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Immigration reform proposal finally released

WASHINGTON — Evelyn Rivera boiled inside as she watched her mother being put in the police car.

"I had to remain quiet and not reveal that I was undocumented as well," said Rivera, whose parents brought her to Florida from Colombia when she was 3 and overstayed a tourist visa.

The driving infraction that day in 2007 led to her mother being deported. Rivera, 24, hasn't seen her in person since.

If the broad proposal for immigration reform introduced Wednesday by a bipartisan group of U.S. senators becomes law, Rivera might get the chance.

One provision gives people who were deported for noncriminal reasons the opportunity to return to the United States and get on a 13-year path to citizenship with millions of others who crossed the border illegally or overstayed visas.

"It's really exciting," said Rivera, of Altamonte Springs. "But I wish that part of the bill would stay secret. I know we're going to have to fight like hell to keep it."

Her angst captured the mood as the 844-page bill was finally revealed, a mix of optimism, disappointment and hardening opposition. The proposal represents the broadest attempt at reform in more than 25 years and seeks a delicate political balance: providing tougher border security with a realistic handling of more than 11 million people here illegally.

The legislation would clear a backlog of 4.7 million visa applications, create a low-skill worker program, greatly expand high-skilled visas sought by tech companies and refocus the country's immigration policy from one based on family ties to a merit-based system. For young "Dreamers" such as Rivera, brought here by no fault of their own, it would offer a five-year path to citizenship.

On Friday, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act gets a critical first test during a Judiciary Committee hearing.

"Our immigration system is broken and it is time for a national conversation about how to fix it," the Senate authors said in a statement. "Our bipartisan proposal is a starting point, and will be strengthened by good-faith input and ideas from across the ideological spectrum. We look forward to multiple Senate hearings on this bill, an open committee process with amendments, and a full and fair debate in the Senate."

Details revealed Wednesday are vast and complex, setting the table for a monthslong fight. Critics on the right blasted the proposal as "amnesty," while some pro-reform advocates complained the path to citizenship is overly hard.

The provision that could reunite Rivera with her mother has already drawn scrutiny.

"This doesn't just grant amnesty," Republican Rep. Steve King of Iowa said in a speech Tuesday night on the House floor as details began to trickle out. "It reaches backwards and gets people that have been sent home, where they can wake up in the country legally."

Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, a member of the Gang of 8 that crafted the bill, was working overtime to sell the plan as a purposeful balance, issuing a string of emails that read "Myth vs. Fact" and a video of him discussing key provisions. He also appeared on Mike Huckabee's radio show.

A big piece of misinformation came from conservative commentators who said the legislation would provide free cellphones to immigrants.

"That's not for the illegal immigrants," Rubio said on the Laura Ingraham Show. "That's for U.S. citizens and residents who live in the border region so that they can have access to calls," noting the proposal was around before he entered Congress.

On C-SPAN, a critic of immigration reform, Texas Republican Rep. Louie Gohmert, sought to tie the debate to the Boston Marathon bombing by asserting terrorists are being trained to act "Hispanic" and cross the southern border.

"Using a national tragedy to further his own anti-immigration reform agenda is not only shameful, but also a blatant attempt to disingenuously twist public sentiment at a vulnerable time," said Jennifer Korn, executive director of the Hispanic Leadership Network, a Republican-aligned group.

The tension highlights a rift within the GOP, law-and-order sentiment clashing with a desire to better appeal to Hispanics, a fast-growing electoral force that has overwhelmingly favored Democrats.

Despite the offensive, many Republicans are opposed to the citizenship pathway.

Not long after the bill is enacted, undocumented residents — there are roughly 740,000 in Florida — would be allowed to apply to become a "Registered Provisional Immigrant," a legal status that provides a work permit and removes the threat of deportation.

After 10 years, with fees reaching $2,000 and back taxes paid, those residents could seek a green card, which could lead to citizenship in three years.

The legislation mandates that a border security plan must be in place before that happens. It calls for $5 billion or more to be spent on additional fencing, personnel and surveillance, and that 90 percent of people who try to cross the border are caught.

Immigrant advocates in Florida had mixed views.

"The moment that so many have worked for is near," said Mi Familia Vota director Elena McCullough during a news conference in Ybor City. "We are hopeful to see a new immigration system in the making, but also concerned about some of the provisions that may hurt our communities."

Complaints focused on long waits for citizenship and accompanying fines, and the billions more that would be spent on border security.

But in Lakeland, Jesus Guevara, who migrated illegally from Mexico in 1990, said he would welcome the chance to stay and pay a fine.

The 41-year-old father of four faces a May 7 deportation order. "In Mexico, I have nothing," Guevara said.

When he isn't home, his children ask him to always call and check in, to make sure he hasn't been stopped on the road by an officer.

"I want to stay," he said. "I am desperate."

Such personal stories are being highlighted by pro-reform advocates, including several hundred Evangelical leaders who spread across Capitol Hill on Wednesday to meet with lawmakers and tell stories of immigrants who have swelled their congregations. They are focusing efforts on reluctant Republicans.

"Today we stand at the edge of the Jordan River. At the other side, lies a land full of promise," said Carlos Moran of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.

Far away in Florida, Evelyn Rivera thought of the possibility of seeing her mother again.

The bill would allow people who resided here prior to Dec. 31, 2011, and were deported for noncriminal reasons to apply as a Registered Provisional Immigrant. But they must be the spouse, child or parent of a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident. Young immigrants who were brought to the country as children illegally could also qualify.

