Just to barely scratch the surface, here are but a few things S.744 would do:
Legalization: Allow noncitizens who are unlawfully present and who entered the U.S. before December 31, 2011 to adjust status to that of Registered Provisional Immigrant (RPI). Eligible applicants would be required to pay a penalty and back taxes. Individuals in RPI status would receive work authorization and may travel abroad. They would also become eligible to apply for LPR status after 10 years, and can apply for naturalization 3 years after acquiring a green card. Includes generous provisions for DREAMers and agricultural workers.
Family-Based Immigrants: Move the current FB-2A category into the immediate relative classification, allow for derivatives of immediate relatives, eliminate the FB-4 category, cap the age of eligibility of married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens at 31, and bring back the V visa.
Employment-Based Immigrants: Exempt the following categories from the quota: EB-1 immigrants, doctoral degree holders, physicians who have completed the foreign residency requirement, and derivatives. Add a new "EB-6" category for certain entrepreneurs.
Temporary Workers: Create a W-1 visa for lesser-skilled workers, a W-2 visa for aliens coming to the U.S. temporarily to perform agricultural services or labor under a written contract, and a W-3 visa for "at-will" workers with an offer of full-time employment in an agricultural occupation. The W-2 and W-3 visas would replace the current H-2A agricultural worker program.
Asylum: Eliminate the one-year filing deadline and authorize asylum officers to grant asylum during credible fear interviews.
E-Verify: Require all employers to be on the system after 5 years.
H-1Bs: Increase the quota to a floor of 110,000 and a ceiling of 180,000, increase the U.S. advanced degree exemption to 25,000 but limit it to STEM graduates, add a recruitment requirement for all H-1B labor condition applications involving a detailed posting on an Internet site designed by the Labor Department, add a non-displacement attestation, change the prevailing wage formula, provide EADs for spouses, and add a 60-day grace period after an H-1B has been terminated from his or her job.
Fraud: Make it a crime to knowingly defraud an immigrant or hold oneself out as an attorney or BIA accredited representative when one is not authorized to do so. Require the identification of individuals who assist immigrants with the completion of forms and empower the Attorney General with injunctive authority to act against an unscrupulous "immigration service provider" at the federal level.
Two months after a top state Democrat filed a resolution telling Washington that Texas was all in for immigration reform, the measure has proved instead to highlight a lingering divide on the issue.
Despite the talk nationwide about broad support for comprehensive immigration reform and embracing those who “would come out of the shadows” if given the chance, Texas lawmakers haven't bought into the bipartisan hype.
In February, state Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, chairman of the International Trade and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee, co-authored House Concurrent Resolution 44 with state Rep. Ana Hernandez Luna, D-Houston. Carefully crafted to include several talking points from Republican groups in favor of reforming the country’s immigration system, the nonbinding resolution was engineered to be an easy sell. It called for an increase in border security, stronger monitoring of visas for potential overstays and adopting an employment verification system – all GOP talking points.
But it also supports a pathway to citizenship.
With fewer than seven weeks left in the legislative session, Anchia has yet to gain support for the measure from a Republican.
The glitch is in the language, said state Rep. Jason Villalba, R-Dallas. “Conservatives and others alike are nervous that what path to citizenship means is, we have an amnesty program in place,” he said. “Amnesty means a lot of things to a lot of different people.”
Villalba has taken the lead for the conservatives and is working with Anchia to change some of the language.
“We remain optimistic,” Anchia said, despite the lack of visible support. “And we’re making progress.”
But this week also proved the state House members need not look to their federal counterparts for advice on finding common ground. Just days before the so-called Gang of Eight — a bipartisan coalition of U.S. senators — was scheduled to unveil its plans for immigration reform, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, filed companion legislation they dubbed the "Border Security Results Act of 2013.” That bill requires the Department of Homeland Security to meet certain benchmarks, including a 90 percent apprehension rate, and inform Congress regularly of its progress in securing the border.
While Anchia’s measure is nonbinding and symbolic, the Cornyn/McCaul measure has teeth. And the duo has clout. Cornyn is the ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Immigration, Refugees and Border Security Subcommittee, and McCaul, who worked for Cornyn in the Texas attorney general's office, is the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.
They don't intend to tell DHS how to do its job or derail immigration reform, they said, adding they want their colleagues to be better informed about the situation on the border as the debate moves forward.
Democrats were not amused.
“With about 800 miles of Texas-Mexico border in the district, I know the border impacts every part of our state. I’m hopeful that this bill is a good faith effort to move forward and not an attempt to build another wall between immigrants and the American dream,” U.S. Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, said in a statement.
