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.
The bill will expand temporary visas for higher- and lesser-skilled workers. But it will also add a new "merit-based" visa that will be geared toward talented individuals, temporary workers and immigrants with family ties to the U.S. The bill will initially create 120,000 merit-based visas per year, but that number will be able to increase in strong economic times, with a cap of 250,000 annually.
Certain visa categories for skilled immigrants won't have numerical caps at all. Immigrants with "extraordinary ability" in sciences, arts, education, business or athletics won't count toward the yearly allotment of employment visas. Neither will professors, researchers, multinational executives and doctoral degree holders who receive employment-based visas.
5. Are the border security goals feasible?
The border security goals are accomplishable, but they will require funding and a commitment to further militarizing the U.S.-Mexico border. The Senate bill requires so-called "high-risk" sectors along the border to show "persistent surveillance" and 90 percent effectiveness in apprehending unauthorized crossers within 10 years of the bill's enactment.
Measuring effectiveness is where things could get a little dicey. The formula devised by the Senate group requires Border Patrol to determine the total number of people entering the U.S. illegally. But the agency will need to find an accurate way to do that. One Senate aide working on the bill said that will involved "radar systems."
Looking at stats from 2012, only three of nine sectors along the southern border would qualify as "high-risk" under the Senate plan, meaning that they record 30,000 or more apprehensions within a year. Those numbers will likely rise as the U.S. economy continues to rebound, but experts don't anticipate them returning to the record levels seen in the 1990s.
6. Will siblings of U.S. citizens still be eligible for family-based green cards?
No. The Senate immigration bill will eliminate visas for brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens within 18 months of when it goes into law. It will also strike visas for children of U.S. citizens who are married and over 31 years old. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C), one of the lawmakers working on the bill, has said that family-based visas should be limited to nuclear family, meaning parents and their kids. "This is not a family court we're dealing with here," Graham said in March. Immigrant rights activists have opposed dropping the sibling category.
7. Can people who have been deported apply for the provisional status being offered to undocumented immigrants in the U.S.?
Yes, under certain conditions. The Senate bill allows previously deported immigrants to apply for the same provisional visa being offered to undocumented immigrants as long as the applicant meets certain qualifications. You need to have been deported on non-criminal grounds, although it's unclear how "criminal" will be defined. You'll also need to have a connection in the U.S., either a spouse or a child who is a citizen, a legal permanent resident or a young person who is eligible for the DREAM Act.