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US lawmakers to unveil major immigration reform plan

17 april 2013, 11:03
0
A bipartisan group of US lawmakers was set to unveil this week a major immigration reform proposal that could, if passed, provide a path to citizenship for millions of people in the country illegally, AFP reports.

A press conference announcing the plan, initially scheduled for Tuesday, was delayed following the explosions in Boston on Monday, but a document describing the plan was sent to AFP on Tuesday.

Immigration reform has been a key focus of President Barack Obama's second term, while Republicans smarting from their 2012 election defeat have sought to broaden their outreach to minorities, particularly the Hispanic community.

This new bipartisan proposal would help bring out of the shadows around 11.5 million people -- a majority of whom are Mexican -- who live and work in the US without legal papers.

They would get a legal temporary status and could work, travel and drive without fear of deportation.

But to convince hardline Republicans opposed to the idea of amnesty for those they consider criminals, the small group at the heart of the negotiations has included ambitious measures to tighten security along the 1,800 mile (3,000 kilometer) border with Mexico.

They want to avoid a repeat of 1986, when then-president Ronald Reagan approved immigration reforms that led to amnesty for 2.7 million people but, thanks to a lack of resources at the border, did little to stem the tide of immigrants entering illegally.

This time, lawmakers want to set a benchmark of halting 90 percent of the flow of people crossing the border illegally in "high risk sectors."

A $4.5 billion budget would be dedicated to building "double-layer fencing" in some spots and for new surveillance technology, including drones.

Employers would be required to verify, using a new federal database, the legal status of all their workers.

And to be eligible for amnesty, potential immigrants would need:

-- to have arrived, and lived continuously, in the US since December 31, 2011

-- to pay a fine of at least $500 and any past due taxes

-- to have a clean criminal record, with a maximum of two misdemeanor convictions


-- End of the Green Card "lottery" --


After 10 years, these immigrants could file for a green card, or permanent residency. Three years after that, they could request to become naturalized.

Those who crossed the border as children could get legal residency more quickly, after five years -- a special path for those who have never known any country but the US.

A new system of points-- awarded for education, employment and length of residence in the US -- would be created to help determine who could obtain green cards.

The other major component of the reform aims to address the shortage of skilled workers in certain professions -- especially in high-tech industries.

The number of "H-1B" visas, a temporary work permit for certain occupations, would rise from 65,000 to 110,000 a year, and could go as high as 180,000 if the demand continues to grow.

For green cards, there would be no limits to the number given to high-level researchers or professors or to those with extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business or athletics.

The lawmakers also aim to create a new three-year "W" visa, for unskilled workers in sectors, like construction, experiencing shortages.

But the famed annual diversity lottery, which offers 55,000 green cards a year, would go away, falling victim to Republican opposition which prefers to give priority to highly-skilled immigrants.

Before it could become law, the new proposal faces months of debate in the Senate and then the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. But if it succeeds, it would be a major achievement in Obama's second term, on an issue his predecessor, George W. Bush, fell short.

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