A group of senators working on immigration reform released an outline of their bill to Univision early Tuesday morning.
The bill comes with a lot of hype, but does it tackle the critical issues we've been discussing for months? Here's how it addresses our most-asked questions about reform.
1. Does it create a viable pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants?
Yes, but it's a narrow one. The pathway to citizenship is long -- most undocumented immigrants need to spend 10 years in "provisional" status before being able to apply for a green card. But even that will depend on whether the border is deemed secure a decade from now.
There will be other qualifying factors, too. You'll have to pay $2,000 over the 10-year waiting period. You'll have to pass a criminal background check. You'll have to prove that you paid taxes and worked during the decade-long wait.
So, it's a pathway, but one that will take at least 13 years to complete and will not be available to all undocumented immigrants.
2. Will it prevent employers from hiring undocumented workers in the future?
Maybe. The Senate bill makes an employment verification system mandatory for all U.S. businesses within five years of its passage. That system, E-Verify, has produced mixed results in the past. A government study looking at 2007 and 2008 E-Verify data found that it missed about 54 percent of undocumented workers.
But the Senate bill also adds some new requirements that should make the system harder to beat. Non-citizens will be required to use a "biometric green card" with their picture when starting a job. The E-Verify system will have that photo on file, so employers will be able to match the photo on the card to the one in the system.
The bill will also add ways for authorized workers to "lock" their Social Security card numbers, restricting anyone else from using the same number to gain employment. You'll be able to contact a federal immigration office and lock or unlock the number depending on whether you're looking for a job.
3. Does it provide a way for future waves of lesser-skilled immigrant workers to come to the U.S. legally?
Yes, but initially in relatively small numbers. There will be 20,000 so-called "W visas" available in the first year, with a steady increase over the first four years of the bill. By year four, 75,000 visas will be available. After that, the number will be determined using a system that uses factors like scarcity of labor and demand for visas.
In 2008, however, the majority of the estimated 8.3 million undocumented immigrants in the labor force worked in either service jobs or manual labor sectors like construction or farming, according to a report by the Pew Hispanic Center. If those workers move into legal status, they may seek better work. That could mean some employers will be faced with either raising wages or seeking a new wave of undocumented workers willing to work for less.
4. Will the focus of the American immigration system shift toward employment-based visas?
Yes. Overall, the bill makes sweeping changes that will add several new avenues for immigrants to come to the U.S. on employment-based visas.