Immigration Reform 2013: S.744 Creates Roadmap to Citizenship for Undocumented Immigrants

LIRS_FB_citizenship_graphic_250x400Here at LIRS, we’ve spent the past 10 days analyzing the immigration reform legislation that the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” released on April 17. This bill, known as S.744 or the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, would overhaul our current immigration system. It includes numerous improvements to our immigration laws that would benefit migrants, refugees, their families and communities, and our nation. LIRS applauds these improvements, but also decries changes made by the legislation that would divide some immigrant families.

S.744 is far from becoming law. Proposed changes by senators on the Judiciary Committee will be voted on during a series of hearings in the month of May. Next, the amended bill will move to the floor of the Senate where it will be subjected to additional debate and voting. Finally, S.744 must either be adopted by the House of Representatives or be reconciled with any competing immigration reforms put forward by that chamber.

LIRS has carefully considered how S.744 would impact our five principles for reform. Details of our analysis are available now on our website, and we are releasing the analyses on our blog over the course of this week. Today, we take an in-depth look at the creation of a roadmap to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. See also our analyses for family-based immigration, refugees and other vulnerable migrants, detention and access to justice, and detention.

Comprehensive immigration reform that allows undocumented immigrants to fully contribute to our families and communities honors America’s history as a nation of immigrants and the biblical call to welcome the stranger. LIRS therefore applauds the April 17, 2013 introduction of S. 744 (The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act). The bipartisan bill establishes a roadmap to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and welcomes new Americans through the following provisions:

  • Creation of a new “registered provisional immigrant” (RPI) status for eligible undocumented immigrants. People granted RPI status would be authorized to work and travel outside the United States. It would be possible to renew RPI status after six years.  After 10 years, those in RPI status could seek to become lawful permanent residents (LPRs). Three years later, they would be eligible to apply to become U.S. citizens.
  • RPI status would require applicants to have been present in the United States since December 31, 2011.  People in removal proceedings and those with deportation orders would be able to apply.
  • Immigrants granted RPI status would be allowed to petition for RPI status for their spouse and children, provided these family members were present in the United States before December 30, 2012 and were present on the date their relative was granted RPI status.
  • Young undocumented immigrants known as “DREAMers” who were brought to the United States as children and who would benefit from the DREAM Act would have an expedited path to citizenship, as would certain undocumented agricultural workers. DREAMers who spend 5 years in RPI status would be eligible to apply for LPR status. Upon receiving LPR status, DREAMers could immediately apply for U.S. citizenship.
  • Greater numbers of vulnerable migrants could attain U.S. citizenship. The number of U visas granted to migrant survivors of violence who assist in law enforcement efforts would be increased. People granted temporary protected status (TPS) or who have been permitted to remain in the United States through deferred enforced departure (DED) could apply for RPI status or seek LPR status through the new merit-based immigration system.
  • Coordinated federal efforts would be made to strengthen integration of new Americans into communities and to assist those who aspire to become U.S. citizens.

LIRS is concerned that criteria to achieve and maintain lawful status may pose significant challenges. For example, those using the roadmap to citizenship would be excluded from federal public benefit programs including food stamps and affordable health care. Requirements must not outweigh an otherwise accessible and fair legalization process. Below are provisions of concern to LIRS:

  • Financial obligations for aspiring citizens would include processing fees, back taxes and taxes due while in RPI status, and $2,000 in fines over the course of the 13-year period.
  • The RPI status application period would open only after Department of Homeland Security plans commence to increase border security. RPI status holders may not apply for LPR status until border security, workforce verification, and visa tracking benchmarks are met.
  • People with certain criminal convictions, including for some minor offenses and for crimes that occurred many years ago, would be ineligible for RPI status.

You can keep tabs on the latest immigration reform developments by reading our Monday updates from Hill experts.

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