Marking what could be the beginning of the end to partisan infighting in the US Congress over immigration reform, Senator Chuck Hagel (R-Nebraska) on April 26, 2007 introduced the “Immigrant Accountability Act of 2007” (S. 1225). Focusing on an effort to resolve the status of some 18 million “undocumented” persons in the US currently, rather than creating a “guest worker” program to appease hard-line anti-immigrant politicians, Mr. Hagel’s bill offers a “tough but fair” solution to the country’s most pressing immigration issue. S. 1225 will accord applicants who arrived in the US prior to January 7, 2004 an opportunity to obtain an “Orange Card” as proof of lawful conditional resident status and the legal right to work in the US, en route to permanent resident status and eventual citizenship.
Under S. 1225, any person in the US in “unlawful status” prior to January 7, 2004, as well as the spouse and children of such a person, will be issued an “ORANGE CARD” no more than 30 days after the applicant files for conditional resident status and has completed all background criminal and security checks. All information contained in the application will be treated with confidentiality and cannot be used to institute removal proceedings against an applicant. The Orange card will be issued with special, fraud resistant and biometric features and will indicate boldly that the holder is allowed to live and work legally in the US. Continued validity of the Orange Card depends upon the card holder maintaining steady employment in the US; the USCIS could revoke the orange card if the holder is out of work for more than 90 consecutive days.
The second step involves filing an application for permanent resident status within the first 180 days after the USCIS makes the permanent resident application available. The Orange Card itself will remain valid for a period at least 8 ½ years, or until the holder’s permanent status is granted. To be eligible for the adjustment to permanent resident status, the applicant must earn at least 65% of the qualifying “base points” available under a schedule the USCIS will establish. Base points are earned for years of working and residing in the US, participation in Civic and religious organizations, educational attainment, English language ability, family ties to citizens or permanent residents in the US, as well as for “contributions to society,” including higher educational attainment, honorable service in the US military, and owning a home or business in the US.
Certain grounds of “inadmissibility” will not apply to applicants under S. 1225, including lack of proper entry documentation, labor certification or inadmissibility for “unlawful presence,” also known as the “3 and ten year bars.” Additionally, a person will be rendered ineligible if he has been convicted of two or more misdemeanors or one single felony. Finally, persons subject to pending removal proceedings or final orders of removal may obtain a stay of removal under S. 1225 if they can establish eligibility for permanent resident status under the program.
While a final version of the S. 1225 is perhaps months away, the Bill was written with an ear toward what may Democrat and Republican Congress people have been promoting in previous efforts for immigration reform. Mr. Hagel’s bill takes a common sense approach to introducing a feasible rule of law to regularize the status of millions of undocumented people in the US, while creating a rigorous application process to answer criticism that any “legalization” program is just another “amnesty” and rewards people for previous illegal behavior.
With the full-support of the President and the sponsorship of a Senior Republican senator, S. 1225 stands a realistic chance of surviving debate and revisions to become the first workable piece of immigration reform legislation in over 20 years.