On June 27, 2013, the US the Senate passed its version of Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR) by a resounding 68-32 vote. S. 744, or the “Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act,” as it is known, underwent hundreds of revisions since it was first proposed by the bi-partisan “Gang of Eight” earlier this year. While critics are labeling the bill as an “amnesty over enforcement” approach to immigration reform, S-744 has garnered broad support among Democrats and Republicans in the Senate, as evidenced by the more than two-thirds majority vote it received.
With its balanced approach, S-744 protects the US from terrorist attacks from outside the US, while creating a system to legally register the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the US, allowing law enforcement to monitor their whereabouts and protect the country from within. S-744 demands that a Border Security” effectiveness rate” of 90% be attained within 5 years of enactment among other thresholds, prior to allowing any of the “legalization” provisions of the law to take effect. The Bill makes clear that no undocumented immigrant’s status may be adjusted to “Registered Provisional Immigrant” (RPI) status until the Border security measures are implemented.
The Senate’s bill sets forth several straightforward criteria for a person to become an RPI. First, an applicant must establish his continuous physical residence in the US from a date prior to December 31, 2011 through the date of filing and adjudication of the application. Those who have been convicted of any felony, aggravated felony or three or more misdemeanors are ineligible, as are those who have been convicted of offenses under foreign law, voted unlawfully in the US, or are inadmissible to the US under current criminal, national security, public health or morality grounds.
After 10 years, a person granted RPI status may apply for adjustment of status to Lawful Permanent Resident (Green Card) status Green Card status under the “Merit Based Visa” provision of S-744, which awards lawful permanent residents status to individuals based on their education, employment background and length of residence in the US. To be eligible under this program, an RPI must also establish that he has maintained continuous physical presence, paid all applicable taxes since becoming an RPI, maintained regular employment and demonstrate a knowledge of English, basic history and civics of the US. S-744 also protects those who have been waiting patiently under the current system by barring any such adjustment of status of RPI’s until such time that visas have become available on all family and employment-based petitions filed prior to its enactment.
S-744 also completely overhauls the current legal immigration system, which has been described as “broken” and “unsustainable” with its multi-decade backlogs and confusing requirements. First, the bill completely eliminates the current family and employment-based backlog, relying on the “Merit Based Visa” system described above. Second, the new system will expand the definition of “immediate relatives,” for whom visas are unlimited, to include spouses and children of Green Card holders, in addition to parents, spouses and children of US Citizens. The bill will repeal the current 4th preference category, which allows US Citizens to petition their siblings. Only two family -based “preference” categories will remain, covering unmarried adult children and married adult children filing before age 31; and unmarried adult children of green card holders.
S-744 has been praised as a “momentous step forward” by the US Immigration Bar, business community and legal commentators. The bill, despite its numerous revisions, remained true to the original blueprint the “Gang of Eight” senators presented in January. The Senate now hands the baton off to the House of Representatives to reach consensus on its own vision for immigration reform, which battle has already reached a boiling point in the Republican-dominated chamber.