Following a week of rallies across the nation, a bi-partisan group of senators – known as the “Gang of Eight” – revealed a much-anticipated comprehensive reform package Apr. 16, which creates a path to legalization for the nation’s 11 million undocumented residents, adds more visas to employment-based immigration, but narrowly limits the scope of family-based migration.
An outline of the proposed measure – estimated to be 1,500 pages in length – was released Apr. 16. The bill was expected to be announced at a press conference Apr. 17 after India-West went to press.
Significantly for Indian Americans, the measure cuts out two categories of family-based visas, limiting sponsorship by U.S. residents to only their spouses and unmarried children under the age of 31. Parents, siblings and other relatives would no longer be eligible for a family-based visa. The employment-based visa program would be expanded allowing for a maximum cap of 250,000 visas a year. The cap for the H-1B visa – which allows highly-skilled foreigners to work in the U.S. for a limited period of time – would also be increased to 125,000 visas annually.
Most notably, the proposed legislation creates a quick path to legalization for undocumented immigrants, who would immediately become “registered provisional immigrants” 180 days after a bill is passed. RPIs would be allowed to work and travel abroad, and could apply for a green card after 10 years. Undocumented children who were brought to the U.S. would be fast-tracked through the system and would be eligible for a green card in five years.
Critics of such a plan have dubbed it amnesty for the nation’s “illegals,” but Sen. Marco Rubio – a Republican from Florida believed to be the key driver of the proposed immigration bill – defended the plan, saying it is tougher than existing law.
“We’re not talking about bringing millions of people here illegally. They are here now and they are going to be here for the rest of their lives,” said Rubio Apr. 14 on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
“The proposals in the past that some have advocated is to make their lives miserable so that they’ll leave on their own, or to basically ignore the problem, which is happening now, and is de facto amnesty. And what we’re proposing is to actually deal with them,” he said.
Rubio, who has driven the Republican agenda on immigration issues since the November 2012 general election, noted that RPIs would not be eligible for any federal benefits – including health care under the 2014 Affordable Care Act. Significantly, RPIs would not be eligible to apply for citizenship until certain security measures have been met, including greater resources for border control, an “e-verify” system requiring employers to check the immigration status of their employees, and an improved “entry-exit” system. If such security measures are not met, no green cards will be allotted to RPIs, according to Rubio.
“We commend the bi-partisan effort,” Deepa Iyer, executive director of South Asian Americans Leading Together, told India-West. Iyer, who is also chair of the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans, noted that there would be several months of compromise and debate before a final bill is passed by both the Senate and the House.
Iyer voiced her concern about the elimination of two of the four categories of family-based immigration. “We have been fierce advocates of the importance of family in the immigration system. Families have long been the cornerstone of the U.S. immigration system,” she said. “Families and employees should not be pitted against one another. We can’t take away from one to benefit another,” Iyer stated.
“When we have family networks here, we create roots that mean people are more likely to stay here and that’s good for all Americans,” she emphasized.
Iyer also expressed concern about RPIs having no access to federally-mandated health care. SAALT and several partner organizations held a press conference and rally in front of the White House Apr. 10. Similar rallies were held across the country that day, calling for comprehensive immigration reform that included family reunification measures.
Los Angeles-based immigration attorney Carl Shusterman told India-West he was optimistic that an immigration bill would pass through Congress this year after a lot of “horse trading” was done. “There are going to be hundreds of amendments before anything is settled,” he said.
Asked if a measure that essentially gives amnesty to the nation’s 11 million undocumented was a deal breaker, Shusterman stated, “Undocumented people are what’s driving this bill.”
“Democrats have always wanted (this bill) and Republicans are now realizing they must support it. It took the last election to make Republicans realize that the voting population of the U.S. is changing, and the rest of the country is going to look like California in a few short years,” he said.
To get the support of conservatives, Republicans must emphasize the enforcement and border control aspects of the proposed bill. “It has to look very, very strict to be able to sell it to Republicans,” said Shusterman, who previously served with U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Services, now known as USCIS.
President Barack Obama quickly weighed in on the proposed measure, saying, “This bill is clearly a compromise, and no one will get everything they wanted, including me. But it is largely consistent with the principles that I have repeatedly laid out for comprehensive reform.”
Noting the proposed pathway to citizenship for undocumented people, expansion of the employment-based visa program, and attempts to reunite families, the president praised the bill, stating, “These are all commonsense steps that the majority of Americans support. I urge the Senate to quickly move this bill forward.”
The “Gang of Eight” senators who created the proposed measure include Republican Sens. John McCain from Arizona; Jeff Flake from Arizona; Lindsey Graham from North Carolina; and Rubio. Democrats include Michael Bennet from Colorado; Dick Durbin from Illinois; Chuck Schumer from New York; and Robert Menendez from New Jersey.
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