Contents of the Immigration Bill

Contents of the Immigration Bill June 28, 2007

As Katerina noted, the immigration bill suffered a crushing defeat today in the U.S. Senate.

The sense that I got from the past few weeks of talk radio, politician soundbites, cable news debates, and bloggers is that the contents of this bill were largely unknown to the public, yet there was no shortage of public opinion being dispersed through various media and Internet outlets. I’ve heard such deceptive remarks as “We need to secure the border first!” or “We cannot grant amnesty to law breakers!” But I wonder if those who passionately decried the bill from these angles are aware that the bill contained a number of provisions that dealt specifically with these issues.

In rough outline, here was the content of the immigration bill defeated today according to CNN:

Illegal Immigrants
– Could seek a “Z visa,” which would give immediate work authorization if they arrived in the United States before January 1, 2007
– Head of household would have to return to their home country within eight years; would be guaranteed the right to return to the U.S.
– Applicants would have to pay a $5,000 staggered penalty

Guest Workers
– “Y visas” would be issued to 400,000 guest workers per year.
– Guest workers would enter the U.S. on two-year visas, return home for a year, then re-enter for additional two years. May enter three times (total six years) if not bringing family, but only one time if bringing family.
– Guest workers earn points toward merit-based green card.
– May bring families on 30-day visitor visas each year.

Border Enforcement
– Border fencing would be strengthened.
– The number of Border Patrol agents would be increased.
– Employers who hire undocumented workers would face fines.
– The guest worker program cannot begin until enforcement provisions are in place, which Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff estimates will take 18 months.

The bill included provisions for stronger border enforcement, which were required to be implemented before the guest-worker program could go into effect. Undocumented migrants who have been in the U.S. since before 2007 would not be granted automatic citizenship, but would rather begin a path toward citizenship. Amnesty, which restores guilty parties to full innocence and removes all legal remembrance of a crime, was not being offered to undocumented migrants. Rather, the penalty for the offense of illegally immigrating to the U.S. would be reduced to a staggered fee. If an undocumented migrant were to refuse to apply for a “Z-visa,” he/she would be subject to existing penalties for their offense.

I think this was a marvelous bill that looked behind the “law of the land” to the moral and personalist foundations of law. Was it the best we could come up with? Possibly not. Was it a good bill that effectively pronounced an economic and political compromise in favor of supporting the 12 million+ undocumented migrants in the U.S. who may have no other means for surviving or for providing for their families? Definitely so.

I am saddened both as a U.S. citizen who has lived in two border states and as a Catholic whose bishops and popes have spoken out in favor of immigration reform and legal support for the dignity and value of the migrant who is in need. The U.S. Senate did more damage to the long term prospects of dealing with the problem of undocumented migration than perhaps we even imagine.

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