The United States has relied on the important contributions of immigrants since our founding. Senate Democrats understand that our nation was built by immigrants and continues to be a place of innovation and advancement due to the skills and hard work of immigrants and their families. Immigrants have always been crucial in securing America’s future prosperity and will continue to significantly contribute to our growth.
In April, Senators Reid, Durbin, Schumer, Feinstein, and Menendez introduced a commonsense legislative proposal, based on bipartisan negotiations, to tackle the great challenges in our current immigration system. It is widely accepted that our immigration system is broken and in need of reform. Today, there are an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States and our current means of enforcement fail to deter illegal immigration. Despite the efforts of Senate Democrats, the majority of Republicans chose to block the advancement of comprehensive immigration reform in the 109th and 110th Congresses in favor of the status quo. By failing to address these complex issues, Republicans have left our country with the same problems that have plagued our broken immigration system for years.
Instead of focusing on a border-only strategy, the proposal includes multiple solutions to address the complex problems presented by our immigration system. The plan has four basic pillars: 1) strengthening border security and interior enforcement of the law; 2) requiring employers to use biometric Social Security-type cards to ensure proof of eligibility for employment; 3) reforming the legal immigration system to encourage the best and brightest to come to the United States to contribute to our economy and to reunite families, and 4) requiring undocumented immigrants to register, pass background checks, pay fines and back taxes and apply for permanent residency. These solutions work together to ensure that our immigration system adequately addresses the multitude of problems that have led to the current failures.
The recent law in Arizona highlights the need for federal action. In April,Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed a new law requiring that state police detain individuals they suspect of being in the country without documentation. The new law makes it a crime to be “present on any public or private land” in Arizona while lacking appropriate authorization to be in the country. These new provisions have raised numerous constitutional concerns, including the risk of racial profiling. In May, Senator Schumer sent a letter to Governor Brewer asking her to delay the implementation of the law for one year so that Congress has an opportunity to appropriately reform the immigration system. Nearly a dozen other states are now considering laws to address the immigration system in the absence of federal action. [Christian Science Monitor, 5/10/10]
Bolstering Border Security and Interior Enforcement
Strengthening border security. Building on continuing improvements, the legislative proposal includes measures to strengthen and secure our borders. In the last five years, the number of Border Patrol agents has doubled to more than 20,000 agents stationed along the United States border protecting our nation. [Department of Homeland Security, Strengthening Enforcement of our Border Security and Immigration Laws] This is the highest number than in any time in the 85 year history of the Border Patrol. This proposal would secure the border by providing Border Patrol with substantially more personnel, infrastructure, and technology to prevent unlawful attempts to enter the United States. Proper resource allocation to protect our borders, in coordination with a variety of other forward-thinking enforcement strategies, would fill existing gaps in our border enforcement capabilities.
Bolstering interior enforcement efforts. The proposal would expand interior enforcement efforts to include additional resources for Immigration and Customs Enforcement to deport criminal illegal immigrants, confront employers who ignore immigration laws and address visa overstays. New penalties for smugglers, sex offenders, terrorists and those who commit serious visa fraud also are included.
Addressing gaps in visa enforcement. Roughly 40 to 50 percent of undocumented immigrants entered the country legally while on a visa, but remained unlawfully in the United States after their visa expired. The proposal would address violations of visa exit requirements by completing an entry-exit system to track those visiting our country on legal visas. Too many individuals are able to stay in our country illegally by overstaying their visas. This system would address the gap in enforcement by monitoring the status of visitors with visas. [Pew Hispanic Center, Modes of Entry for the Unauthorized Migrant Population, 5/22/06]
Enhancing Employment Verification
Stopping employers from exploiting and undercutting American workers. When employers are allowed to break the law and hire undocumented workers, their decisions impact all Americans by suppressing wages and permitting unsafe workplaces. By ensuring that all employers and workers follow the law the proposal would not only help American workers; it would also increase our tax revenues and decrease the deficit.
