First we have Senator Ayotte's interview on Face The Nation. This is followed by the newsletter with a thorough in depth explanation of her position on the Immigration Bill currently before the US Senate.
Dear friend and supporter,
I'm writing this morning to discuss the immigration bill, as votes are set to begin on the Senate floor this Tuesday.
Our immigration system is severely broken and now is the time to fix it. With an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States, the status quo isn't working. In fact, what we have today is de facto amnesty. Our nation cannot afford to continue down this path.
You know that I ran for the Senate to make tough, independent decisions to strengthen our country, and that's what it will take to solve our nation's immigration problems. After careful review of this bill, I will support it and plan to vote for amendments offered to strengthen it.
This legislation secures the border first, with more border agents, more fencing, and better surveillance technology. And it requires all employers to use an employment verification system – known as "E-Verify" – to check that job applicants are lawful for employment. Before any of these 11 million can earn a green card, they will go to the back of the line, they will not receive means-tested federal benefits and Obamacare subsidies, and they will be required to pay fines, pay taxes, and pass background checks. This process is rigorous. It will take a minimum of 10 years to obtain a green card and a minimum of 13 years for naturalization – and that's only if certain border security and employment enforcement measures are met.
The bill also addresses a concern about legal immigration that I've heard frequently from New Hampshire's business community, especially the high-tech industry: that the outdated cap on visas for highly-skilled workers is holding back our economy.
After companies make every effort to recruit Americans to perform particular jobs and can't find any – especially those with expertise in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) – they are forced to look elsewhere. This legislation addresses that shortfall and will strengthen our economy. The best and brightest who are educated in our colleges should be able to stay here, start businesses here and create more American jobs.
Let's not forget that we're a nation of immigrants. We're all descended from people who came here from somewhere else in search of a better life. In generations past, immigration has enriched our nation culturally and economically. We are all heirs to the dreams and hard work of the immigrants who helped build this country – neighborhood by neighborhood.
But the severely broken immigration system we have now is unworthy of a great nation. We need immigration reform that serves our country's best interests – not another executive order from President Obama that removes Congress and the American people from this critical debate. And the legislation that is now before the Senate takes steps to end illegal immigration while ensuring that highly-skilled legal immigrants can add their talents to our workforce to help grow our economy and create jobs.
I plan on communicating with you throughout the Senate debate because I want to work on this together. Below please find: (1) a "Frequently Asked Questions" summary; (2) a link to the text of the immigration bill that will be considered on the Senate floor; (3) important components of this bill that I want you to be aware of, and that have helped me to understand it more fully.
Thank you for your friendship,
P.S. I hope you'll take a few minutes to read my op-ed, which further details my views.
Frequently Asked Questions
Will illegal immigrants be eligible for federal public benefits or other welfare programs?
No. Anyone who is not an American citizen or has not been a permanent legal resident for at least five years will not have access to means-tested federal benefits. The bill also explicitly states that the people who earn Registered Provisional Immigrant (RPI) status will not be eligible for the health insurance exchange subsidies under ObamaCare.
After at least ten years, if the border security and employment enforcement triggers are met and backlog of legal immigrant applicants has been cleared, then, and only then, will Registered Provisional Immigrants have the ability to apply for a green card. They will not be eligible to receive any federal means-tested benefits for an additional five years once they gain Lawful Permanent Resident status. As a result, for at least the next 15 years, millions of people already living in the U.S. will begin paying taxes without receiving any benefits - resulting in a net surplus for our federal budget.
Will illegal immigrants get access to green cards before the border is secure?
No. There are triggers that must be met before any currently illegal immigrant is given access to a green card.
What are the triggers?
- The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) must create, fund, and substantially deploy and operate a border security strategy.
- DHS must create, fund, and substantially complete a border fence strategy.
- DHS must achieve 100 percent border awareness and at least 90 percent effectiveness rate in all border sectors (within five years of bill’s enactment).
- A universal Employment Verification (E-Verify) system must be implemented within five years.
- A visa-exit system must be implemented for all international airports and seaports by 2015.
- The legal immigration application backlog must be cleared.
Does the bill provide for immediate legal status for illegal immigrants?
No. The bill does not immediately grant legal status to anyone here illegally. The bill has two principal measures that must be met before the bill’s legalization provisions can take effect. First, the Secretary of DHS would be required to certify to Congress that the Border Security and Border Fencing strategies have begun to be implemented before individuals here illegally (prior to 2012) would be allowed to apply for the new Registered Provisional Immigrant (RPI) status created by the bill
Second, RPIs would not be allowed to adjust to Legal Permanent Resident (LPR) status until DHS submits a written certification to Congress that:
- The Comprehensive Southern Border Security Strategy and the Fencing Strategy have been substantially deployed and implemented;
- DHS has implemented a mandatory employment verification system to be used by all employers; and
- DHS has deployed an electronic exit system to all air and sea ports;
Also, individuals applying for RPI status are ineligible if they are: convicted of an aggravated felony; convicted of a felony; convicted of three or more misdemeanors; convicted of an offense under foreign law; unlawfully voted; or inadmissible for criminal, national security, public health, or other morality grounds. A person who is granted RPI status is not eligible for any federal means-tested benefit and is considered as a noncitizen for the purposes of certain other federal benefits.