His fellow freshman, U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville, added: "Opponents of immigration reform seek to hold the process hostage by insisting on a finding of border security on the U.S.-Mexico border. Attaching such a condition to the immigration reform debate is nothing more than a plain attempt to thwart reform efforts. In other words, those who would condition immigration reform on a finding of border security simply oppose a pathway to citizenship for 11 million unauthorized individuals currently in this country.”
The latest USCIS DACA numbers from March show that the agency has received roughly 470,000 applications, which means that just under half of those estimated to be eligible have applied. While the success reflected by the 470,000 figure is not to be downplayed, the new numbers beg the question: What about the other half million? Why are they still unDACAmented?
Hard data isn’t available yet, but the organizations working tirelessly to help young people apply for DACA believe that a large percentage of eligible immigrants are living in rural America, which presents them with a range of challenges. Estimates show that roughly one quarter of all DREAMers live in rural communities and that upwards of half of them need to enroll in a qualifying adult education program to become DACA-eligible. If we hone in on the migrant farmworker population — which contains about 55,000 DREAMers – over 80%would need to take steps to meet the education requirement.
Apart from the educational hurdle, there is a substantial financial one. Migrant farmworkers generally earn a little over $11,000 a year, making the $465 DACA filing fee cost-prohibitive. As if these obstacles weren’t enough, itinerant farmworkers are particularly hard-pressed when it comes to producing evidence of continuous residence since June 15, 2007 (a requirement of the program) and gaining access to legal services.
Anecdotal evidence bolsters these conclusions. Recently, the Florida Dream Coalition, working in conjunction with volunteer law students from the University of Miami and Florida International University, organized several DACA workshops throughout central Florida. During the workshops, immigrants described the obstacles they faced to applying for DACA. Those living in rural communities provided consistent answers: they didn’t know about the program; they live far away from legal service providers; they fear that the government will try to deport them if they apply; they don’t meet the education requirement; and, above all, the application fee is too high. At the Gainesville DACA clinic, the Harvest of Hope Foundation, a non-profit providing migrant farmworkers with emergency and education services, pledged funds to cover the filing fees of local DACA applicants. Nearly every individual at the clinic that day needed financial assistance.
Lessons from North Carolina lend credence to the theory that there is an urban/rural divide within the applicant pool. If you compare USCIS figures to estimates produced by the Immigration Policy Center, it turns out that about 40-50% of the eligible DREAMer population has applied for DACA. Except in North Carolina. In North Carolina, roughly 16,500 out of an estimated 18,000 — 90% — have applied. What explains the disparity? Farmworker organizers report that North Carolina’s farmworker outreach network is exceptional. In which case, North Carolina may provide the model for effective DACA implementation throughout the country.
If indeed many of the remaining unDACAmented youth are in rural America, future outreach efforts must be targeted accordingly, placing appropriate emphasis on linking would-be applicants to qualifying adult education programs. It also means that the availability and accessibility of microloans and scholarships for DACA filing fees will play a make-or-break role for tens of thousands of individuals going forward.
Let’s not miss the silver-lining, however. If this hypothesis is correct, then outreach in urban areas has largely been a success. The impassioned, outspoken and social media-savvy DREAMers at organizations like United We Dreamand its affiliates deserve immense credit for getting the word out about DACA. Half a million applications in 8 months is no small feat. Now it’s time to turn our attention to the rural areas and getting those young people DACAmented.
The Florida Supreme Court has denied an undocumented law graduate’s motion to grant admission to the state bar. Jose Godinez-Samperio, the law graduate, came to the United States on a lawful visa when he was nine years old and overstayed his visa. He graduated from Florida State University's law school and passed the Florida bar examination.
Listen to this NPR story about Ruben Aguilar, 85, a U.S. citizen who was forcibly deported from the U.S. 80 years ago as part of a largely forgotten Mexican repatriation program run by the American government. During the Great Depression, hundreds of thousands of people of Mexican descent were forcibly deported to Mexico without due process, including many American citizens. Aguilar was born in Chicago but at age 6 was deported with his parents, who were undocumented.
Grecia Cantu was thrilled to get a seat on a Baylor University bus that took students to cheer on the school’s football team at a bowl game in California in December.
But Cantu’s excitement soon turned to dread when she realized the bus would travel through several immigration checkpoints.
She remembers switching to a less visible seat and pretending to be asleep, figuring that was her best shot at avoiding detection if officials boarded. The only identification she could provide — a Mexican citizenship card — would have been a dead giveaway she was in the United States illegally.
“Luckily, the bus went right on through and I didn’t have to provide ID,” Cantu said. “But that’s only because I was under the protection of Baylor. It’s stuff like that I don’t have to worry about anymore.”