Providing employers with a verification system to facilitate positive identification of employees. Individuals outside our country will always be attracted to the job opportunities available in the United States. In order to meaningfully reduce future illegal immigration, Senate Democrats understand we need to create a tough, fair, and effective employment verification system to deter illegal immigration and hold employers accountable for who they hire.
The proposal would require employees to obtain a new, fraud-proof version of their current Social Security card. The Biometric Enrollment, Locally-stored Information, and Electronic Verification of employment (BELIEVE) System would be used by employers to verify the status of employees. This card would include a unique identifier to prevent undocumented workers from obtaining employment in the United States.
Ensuring information security. The proposal includes provisions to ensure that the information stored on the card would be protected and secure. The identifying information would only be stored on each individual card – there would be no government database containing the information of all American workers. This card would merely be a high-tech version of the Social Security card.
Punishing employers for knowingly hiring an unauthorized worker. Effective penalties must be established and enforced to deter illegal employment – the primary incentive for undocumented immigrants. The proposal would address problems with “bad apple” employers that support and encourage the illegal workforce and allow law-abiding employers to ensure that their workforce is lawfully present.
Enhanced employment verification will boost our economy. By implementing a meaningful identification system, the federal government could decrease future illegal immigration. Increasing the number of document workers will significantly increase government revenues by ensuring that all American workers pay their fair share of taxes.
Promoting Economic Security With Strategic Incentives for Workers and Employers
Permitting highly-skilled workers to contribute their talents to our American companies. The current immigration system does not adequately address the demand for high-skilled workers from outside the United States to work in businesses located here. The proposal would allow foreign students with an advanced degree from a U.S. college or university in the fields of science, technology, engineering, or mathematics, and who have an offer of employment from a U.S. employer in a field related to their degree, to receive a green card. This would allow the United States to encourage the best and brightest to stay in our country to contribute to our future economic prosperity. This incentive would encourage future inventors and entrepreneurs to achieve their greatest accomplishments in the United States.
Addressing the current needs of the labor market for lower-skilled workers. Senate Democrats understand that the current unemployment situation demands appropriate guidelines to ensure that businesses only hire foreign workers when American workers are unavailable. The proposal would allow employers to hire immigrants only if they can show they tried unsuccessfully to recruit an American worker to fill a position; allow more lower-skilled workers to enter the United States when our unemployment rate is low; and adjust how many foreign workers are allowed to enter when unemployment is high and economic indicators demand a reduction.
Promoting economic growth and competitiveness under the guidance of the Commission on Employment-Based Immigration. The proposal would create this new Commission to study our nation’s employment-based immigration system. Through this study, the Commission would recommend policies to boost our economy while minimizing job displacement, wage depression and unauthorized employment.
Facilitating family reunification through updated classifications and definitions. There are long waits, sometimes as long as 10 to 20 years, for those who apply to come to the United States to work or join their families. This proposal would work to reduce family-based visa backlogs to promote family reunification. Spouses and children of lawful permanent residents would be classified as “immediate relatives” to promote the efficient reunification of families.
Requiring Undocumented Immigrants to Register with Tough, Fair and Practical Steps Toward Legalization
Republican demands for mass deportation are impractical and unrealistic. It would be inefficient and irrational to attempt to remove the estimated 11 million individuals living in the United States with no legal status. Instead, the proposal includes rational and realistic alternatives that, in coordination, would effectively secure our borders and fix our broken system.
The Democratic proposal would require undocumented individuals to register, pass criminal background checks, pay fines and back taxes and if eligible, complete other requirements to earn legal status. This tough and fair approach will encourage undocumented immigrants to come forward and get right with the law while ensuring that appropriate sanctions are applied.
Senate Democrats will continue to work with Republicans to gather support for this proposal. This year we hope to move forward with comprehensive immigration reform to correct our broken system. We will advance our economic and national security by addressing the current problems and setting clear goals and priorities for future immigration to boost our economy and strengthen our workforce.