National Association of Counties
Washington, D.C.

 Complex path to reform unveiled in bipartisan immigration bill

By Marilina Sanz

Immigration.jpgThe Senate bipartisan group working on immigration reform unveiled its bill, called the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act April 16.

NACo President Chris Rodgers praised the eight senators for their efforts in attempting to craft bipartisan immigration reform.

“On behalf of the nation’s counties, NACo applauds the efforts of the so-called ‘Gang of Eight’ in their sincere attempt to rise above the partisan divide and find a workable solution to one of the most important issues of our time,” Rodgers said.

“How the United States protects its international borders, issues visas, grants legal status and citizenship, and governs our immigrant population today and in the future is critical to the U.S. economy and our quality of life.”

The bill is 800-plus pages and was filed a day later than expected out of respect for those killed and injured in the Boston Marathon bombing. 

Border Security

The provision appropriates $3 billion for a Border Security Fund and Border Fencing Fund that would include surveillance and detention capabilities, additional border patrol and customs officers and unmanned aerial and other surveillance systems. It calls for a Southern Border Fencing Strategy and appropriates $1.5 billion, but it is unclear if that figure is included in the fund or is additional money.

In a move of interest to local and state governments, it calls for reauthorization of the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAAP), but the outline is silent on funding. The Obama Administration proposed eliminating SCAAP in its FY14 budget proposal.

The bill also includes funding for the purchase of radios for federal state, and local law enforcement agents and reimbursement for state, county, trial and municipal government costs associated with prosecution and pre-trial detention. 

Employment Verification

The bill mandates use of the E-Verify system phased in over a five-year period. The compliance schedule is based on the number of employees, with larger employers being required to implement the system first. The outline seems to treat the public sector the same as the private sector and also seems to apply only to prospective employees. Some E-Verify bills in previous Congresses would have mandated the public sector to implement the program faster than the private sector and to apply the program to existing employees.

The legislation would also implement a photo-matching program that would be stored in the E-Verify system. Documents to be used would include biometric work authorization cards, biometric green cards, passports and driver’s licenses if the state agrees to submit a photo to E-Verify. There would be a $250 million reimbursement program for those departments of motor vehicles that agree to give access to driver’s license information. 

Path to Citizenship

There are multiple steps and requirements for the path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million unauthorized individuals. The process is expected to take a minimum of 13 years. 

Registered Provisional Immigrant (RPI) Status

Individuals who have been in the U.S. since before Dec. 31, 2011 can apply for new Registered Provisional Immigrant (RPI) status. They must pay a $500 penalty and other fees required to process the application and back taxes. Spouses and children or the principal RPI applicant can be included, but they must be present in the U.S. at the time. Individuals who have been granted Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals are eligible for RPI status.  

RPI status lasts for six years and can be extended absent any reason that would render individuals deportable. They would have to pay an additional $500 at this time.

RPI immigrants would be unable to access means-tested programs other than emergency Medicaid, would be ineligible for the subsidies under the Affordable Care Act and could not buy into the insurance exchanges. They would be required, however, to purchase health insurance. 


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