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House unveils bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform legislation

House unveils bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform legislation. On March 22, 2007, Congressmen Luis V. Gutierrez (D-IL) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ) unveiled new legislation designed to overhaul the United States’ current immigration system. Called the Security Through Regularized Immigration and a Vibrant Economy Act of 2007 Act (STRIVE Act), the bill addresses border security, a temporary guestworker program and creates a pathway to legalizing illegal immigrants. Similar legislation failed last year as conservative House Republicans refused to endorse legislation that would enable some 11 million illegal aliens to become US citizens. The new legislation is likely to face comparable opposition. Gutierrez and Flake’s bill (H.R. 1645) is the first major immigration legislation to be introduced in the current session of Congress.

“The bill we are discussing today is all about security–homeland security, family security and economic security,” Gutierrez said. “It will allow us to better protect our borders and reform an immigration system that is hampering businesses, hurting families and harming communities.” “Our current immigration laws are at odds with reality,” said Flake. "This bill addresses that problem by bolstering border security, increased interior enforcement, and creating a temporary worker program that's enforceable and fair.”

The STRIVE Act’s border security provisions will increase the number border and other enforcement personnel, including port of entry inspectors, immigration and customs enforcement investigators and border patrol. In addition, penalties will increase for crimes committed by immigrants, including human smuggling, gang activity and visa/document fraud. The bill also requires a thorough evaluation of information sharing, international and federal/state/local coordination, technology, anti-smuggling and other border security initiatives. The STRIVE Act also calls for the development of multilateral partnerships to establish a North American security perimeter and improve border security on the Mexican southern border.

The STRIVE Act would also establishes a guestworker program allowing up to 400,000 foreign workers to enter the US to work in low-skilled jobs that employers were unable to fill with US workers. Among the various requirements, participants would have to demonstrate their job qualifications and provide evidence of a job offer from a US employer, undergo criminal- and terrorism-related background checks and pay a $500 application fee. The work visa would be valid for three years and renewable for another three years. Employers are required to provide applicants with the same wages and working conditions enjoyed by US workers. Participants would also have the ability to change jobs and eventually get on a path to citizenship, if they so choose.

The bill would also create a visa program for qualified undocumented workers. Undocumented workers who hold jobs in the US and who were in the country on or before June 1, 2006, can apply for conditional nonimmigrant status. To attain such status, undocumented workers must complete criminal and security background checks pay a $500 fine plus necessary application fees and attest to employment in the US before June 1, 2006 and employment since that date. Those individuals convicted felonies or three or more misdemeanors would not be eligible to gain nonimmigrant status. After obtaining nonimmigrant status, undocumented workers can apply with their families for lawful permanent resident status (i.e., green card) and eventual citizenship. Applicants would go to the back of the line for permanent visas. To meet the requirements for earned citizenship, applicants must have been employed in the US for six years prior to applying for citizenship. In addition, they must pay a $1,500 fine plus application fees, complete criminal and security background checks, meet English and civic requirements, undergo a medical exam and pay all taxes. Additionally, applicants for US citizenship would be required to leave the country sometime during the six years prior to applying for citizenship and then reenter the country legally.

The STRIVE Act would also set up new an employment verification system that employers must use verify each new hire’s authorization to work. The new system will eventually apply to all workers and all new hires and will be rolled out in phases, beginning with critical infrastructure employers and large employers. Significant civil and criminal penalties for employers who do not comply with the requirements under the new system will be assessed. Employers who repeatedly violate the new system will be debarred from government contracts, grants and agreements. Employers are forbidden from using the system to discriminate against applicants and employees on the basis of nationality and prohibited from terminating one’s employment due to a tentative non-confirmation when using the system to screen employees prior to offering employment, or using the system selectively. Before implementation of the new guestworker program and the program to legalize illegal aliens, improvements to border surveillance technology and the roll-out of the first phase of the employment verification system would have to be met.

The bill also includes the DREAM Act and AgJobs bill, as introduced in the 110th Congress. The Development, Relief, and Education for Minors (DREAM) Act is an effort to assist undocumented young adults who have finished or are about to finish high school and cannot get into college because of their undocumented status. Called the Agriculture Job Opportunity, Benefit, and Security Act of 2007 (Agjobs), the AgJobs bill addresses the growing agriculture worker shortage by allowing undocumented workers to continue working in the US agricultural sector while obtaining permanent resident status. The STRIVE Act would also increase resources for the immigration court system, provides relief for immigrant victims of the 9-11 attacks and their families and it facilitate naturalization for members of the armed forces.

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