Senate immigration bill passage

The Senate has passed a bill that will dramatically reshape the nation’s immigration laws for the first time in a generation. The vote was 68-32, as 14 Republicans joined every Democrat. The immigration debate now heads to the House of Representatives, where the Senate bill faces an uncertain fate.

The bill serves as an attempt at the most sweeping overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws in a generation, the first since President Ronald Reagan signed the “Immigration Reform and Control Act” into law in 1986.

It provides a 13-year path to citizenship for the 11 million unauthorised immigrants in the country, as well as various improvements in border security that must be in place before immigrants can gain legal status. 

Here are some of the major provisions contained in the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, which was the result of months of work from the bipartisan “Gang of Eight”:

  • A pathway to citizenship: unauthorised immigrants who lived in the U.S. before Dec. 31, 2011 could apply for Registered Provisional Immigrant status, which would allow them to remain in the country legally after paying a fine, fees, and any back taxes owed, and passing a background check. They could then apply for a green card after 10 years, meaning it would take a total of about 13 years to achieve citizenship.
  • More high-skill immigration: The bill  makes it easier for companies to import workers in fields like science, engineering, and technology, and increases the number of H-1B visas companies can offer to these high-skilled workers.
  • More low-skill immigration: After a compromise between business and labour groups, the bill also provides changes to the existing guest-worker program, which has been one of the biggest hurdles in past attempts for reform. The agreement resolved what wages should be paid to guest workers, who are often employed at hotels and restaurants or on construction projects and brought in during labour shortages.
  • Border security: The most important late change to the bill came with an overhaul of the border security provisions in the original bill. The amendment was offered by Sens. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and John Hoeven (R-N.D.) and adopted into the bill. It doubles the presence of border patrol agents from 20,000 to 40,000. It also adds 700 miles of border fencing and provides a compromise on the E-Verify system, an online tool that checks workers’ immigration status. Under the amendment, all employers would have to use E-Verify.

The immigration debate now moves to the House, where it faces a much less certain outcome. House Speaker John Boehner has said that he will not bring a bill to the House floor that does not have support from a majority of the Republican conference.

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