Details of the Senate immigration bill
A look at the 844-page immigration overhaul bill introduced this week in the Senate by four Democratic and four Republican lawmakers:
• The bill sets goals of surveillance of 100 percent of the border with Mexico, and catching or turning back 90 percent of would-be crossers.
• Within six months of enactment of the bill, the Homeland Security Department must develop a border security plan to achieve those goals, including the use of drones, additional agents and other approaches; and develop a plan to identify where more fencing is needed.
• If the goals of 90 percent effectiveness rate and continuous surveillance on the border are not met within five years, a Southern Border Security Commission would be established with border-state governors and others to determine how to achieve them.
• Before anyone in the United States illegally can get a new provisional legal status, the border security and border fencing plans must be in place. Before they can get permanent resident green cards, the plans must be substantially completed, and a new entry-exit system must also be implemented at U.S. seaports and airports to track people coming and going. And a mandatory system must be in place for employers to check workers' legal status.
• About 3,500 new Customs agents would be funded nationally.
• The National Guard would be deployed to the border to build fencing and checkpoints, among other tasks.
• Funding would be provided to increase border-crossing prosecutions and to create more border patrol stations and forward operating bases.
Path to citizenship
• The 11 million people in the United States illegally could obtain “registered provisional immigrant status” six months after enactment of the bill as long as:
(1) The Homeland Security Department has developed border security and fencing plans.
(2) They arrived in the United States prior to Dec. 31, 2011, and maintained continuous physical presence since then.
(3) They do not have a felony conviction or three or more misdemeanors.
(4) They pay a $500 fine.
• People in provisional legal status could work and travel in the U.S. but would not be eligible for federal benefits.
• The provisional legal status lasts six years and is renewable for another $500.
• People deported for non-criminal reasons can apply to re-enter in provisional status if they have a spouse or child who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, or if they had been brought to the United States as a child.
• After 10 years in provisional status, immigrants can seek a green card and lawful permanent resident status if they are up-to-date on taxes and pay a $1,000 fine, have maintained continuous physical presence in the United States, meet work requirements and learn English. All people waiting to immigrate through the legal system as of date of enactment of the legislation must have been dealt with.
• People brought to the country as youths would be able to get green cards in five years, and citizenship immediately thereafter.
• The cap on the H-1B visa program for high-skilled workers would be immediately raised from 65,000 a year to 110,000 a year, with 25,000 more set aside for people with advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering or math from a U.S. school. The cap could go as high as 180,000 a year depending on demand and unemployment rate.
• New protections would crack down on companies that use H-1B visas to train workers in the U.S. only to ship them back overseas.
• Immigrants with certain extraordinary abilities, such as professors and researchers, multinational executives and athletes, would be exempted from green-card limits.
• A startup visa would be made available to foreign entrepreneurs seeking to come to the United States to start a company.
• A new merit visa, capped at 250,000 per year, would award points to prospective immigrants based on their education, employment, length of residence in the United States and other considerations. Those with the most points would earn the visas.
• The bill would eliminate the government's Diversity Visa Lottery Program, which randomly awards 55,000 visas to immigrants from countries with historically low rates of immigration to the United States, so that more visas can be awarded for employment and merit ties.
• A new W visa would allow up to 200,000 low-skilled workers a year into the country for jobs in construction, long-term care, hospitality and other industries.
• A new agriculture worker visa program would be established to replace the existing program. Agriculture workers already here illegally, who have worked in the industry at least two years, could qualify in another five years for green cards if they stay in the industry.
• Under current law U.S. citizens can sponsor spouses, children and siblings to come to the United States, with limits on some categories. The bill would bar citizens from sponsoring their siblings and would allow them to sponsor married sons and daughter only if those children are younger than 31.
• Legal permanent residents can currently sponsor spouses and children, but the numbers are limited. The bill eliminates that limit.
• Within five years, all employers must implement E-Verify, a program to electronically verify their workers' legal status. As part of that, non-citizens will be required to show photo ID that must match with a photo in the E-Verify system.