Immigration reform: What is Congress considering?

With DACA up in the air, there is a huge public swell of support for Congress to pass immigration reform, and with urgency. Three immigration reform bills have been introduced in Congress this year. Yesterday Senate Democrats demanded a stand-alone vote on the bipartisan Dream Act as soon as possible this month. So what are the other bills? Immigration Issue Captain, Laura Bandara, breaks them down for you so you can see the similarities and differences and pick which bill(s) you want to advocate for your representatives to co-sponsor and support. Start with this handy infographic for a quick look at the three bills.

The BRIDGE Act
The DREAM Act
The American HOPE Act

The BRIDGE Act (2017) S. 128 and H.R. 469 – In January 2017, U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) co-sponsored the BRIDGE (Bar Removal of Individuals who Dream and Grow our Economy) Act with Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), and Kamala Harris (D-CA). Representative Mike Coffman introduced the bill in the House at the same time, where the bill has 25 bi-partisan co-sponsors. Rep. Chris Stewart (R-UT) has become a co-signor. The legislation provides a stop-gap for DACA recipients, and provides Congress with more time to enact immigration reform.

This bi-partisan legislation allows DACA recipients and DACA-eligible individuals to continue to live and work lawfully in the United States for a period of 3 years from the date of enactment. In addition, it would provide immediate protection to current DACA recipients and make them automatically eligible to apply for the BRIDGE Act when their DACA status has expired. This would give current DACA recipients three additional years to live and work in the U.S.

To meet eligibility requirements for the BRIDGE Act, applicants must:

  1. Have been born after June 15, 1981 (i.e. 36 years of age or younger);
  2. Have entered the U.S. before the age of 16;
  3. Have no lawful immigration status, or have a final order of removal, or have Temporary Permanent Status (TPS), or have DACA;
  4. Lived continuously in the U.S. since 2007
  5. Been physically present in the U.S. on June 15, 2012
  6. Earned a high school diploma or a G.E.D. certificate; or be enrolled in a high school or G.E.D program; or be a veteran;
  7. Not have committed certain criminal offenses and pass a background check;
  8. Not otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety.

While DACA was an executive order, the BRIDGE Act is proposed by Congress, and would therefore have the full weight of law behind it.  Its provisions would remain in effect until Congress either changes or repeals them. Because it provides only a three-year extension, Congress would need to address the Act again or come up with more comprehensive immigration reform.

It is important to note that, unlike the DREAM Act or the American HOPE Act the BRIDGE Act does not provide a pathway to citizenship.

 

DREAM Act (2017) S. 1615 and H.R. 3440 –  This bill has been introduced 10 times since 2001 (our own Senator Orrin Hatch was a co-sponsor of the original version), and prior versions passed either the House or the Senate, but never both bodies in the same session. In July of this year, U.S. Senators Richard Durbin (D-IL), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Jeff Flake (R-AZ), and Chuck Schumer(D-NY), re-introduced the DREAM Act, bi-partisan legislation which would provide a pathway to permanent residence and eventual citizenship for immigrant youth.  The 2017 version of the bill is the strongest version introduced to date, and could provide legal permanent residence to 1.5 million DREAMers.

In addition, it would provide immediate protection to current DACA recipients and make them automatically eligible for conditional permanent residence (green cards).  The Act also provides for the privacy of information provided by DACA recipients or applicants for the DREAM Act, so that it will not be shared with immigration enforcement agencies.

To meet eligibility requirements for the DREAM Act and apply for conditional permanent residence (conditional green card holder), a person must:

  1. Have no lawful immigration status, or have a final order of removal, or have Temporary Permanent Status (TPS), or have DACA;
  2. Have entered the U.S. before turning 18;
  3. Earned a high school diploma or a G.E.D. certificate; or be enrolled in a high school or G.E.D program; or be admitted to/enrolled in college;
  4. Lived continuously in the U.S. for at least 4 years before the date of enactment;
  5. Not have committed certain criminal offenses and pass a background check.

After 8 years as a conditional permanent resident (CPR), DREAMers could apply for legal permanent residence (LPR), if they have fulfilled the following requirements:

  1. must have no criminal issues (as outlined in the Act);
  2. must not have abandoned their residence;
  3. must have completed one of the following:
  • Pursue higher education
  • Serve in the armed forces for at least 2 years
  • Be employed for a total of at least 3 years (75% of it with valid employment authorization)
  • Be eligible for a hardship exception.

DREAMers would likely be able to apply for U.S. citizenship 5 years of legal permanent residency (in addition to a prior 8 years as conditional permanent residents), totaling to 13 years as a green card holder prior to naturalization.  The most significant difference between legal permanent residents and naturalized citizens is that only citizens can vote in the U.S.

When you call Senator Hatch, thank him for his recent expression of support for DACA recipients, and remind him that he originally proposed the DREAM Act legislation in 2001. In 2010, Hatch rejected the bill as “cynical politics,” while a Democratic Administration was in the White House. Let him know that with a Republican-controlled congress and a sitting Republican president, he no longer need reject the legislation he initially co-sponsored.

 

American HOPE Act of 2017 H.R. 3591 – This bill was introduced in July 2017 by Rep. Luis V. Gutiérrez (D-IL) to provide a path to permanent residence and citizenship for DACA recipients and other immigrants brought to the US as children.  Co-sponsored by 138 Democratic House Representatives, the bill would offer a 5 year pathway to citizenship. There is no corresponding Senate bill at this point. The Act also provides for the privacy of information provided by DACA recipients or applicants for the American HOPE Act, so that it will not be shared with immigration enforcement agencies.

To meet eligibility requirements for the American HOPE Act, a person must have:

  1. Entered the U.S. before turning 18;
  2. Lived continuously in the U.S. since at least 12/31/2016;
  3. Have no lawful immigration status, or have a final order of removal, or have TPS, or have DACA;
  4. Not have committed certain criminal offenses and pass a background check.

If eligible, an applicant can obtain conditional permanent residence (CPR) for up to 8 years under the American HOPE Act.

After 3 years as a conditional permanent resident (CPR), these immigrants could apply for legal permanent residence, if they have fulfilled the following requirements:

  1. Must not have committed certain criminal offenses and can pass a background check.
  2. Must not have abandoned their residence while in CPR;

Additionally, any time already spent under DACA counts towards the 3-year CPR requirement. American HOPE Act beneficiaries would be eligible for naturalization after the conditional basis is removed from their permanent residence, and time spent as a conditional resident may apply toward the general 5-year permanent resident requirement necessary for citizenship.  Thus, under the American HOPE Act, immigrants would be eligible for citizenship after 5 years of permanent residence in the United States.

 

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