Immigrant Policy Project

 

Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman’s Mark

Revised 4/4/06

The Senate Judiciary Committee under Chairman Arlen Specter (R-PA) reported the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006 to the floor on March 27, 2006.

  • Border Enforcement (Title I)
  • Interior Enforcement (Title II) 
  • Unlawful Employment of Aliens (Title III)
  • Nonimmigrant and Immigrant Visa Reform (Title IV)
  • Backlog Reduction (Title V)
  • Work Authorization and Legalization of Undocumented Individuals (Title VI)
  • Immigration Litigation Reduction (Title VII)

Title I – Border Enforcement

Authorizes funds for new customs and border officers, investigators for human trafficking and port of entry inspectors; and technologies to control borders.  Requires enhanced connectivity between two fingerprint databases (IDENT and IAFIS); requires immigration documents issued by DHS to be machine-readable, tamper-resistant with biometrics by 10/26/07.  Authorizes DHS to collect biometric data from any alien or LPR seeking to enter, exit, transit through or parole into the U.S. Prevents the criminalization of humanitarian assistance.  Increases the amount of border patrols as well as doubling the number of port inspectors. 

Title II – Interior Enforcement

Addresses deportation and denial of asylum to terrorist aliens.  Increases criminal penalties related to removal, alien smuggling and gang violence; provides penalties for passport, visa and marriage fraud; protects refugees and asylum applicants.

Sec. 210 authorizes DHS to extend the Institutional Removal Program to all states. 

Sec. 218.  SCAAP and new fund.  (1) DHS shall reimburse states and localities for costs of detaining and processing undocumented criminal aliens, including indigent defense; criminal prosecution; autopsies; translators and interpreters; and court costs. Authorizes $400 million FY2007-2012. (2) DHS shall enter into a contract to compensate states or localities, based on the average incarceration cost in the state, or take the alien into federal custody.  Authorization: such sums as necessary FY2007; $750 million FY2008, $850 million FY2009; and $950 million FY2010-2012. 

Sec. 219, added in the Judiciary Committee markup, requires DHS to provide state and local law enforcement authorities with sufficient transportation and officers to take illegal aliens into custody for processing at a detention center.

Sec. 224 requires DHS to reimburse States for the costs of training to inform state and local enforcement about immigration laws.  Further reimburses States for the cost of any equipment required to facilitate training; authorizes such sums as may be necessary.  

Sec. 229 affirms that law enforcement personnel of the State have the inherent authority to assist in the enforcement of criminal immigration laws.  DHS, upon request from a state, shall take into custody unlawfully present immigrants.  DHS shall designate a central detention facility in each state.  DHS shall reimburse states for detention and transportation costs.

Sec. 232 requires that DHS enter into a cooperative enforcement agreement (known as the Memorandum of Understanding) with at least one law enforcement agency in each state to train law enforcement officers in the detection and apprehension of individuals engaged in transporting, harboring, sheltering, or encouraging aliens to remain unlawfully in the United States.

Title III – Unlawful Employment of Aliens

Section 301 makes it unlawful for employers to hire, recruit, or refer for a fee an unauthorized alien.  Employers must comply with document verification requirements and Electronic Employment Verification System requirements.  Employing unauthorized aliens through contracts or subcontracts is also unlawful.  Preempts states from imposing criminal sanctions on employers and preempts states from requiring employers to build day laborers’ centers.

Verification requirements of documents:  employers must verify identity and eligibility for employment.  Standards for examination: an employer has complied with the verification requirements if a reasonable person would conclude that the document is genuine and establishes the individual’s identity and eligibility for employment in the U.S. 

Documents:

1) to prove both ID and work eligibility, a passport and permanent resident card or other document designated by DHS;

2) to prove work eligibility: a social security account number card or other acceptable documents identified by DHS in the Federal Register and that have security features. 

3) to prove identity:  a state driver’s license or ID that complies with REAL ID; a state driver’s license or ID that is not in compliance with REAL ID, if the license or ID is not required by the Secretary to comply and it contains photograph or information including the name, date of birth, gender and address.  IDs issued by a federal agency including the military, an agency or entity of a State, or a Native American tribal document, provided it includes photo or name/DOB/gender/ eye color and address, and contain security features to make the card resistant to tampering, counterfeiting, and fraudulent use. 

