Immigrant Policy

Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006
S.2611

Adobe Acrobat Logo (Comprehensive Summary of S.2611)

On May 25, 2006, the U.S. Senate passed S.2611 by a vote of 62-56.  The bill addresses border security, interior enforcement and worksite enforcement, and authorizes increased funding levels for SCAAP, the establishment of a temporary guest worker program and earned paths to citizenship.  The final version of the Senate bill was a compromise deal brokered between House Majority Leader Bill Frist and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Specter, and included a compromise crafted by Senators Hagel and Martinez that divided 11 million unauthorized immigrants into 3 categories, one allowing legalization after meeting certain conditions, one requiring departure before applying for legal status, and a third requiring departure.  The bill also includes grants to assist states with health and education costs of immigrants. S.2611 must be reconciled with the House immigration bill, H.R. 4437.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005 (H.R.4437), on December 16, 2005.  House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner, Jr. (R-WI) introduced H.R. 4437, which passed with a 239-182 vote and focuses on three main areas: border security, interior enforcement, and worksite enforcement.  H.R. 4437 authorizes $1 billion to fund the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAAP) and mandates that states verify the legal status of all state employees.  The bill would also criminalize violations of federal immigration law, including illegal presence, which indirectly shifts the responsibility of immigration enforcement to state and local law authorities.  For a summary of H.R. 4437, visit: http://www.ncsl.org/programs/immig/SensenbrennerBill.htm .

The Road to Conference

On June 26, 2006, Rep. Sensenbrenner (R-WI) announced a series of summer hearings on immigration policy that would be held in California, Arizona and Texas.  The first hearings will be chaired by Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), will focus on “border vulnerabilities and international terrorism”, and will take place during the week of July 3 in San Diego and Laredo, Texas.

The Senate Judiciary Committee has announced its own hearings, beginning with one on July 5 in Pennsylvania.  The Committee Chair, Senator Arlen Specter, said he would examine issues such as the need for a guest worker program and how to contend with millions of unauthorized aliens already in the nation.

There are other obstacles to the Conference Committee.  For example, a provision in S.2611 requires unauthorized immigrants to pay back taxes before applying for citizenship.  The U.S. Constitution’s “origination clause” (Article 1, Section 7) prohibits revenue-raising legislation from originating in the Senate; therefore, some have argued that the back-taxes provision in the Senate bill is unconstitutional.  Any member in the U.S. House may object to a Senate bill that offends the “origination clause” by blue-slipping (the color of the paper used to formally declare that there has been a violation) the bill, which subsequently sends its back to the Senate chamber for the appropriate constitutionally permissible reforms.  Although challenging, congressional members on both sides of the isle and in both legislative chambers are attempting to illuminate avenues leading out of this technical setback.

Here is a brief summary of the key provisions in S.2611:

Enforcement:  The bill includes 1) new border enforcement mechanisms, including increases in border enforcement personnel, the use of surveillance and the construction of physical barriers along the southern international border, 2) mechanisms to enhance interior enforcement, such as increases in personnel, and 3) provisions to enhance worksite enforcement, such as the establishment of an electronic employment verification system and increased penalties for employers who hire unauthorized immigrant labor.

Funds for States:  The State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAAP) authorizes higher funding levels to states and localities for the incarceration of unauthorized immigrants ($750 million FY2008, $850 million FY2009; and $950 million FY2010-2012).  A new fund will be established to reimburse states and localities for processing undocumented criminal aliens, including expenses associated with indigent defenses, criminal prosecutions, autopsies, translators, interpreters, and court costs (authorizes $400 million annually FY2007-FY2012).  The bill provides funding to states for law enforcement (competitive grants) and court interpreter programs (authorizes $100,000 to each state).  S.2611 requires those seeking adjustment of status or deferred mandatory departure to pay a “state impact assistance fee” of $750 for principal applicants and $100 each for spouses and minor children.  The State Impact Assistance Grant Program will provide each state with funds for health, education and related services to noncitizens.  Grants will be based on the noncitizen population in the state (80%), and recent high growth in noncitizen population (20%), with a minimum $5 million to each state.  These funds, once collected from applicants and allocated by HHS to the states, are subject to appropriation by state legislatures (“the Brown amendment”).  States must allocate 30% of the funds they receive.

Temporary Workers:  S.2611 creates a new temporary guestworker program by creating a new H-2C visa for nonimmigrant temporary workers outside the U.S. and immigrants with legal status in the US.  These visas, up 200,000 annually, are for agricultural and nonagricultural work and are valid for up to 6 years.

Finally, the Hagel/Martinez amendment to S.2611 creates a staggered legalization program by assigning the estimated 11 million unauthorized immigrants into 3 categories:

1) Earned Legalization (5 years residence): Creates earned legalization for unauthorized immigrants physically present in the United States on or before April 5, 2001.  Applicants must meet certain residency and employment requirements, pay back taxes, undergo background checks, demonstrate English and civics proficiency, and pay fines. 

2) Mandatory Departure and Reentry (2-5 years residence): DHS shall grant Deferred Mandatory Departure for unauthorized immigrants resident in the U.S. and employed before 1/7/04.  These applicants have up to 3 years to depart the U.S. and seek readmission.

3) All Others (<2 years residence): Must depart the country and may attempt to re-enter using existing legal immigration avenues.

For the complete versions of both bills, please visit:
http://thomas.loc.gov/

For a comprehensive summary of S.2611, please visit:
http://www.ncsl.org/print/immig/ImmigS2611.pdf