuous surveillance on the border are not met within five years, a Southern Border Security Commission would be established with border-state governors and others to determine how to achieve them.
—Before anyone in the U.S. illegally can get a new provisional legal status, the border security and border fencing plans must be in place. Before they can get permanent residency, the plans must be substantially completed, and a new entry-exit system must also be implemented at U.S. seaports and airports to track people coming and going. A mandatory system for employers to check workers’ legal status must also be in place.
—About 3,500 new customs agents would be hired.
—The National Guard would be deployed to the border to build fencing and checkpoints and perform other tasks.
—Funding would be provided to increase border-crossing prosecutions and to create more border patrol stations.
In the Corker-Hoeven amendment:
—The amendment adds 20,000 new Border Patrol agents, doubling the deployment along the U.S.-Mexico border.
—It calls for 700 miles of fencing to be completed — 350 more than in the underlying bill.
—Instead of calling on the Homeland Security Department to develop a border security plan, the amendment includes details on what the plan must contain. This includes a dozen additional surveillance drones and an array of other high-tech devices to monitor the border with Mexico, including cameras and observation towers, seismic imaging and thermal imaging, and an airborne radar system initially used by the military.
—No one could get a green card until all these steps are in place. Government officials including the secretaries of Homeland Security and Defense must certify to Congress that the security measures have been implemented.
PATH TO CITIZENSHIP
—The estimated 11 million people living in the U.S. illegally could obtain “registered provisional immigrant status” six months after enactment of the bill as long as:
(1) The Homeland Security Department has developed border security and fencing plans.
(2) They arrived in the U.S. prior to Dec. 31, 2011, and maintained continuous physical presence since then.
(3) They do not have a felony conviction or three or more misdemeanors.
(4) They pay a $500 fine.
—People in provisional legal status could work and travel in the U.S. but would not be eligible for most federal benefits, including health care and welfare.
—The provisional legal status lasts six years and is renewable for another six years for $500.
—People deported for noncriminal reasons can apply to re-enter in provisional status if they have a spouse or child who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, or if they had been brought to the U.S. as a child.
—After 10 years in provisional status, immigrants can seek a green card and lawful permanent resident status if they are current on their taxes and pay a $1,000 fine, have maintained continuous physical presence in the U.S., meet work requirements and learn English. Also the border triggers must have been met, and all people waiting to immigrate through the legal system as of the date of enactment of the legislation must have been dealt with.
—People brought to the country as youths would be able to get green cards in five years, and citizenship immediately thereafter.
—The cap on the H-1B visa program for high-skilled workers would be immediately raised from 65,000 a year to 110,000 a year, with 25,000 more set aside for people with advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering or math from a U.S. school. The cap could go as high as 180,000 a year depending on demand.
—New protections would crack down on companies that use H-1B visas to train workers in the U.S. only to ship them back overseas.
—Immigrants with certain extraordinary abilities, such as professors, researchers, multinational executives and athletes, would be exempted from existing green-card limits. So would graduates of U.S. universities with job offers and degrees in science, technology, engineering or math.
—A startup visa would be made available to foreign entrepreneurs seeking to come to the U.S. to start a company.
—A new merit visa, for a maximum of 250,000 people a year, would award points to prospective immigrants based on their education, employment, length of residence in the U.S. and other considerations. Those with the most points would earn the visas.
—The bill would eliminate the government’s Diversity Visa Lottery Program, which randomly awards 55,000 visas to immigrants from countries with historically low rates of immigration to the United States, so that more visas can be awarded for employment and merit ties.
—A new W visa would allow up to 200,000 low-skilled workers a year into the country for jobs in construction, long-term care, hospitality and other industries.
—A new agriculture worker visa program would be established to replace the existing program. Agriculture workers already here illegally, who’ve worked in the industry at least two years, could qualify in another five years for green cards if they stay in the industry.
—Under current law, U.S. citizens can sponsor spouses, children and siblings to come to the U.S., with limits on some categories. The bill would bar citizens from sponsoring their siblings and would allow them to sponsor married sons and daughters only if those children are under age 31.
—Legal permanent residents can currently sponsor spouses and children, but the numbers are limited. The bill eliminates that limit.
—Within four years, all employers must implement E-Verify, a program to electronically verify their workers’ legal status. As part of that, noncitizens would be required to show photo ID that must match with a photo in the E-Verify system.