White House Immigration Bill Offers Path to Residency
A draft of a White House immigration proposal obtained by USA TODAY would allow illegal immigrants to become legal permanent residents within eight years.
The plan also would provide for more security funding and require business owners to check the immigration status of new hires within four years. In addition, the nation's 11 million illegal immigrants could apply for a newly created "Lawful Prospective Immigrant" visa, under the bill being written by the White House.
The draft was obtained from an Obama administration official who said it was being distributed to various agencies. The official requested anonymity because he was not authorized to release the proposal publicly.
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The bill is being developed as members in both chambers of Congress are drafting their own immigration bills. Last month, four Republican senators joined with four Democratic senators to announce their agreement on the general outlines of an immigration plan. In the House, a bipartisan group of representatives has been negotiating an immigration proposal for years and are writing their own bill.
In his first term, Obama often deferred to Congress on drafting and advancing major legislation, including the Affordable Care Act. He has openly supported the efforts in Congress to move immigration legislation, and just this week met with Democratic senators to discuss their proposals.
But two weeks ago in Las Vegas, while outlining his immigration plans, Obama made clear that he would not wait too long for Congress to get moving.
"If Congress is unable to move forward in a timely fashion, I will send up a bill based on my proposal and insist that they vote on it right away," he said.
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White House spokesman Clark Stevens said Saturday that the administration continues to support the bipartisan efforts ongoing in Congress.
"The president has made clear the principles upon which he believes any common-sense immigration reform effort should be based," Stevens said. "We continue to work in support of a bipartisan effort, and while the president has made clear he will move forward if Congress fails to act, progress continues to be made and the administration has not prepared a final bill to submit."
According to the White House draft, people would need to pass a criminal background check, submit biometric information and pay fees to qualify for the new visa. If approved, they would be allowed to legally reside in the U.S., work and leave the country for short periods of time.
They could then apply for legal permanent residence, commonly known as a green card, within eight years if they learn English and "the history and government of the United States" and pay back taxes. That would then clear the path for them to apply for U.S. citizenship.
A major requirement for many Republicans is enhanced border security. The bill calls for an unspecified increase in the Border Patrol, allows the Department of Homeland Security to expand technological improvements along the border and adds 140 new immigration judges to process the heavy flow of people who violate immigration laws.
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The draft also expands the E-Verify program that checks the immigration status of people seeking new jobs. Businesses with more than 1,000 employees must begin using the system within two years, businesses with more than 250 employees within three years and all businesses within four years.
The draft also requires the Government Accountability Office to study the program every year.
The draft obtained by USA TODAY does not include sections that would alter the nation's legal immigration system to adjust the future flow of legal immigrants, which is expected to be a critical component of any immigration overhaul.