On Thursday, in a rare bipartisan breakthrough, the Senate Judiciary Committee took steps towards the first major overhaul of U.S. immigration law in two decades.
The plan, which still has many hurdles to overcome when the committee returns after its weeklong recess, would pave the way toward offering a path to permanent residence for the 12 million illegal immigrants now in the country and would create a guest-worker program for unskilled foreigners seeking to immigrate in the future.
The Senate remains nowhere near passing actual legislation; the floor debate is expected to be highly contentious. If an immigration reform bill emerges, it will have to be reconciled with a House measure (HR4437) with tough border-control provisions.
The clock was running out on the Senate Judiciary Committee this week, and with it the chances for a meaningful overhaul of the nation's immigration laws. After weeks of work, the committee members faced a rigid deadline to get a bill ready before next week's recess. But about all they had agreed on were various ways to tighten the borders. It was increasingly likely that Congress's message to 12 million illegal immigrants would end up being this: Thanks for the help — now get out.
But in a startling pivot, so sharp you could almost hear it, a bipartisan consensus emerged in the hearing room. Senator Arlen Specter, the committee's chairman, endorsed the principle behind an earlier bill sponsored by Senators John McCain and Edward Kennedy: that illegal immigrants who met strict criteria and paid fines and back taxes should have a path to permanent residency and citizenship.
Mr. Specter said he was all for that, as long as the country first cleared up the backlog of three million foreigners seeking to come here through legal channels. The panel also neared an agreement on a related proposal to allow foreign guest workers to enter legally and earn permanent status. Mr. Specter said he wanted a comprehensive bill ready when Congress reconvened on March 27, the deadline set by the Senate majority leader, Bill Frist,..
Apparently the idea that comprehensive immigration reform might actually go to the Senate floor was enough to force Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (Rep-TN) to unveiled on Friday his own enforcement only immigration proposal. The "Securing America's Borders Act" (S.2454) combines most of the enforcement elements of the House bill, HR4437, that are targeted at immigrants and the humanitarian groups that help them, along with greater penalties for employers that hire undocumented workers.
(more below the fold)
tags: immigration, HR4437, Senate Judiciary
The Frist bill would:
- Require all employers to verify the identity and immigration status of their employees through an electronic system.
- Assess civil penalties of between $500 and $20,000 against employers for each illegal immigrant they hire and criminal penalties of up to $20,000 per illegal immigrant hired and up to six months in jail for engaging in a pattern of employing illegal workers.
As far as the bills effects on immigrants, Frist's bill would mirror HR4437 in regards to:
- The mandatory detention of all immigrants caught within 100 miles of the border
- The reclassification of any and all immigration violations as "Aggravated Felonies"
- The removal of judicial review for many immigration matters
- The creation of a new crime of "unlawful presence" that would make all undocumented immigrants felons
- Mandatory detention for many immigration violations
- Expedited removal
Expansion of the range of crimes that would allow for "indefinite dentention"
The Frist bill, like the House bill passed last December makes no provisions for a guest worker program or a path to legalization for the 12 mil undocumented immigrants already living and working in the US.
When the full Senate convenes to take up the immigration issue it will be interesting to see how far Mr. Frist will get with proposed legislation. This is something we must stay aware and on top off.