Rubio Immigration Amendment Would Delay Path to Citizenship for Millions

Jun 12, 2013

By Marcie Foster and Helly Lee

Update: The Senate will continue debate and consider amendments to S. 744 throughout the next two weeks in June and a vote on final passage of the bill is expected by the July 4th congressional recess.

This week, the Senate began floor debate on their immigration reform bill, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act (S. 744). The proposal that passed out of the Judiciary Committee is the result of months of bipartisan negotiations and includes provisions to increase border security measures and create a path to earned citizenship for nearly 11 million undocumented immigrants, beginning with a new Registered Provisional Immigrant (RPI) status.

The bill includes strict English language, employment, and income requirements, in addition to background checks and fees for immigrants to enter and remain on the path to citizenship, and envisions that it will take most undocumented workers at least 13 years to transition from RPI to Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) status and then become citizens.

Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) is a member of the “Gang of Eight” that negotiated this bill, which represents a bipartisan compromise.  Nonetheless, this week, Rubio announced that the bill’s requirement that immigrants learn English or be enrolled in a “course of study” prior to gaining LPR status does not go far enough. Current law already requires English language proficiency when immigrants seek to naturalize and become citizens. The Senate immigration bill would take this even further by applying this requirement when RPI’s seek LPR status. Rubio has proposed an amendment that would make the requirements even more stringent by eliminating the ability of immigrants to satisfy the requirement by enrolling in a course; instead, it would require them to be fully proficient prior to earning LPR status.

Rubio’s game-changing amendment places a significant and undue burden on immigrants, lengthening their path to legalization by demanding they meet the high standard of English language proficiency prior to obtaining LPR status. English proficiency is an important part of integration; however, more stringent requirements would only create additional barriers—and significant delays—for the 11 million undocumented workers potentially seeking to become legalized residents and, ultimately, citizens.

Moreover, the underlying bill provides few additional resources to assist immigrants in fulfilling the already-existing English language requirements, despite the fact that, at present, English as a Second Language (ESL) services in the U.S. suffer from extremely limited capacity. Federal funding for adult education, the primary system that provides English language and adult literacy services, is scarce, with just $560 million appropriated annually that serves only 1.8 million adult learners--about 6 percent of the population that could benefit from such services. These programs also have waitlists in 49 states, with some longer than one year.  By contrast, analysis of a similar provision in previous immigration proposals determined that it would cost billions to assist these new learners. Rubio’s proposed amendment contains no additional resources for adult education/ESL, but increases the stringency of the language requirements, intensifying the urgency for these types of services to help immigrants meet the demands of the prospective law.

Integration services help ensure newly-legalized immigrants fully access the economic and social benefits of the U.S. and are key to successful immigration reform. However, instituting English language requirements as a prerequisite for beginning their journey to citizenship puts an undue burden on immigrant workers, delays their time to citizenship, and puts considerable stress on an already overflowing adult education system. While strict, the English language requirements found in the underlying bipartisan bill create a more fair system of earned legalization.

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