The immigration reform bill, the handiwork of a bipartisan group of senators known as the Gang of Eight, creates a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11 million immigrants who entered or remained in the country without proper documentation.
Under the bill, illegal immigrants who have resided in the U.S. since Dec. 13, 2011, must seek provisional legal status that allows them to work but renders them ineligible for federal benefits. They must pay a penalty, taxes and a processing fee and can only apply for permanent status after 10 years.
Employers would be required to implement the e-verify system to detect illegal workers. A new visa program for low-skilled workers would be developed and the Department of Homeland Security would be charged with developing a $4.5 billion plan to gain effective control of the porous Southern border with Mexico that halts at least 90 percent of those attempting to enter the country illegally.
The initial mark-up session had its testy moments. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), a virulent foe of the legislation, called for a “rational system” that would “end the lawlessness…with clear rules where the rules are enforced.”
“While the sponsors of the legislation say their bill meets these goals, it does not,” he said. “It was crafted in secret, essentially, by a series of interest groups. Too little concern was expressed for the impact this huge increase in immigration would have on struggling American workers and families. With high unemployment, anemic job growth, and with unprecedented number of workers who have given up and dropped out of the labor force, we must be focusing more on getting jobs for lawful immigrants and Americans.”
Sessions said the bill “actually weakens enforcement requirements already on the books” and fails to demand that the fence along the southern border be completed.
Eventually, Sessions said, the new law would lead to 30 million immigrants being granted legal status, a situation that will “pull down wages and further marginalize the millions of Americans who have been trapped in poverty.”
Schumer disputed the Sessions claims, saying most of those expected to seek legal status “are already here.”
“I await your amendment on what we do with the people who are not here legally now, okay?” he told Sessions.
The problems grow exponentially, Schumer said, if Congress fails to act.
“If the economy goes very well here and the economy goes very badly in Mexico and we do nothing the number of illegal immigrants will increase and could be far beyond what this bill is,” Schumer said. “So again, my main point here is this, the system is broken. To simply point to who we allow to work here and who we allow to come here does not take into account who would be coming here and be allowed to work here if we do nothing.”
The debate continues on May 14.