After ten years, those in RPI status may adjust to LPR if they meet certain requirements, including that they have maintained continuous physical presence; that they have paid all taxes owed during the period for which they are in status as an RPI; that they have worked in the United States regularly; and that they demonstrated knowledge of civics and English. Once in LPR status, an individual may be naturalized in three years provided that he or she meets all requirements for naturalization.
Does the bill grant amnesty for the 11 million illegal immigrants currently in the United States?
No. If the immigration bill is signed into law, hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants who do not qualify for temporary legal status will be subject to deportation. The legislation also provides for enhanced punishment as well as increased funding for deportation of future illegal immigrants. This bill eliminates today’s de facto amnesty in which we have 11 million illegal immigrants living in our country without any consequences.
What qualifications must an illegal immigrant meet before he or she can earn legal status?
There are a series of strict tests over the course of a decade to ensure that only eligible illegal immigrants receive legal status under the immigration proposal. To initially qualify for a temporary Registered Provisional Status, illegal immigrants must prove that they have been in the United States since before 2012. They must also pay taxes owed, undergo security and background checks, and pay a $500 fine. Then, six years later, they must renew the temporary status, pay an additional $500 fine, and prove that they have been employed, paying taxes and not a public charge for the previous six years. After ten years, if all of the security and enforcement triggers are completed and once the backlog of pending legal immigrant applicants is cleared, illegal immigrants granted Registered Provisional Status will be allowed to apply for green cards, but must again prove that they have been employed for the previous ten years, paying taxes, and are not a public charge, and must pay an additional $1,000 fine. The burden of proof at every stage will be on the individuals, consistent with other existing federal laws that mandate residency requirements.
What does the bill do to keep the best and brightest here?
The bill expands the availability of visas for highly skilled immigrants by exempting certain categories from the annual numerical limits, including immigrants of extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business or athletics; science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) advanced degree graduates; outstanding professors and researchers; multinational executives and managers; doctoral degree holders in any field; and certain physicians. The bill also creates a new visa category for startups and eliminates the per-country limits for employment-based immigrants.
The bill also increases the number of H-1B visas from 65,000 up to 180,000 by establishing a market-based formula that would fluctuate based on market demand. The H-1B cap exemption for holders of U.S. advanced degrees in STEM fields would be increased from 20,000 to 25,000.
Will eligible immigrants applying for legal status have to learn English and become assimilated in America?
There are a series of strict tests over the course of a decade to ensure that only eligible illegal immigrants earn legal status under the immigration proposal. One such test to qualify for permanent resident status includes knowledge of civics and English.
Key Components of Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act (S. 744)
Securing the Border
- Sec 6 (pg. 871) Border Security and Border Fence Plan: The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) must create, fund and initiate a border security and border fence plan (within six months of bill’s enactment). The bill would create a “Comprehensive Immigration Reform Fund” that would be used to strengthen border security. The Secretary would be directed to present Congress with a “Southern Border Security Strategy” and a “Southern Border Fencing Strategy” within six months of enactment, to include additional border agents and surveillance and identify where fencing, infrastructure, and technology should be deployed. $1.5 billion would be made available from the fund for constructing additional fencing and $3 billion for the security strategy.
- Sec 3 (pg. 854) Border Security Metrics: DHS must achieve 100 percent border awareness and at least 90 percent effectiveness in all border sectors (within five years of bill’s enactment). The effectiveness rate would be calculated by compiling the total number of apprehensions of unauthorized crossers and add that to the total number of illegal entrants who retreated back into Mexico because of the efforts of the U.S. Border Patrol, and dividing that sum by the total number of illegal border crossings. If DHS fails to meet border security requirements, a Border Commission consisting of presidential, congressional, and border state appointees, is required to create and implement a plan to achieve 100 percent border awareness and at least 90 percent effectiveness in all border sectors (Sec 4).
- Sec 3101 (pg. 1300) Employment Verification (E-Verify): Universal E-Verify must be implemented. Under the bill, all employers will be required to use the E-Verify system over a five year phase-in period. Employers with more than 5,000 employees will be phased-in within two years. Employers with more than 500 employees will be phased-in within three years.
