Lost in the political fight between President Obama and Marco Rubio, is that the White House’s leaked bill is the first new proposal from anyone involved in negotiations that actually specifies its path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.Given that the details of legalization are one of the most contentious issues in the process, it’s worth taking a look at what they came up with.
Here are some of the highlights from the section detailing the new path to citizenship, which are part of a broader draft that also includes border security provisions and new restrictions on employers to prevent them from hiring undocumented workers.
• Who Becomes Legal?
Any undocumented immigrant who was in the country before the bill was introduced is eligible to become a Legal Prospective Immigrant, a class that bars them from federal benefits but lets them reside and work in the country.
This is more far reaching in its scope than some of the immigration bills floated during the 2007 debate, which would have only legalized undocumented immigrants who had been in the country for at least five years before the bill’s passage.
They would also have had to show they had worked throughout their stay, a requirement immigrant and labour groups feared might make legalization difficult for undocumented workers who made their living doing low-wage jobs off the books. The White House bill does not include these work requirements.
Obama’s draft bill does not require applicants to leave the country as part of the legalization process and then reenter legally, another provision included in 2007 reform bills that pro-reform activists complained would be overly burdensome.
• How Long Does It Take To Become A Citizen?
Before they become citizens, immigrants have to earn a green card. Here’s where that soundbite politicians often use about how undocumented immigrants need to go to the “back of the line” behind already legal applicants comes into play.
According to the Obama draft, the legal prospective immigrants (or “LPI”s) created by the bill would have to wait for everyone who’s already applied legally to get through the process before they can apply themselves. But in some cases, the line for green card applicants is decades long.
Obama has talked about speeding up the process somehow, but that part is still not in a bill. Wary of keeping immigrants stuck in provisional status indefinitely, the White House’s draft would let LPIs apply for green cards after eight years regardless of the backlog.
“Without knowing how it would work, it’s hard to say what would happen first: eight years or the clearing of the backlog,” Ben Winograd, an immigration attorney in Washington, told TPM. “My assumption would be eight years.”
This is a pretty similar timetable to the 2007 failed reform bill, which would have also required an eight-year wait. It is, however, a much longer period than President Reagan’s 1986 immigration law, which also legalized the undocumented population. Some pro-reform groups have already expressed concerns this week that the leaked White House bill wouldn’t provide green cards fast enough.
As part of the process, applicants would also have to demonstrate proficiency in English, civics, and U.S. history. If approved, they’d have to wait another five years to apply for citizenship. Add it up, and the path to citizenship would be at least thirteen years for most undocumented immigrants today.
• Who Else Can Come?
The White House draft wouldn’t just affect undocumented immigrants currently in America. Spouses and children of newly legalized prospective immigrants could also apply for an LPI visa themselves from overseas if they pass a background check and pay the proper fees.
“That would mean the number of people getting amnestied could be much larger than 11 million, because people who weren’t even illegal aliens yet would benefit,” Mark Krikorian, director of the centre for Immigration Studies, which favours a more restrictive immigration policy, told TPM.