Educators and unionists praised a proposed package of immigration laws that promotes safe and secure jobs for all workers, preserves family unity and allows immigrant children to go to school without fear. The far-reaching legislative package would tighten border security and toughen penalties against American employers who hire undocumented workers.
"An important part of this legislation is making sure families stay together," said NYSUT Vice President Maria Neira, who represents the American Federation of Teachers on the AFL-CIO committee on immigration.
Neira joined New York State AFL-CIO President Mario Cilento in commending U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-New York, and other senators who crafted legislation that "takes us one step further down the path to citizenship for 11 million aspiring Americans."
Neira noted this is just the beginning of the legislative process but the package has much potential. Under the proposal, undocumented immigrants who came to the United States before Dec. 31, 2011, and stayed in the country continuously could apply for "provisional" legal status as early as six months after the bill is signed into law.
Beyond that, they would have to wait a decade or more for full citizenship which would entitle them to federal benefits, while the government works on further securing U.S. borders and enforcing the new immigration law.
Within six months from enactment, the threat of deportation could end for most undocumented immigrants. They would be allowed to work legally in the United States once they pay an initial $500 penalty and any back taxes, and if they can show they have not been convicted of a serious crime in the United States.
A 10-year wait for a green card would begin, but during that time the undocumented population would be able to acquire a more limited legal status - "registered provisional immigrant" status - allowing them to live and work in the country and keep families together, but not receive any federal benefits. In some cases, individuals who have already been deported could return to the United States under this new RPI status if they have a spouse, parent or child who is a citizen or legal permanent resident in the country, or if they qualify for the DREAM Act.
The proposal would expand access to both low- and high-skilled labor for American businesses, and has provisions designed to keep companies from hiring cheap foreign labor or filling jobs with immigrants when U.S. workers are available. It increases the number of H-1B visas available for educated workers filling specialized jobs, while imposing new pay requirements so wages for U.S. technology workers, the area most impacted, will not be depressed.
After 10 years, immigrants could apply for a "green card," or permanent resident status, through an expanded merit-based immigration system. It could take an additional three years to gain U.S. citizenship.
The green card would not be automatic, although it's expected the majority of the 11 million undocumented immigrants would be eligible via the merit-based visa.
The AFL-CIO committee on immigration will continue to monitor developments. Check www.aflcio.org/Issues/Immigration for updates.