Cantu is one of nearly 200,000 young people who have received permission to live in the United States under a policy change established by President Barack Obama last summer. It was aimed at people brought here illegally as children by their parents.
The special permission is given for two years, with the promise of it being renewable for at least another two years after that.
Although it is not a permanent solution for young immigrants, it has allowed them to get a driver’s license and permission to work for the first time.
Locally, more 200 people have applied, said attorneys who have worked with such clients.
“I feel so normal now,” said Cantu, who asked that a different surname be used for this article to protect her parents from the threat of deportation. “I’m at such ease. I know now that if I do something accidentally, like run a stop sign, it will stay minor. It won’t lead to jail anymore.”
Cantu also can now use the business administration degree she will receive from Baylor in May. She is considering going through a teacher certification course this summer so she can pursue her original goal of becoming an elementary school teacher.
When Cantu graduated from University High School, her plan was to immediately enroll in Baylor’s school of education, with the help of several scholarships.
But after learning federal student aid wasn’t available to her because of her immigration status, she instead enrolled at McLennan Community College. Her academic performance there eventually earned her a full ride to Baylor.
Even then, Cantu had no assurance she would be able to use her degree because she didn’t have legal permission to work. She thought her only option might be to start her own marketing firm.
That changed in June, when Obama announced a policy that has become known as DACA, or deferred action for childhood arrivals. It allows certain young immigrants brought here as children to apply for legal permission to live here.
Cantu, now age 21, applied almost immediately. But because of processing glitches, she didn’t get her approval letter until early March.
Cantu’s twin 18-year-old brothers and her 26-year-old fiance also got approved. For her fiance, it means a chance to leave his restaurant job in pursuit of one that uses his media communications degree. Her brothers also are exploring newly available job offers, she said.
“We’re all just moving forward toward something better. . . . There’s nothing I want to take away from others,” Cantu said. “I just want to have the same opportunities as everyone else. I want to work and have a normal life.”
Waco attorneys Susan Nelson and Laura Hernandez have heard similar stories from dozens of other local residents. Nelson, who has a private practice that specializes in immigration cases, has helped about 60 people apply under DACA.
Nelson has volunteered at a clinic organized by Baylor Law School. It has helped about 150 people apply, she said.
Hernandez, who started and oversees the clinic, said those involved don’t hear how every application turned out. But so far, she has not heard of anyone being turned down.
Processing times generally have been good, Hernandez said. Most people have been approved about six weeks after their biometrics appointment, where fingerprints are taken.
“That may seem like a long time,” Hernandez said. “But that is like lightning speed for (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services).”
Participation in the clinic has been lower this spring, as compared to the fall, Hernandez said. That follows a national pattern.
USCIS data shows October was the peak month for applications, with 117,213 submitted. That number dropped to 15,167 for the first half of February.
Those involved in the law school clinic are trying to get the word out to people who are eligible but have not yet applied. They are reaching out to churches, schools and organizations such as the Cen-Tex Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Hernandez said.
Some people may be holding off in hopes Congress soon will come up with more permanent immigration reform, Nelson said. But attorneys are advising those who qualify to take advantage of DACA now. If a better solution eventually becomes available, people still can apply for it then, she said.
Two more clinics are being held this month. It takes an average of two hours to help each applicant fill out the necessary forms and go over the documentation they must submit with it, Nelson said.
“We give them a packet that is hopefully ready to go in the mail,” Nelson said. “We’ve still got (clinic) spots open and we’d like to fill them up.”
Baylor Law School DACA clinic
Services are offered for free but an appointment must be made to receive help. Appointments can be made by calling 888-497-0018 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Upcoming clinic dates are Thursday and Tuesday.
People are eligible for DACA help if they were less than 31 years old when the policy was announced in June, came to the United States before age 16; and have continuously lived in the country since June 2007.
Eligible applicants must also be in school, have graduated from high school or have a GED or been honorably discharged from the military. In addition, people must be free of convictions for a felony, a significant misdemeanor or three or more other misdemeanors.
The Associated Press has dropped the phrase “illegal immigrant” from its stylebook, a victory for immigrant advocates who argue that the term is biased against the people it describes.
“The Stylebook no longer sanctions the term ‘illegal immigrant’ or the use of ‘illegal’ to describe a person,” a blog post from AP Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll explains. “Instead, it tells users that ‘illegal’ should describe only an action, such as living in or immigrating to a country illegally.”
The move, Carroll writes, is part of a broader shift away from labeling people and towards labeling behavior — for example, referring to people “diagnosed with schizophrenia” instead of “schizophrenics.”
The AP has previously rejected the term “undocumented immigrants,” favored by some pro-reform activists, as inaccurate. Many people in the country illegally have documents, just not the right ones.