USA Today's Alan Gomez has seen the White House's bill language for certain sections of their comprehensive immigration bill. He doesn't tell us a lot about the specifics except that individuals will intially apply for something called a "Lawful Prospective Immigrant" visa. And permanent residency could come within eight years. From the report:
According to the White House draft, people would need to pass a criminal background check, submit biometric information and pay fees to qualify for the new visa. If approved, they would be allowed to legally reside in the U.S., work and leave the country for short periods of time.
They could then apply for legal permanent residence, commonly known as a green card, within eight years if they learn English and "the history and government of the United States" and pay back taxes. That would then clear the path for them to apply for U.S. citizenship.
A major requirement for many Republicans is enhanced border security. The bill calls for an unspecified increase in the Border Patrol, allows the Department of Homeland Security to expand technological improvements along the border and adds 140 new immigration judges to process the heavy flow of people who violate immigration laws.
The draft also expands the E-Verify program that checks the immigration status of people seeking new jobs. Businesses with more than 1,000 employees must begin using the system within two years, businesses with more than 250 employees within three years and all businesses within four years.
There's not a lot that's really shocking here. We knew the White House was not buying in to the concept of triggers. The bill will have strong enforcement measures, but it won't tie gaining permanent residency to achieving specific enforcement benchmarks. We also knew mandatory E-Verify was coming. That was in the reform bills from 2006 and 2007 and is a key Republican demand.
There's going to be a battle over the path to permanent status for immigrants under the bill. That's become obvious in recent weeks based on comments from Republicans who are considered moderates on the issue. I would only remind readers on the Hill that there is another option. Allow applicants to apply for green cards through conventional green card categories - family, employment, investment, etc. Make sure there are enough visas available to absorb the new pool, of course. And allow for waivers of the reentry bars based on paying a fine (current law only provides for one kind of penalty - waiting outside the US for a lengthy period of time) Under current immigration law, applicants for green cards get a "priority date" that automatically puts them at the back of the line in the chosen green card category.
This solution ensures that everyone currently waiting on green cards would be processed first. It also provides no special path to citizenship and requires applicants to prove the same kind of things that other immigrants prove - possession of a special skill set that's in demand, having a close relative who is a citizen or permanent resident, etc. Those who don't qualify could continue to have a lawful status, but to get to citizenship, you go through the same process as everyone else. The key point, again, is that,we have to make adequate green card numbers available to absorb these folks (perhaps under the proviso that the numbers don't kick in until after a few years so it's clear that a penalty is being exacted).