shutterstock_115685188The immigration reform bill (S.744) that the Senate passed in June would fix our broken work visa programs for lower skilled, higher skilled, and agricultural workers; eliminate decades-long backlogs in our immigrant visa programs; increase job and wage protections for U.S. workers; and greatly increase our investment in border security. In addition, the bill would have fiscal and economic effects that would be overwhelmingly positive, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). If enacted, the bill would help reduce the federal budget deficit by approximately $1 trillion over 20 years, would boost the U.S. economy as whole without negatively affecting U.S. workers, and would greatly reduce future undocumented immigration, according to the CBO.

However, the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) released a report this week criticizing the bill. They claim S.744 offers an immediate “amnesty” for the undocumented, lacks specific metrics for measuring border enforcement, weakens the visa entry-exit system, and creates a “nebulous new system” that fails to protect Americans from illegal foreign workers. These claims are contradicted by the language of the bill itself, which creates very specific border enforcement requirements, enforces entries and exits, requires universal use of common-sense work-authorization verification, and provides a tough-but-fair pathway to citizenship for the undocumented.

S.744 creates very specific metrics for border control and dedicates unprecedented resources to border security, costing $46.3 billion for the initial implementation. “Effective control” of the border must be achieved in all border sectors for at least one year within five years of enactment of the bill. Effective control means persistent surveillance of 100% of the border and a 90% effectiveness rate in preventing illegal crossings. The bill dedicates enormous financial and technological resources to the border, effectively “militarizing” it, by constructing single and double fencing, increasing mobile surveillance, building watchtowers, and deploying unmanned aircraft, camera systems, ground sensors, helicopters, and marine vessels, among countless other costly technical and human resources. Before any undocumented immigrant can obtain legal permanent residence (a “green card”), they must wait at least 13 years, 700 miles of fencing must be completed, mandatory employment verification must be required of all employers, an electronic entry-exit system must be implemented, and at least 38,405 Border Patrol agents must be deployed along the southern border.

Throughout the report, FAIR calls the S.744 legalization program an “amnesty,” like the reform bill signed into law by Ronald Reagan in 1986. Though FAIR never defines what they think “amnesty” is, the tough, earned-citizenship program proposed by S.744 is not “amnesty.” The program requires maintaining regular employment and meeting income requirements, paying taxes (including back taxes), paying thousands of dollars in penalties and fees, passing multiple criminal and security background checks, passing admissibility requirements and criminal bars, and meeting English and civics requirements, and involves waiting 10 years to obtain legal residence and at least 13 to obtain citizenship. Even hardline immigration reform opponent Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) agrees that the S.744 path to citizenship is not “amnesty,” but a legalization program with preconditions.

Other criticisms seem to magnify minor ambiguities or common-sense exemptions to promote confusion and fear. The entry/exit system is called weak because it requires submission of identity-theft resistant documentation “as close to the originally scheduled departure…as practicable,” which theoretically might allow one passenger to check in at the counter and another to board. This can be addressed by regulations clarifying that documentation should be presented as close as possible to boarding. The employment authorization verification system is called ineffective and “nebulous” because judges are allowed to mitigate punishment of employers who make “good faith efforts” to verify employee work eligibility, when this allows common-sense consideration of “compliance history, good-faith implementation of a compliance program, the size and level of sophistication of the employer, and voluntary disclosure of violations” before imposing crippling penalties on small businesses.

By the time the Senate voted 68 to 32 for S. 744, it enjoyed not only solid bi-partisan support, but, if anything, it had moved further to the right with respect to many enforcement issues. At its core, however, it offers benefits that FAIR ignores such as boosting our economy, helping balance the budget, and generating $275 billion in revenue for Social Security, according to the Wall Street Journal. According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, it “is a strong, positive step towards establishing a sensible legal framework and enforceable guidelines that respect the rule of law, helping protect U.S. borders, and meeting the economic and social needs of America.” The Senate has passed a bi-partisan bill that provides a basis for a comprehensive solution to our broken immigration system; it is time for the House of Representatives to take up that challenge.

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