2) Entry-exit: Right now, immigrants who come to the United States have to check in with the government upon arrival. But they don’t have to check out. Now they would have to say when they’re leaving. That way, authorities would know who has overstayed their visas, a category of people who comprise an estimated 40 percent of the undocumented population. This system could take a decade to build.
3) Border security: Though border crossings are down and enforcement levels and deportations are up, the government doesn’t have complete awareness of the 2,000-mile border the United States shares with Mexico. Under the Senate bill, the government would build more fences and watchtowers and install detection devices, hidden cameras and remote-control drones to monitor the border. The goal: monitor 100 percent of the border to catch 90 percent of illegal crossers. If that’s not happening after five years, a commission of border-state governors who are supposed to help finish the job.
If these conditions are met on the statutory timelines, then those probationary immigrants can start applying for legal residency — green cards — within a decade after passage of the act.
By most accounts, Rubio has been the member of the Senate’s so-called “Gang of Eight” pushing most for border security and more restrictions on the pathway to citizenship, which he initially opposed.
Rubio’s staff refuses comment, but one Republican staffer said they’re calling the bill more of a “pathway to enforcement.” Said another: “This isn’t amnesty. It’s probation.”
The tough talk and emphasis on enforcement and probation-like status of newly legalized immigrants is a must to placate the right, who are still haunted by the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act. The law became infamous for its amnesty, fraud and lax enforcement.
But it’s still not enough for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement union.
Chris Crane, of the National ICE Council, said in a statement that he believed there’s too much emphasis on “legalization, or amnesty, before enforcement is accomplished. ... I would then respectfully call on Senator Rubio to follow through on his commitment to the American people — and his pledge to accomplish enforcement before legalization — and to leave the Gang of 8.”
Rubio’s office said the comments were unfortunate because Crane hasn’t read the bill, which could be up to 1,500 pages long and hasn’t been released.
On the left, advocates are being more circumspect.
“There are concerns,” said Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center. “But we’re in wait and see mode. The question we have: is the spirit of the law to be punitive or inclusive?”
The pathway to citizenship isn’t the only controversial aspect of the bill.
Lawmakers want to move away from family based immigration by limiting the number of non-nuclear family members of a U.S. citizen who can gain citizenship.
High-skilled workers and others needed by the economy would get a higher priority and could account for about half of all new immigrants instead of the current amount, less than 15 percent.
“I don’t think it’s good to move away from family-based immigration,” said Kathy Bird-Caicedo, with the Florida Immigrant Coalition. “But we need to see the bill.”
Bird-Caicedo, who praised both Rubio and Diaz-Balart, said a more pressing concern was the record pace of deportations under President Obama’s administration, as many as 1,400 daily.
“Enough of the enforcement already,” she said. “I wish the primary concern was family unity.”