National Association of Counties
Washington, D.C.

 Update: Senators unveil bi-partisan immigration reform proposal

By Marilina Sanz
associate legislative director

The bi-partisan, so-called Gang of Eight who have been negotiating a comprehensive immigration reform package over the past few months unveiled their framework for reform Jan. 28.

The framework has four major components: an earned path to citizenship for the approximately 11 million individuals who are in the country illegally; an improved immigration system, which would include reducing family and employer visa backlogs and a new green card program for individuals who have received a master’s or PhD degree in science, technology, engineering or mathematics from an American university; an employment verification system; and an overhaul of the system for hiring low-skilled workers.

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), one of the members of the group, said they hope to have a bill ready for consideration by the Judiciary Committee in March and hope to pass it by late spring or early summer.

In general, the principles coincide with long-standing NACo policy.

The section of the framework that is both the most complicated and the most sensitive concerns the path to legalization, which takes a multiple-tiered approach. First, a series of border security measures would be put into effect. As these measures are being implemented, undocumented individuals would need to register with the government, pass a background check and pay fine and/or back taxes in order to receive probationary legal status.

Once the enforcement measures are completed, individuals with the probationary status would need to pass a second background check, learn English and civics and demonstrate a work history in order to obtain lawful permanent residency, or a green card, which is the next step before citizenship eligibility. Additionally, they will not get their green card until all other individuals who are waiting for a green card has received one. There are two exceptions to these requirements: individuals who entered the country as minor children and those working without legal status in the agricultural industry.

In addition to Schumer, other members of the mmigration reform effort include Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.)