Senate Passes S. 744, The Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act

In a vote of 68-32, the United States Senate voted yesterday to approve of the nearly 1,200 page document written to overhaul the nation’s immigration system.

All 54 Senate democrats voted in favor of the bill, 2 independents, and 12 of the 46 Republicans.

While it is not perfect, HIAS celebrates the passage of this legislation, in particular the inclusion of provisions to improve the refugee and asylee systems (read HIAS’ press release).

Refugees and Asylees
S. 744 includes the late Senator Frank Lautenberg’s provision that would allow the President to designate certain vulnerable groups for resettlement, such as religious minorities in Iran. S. 744 also makes some important changes to the asylum system by eliminating the one year filing deadline for applying for asylum, which will allow people’s claims to be addressed based on their merit and will help protect some of the most vulnerable asylum seekers. It also gives asylum officers authority adjudicate asylum claims for those who demonstrate a credible fear of persecution. In addition, S. 744 provides a path to citizenship to a small number of “stateless” individuals in the United States”.

Pathway to Citizenship for Undocumented Immigrants
S. 744 opens a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants residing within the country. Undocumented immigrants eligible for this particular path to citizenship must have been physically present in the United States before December 31, 2011. For 10 years, these individuals will have Registered Provisional Immigrant (RPI) status. RPIs will not be eligible to receive many federal benefits including Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), cash welfare, Medicaid, food stamps, and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). They are required to purchase health insurance, and pay taxes, social security, as well as many other fees necessary to maintain their status as RPIs. After 10 years of RPI status, they will be eligible to adjust to Legal Permanent Residents (green-card holders). Within 3 years of obtaining a green card, they will be able to apply for citizenship. Finally, S. 744 contains a robust version of the DREAM act, which allows eligible individuals to apply for citizenship in five years.

Border Security
Additional measures were added to the border security provisions of the bill to attract more votes from Republican Senators. The largest addition to the original border security section in the bill lays out a plan for achieving a much more secure border. There are five parts of this plan, which must be all met before any of the 11 million undocumented immigrants are eligible to receive their green cards:
• The construction of 350 more miles of fencing on the US-Mexico border.
• The implementation of a biometric system to check visa holders entering and exiting the country.
• The training and deployment of 20,000 more troops on the US-Mexican border.
• The purchase and deployment of $3.2 billion worth of surveillance technology.
• The installment and use of e-verify across the nation by all employers.

Now that this truly substantial and comprehensive piece of legislation has passed in the Senate, all eyes turn towards the House of Representatives for the next steps in the process.