Senate Passes comprehensive Immigration Reform Bill
By a vote of 62-36, the Senate approved, last May 25, 2006, a sweeping immigration reform bill that would provide a three-tiered approach towards the legalization of undocumented aliens, and strengthen border security in the United States. Earlier, in December 2005, the House of Representatives approved its own controversial “enforcement only” bill, which seeks to strengthen border security and make it a felony to stay illegally in the United States or to aid illegal immigrants. The House bill did not provide for a path to legalization for undocumented aliens.
With the passage of the Senate bill, a conference committee, composed of representatives from the Senate and the House of Representatives, will try to reconcile the differences between the House and Senate bills and come up with an immigration bill to be presented to the President for signature.
There are several provisions in the Senate bill that look encouraging for Filipinos. Eric Lachica, executive director of the American Coalition for Filipino Veterans, reported that the Senate has incorporated into the bill a provision that would allow Philippine-based single or married children, including minor grandchildren, of World War II veterans, to join them in the United States as immigrants.
Another provision would benefit nurses, as it removed the cap on the number of visas granted to foreign nurses, a vast number of whom are Filipinos.
As reported by the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), the Senate bill contains the following important provisions, in addition to many measures that address border and interior enforcement and create a new employment verification system:
Path to Legal Status for Undocumented Aliens Currently in the United States
· Undocumented aliens in the U.S. for at least 5 years prior to April 5, 2006 (estimated 6.7 million) will be eligible for 6 years of work authorization and path to eventual permanent legal status, upon payment of $2,000 fine, meeting English and civics requirement, passing background checks and paying taxes owed.
· Undocumented in U.S. less than 5 but more than 2 years, (estimated 2.8 million) would be in "Deferred Mandatory Departure” (DMD) status, providing work authorization and eventual path to permanent status.
Family Unity and Family and Employment Visa Backlog Relief
· Those in current family backlogs (or under petition) will get "green cards" before any of the currently undocumented aliens
· Hundreds of thousands of additional visas per year will be added, to reduce backlogs in family and employment-based petitions
High-Skilled Immigration Reforms
· Increase H-1B cap from 65,000 to 115,000, so that supply of H-1B visas can “meet” the demand.
New Temporary Worker Program with Labor Protections and Path to Permanent Status
· New program for 200,000 new temporary "essential" workers per year
· 3 year visa, renewal for 3 years, with ability to change employers
· Current undocumented aliens who entered U.S. after January 2004 are eligible, but must leave US to apply. The 3/10 year bars are waived.
Path to Legal Status for Undocumented High School Students (DREAM Act)
· Students who entered U.S. before age of 16 and are present for 5 years before date of enactment, and who have graduated from high school (or GED), can apply for 6-year conditional status
· Within 6 years, if graduated from college or completed two years in a degree program, or served in Armed Forces, conditional status becomes permanent status ("green card")
Not yet a law; only proposals
It must be emphasized that until the Senate and the House finally agree on a single piece of legislation (that would enable millions of undocumented aliens to eventually legalize their status), I must remind readers again that these provisions are mere proposals. It is not yet “law”. Until then, I advise people to look for available means for legalizing their status and to seek the advice of a reputable attorney on how they can do so.
Michael J. Gurfinkel has been an attorney for over 25 years, and is an active member of the State Bar of California and New York, as well as the American Immigration Lawyers Association and the Immigration Section of the Los Angeles County Bar Association. He has always excelled in school: Valedictorian in High School; Cum Laude at UCLA; and Law Degree Honors and academic scholar at Loyola Law School, which is one of the top law schools in California.
Four offices to serve you:
LOS ANGELES: 219 North Brand Boulevard, Glendale, California 91203
Telephone: (818) 543-5800
SAN FRANCISCO: 966 Mission Street, San Francisco, California 94103
Telephone: (415) 538-7800
NEW YORK: 60 East 42nd Street, Suite 2101, New York, NY 10165
Telephone: (212) 808-0300
PHILIPPINES: Heart Tower, Unit 701, 108 Valero Street, Salcedo Village, Makati, Philippines 1227
Telephone: 894-0258 or 894-0239
(This is for informational purposes only, and reflects the firm's opinions and views on general issues. Each case is different and results may depend on the facts of a particular case. All immigration services are provided by an active member of the State Bar of California and/or by a person under the supervision of an active member of the State Bar. No prediction, warranty or guarantee can be made about the results of any case. Should you need or want legal advice, you should consult with and retain counsel of your own choice.)