As part of the E-Verify system, every non-citizen will be required to show their employment authorization document, or their green card. These photographs will be stored in the E-Verify system. In order for the non-citizen to be cleared for a job, the picture on the card presented by the employee to the employer will have to exactly match the identical picture the employer has on the E-Verify system. The employer must certify that the photograph presented in person matches the identical photograph in the system.
Employers would face fines and civil penalties for violations of the E-Verify requirements, and possible criminal penalties for extensive and knowing employment of undocumented workers.
- Sec 3303 (pg. 1454) Exit System To Stop Visa Overstays: DHS must implement an electronic biographic visa exit system at all international airports and seaports by the end of 2015. In addition, the bill would require DHS to implement a mandatory biometric exit data system at the 10 U.S. airports that have the highest volume of international air travel after two years and at the rest of the Core 30 international airports in the U.S. after six years. Air and sea carriers would be required to take measures to collect the information needed to implement this system during their processing of passengers, and to submit identity-fraud resistant passenger manifests to DHS. The bill would require DHS to report all visa overstays to the appropriate law enforcement, intelligence, or national security agency, and require that enforcement resources are used to locate the visa overstay and commence removal proceedings.
Earning Legal Status
- Sec. 3 (pg. 855) Temporary Status Linked To Security Triggers: No undocumented immigrant is eligible to apply for temporary status until the border security and fencing plan have been submitted to Congress and the implementation of those plans is underway. After being in the temporary status for at least ten years, no one who is currently undocumented can even apply for lawful permanent residence, much less citizenship, unless the border security and fencing plans are substantially operational, the employment verification and exit system triggers have been implemented, and the backlog of current legal immigrants has been cleared.
- Sec. 2101 (pg. 943) Strict Process: The Secretary of DHS would be required to certify to Congress that the Border Security and Border Fencing strategies have begun to be implemented before individuals who are here illegally and meet the qualifications for relief would be allowed to start the process of adjusting their status to the new Registered Provisional Immigrant (RPI) status created by the bill.
Individuals in unlawful status may apply to adjust their status to the legal status of an RPI if they have residence in the United States prior to December 31, 2011, with maintenance of continuous physical presence since then, and paid a penalty fee and assessed taxes. Individuals are ineligible if they are: convicted of an aggravated felony; convicted of a felony; convicted of three or more misdemeanors; convicted of an offense under foreign law; unlawfully voted; or inadmissible for criminal, national security, public health, or other morality grounds. An individual who is granted RPI status is not eligible for any federal means-tested benefit and is considered as a noncitizen for the purposes of certain other federal benefits.
After ten years, those in RPI status may adjust to Lawful Permanent Resident Status (LPR) if the Comprehensive Southern Border Security Strategy and the Fencing Strategy have been substantially deployed and implemented; DHS has implemented a mandatory employment verification system; and DHS has deployed an electronic exit system to all air and sea ports. Further, LPR applicants must meet certain requirements, including that they have maintained continuous physical presence; that they have paid all taxes owed during the period for which they are in status as an RPI; that they have worked in the United States regularly; and that they demonstrated knowledge of civics and English. Once in LPR status, an individual may be naturalized after three years provided that he or she meets all requirements for naturalization.
- Sec. 2101 (pg. 979) No Federal Means-Tested Benefits: Undocumented immigrants who have adjusted to Registered Provisional Immigrant (RPI) status will not be eligible for federal means-tested benefits. When individuals in RPI status are eligible to apply for lawful permanent residence, this bill requires that the individual proves that their average yearly income is equal to at least 125 percent of the federal poverty level and that they can demonstrate their history of having been gainfully employed while they were in RPI status. Current law, which the bill does not change, also bars permanent residents from receiving federal means-tested public benefits for the first five years of that status.
- Sec. 2102 (pg. 994) No Cutting in Line: Undocumented immigrants who avail themselves of the strict process outlined in this bill, will face a longer, more costly, and less certain way forward than if they had come legally. They will have to wait at the back of the line until the backlog of legal immigrant applicants is cleared.
Boosting the U.S. Economy
- Sec 4101 (pg 1626) Highly Skilled Workers: After companies make every effort to recruit Americans to perform particular jobs and can’t find any - especially those with expertise in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) - they are forced to look elsewhere. This legislation addresses that shortfall and will strengthen our economy. The bill expands the highly skilled H1-B visa program from 65,000 up to 180,000 to fill job shortages.
- Subtitle G (pg 1793) Guest Worker Program: The bill establishes a guest worker program for lower-skilled workers that ensures the future flow of workers is manageable, traceable, and fair to American workers.
- Sec 2233 (pg 1140) Agricultural Worker Program: A new agricultural guest worker visa program would be established to ensure an adequate agricultural workforce. This program will also allow current undocumented farm workers who have made a substantial prior commitment to agricultural work in the United States to obtain legal status through an Agricultural Card Program.
To read the full bill, click here.