Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Sweeping immigration reform bill will offer full legal status to millions

Experts describe proposals as 'surprisingly generous' with amnesty for some migrants who have already been deported

Millions of undocumented migrants to the US will be given full legal status under sweeping immigration reforms, due to be published on Tuesday by the Senate, that will even include family members who have already been deported.

A summary of the bill, seen by the Guardian, is "surprisingly generous", according to immigration experts who say it has the potential for transforming the lives of the estimated 11 million people currently living in the legal shadows. A further 400,000 people are deported each year, and about half of these –with no criminal convictions and already out of the country – may also be eligible under an unexpected clause that may prove controversial among Republicans in the House of Representatives.

The bill, agreed by a bipartisan group of eight senators, is perhaps the most tangible consequence of President Obama's second term-election win. Republican leaders have concluded they need to do more to reach out to voters in Latino and other minority groups.

The Republican senators John McCain and Marco Rubio will be among those publishing the full bill later on Tuesday, although they chose to cancel a scheduled press conference following the explosions in Boston.

The publication of the bill follows weeks of backroom negotiations to square off conflicting interest groups such as labour unions and big-business lobbyists, but the proposals retain much of the radicalism outlined by Obama when he first announced it as a second-term priority.

Among the other key measures are:

• $1.5bn to look at fencing parts of the southern border with Mexico, possibly by the National Guard.

• A requirement that border security reaches 90% before legalisation begins.

• A new quota system for lower-skilled workers, particularly farmhands.

• The end of quotas for higher-skilled workers.

• Funding to speed up the 20-year backlog in family applications.

By far the most significant impact will be felt by millions of Latino and Asian families already living in the US, particularly the so-called "dreamers" – the foreign-born children of undocumented migrants who have grown up in the US but who currently lack legal status and can be deported at any time.

Edward Alden, an immigration expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, said: "The question is how many of these people will come forward, as they have lived for years being scared of government. It looks like they will because the cut-off is quite generous: they only have to show they have been here since 31 December 2011."

People deported before this date will be able apply if they can show they have close family members in the US and no criminal record. Once granted the so-called Registered Provisional Immigrant Status, they will not be eligible for welfare benefits but will be able apply to transfer to the existing green card status eventually.

Other than the surprise amnesty for deportees, much of the detail of the proposed legislation was in line with expectations among Washington insiders – but the scale of the effort still surprised some.

"There is nothing in here that looks like an effort to score political points – which is often not the case in Washington," said Alden. "It looks like a fair attempt to respond to the different interests."

Union groups fought particularly hard to limit any flood of new low-wage immigrants into the still-weak US labour market, and make sure that new system of W-visas would not be seen as "guest worker" system. The bill proposes that W-visa recipients could eventually become citizens and would have work rights for their family members.

The US technology industry has also fought hard for an end to caps for highly skilled migrants, which is said to be hampering employers, particularly in Silicon Valley.

The legislation will go before the Senate judiciary committee on Friday, although it remains to be seen whether the House speaker, John Boehner, will allow a sufficient number of moderates in the lower chamber to vote in favour.

"I am optimistic," added Alden. "Republican leaders recognise they have to act on this."

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Dan Roberts 16 Apr, 2013

Source: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/apr/16/us-immigration-reform-bill-citizenship
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