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< Back to current issue of Immigration Daily < Back to current issue of Immigrant's Weekly

STATEMENT ON THE INTRODUCTION OF THE HOUSE DEMOCRATS' EARNED LEGALIZATION AND FAMILY UNIFICATION LEGISLATION

Introduction

Before September 11, 2001, our country's leaders from the Executive Branch to the Congress were actively engaged in exploring a fundamental re-crafting and rewriting of our immigration policies. Due to the horrific events of September 11, 2001, that agenda had to be delayed as our country struggled to find ways to ensure our security, while still respecting the civil rights and essential dignity of the immigrants within our country.

Since September 11, Congress has taken important steps to secure our borders and enhance our nation's security against the terrorist threat. The sound policy rationales that were propelling us to re-craft our immigration laws before September 11 continue to exist today and are even more urgent. To the core values of family unity, fundamental fairness and economic opportunity that we articulated in the Democratic Statement of Principles on Immigration a year ago, we now add a pressing concern -- the need to bring the undocumented population out of the shadows and into the light of greater accountability so that they too can aid in effectively securing our great nation. The need for comprehensive immigration reform has not abated, and our resolve to move forward in this effort remains.

Earned Legalization And Family Unification

Today, Democrats are introducing legislation that will take the first step toward comprehensive immigration reform that will recognize immigrants who have been working and contributing to this country while also increasing our security. Our earned legalization legislation will ensure that hard-working, tax-paying immigrants will be able to adjust their status and live legally if they have resided in the United States for at least five years, have a work history of at least two years and are able to pass a background check.

Our legislation will benefit both America and an immigrant population that has embraced the American Dream. It will streamline the enforcement of our immigration laws and allow us to shift important enforcement resources to tracking down those who have come to the US to do us harm. Reducing the number of undocumented immigrants in the US will enable us to better focus on individuals who pose a real terrorist threat. At the same time, our legislation rewards work by ensuring that qualifying immigrants can move on with their lives free of the fear that one day they or members of their family may be sent away from their adopted country forever.

Our legislation will also speed the reunification of families, so that our immigration system will not force families to choose between long years of separation and undocumented immigration. We value family-based immigration because it solidifies important family ties and creates stronger communities. Yet, our current immigration system puts extreme stress on families, forcing them to wait many years before they can be reunited. We believe it is not in the best interest of our communities to force such long separations.

We must recognize, however, that this is but a first step, and that much more remains to be done. There has been much debate about the need for new and expanded temporary worker programs. Even as we debate the merits of legalizing the hard-working population already in the United States, we acknowledge that a comprehensive immigration policy debate must address future flows of immigrants and their impact on the US labor force. Indeed, President Fox of Mexico continues to press the Bush Administration for movement in this area. We must consider reasonable policy options for regulating, limiting and controlling this future flow of immigrants in a way consistent with our nation's highest values.

As Presidents Bush and Fox resume bilateral migration discussions, and we encourage their efforts, we note that immigrants come from many different countries which highlights the importance of having broad and expansive discussions of the myriad issues presented by immigration trends. As the discussion continues, it is vital that the issues we set forth below are thoughtfully and effectively addressed and are key elements to any future legislative or administrative efforts.

Adjusted Status For Workers Currently In The United States And Towards Regularizing The Status Of Future Immigrants

Consistent with our original Democratic Statement of Principles on Immigration, we recognize that to achieve the comprehensive immigration reform that we outlined, the status adjustment of undocumented immigrants currently residing in the United States who do not otherwise qualify for our earned legalization proposal must be addressed. We should find a way to place these undocumented workers and their families on the same path to legalization as those who qualify for our earned legalization proposal.

In addition, we must seek to regularize the flow of immigrants who cross our border. By seeking regularization, a legal mechanism could be provided for recent arrivals to the US to work while not undermining the wages, benefits standards and legal protections of US workers and local labor markets. Such an effort should include the following essential elements: 1) a thorough and accurate methodology for determining the need for foreign workers and the application of the most reliable labor market tests; 2) accurate wage determinations based on relevant wage information, union contracts and benefits and the development of new formulas that reflect industry standards; 3) equitable labor protections for foreign and US workers, including the right to organize -- foreign temporary workers should not be used to undermine union organizing efforts; and 4) the Department of Labor must be given the necessary enforcement resources and procedures to ensure full compliance and temporary foreign workers must be provided a private right of action to ensure full compliance.

As we move forward in the development of any new efforts, we also recognize the necessity of avoiding the failures of past guest-worker programs. We must ensure that existing visa programs are reformed to function properly and as intended, and we must direct the necessary resources to training for US workers and better link such training to available jobs.

Conclusion

We enter this debate recognizing that immigration reform can be a complex issue; indeed, previous immigration reforms have failed to meet the high standards that we establish for ourselves in this debate. For precisely this reason, we intend to lead a comprehensive immigration reform debate that unflinchingly addresses the difficult questions that are critical to any serious policy discussion. We look forward to the challenges ahead and to reshaping our immigration policy to strengthen America's control over its borders and to reflect the American values of hard work and family.

Democratic Earned Legalization and Family Unification Act of 2002

Legislation to provide access to permanent resident status for qualified, undocumented immigrant workers and to unify the families of US citizens.

I. Earned Legalization

  1. Criteria for Adjustment of Status: The Attorney General shall adjust the status of any undocumented immigrant to that of a person lawfully admitted for permanent residence if the individual meets the following requirements:
    • Continuous residence in the United States for at least 5 years prior to the date of enactment;
    • A history of work in the United States in the aggregate of 24 months;
    • Passes a federal background check;
    • Establishes no outstanding tax liability or has rectified any outstanding tax liability;
    • Demonstrates a minimal understanding of ordinary English and a knowledge and understanding of the history of the United States, or is satisfactorily pursuing a course of study to achieve such an understanding of English and such a knowledge and understanding of the history and government of the United States;
    • Registers with the Attorney General at the time of filing an application and pays a fee to be determined by the Attorney General in consultation with Congress;
    • Demonstrates that he/she has not been a federal public charge; and
    • Applies prior to the sunset of the program 3 years following the date of issuance of final regulations.
  2. Family Unification: The spouse and children of a person eligible for adjustment of status under this provision are eligible for adjustment of status.
  3. Work Authorization: Provides applicant and eligible dependents work authorization during the pending application.
  4. Remove Obstacles to Educational Opportunities for Immigrant Children: Provides adjustment of status eligibility for children who have no eligible parents and who have been students in the United States for 5 years, remain in school and show good moral character.
  5. False Statements Penalties: Penalizes any false statements made in the application by an applicant with a fine or denial of the application.
  6. Judicial review: Provides judicial or administrative review for denials of an application.

II. Family Unification/Visa Backlog Reduction

  1. To ensure the availability of visas to qualifying family members and reduce the current backlog of visa applicants:
Remove the immediate relatives- spouses, unmarried minor children and parents - of US citizens from the worldwide cap.


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