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Bill Outline Shows Sweeping Immigration Overhaul

Details of a sweeping federal immigration reform bill emerged Tuesday. The plan includes a path to citizenship that lasts more than a decade, beefed-up border security and an expanded visa system.

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Immigrants living in the U.S. illegally can start on a path toward citizenship, but only after significant border-security measures are met and they pay a hefty fine, according to an outline of the comprehensive immigration reform bill senators plan to introduce Tuesday.

The outline of the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013 states that in order for an undocumented immigrant to apply for “registered provisional immigrant” status, the government must first achieve a 90 percent “effectiveness rate” along the southern border. More than 1.6 million of the country’s estimated 11.2 million undocumented immigrants live in Texas, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.

The effectiveness rate is defined as “the number of apprehensions and turnbacks in a specific sector divided by the total number of illegal entries.” The security measure will be funded with $3 billion, which will also provide for expanded use of drones and additional U.S. Border Patrol and Customs and Border Protection agents. An additional $1.5 billion will be appropriated for additional fencing on the southwest border.

The bill, reported to be about 1,500 pages long, is a product of a group of bipartisan group of senators dubbed the “Gang of Eight” that has taken months to craft.

According to the measure, undocumented immigrants are eligible to apply for RPI status if they arrived in the country before Dec. 31, 2011. They must not have been convicted of a felony, three or more misdemeanors, or an offense under foreign law. And they couldn’t have voted illegally in the U.S. A $500 fee and additional taxes must be paid. The application period lasts for a full year and once granted, the RPI status will last for 10 years before an immigrant is allowed to apply for legal permanent residency, or a “green card.”

A green card will only be awarded if the RPI immigrant maintained continuous presence in the country, paid all back taxes owed during the period, and prove knowledge of civics and English. They must also pay a $1,000 fee and wait until current green card applications have been processed. DREAM Act-eligible youths will be eligible for permanent status after five years. Spouses and children of immigrants in RPI status can be petitioned for, and certain previously deported immigrants can apply for the status if they were not removed after committing a crime.

In its current form, the bill will also decrease current backlogs for immigrants waiting for legal status, and expand the number of family and employment visas currently available. Five years after the bill is enacted, 120,000 “merit-based” visas will be allocated that “awards points to individuals based on their education, employment, length of residence in the U.S. and other considerations. Those individuals with the most points earn the visas.”

Despite the emphasis on border security, some Texas Republicans blasted the measure and said it would promote more illegal migration.

“The Senate’s immigration proposal contains a fatal flaw.  It legalizes almost everyone in the country illegally, also known as amnesty, before it secures the border,” U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio said Monday on the floor of the U.S. House, according to a statement. “As a result, the Senate proposal issues an open invitation to enter the country illegally.  Millions more will do so before the border is secure. The Senate proposal will dramatically increase illegal immigration. The Senate proposal amounts to amnesty first, border security later, if ever. It is fatally flawed.”

Some Texas Democrats expressed optimism, while acknowledging the fight ahead on the bill.

“I’m currently reviewing the legislation, but I’m encouraged that after more than two decades, we finally have a framework to a common sense immigration process,” U.S. Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, said in a statement. “I’m hopeful that the trigger mechanisms are created in good-faith and that they are not an attempt to further move the goal post.”

The bill also requires that all U.S. employers use the electronic employment verification system known as E-Verify. Employers with more than 5,000 employees will be phased in within two years; those with more than 500 employees will be phased in within three years. And all employers, including agricultural employers, will be phased in within four years.

Last week, Gallego asked the senators to consider special provisions for members of the military.

The immigration process should ensure special consideration for these men and women,” said Gallego, who asked that the bill eliminate the three- and 10-year bans for re-entry currently in place for people who overstay their visas or enter the country illegally for spouses of military members and veterans.

On the Sunday morning news talk shows, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., predicted a long debate over the bill, and he added that the Gang of Eight would accept input from the other 92 members of the upper chamber. News conferences scheduled for Tuesday by the Gang of Eight, immigrants’ rights groups and business leaders were either canceled or postponed in light of the explosions during the Boston Marathon on Monday.

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