Electronic Employment Verification System (EEVS).  DHS and Social Security shall implement a system for employers to verify identity and work authorization. 

180 days after enactment, DHS shall require the participation in EEVS by employers that are part of the critical infrastructure of the U.S. or directly related to national security or homeland security for current and new employees. Within 2 years of enactment, large employers (more than 5000 employees) shall participate in EEVS for new hires.  Mid-sized employers (1000-5000 employees) must participate in 3 years; small employers (250-1000) within 4 years; and all remaining employers within 5 years. 

Civil penalties for hiring or continuing to employ unauthorized aliens:  $500 - $4,000 per unauthorized alien; up to $20,000 for repeat violations.  Penalties for violating recordkeeping or verification:  $200-$2000 for each violation up to $6,000 for repeat violations. 

Criminal penalties for pattern or practice:  up to $20,000 for each unauthorized alien and up to 6 months imprisonment.  Repeat violators can be barred from federal contracts or grants for 2 years. 

Preemption:  The provisions of this section preempt any state or local law imposing civil or criminal sanctions (other than through licensing and similar laws) upon those who employ, or recruit or refer for a fee for employment, unauthorized aliens.

Worksite enforcement: Requires DHS, subject to appropriations, to increase worksite enforcement and fraud detection agents by 3,000 annually for 5 years.

Title IV – Nonimmigrant and Immigrant Visa Reform

Sec. 401 requires the Bureau of the Census, in conjunction with 12 federal agencies, to conduct a study that will assess the impact of the proposed immigration legislation “on the infrastructure and quality of life in the United States.”

Creates new H-2C visa for nonimmigrant temporary workers outside the U.S. (for agricultural and nonagricultural work).  The visa is valid for 3 years with one renewal of up to 3 years; no adjustment of status is permitted.  The spouse and children may accompany the temporary worker.   The worker must have a job offer; pay a $500 visa fee; undergo a medical examination; submit to background checks on criminal history and connections to terroism.

Employers must comply with all applicable federal, state and local laws and attest that the temporary worker will not displace a U.S. worker; must be paid prevailing wages; that if the worker is not covered by state workers compensation, the employer shall provide insurance covering injury or disease.  Secretary of Labor shall implement an electronic job registry and nationwide system of public labor exchange services for U.S. workers.

Creates a new F-4 student visa for advanced degree candidates in math, engineering, technology or physical sciences. Increases application fee from $1,000 to $2,000.  Students may remain to work in the U.S. for one year and may adjust to legal status.

Exempts individuals with advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering or math with 3 years related work in the U.S. from the numerical cap on permanent employment based visas and from the H-1B visa cap.  Increases H-1B visas to 115,000. 

Requires participating countries to enter bilateral agreements to accept those deported; cooperate in reducing trafficking; provide the U.S. with passport information and criminal records of aliens entering or present in the U.S.; provide education to avoid worker exploitation; and evaluate housing incentives for returning workers. 

The Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act (DREAM) is amended to Title VI of this act.  This provision in Title IV grants recipients conditional permanent residence status U.S. for a period of six years.  An applicant is considered to be in conditional status while the application is pending.

Sec. 410 expands the S visa category, making it available to those providing information on a criminal enterprise undertaken by a foreign government, its agents, representatives or officials as well as to individuals with information on the development of weapons of mass destruction of foreign governments. The limit on S visas is raised from 200 to 1,000.

Sec. 411 states that L visa (Intracompany Transferees) recipients who are coming to the U.S. to “open, or be employed in, a new facility” may be approved for a visa, not to exceed a period of 12 months.  Visa will be granted only if the employer of such facility has evidence of a sufficient business plan, and the physical and financial capacity to continue to conduct business.  If proven, extensions may be granted.  During the first nine months of visa period, spouses or dependents of said employee will not be allowed to work until in the U.S.; Requires the Department of Homeland Security and the state to work together to verify information presented on L visa application.

Title V – Backlog Reduction

Removes immediate relatives from the 480,000 visa cap for permanent family based immigrants.  Spouses and children would not be counted against the numerical cap.  Increases cap on permanent employment-based visas from 140,000 to 290,000. Unused visas can be carried over to the next fiscal year.

