Senator Hagel Reintroduces Comprehensive Immigration Reform Legislation

Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE), on October 25, introduced a wide-ranging legislative package designed to address many of the concerns raised by our failing immigration system. The package consists of four bills that deal with: enforcement and national security (S. 1916); employment eligibility verification (S. 1917); future guestworkers (S. 1918); and earned legalization plus backlog reduction (S. 1919). The package is an enhanced version of immigration reform legislation Senator Hagel introduced in 2004 with former Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD).

The Strengthening America’s Security Act of 2005 (S. 1916):

• This legislation would create a new Assistant Attorney General for Immigration Enforcement and increase the number of prosecutors, immigration judges, and federal public defenders to expedite immigration-related litigation.

• The bill would authorize funds to pay for the 2,000 border patrol agents Congress added last year and increase the number of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers over a 5-year period.

• The bill would expand the use of expedited removal to all border patrol sectors along the southern border as soon as operationally possible (expedited removal is currently only authorized at the ports of entry and certain designated border sectors).

• The bill would automatically cancel the visas of aliens who violate the terms of their admission into the U.S.

• The bill would authorize the DHS to collect biometric data from entering aliens and would make an alien’s refusal to provide such data a ground of inadmissibility.

• The bill would increase criminal penalties for alien smuggling, document fraud, misuse of social security numbers, gang violence, and drug trafficking at the border. In addition, it would render deportable any alien who is a member of a street gang, even if he or she has not been convicted of a crime.

• The bill would authorize continued funds to reimburse states for the costs of detaining undocumented aliens and authorize construction of additional detention facilities.

• The bill would require undocumented aliens from noncontiguous countries who are apprehended within 100 miles of the border to post a minimum $5,000 bond to secure their release.

• The bill would require the DHS to report to Congress about which documents need to be machine-readable and tamper-resistant. In addition, the bill would require CBP officers to undergo training in the detection of fraudulent documents, and would give them access to the federal Forensic Document Laboratory.

• The bill would require the DHS to use updated technology at the border, such as unmanned aerial vehicles, cameras and sensors. In addition, the bill would provide for the construction of new infrastructure along the border, such as roads, barriers and border patrol facilities.

• The bill would establish a $10 million grant program for Indian Tribes along the border in exchange for improved border patrol access to tribal lands.

The Employment Verification Act of 2005 (S. 1917):

• This bill would establish a mandatory electronic worker verification system managed by DHS in conjunction with the Social Security Administration, and would reduce the number of documents that can be used to verify employment authorization.

• The new system would allow employers to immediately verify whether an individual is authorized to work in the U.S., and would be phased-in over a 5-year period.

• The bill includes protections to ensure that the system will neither result in hiring discrimination based on race or national origin, nor interfere with the regular hiring process.

• Employers who use the system would receive a “safe-harbor” from prosecution for hiring unauthorized workers.

• The bill would increase penalties for unauthorized employment and claims of false citizenship.

The Strengthening America’s Workforce Act of 2005 (S. 1918):

• This bill would provide foreign workers for low-skilled jobs that would otherwise go unfilled by admitting up to 250,000 workers annually through a new temporary worker program.

• Employers seeking to hire foreign workers through this program would first have to demonstrate that no qualified U.S. worker exists and that they will provide the same wage levels and working conditions as provided to U.S. workers.

• Workers would be admitted for a limited period of time and would be allowed to change employers after 3 months of employment with the petitioning employer. The 3-month employment requirement could be waived in situations where the employer violated a term or condition of sponsorship, or the personal circumstances of the alien changed. New employers would have to file a new application for the alien, and employment could begin upon filing.

• Visas would be good for 2 years and could be renewed.

• Qualified workers and their families would be provided an opportunity to adjust their immigration status over time.

• To address the need for high-tech workers and to reduce the existing worker visa backlog, this bill would allow foreign students who have earned an advanced degree in science, technology, engineering or math from U.S. universities to receive an H-1B visa without leaving the country and without regard to the annual cap of 65,000.

• In addition, high-tech workers who have worked in the U.S. for 3 years would be allowed to adjust to permanent resident status without regard to the annual employment-based immigrant visa cap of 140,000. The spouses and children of immigrant workers would also be allowed to adjust status without regard to this cap.

• To encourage more foreign students to study in the U.S., this bill would give full-time foreign college and graduate students the opportunity to work part-time while studying at U.S. universities.

The Immigrant Accountability Act of 2005 (S. 1919):

• The bill would create an earned adjustment program for long-term undocumented immigrants and provide an opportunity for illegal aliens and their families to become invested stakeholders in the country if they can demonstrate that they have met all of the following requirements:

• Passed national security and criminal background checks;

• Resided in the U.S. for at least 5 years preceding the date of introduction;

• Worked a minimum of 3 years in the U.S. preceding the date of introduction, and 6 years after the date of enactment;

• Paid all federal and state taxes;

• Registered for Military Selective Service;

• Demonstrated knowledge of English language and American civics requirements;

• Paid a $2,000 fine, in addition to required application fees.

• Aliens who cannot prove the 5-year residency or 3-year pre-introduction work requirements for earned adjustment would be given “deferred mandatory departure status.” This status would authorize them to stay and work in the U.S. for 3 years, but would require them to return home to apply for a visa and then be readmitted through legal channels. This provision seeks to distinguish between immigrants who have long-term ties to the U.S. and those who are recent arrivals.

• An alien in deferred mandatory departure status could apply for readmission as an immigrant or nonimmigrant while still in the U.S. or from any location outside the U.S., but would not be granted admission until he or she had actually departed the U.S.

• To reduce the existing backlog of visa applications from family members of U.S. citizens and legal residents, this legislation would exempt immediate family members from existing caps on family-based immigrant visas. This exemption only applies to the spouses, children, and parents of U.S. citizens, and the spouses and children of legal residents.

Cite as AILA Doc. No. 05102840.