WASHINGTON -- The bipartisan Senate immigration reform bill unveiled on Tuesday would allow some families to reunite after deportation, potentially helping thousands of undocumented immigrants who are young and entered as children or who are spouses or parents of U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents.
The Senate group, referred to as the gang of eight, released a summary of its bill but delayed public events after an explosion at the Boston Marathon on Monday killed three people and injured more than a 150. The summary lays out details of the bill, which has not yet been released in full, ahead of the first hearing on the legislation in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Friday, to be followed by another hearing next week. The summary includes key details on who among the 11 million undocumented immigrants would be allowed to apply for legal residency and eventual citizenship, an arduous and expensive process which nonetheless could help millions.
As first reported by Colorlines, the provision for deported immigrants would expand to some the ability to apply to return to the United States, though only under certain conditions. If immigrants have family ties to the U.S., were in the country before Dec. 31, 2011 -- the cut-off date for eligibility for a path to citizenship -- and were deported for non-criminal reasons, they could apply for a new legal status, called registered provisional immigrant status, or RPI.
The measure would apply to the parents and spouses of U.S. citizens, not siblings or grandparents. Nearly half of undocumented immigrants to the U.S. are parents of minor children, Pew Hispanic Center estimated in 2011, some of whom are U.S. citizens. Pew Hispanic Center estimated that at least 9 million people are in families with an undocumented adult and a U.S. citizen child.
Young people who came to the U.S. as children -- often referred to as Dreamers after the never-passed Dream Act bill that would aid them -- would also be eligible to apply for reentry if they have been deported. The last iteration of the Dream Act, which failed in the Senate in 2010, would have extended an opportunity for legal status to undocumented immigrants who came here as children, attended high school in the U.S., and either went to college for two years or joined the military.
Expanding the current bill to some deportees would give some reprieve to families of the nearly 1.5 million people deported since fiscal year 2009. The Obama administration broke the previous year's record in fiscal year 2012 with nearly 410,000 removals, some of them families of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents.
The gang of eight bill also includes strict border security provisions that must be met before any undocumented immigrant can receive provisional status, permanent legal status or citizenship.
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The Template: California Proposition 187 (1994)
California's Proposition 187 was submitted to the voters with the full support of then Republican governor Pete Wilson. It essentially blamed undocumented immigrants for the poor performance of the state economy in the early 1990s. The law called for cutting off benefits to undocumented immigrants: prohibiting their access to health care, public education, and other social services in California. It also required state authorities to report anyone who they suspected was undocumented. <strong>Status:</strong> The law passed with the support of 55 percent of the voters in 1994 but declared unconstitutional 1997. The law was killed in 1999 when a new governor, Democrat Gray Davis, refused to appeal a judicial decision that struck down most of the law. Even though short-lived, the legislation paved the way for harsher immigration laws to come. On the other hand, the strong reaction from the Hispanic community and immigration advocates propelled a drive for naturalization of legal residents and created as many as one million new voters.
The Worst: Arizona SB 1070
The Arizona Act made it a misdemeanor for an undocumented immigrant to be within the state lines of Arizona without legal documents allowing their presence in the U.S. This law has been widely criticized as xenophobic and for encouraging racial profiling. It requires state authorities to inquire about an individual's immigration status during an arrest when there is "reasonable suspicion" that the individual is undocumented. The law would allow police to detain anyone who they believe was in the country illegally. <strong>Status:</strong> The law was signed into law by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer on April 23, 2010. But it has generated a swirl of controversy and questions about its constitutionality. A federal judge issued a ruling that blocked what critics saw as some of the law's harshest provisions. House: 35-31 (4/12/2011)
Following Arizona's Footsteps: Georgia HB 87
The controversy over Arizona's immigration law was followed by heated debate over Georgia's own law. HB 87 required government agencies and private companies to check the immigration status of applicants. This law also limited some government benefits to people who could prove their legal status. <strong>Status:</strong> Although a federal judge temporarily blocked parts of the law considered too extreme, it went into effect on July 1st. 2011. House: 113-56 Senate: 39-17
Verifying Authorized Workers: Pennsylvania HB 1502
This bill, which was approved in 2010, bans contractors and subcontractors employ undocumented workers from having state construction contracts. The bill also protects employees who report construction sites that hire illegal workers. To ensure that contractors hire legal workers, the law requires employers to use the identification verification system E-verify, based on a compilation of legally issued Social Security numbers. <strong>Status:</strong> Approved on June 8th 2010. House: 188-6 (07/08/2010) <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/donkeyhotey/" target="_hplink">Flickr photo by DonkeyHotey</a>
A Spin Off of Arizona: Utah HB 497
Many states tried to emulate Arizona's SB 1070 law. However, most state legislatures voted against the proposals. Utah's legislature managed to approve an immigration law based on a different argument. Taking into consideration the criticism of racial profiling in Arizona, Utah required ID cards for "guest workers" and their families. In order to get such a card workers must pay a fee and have clean records. The fees go up to $2,500 for immigrants who entered the country illegally and $1,000 for immigrants who entered the country legally but were not complying with federal immigration law, <a href="http://articles.latimes.com/2011/mar/06/nation/la-na-illegal-immigration-20110306" target="_hplink">according to the LA Times.</a> <strong>Status: </strong> Law went into effect on 03/15/2011 House: 59-15 (03/04/2011) Senate: 22-5 (03/04/2011)
The Most Comprehensive: Florida HB-1C
Florida's immigration law prohibits any restrictions on the enforcement of federal immigration law. It makes it unlawful for undocumented immigrants within the state to apply for work or work as an independent contractor. It forbids employers from hiring immigrants if they are aware of their illegal status and requires work applicants to go through the E-verify system in order to check their Social Security number. <strong>Status: </strong>effective since October 1st, 2010
The Hot Seat: Alabama HB 56
The new immigration law in Alabama is considered the toughest in the land, even harder than Arizona's SB 1070. It prohibits law enforcement officers from releasing an arrested person before his or her immigration status is determined. It does not allow undocumented immigrants to receive any state benefit, and prohibits them from enrolling in public colleges, applying for work or soliciting work in a public space. The law also prohibits landlords from renting property to undocumented immigrants, and employers from hiring them. It requires residents to prove they are citizens before they become eligible to vote. The law asked every school in the state to submit an annual report with the number of presumed undocumented students, but this part, along with others, were suspended by federal courts. <strong>Status:</strong> Approved June 2nd, 2011 House: 73-28 (04/05/2011) Senate: 23-11 (05/05/2011) <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/longislandwins/" target="_hplink">Flickr photo by longislandwins</a>