Greenberg Traurig, LLP  


Immigration News Flash

March 30, 2006

Exciting News From Capitol Hill: Overview of the Bill Passed Out of the Senate Judiciary Committee 3/27/2006

GT commends and applauds Chairman Specter and the Senate Judiciary Committee members for passing a bill out of committee on March 27, 2006. The legislative process ran its course and Chairman Specter remained committed to producing a bipartisan bill out of committee. It is our hope that Senator Frist will respect this process and the product passed out of the Judiciary Committee. Although the bill is not concrete and amendments can be made on the Senate floor, there was a great deal of progress made and the Committee product is a strong starting point for further debate on the Senate floor.

Title IV

Temporary Guest Worker Program

Senator Kennedy offered an amendment that created a temporary work visa for temporary workers. This program was part of the McCain/Kennedy legislation and allows for a 3 year visa with the option to renew the work visa for an additional 3 years. The temporary worker program allows for the worker to obtain a green card, and eventually provides a path to citizenship.

Regarding the cap, Senator Kyl offered an amendment (6465) that would ensure that if unemployment were high in a particular category of job, in a particular metropolitan statistical area (one in which unemployment exceeded 11 %) the granting of visas to temporary workers would be precluded. This amendment passed on voice vote.

Senator Kyl offered an amendment (6466) that was to have been applied to the Mark and now would apply to the substituted Kennedy/McCain temporary worker program. The amendment would require that if the temporary worker self-petitions for permanent status after 4 years, as permitted under the McCain/Kennedy language, s/he must go home and wait in line with people already in the pipeline. Senator Kennedy opposed the amendment stating that sending them back would unduly disrupt their lives and their jobs. The Kyl amendment failed on a roll call vote of 11-5.

Agricultural Guest Worker Program

Senator Feinstein offered an amendment (6493) that creates a guest worker program for agricultural jobs (“AgJobs”). Senator Craig, the primary sponsor of AgJobs, was present during mark-up. Amendment 6493 is a pilot program allowing undocumented immigrants to adjust status if they meet prescribed requirements, including previous employment for a specific amount of time, proof of payment of taxes, paying a fine, etc. The motivation behind this amendment is to create a legalized workforce for this industry. The program has a cap of 1.5 million over a 5 year period. Under this program, spouses and children can get work permits and they are permitted to travel. This would sunset at the end of a five year period.

Title VI

The Undocumented and Earned Adjustment

There were also other significant bipartisan efforts. Chairman Specter discussed the unrealistic notion that the U.S. will seek, detain and deport the 11 million undocumented immigration currently in the U.S. In this spirit, a reasonable provision providing for earned adjustment was accepted which would allows for illegal aliens out of status to come forward, pay a fine, go through security and background checks, prove knowledge of English and work for 6 years and then get in the back of the line before being able to adjust status. Though this amendment was offered by Senator Graham, it very much resembles the McCain/Kennedy provisions.

In reaction to these developments, Senator Cornyn released a statement noting that though he remains committed to comprehensive reform, he “cannot vote to support this compromise, or any compromise, until I’ve had time to adequately study the proposed text, and until I’m satisfied that the compromise does not offer amnesty to those who have broken our immigration laws at the expense of those who are following our laws. In this area, it is important to know what the text says and what it does not say so that we know definitively how the chairman proposes we treat those who have broken the law.”

Other Notable Highlights

Title I

Senator Durbin offered an amendment that would protect churches and individuals that assist undocumented immigrants in obtaining food, shelter and medical treatment from becoming felons. Criminalization of the undocumented was retained in the legislation but only on a going forward basis following enactment of the legislation. The retroactive provisions of the Chairman’s Mark were removed. Additionally, undocumented individuals in the U.S. would be treated as misdemeanants and not felons (as was done in the House bill).

Title III

Title III, the employment of unauthorized workers was not reported out of committee and will be debated on the floor. Title III, which specifically deals with employment eligibility and verification systems, is currently being considered in the Senate Finance Committee and, as noted by Senator Grassley, the Finance Committee did not finish negotiations. The Judiciary Committee therefore could not take up this title.

Title VII

The Judiciary Committee also did not deal with Title VII, regarding Judicial Reform because there is a great deal of controversy regarding the provision in the Chairman’s Mark.