Press Conference Rally Kicks Off Process to Fix Broken Immigration System
Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet joined Senators John McCain (R-AZ), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and prominent advocates from across the spectrum today to kick off the process in the Senate to pass a bipartisan bill to fix our broken immigration system.
The senators formally outlined the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013, which will provide a path to citizenship for the 11 million people living in the country without documentation. It increases the number of visas available for workers specializing in high tech industries, eliminates the unworkable H2A system for agriculture workers, replacing it with a new streamlined system. It creates a guest worker program agreed to by labor and business for lesser-skilled workers to come into the country to meet labor demands in industries such as tourism and hospitality.
“When this bill is passed, it will be a reaffirmation of two essential American ideals – the idea that we are committed as a country to the rule of law and the idea that we are a nation of immigrants,” Bennet said in his remarks. “I would argue that it’s those two ideas working together that has enabled every generation of Americans to invent the future. Now it’s our time in the 21st century to decide whether we are still up to that task. Recommitting ourselves to these two notions is going to be a central part of moving the country and this bill forward.”
The bill would provide people living in the country without documentation the opportunity to apply for legal status call Registered Provisional Immigrant Status (RPI). To receive RPI, they must have been in the country before December 31, 2011 and be in good standing with the law. Under RPI status immigrants must pay a fine, pay taxes, be regularly employed and maintain a regular presence in the United States. RPI status becomes available to immigrants six months after the Secretary of Homeland Security has submitted a comprehensive Southern Border Security Strategy and the Southern Border Fencing Strategy to the Congress. The bill provides $3 billion to implement the border strategy and $1.5 billion to implement the fencing strategy.
After 10 years, people in RPI status may adjust to Lawful Permanent Resident Status if they remain in good standing and certain border security triggers are met. People brought to this country when they were children, known as DREAMers, as well as agriculture workers have an accelerated path to citizenship. They can get their green cards in 5 years and DREAMers will be eligible for citizenship immediately after they get their green cards.
The bill also puts measures in place to eliminate the backlog for family and employment-based immigrants and expands the current V visa to allow individuals with an approved family petition to live in the U.S. and allow certain other family members to visit the U.S. for up to 60 days per year. It creates a merit visa which awards points to individuals based on equities that contribute to our national interest such as education, employment, length of residence in the US and other considerations.
To help strengthen our economy this bill increases the number of H-1B visas for high skilled jobs. It also includes a new INVEST visa, which Bennet included in the bill. Immigrant entrepreneurs who seek to start new businesses and create jobs in the United States would qualify for this new visa. Specifically, it would create a new, three-year visa for individuals who are able to meet certain revenue, job creation and initial investment requirements.
The bill also establishes a new nonimmigrant W classification for lesser-skilled foreign workers performing services or labor for a registered employer in a registered position. This W classification is particularly important for the tourism and restaurant industry in the state, which is Colorado’s second largest industry. In fact, the ski industry alone generates $3 billion per year.
Bennet worked with Rubio and Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT), who are not members of the group of 8, on a section of the bill that eliminates the unworkable H-2A visa system for employers seeking to fill severe labor shortages with agriculture workers from abroad. It replaces it with a new streamlined guest worker program that will be administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Agriculture is a major economic engine in our nation economy and contributes $40 billion to Colorado’s economy. But farmers and ranchers are watching their crops rot in the fields and on the vines because they can’t get the workers they need. The new streamlined system will help farmers and ranchers get the workers they need, allow current undocumented farm workers to obtain legal status through an Agricultural Card Program and includes important worker protections.
The bill also draws on programs in Greeley, Colorado and Littleton, Colorado to create an Office of New Americans to help immigrants learn English, American civics and integrate into local communities.
The senators were joined at the press conference by Richard Trumka (President of AFL-CIO), Bruce Josten (Executive Vice President for Government Affairs of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce), Eliseo Medina (Secretary-Treasurer of the SEIU), Dr. Richard Land (President of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention), Rev. Samuel Rodriguez (President of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference), Monsignor Kevin Sullivan (Executive Director of Catholic Charities New York), Kevin Appleby (Director of Migration Policy and Public Affairs of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops), Alfonso Aguilar (Executive Director of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles), Grover Norquist (Founder and President of Americans for Tax Reform), Neera Tanden (President of the Center for American Progress), Clarissa Martinez (Director of Civic Engagement and Immigration at the National Council of La Raza), Greg Zoeller (Attorney General of Indiana), Chuck Conner (President of the National Council of Farm Cooperatives), Andrea LaRue (Principal Federal Government Representative for the United Farm Workers of America), Jeanette Acosta (Immigration Reform Field Director of the UFW Foundation), Marielena Hincapié (Executive Director of the National Immigration Law Center), Gaby Pacheco (Immigrant Rights Leader), Tolu Olubunmi (DREAM Act Advocate), Max Sevillia (Director of Policy at the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials), and Dean Garfield (President and CEO of the Information Technology Industry Council).
To download audio of Senator Bennet’s remark, click here.