Rivera herself is not a citizen — she would benefit under the bill's Dream Act provision — but two of her sisters are.

How many people could qualify for re-entry is unclear, though Senate officials said the number would not be huge.

Record deportations have occurred under President Barack Obama, angering the Hispanic community. The majority have been people who have committed crimes, but there are plenty of instances in which families were ripped apart. Rivera said she personally knows of about 10 stories.

Though her parents came to the United States illegally, Rivera said they should not be punished.

"They wanted a better future for our whole family. At that time in Colombia, Pablo Escobar was very much around. There were daily car bombs going off. My parents did what they had to do to make sure my family was safe."

Times staff writer Laura C. Morel contributed to this report.

Key provisions

in the immigration bill

Here is a look at the key provisions in the immigration reform legislation from a bipartisan group of eight senators.

Path to citizenship

• Most of the 11 million people who are in the country illegally can apply for a green card after 10 years and citizenship three years after that.

• Applicants must pay a $1,000 fine, pay back taxes, learn English, remain employed and pass a criminal background check.

• Immigrants must have arrived in the United States before Jan. 1, 2012, to be eligible.

• Dream Act youths can obtain green cards in five years and citizenship immediately thereafter.

Border control

• The Department of Homeland Security will receive $3 billion to improve border security through surveillance drones and 3,500 additional customs agents, plus $1.5 billion for fencing.

• Within five years, the Department of Homeland Security must achieve 100 percent surveillance of the Southwest border with Mexico and apprehend 90 percent of people trying to cross illegally in high-risk sectors (areas where more than 30,000 people are apprehended annually).

• If the Department of Homeland Security does not meet the metrics, a border commission composed of governors and attorneys general from border states will be given five more years and additional funding to implement more-stringent measures.

• U.S. companies must implement the "E-Verify" computer tracking system, which aims to ensure that workers are legal residents within five years. All noncitizens will be required to show a "biometric work authorization card" or "biometric green card."

• The government must implement an exit/entry tracking system at ports of entry to determine whether foreign visitors or workers overstay their visas.

H-1B high-skilled visas

• Visas for highly skilled engineers and computer programmers will double from 65,000 to 110,000. In future years, the cap can rise to as much as 180,000.

• Employers with large numbers of H-1B visas must pay higher salaries and fees.

Guest-worker 'w-visa' program

• A new visa program for 20,000 foreigners in low-skilled jobs starts in 2015. The number of visas increases to 75,000 in 2019.

• A new federal bureau will analyze employment data to make recommendations for annual guest-worker visa caps beginning in 2020, to exceed no more than 200,000 annually.

• Construction companies are limited to 15,000 visas per year.

• A "safety valve" will allow additional visas over the annual cap provided employers pay workers higher wages.

Farm worker H-2A program

• Visas for agriculture workers are limited to 337,000 over three years.

• Wages are based on a survey of labor market data for various farming jobs.

Changes to Family Visa Program

• An unlimited number of visas are allowed per year for foreign spouses, children and parents of U.S. citizens and permanent legal residents.

• Eighteen months after the law takes effect, it eliminates visas reserved for foreign brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens and married children older than 30.

• It eliminates a diversity visa program starting in 2015 and creates a new merit-based visa category using a point system based on family ties and work skills.

Source: Washington Post

The Gang of 8

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.

The son of Cuban immigrants, Rubio has become a superstar among Republicans. He has softened his stance since first being elected to the Senate in 2010. Back then, in a Fox News debate, he said that he would never support a pathway to citizenship. Rubio is widely viewed as a strong contender for the 2016 Republican presidential candidacy.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

An outspoken proponent of reform, McCain has long been involved in the issue of immigration, splitting with other Republican leaders and spearheading legislation that ultimately failed in 2006. McCain's return to the issue of immigration with the Gang of 8 provides key bipartisanship.

Sen. Lindsey

Graham, R-S.C.

Graham supported and helped craft the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007. He told CBS' Face The Nation last year that illegal immigrants "can't stay unless they learn our language."

Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz.

Newly elected from Arizona, Flake highlighted the importance of input from border state senators. Flake replaced Sen. Jon Kyl in the Senate. Kyl helped craft previous attempts at comprehensive reform.

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.

Schumer has taken a lead among Democrats in crafting the bipartisan framework. "This will be the year Congress finally gets it done," he declared. He said his goal is to have a bill passed by Congress before lawmakers leave Washington for the summer.

Sen. Robert Menendez,

D-N.J.

Menendez, the son of Cuban immigrant parents, was a co-sponsor of DREAM Act legislation in 2011 that would have allowed students to have legal citizenship if they passed a background check, came to the United States as children, and completed two years of college or military service. That version was killed by a Senate filibuster. But President Barack Obama has used executive action and promised not to deport so-called DREAMers.

Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo.

Several weeks before the Gang of 8's public announcement, Bennet signed the "Colorado Compact," a bipartisan call for immigration reform talks aimed to potentially impact federal reform. In 2009, Bennet also supported the DREAM Act.

Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill.

Majority Senate Whip Durbin, the principal author of the DREAM act, rounds out the gang, saying he supports the four pillars of the proposed reform: A "tough but fair'' path to citizenship, improving America's legal immigration system, strong employment verification, protecting workers' rights.

Source: ABC News

Immigration reform proposal finally released 04/17/13 [Last modified: Thursday, April 18, 2013 12:38am]

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