U.S. senators unveil immigration reform bill

A group of Democratic and Republican U.S. senators unveiled long-awaited landmark legislation April 16 to remove the threat of deportation for millions of illegal immigrants and give them an opportunity to eventually become U.S. citizens.

Under the proposal, undocumented immigrants who came to the United States before Dec. 31, 2011, and had stayed in the country continuously could apply for “provisional” legal status as soon as six months after the bill is signed by the president.

But beyond that, they would have to wait a decade or more for full citizenship which would entitle them to federal benefits, while the government works on further securing U.S. borders and enforcing the new immigration law.

The bill’s sponsors — four Democrats and four Republicans — felt such conditions were necessary to help their plan succeed where similar measures have failed, mostly because of opposition to what opponents see as “amnesty” for lawbreakers.

Even with the many caveats, the proposal faces months of debate, scores of amendments and potentially significant opposition, particularly in the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives.

“It’s nothing but a starting point,” Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa told reporters. He is the senior Republican on the Judiciary Committee, the panel that will manage the Immigration Bill.

Billions of dollars in new money would be funnelled into additional border security to discourage people from avoiding detection as they crossed Mexico’s border with the United States.

The bill sets a goal of stopping 90 per cent of illegal crossings at the riskiest sections of the southern border with Mexico, either by catching people or forcing them to go back to their country.

The proposal would expand access to both low- and high-skilled labour for American businesses, attempting to keep organized labour happy with provisions designed to keep companies from hiring cheap foreign labour or filling jobs with immigrants when U.S. workers are available.

For the technology sector, it increases the number of visas available for educated workers filling specialized jobs, though it imposes new pay requirements designed to keep the hiring from depressing wages for U.S. technology workers.

Heavy lobbying, which could complicate passage, is already underway on the visa provisions, with the construction industry, for example, unhappy with a cap placed on the number of foreigners available for construction jobs.

Still, one immigration expert who had been briefed on details of the measure before the outline was provided to reporters called it “a very smart, strategic and forward-looking bill.”

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