Changes per country limit from 7 percent to 10 percent.  Changes allocation of family based visas.  Changes preference allocations for worker visas to allow additional visas for unskilled workers.

Sec. 505 exempts those in labor shortage occupations (nurses and physical therapists) from  employment-based green card numerical caps until September 30, 2017.  Spouses and children are included in the cap exemption.  Requires the Secretary of Health and Human Services to work with the National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine to address nursing shortage no later than seven years from when a report discussing the source of newly licensed nurses is published. 

Sec. 506 codifies the Widows and Orphans Act;  Allows certain children and women outside the U.S. who are at risk of harm and who are referred by U.S. officials, international officials and certain non-governmental organizations to qualify as special immigrants.

Title VI – Legalization and New Guestworker Program

Legalization/Conditional workers.  Creates a conditional, nonimmigrant status for unauthorized immigrants physically present in the United States before January 7, 2004.  Provides a legal path to citizenship for current unauthorized immigrants.  Applicants must submit to a background check, pay a $1000 fine in addition to application costs, and apply for a temporary visa.  After working an additional six years, paying back taxes, undergoing a medical examination, meeting immigration law requirements, learning English, and paying another $1000 fine as well as application costs, the worker could apply for a green card.  These applicants may not “jump the line” over someone currently waiting outside the U.S. to immigrate with a family or employer sponsor. 

New Guestworker Program.  Creates a new temporary worker program with protections for U.S. workers.  Provides visas for foreign workers to enter the U.S. legally and work in the building trades, hospitality industry, and other service sectors.   Jobs must first be offered to U.S. workers.  Employers could access foreign workers when no U.S. workers are available.  Guestworkers would also have full labor rights, including the right to work for any employer, and the right to apply for a green card after working for one year with an employer sponsor or four years under a self-petition. 

The Agricultural Job Opportunities, Benefits and Security Act (AgJobs) was included in the committee mark-up.  Agricultural workers who have already been working at least 150 days in an eighteen month period in the twenty-four month period ending December 31, 2005 may apply for a temporary visa called a “blue card.”  Up to 1,500,000 blue cards may be issued in a five year period beginning on the date of enactment of the bill.  Once blue card status is attained, a worker must work at least 100 days per year for a five year period, or 150 days per year for a three year period, pay a $400 fine and establish that they are in good standing with the Internal Revenue Service to apply for a green card.   Green card caps do not apply to these applicants.  Workers participating in the program will be able to travel in and out of the U.S. legally and will be able to accept additional jobs as long as they meet their obligations to work in agriculture. Family members may remain legally, though they will not be authorized to work until the principal applicant applies for permanent residency.  Criminals and those who fail to meet the requirements of the program are subject to removal.  Applicants will have to pay back taxes.  Blue card holders are ineligible for federal public benefits for five years.

The DREAM Act was included in mark-up.  This provision repeals the restriction on state residency requirements for in-state tuition to unauthorized students.  It provides a legal path to citizenship for unauthorized minors who have demonstrated good moral character, have not abandoned residency and have either received a college degree or completed two years of higher education, or have served two years in the military and, if discharged, have received an honorable discharge. Sec. 624.

Grant Programs to Assist Nonimmigrant Workers.  The Assistant Attorney General, Office of Justice Programs may award grants to qualified nonprofit community organizations for education, training, government liaison to provide services related to this act; and to educate nonprofits, immigrant communities and other interested parties.   Non-profits can provide education to immigrant communities regarding legal representation; requirements for obtaining nonprofit recognition and accreditation to represent immigrants.  Sec. 641.

Funding for the Office of Citizenship.  Authorizes DHS to establish a foundation to accept and make gifts.  Sec. 642.

Civics and ESL.  DHS shall establish a competitive grant program to provide financial assistance to nonprofits, including faith-based organizations to support civics and ESL.  Authorizes such sums as may be necessary.  Sec. 643.

Title VII – Immigration Litigation Reduction

Consolidates all INA civil and administrative appeals into the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.  Requires more investigate personnel, lawyers and judges, subject to appropriations.   Increases number of immigration judges to 15 and the number of
appeals that will be heard. 

Prepared by Ann Morse and Shijuade Kadree
Immigrant Policy Project, NCSL
April 4, 2006