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04.16.13

What You Need to Know About the Gang of Eight's Immigration Reform Deal

The Gang of Eight's proposed immigration reform will create a 13-year path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants, increase funding for a nominal effort to tighten border security, put low-skilled, poorly educated farm workers on a fast-track to citizenship, and create a massive new "guest worker" program whose funding will be tied to bringing in more workers.

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On a positive note, the bill will include a requirement for all employers to check new workers against E-Verify, an electronic verification system. This is a smart move, and will be far more important to curbing unauthorized immigration than token efforts at border security.

The Los Angeles Times describes the proposed pathway to citizenship:

Six months after the bill becomes law, most of the 11 million people in the country without authorization — those who have been in the country before Dec. 31, 2011, and have no serious criminal record — would be eligible to apply for a new probationary legal status. That would allow them to live and work in the U.S. without fear of deportation. They would be required to pay a $500 initial penalty as well as an application fee and back taxes. The probationary status would be good for six years and could then be renewed after payment of another $500 penalty.

At the end of 10 years, if the border security targets have been hit, those on probationary status would be able to pay another $1,000 to apply for a green card, which provides permanent legal residency. Three years later, they could apply for citizenship. Those granted probationary status would not be eligible for government benefits during the decadelong wait.

As I discussed in a Bloggingheads conversation with Jamelle Bouie a few months back, I opposed the initial offer of an eight year path to citizenship for not being nearly long enough. 13 years - ten for a green card, and another three before citizenship - seems more like an appropriate number, and the requirement for fines and the payment of back taxes is a positive sign.

The border security targets, however, are about as realistic as the odds of going through a DC summer without a massive dry cleaning bill. (If you're not familiar, think of putting on a suit and spending a few hours in a sauna).

Why are we granting farm workers special treatment?

And the lumping together of DREAMers with farm laborers is a bizarre decision. I can only imagine which senator(s) demanded this provision in exchange for their support, but consider the oddity of the idea.

On one end of the spectrum are the DREAMers, who are joining the military, going to college, and building educated and prosperous lives. On the other are farm laborers, who I'm certain are good, fine people, but who will heavily depend on federal benefits because of a general lack of education. They certainly deserve the same path to citizenship as the other unauthorized immigrants in this country, but why are we granting farm workers special treatment?

Finally, there's the noxious guest worker program, put together with a German-esque display of corporatism when senators, the AFL-CIO, and the Chamber of Commerce hammered out a deal. As the LATimes reports, the deal:

[W]ould bring in as many as 200,000 low-skilled workers for jobs in hospitality, meat packing and other industries.

The government would also set up a new start-up visa program for entrepreneurs and merit visas for high-achieving student workers.

The program would be run by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, with pay scales set at median industry wages and the number of visas determined by the U.S. unemployment rate and other factors.

Visas for the existing high-tech worker program could nearly double to more than 120,000 per year.

For farmworkers, as many as 337,000 new three-year visas — 122,333 each year for the first three years after the bill becomes law — would be available. After five years, the secretary of Agriculture would set an annual visa limit based on market conditions. Growers would also have to pay transportation and housing costs for workers, but workers' spouses and children would not be eligible to join them.

This deal will continue to attack the value of wages for lower-income Americans, import hundreds of thousands of new workers to someday restart this immigration reform process, and further damage the social cohesion of America's communities.

I broadly support immigration reform, but the guest worker program must be stopped. 

[Below: read the summary of the proposed legislation]