New U.S. immigration bill proposes time-limit and employer scrutiny

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

United States Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said it is unlikely that a new bill to reform immigration legislation will receive action by the legislative body this year. The bill, introduced yesterday by Jon Kyl (R,AZ) and John Cornyn (R,TX), would require immigrant workers to apply from their native countries for a visa to remain in the states.

The number of illegal immigrants in the U.S. is estimated to be in the range of 10 to 12 million.

The bill is in contrast to a different measure by Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and John McCain (R-AZ) submitted two months ago. That bill would create a visa category where temporary workers are not tied to any job in particular and would allow them to apply for permanent residence regardless of employment. The bill has republican co-sponsorship from Jim Kolbe and Jeff Flake, both from Arizona where the porous US-Mexican border is an issue.

The Kennedy-McCain bill allows illegal aliens already in the U.S. to petition the government to remain. A position that Kyl in effect calls the equivalent of granting "amnesty". Kennedy answered that criticism by saying, "The mass deportation of illegal immigrant persons as contemplated by the Cornyn-Kyl bill is not a realistic solution, and won't solve the security and economic problems we face."

The Kyl-Cornyn bill proposal is an attempt to tie immigrant status to U.S. employment. The legislation would create a guest worker program that would match immigrant workers with jobs mostly not wanted by American citizens. An immigrant worker would be given five years to come into compliance with an employment order. It calls for 10,000 federal agents, at a cost in the range of 2 to 5 billion, to audit employers who hire undocumented workers. Companies that break a proposed new law to monitor undocumented immigrants would be subject to penalties.

The bill drew criticism from immigration groups which include two leading Hispanic organizations because of the "mandatory departure" requirement. Immigrants who wait five years before leaving the U.S. would pay annual fines totaling $5,000 each year. Or, after making a return trip to their native country, they can again apply from there for a temporary job in the U.S. They would work for two years in the U.S., return home for a year, and then reapply for two more two-year work cycle. The maximum would be six years in the United States. In their home country, they could also apply for U.S. immigrant programs, including the "green card" that grants permanent residency.

Kyl said he believes businesses will not object because his plan would make verifying legal workers easier by reducing the documentation required. The basics of the plan include:

  • Requires immigrants to be registered, fingerprinted and checked against criminal and terrorist watch lists.
  • Allow immigrants two years under the a temporary-worker visa, after which they would have to return home for a year. Temporary-worker visas could be used three times for a maximum stay of six years total.
  • Illegal immigrants now in the U.S. register for a "mandatory departure" program that would give them time to leave voluntarily. They could re-enter through the temporary-worker program, but could not apply for permanent residence while in the U.S.

The bill also calls for replacing the practice currently in place in the U.S. of issuing paper Social Security cards with the issuance of a tamper-proof cards. The Social Security Administration identification card is treated by most states as no form of personal identification at all. A birth certificate is considered a primary form of identification, along with driver's licenses, passports and other official state or other territory photo-identification cards. The bill proposes that social security cards should be "machine readable" and a primary form of identification.

A terrorism-driven drive to turn driver's licenses into a national ID card faces hurdles. Peter Costello, treasurer of Australia, said he will not support national ID cards unless there is convincing evidence it fights terrorism.

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