Immigration Bill Envisions Path to Citizenship
By Helly Lee
Last week, the bipartisan Senate "Gang of 8" introduced S. 744 the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013. If enacted, this bill would be the largest scale change to immigration laws in over 25 years.
One of the major hallmarks of the bill is that it provides a path to citizenship for aspiring citizens, many of whom have lived and worked in this country for many years. Other key elements of the bill include border security measures, reforms to family- and employment-based immigration policies, and interior enforcement measures including the requirement, phased in over 5 years, for all employers to use an Electronic Employment Eligibility Verification System (EEVS) to ensure that all newly hired employees are legally eligible to work in the U.S.
Eligible aspiring citizens may apply for a newly created Registered Provisional Immigrant (RPI) status, renewable after 6 years and then be eligible for Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) status after an additional 4 years (a minimum of 10 years in RPI status). Aspiring citizens following this path will be eligible to apply for citizenship after 3 years in LPR status.
While CLASP is encouraged by the overall goal of the bill, there are some provisions that would have significant negative impact on low-income immigrants and their families. These include being barred from any federal means-tested benefits and health care subsidies, even though they will be mandated to purchase health care through the Affordable Care Act's health exchanges during the 10-year provisional status. Even after adjusting to LPR status, most immigrants would still be subject to the existing 5 year waiting period before they could receive federal means-tested benefits (those who naturalize sooner will be eligible when they become citizens). In this provisional period and during the waiting period, while immigrants would lawfully be eligible to work and pay taxes, they would not be able to access the supports they fund with the taxes they pay. For many low-wage working families living in poverty, this 13- to 15-year bar from access to critical support programs could prove devastating to their well-being. In addition, fees and employment requirements for RPI status and adjustment to LPR status may also pose significant barriers for low-income immigrants aspiring to become citizens, and do not recognize the seasonal and cyclical nature of many low-wage jobs.
CLASP recognizes the significance of this bill and its importance in addressing the needs of our immigration system. The introduction of the bill is only the beginning of a tough battle ahead toward passage. While the bill offers solutions to addressing many issues within immigration policies there is much more to be done to improve it to ensure that aspiring citizens have the health care, nutrition and economic supports they need to thrive and contribute to the economic success of the country. In the coming weeks, members in the Senate Judiciary Committee will have the opportunity to debate and amend the bill through the markup process. It is expected that the bill will be taken up on the Senate floor in June.
As the bill moves through committee and the Senate, CLASP will continue to monitor and advocate on provisions that have significant impact on low-income immigrants.