Immigrant Policy Project


Federal Immigration Reform Bills in the U.S. Senate

Feb. 2, 2006

In the current 109th Congress, a broad array of legislation has been introduced on the topic of immigration reform.  This document outlines immigration reform proposals that have received significant attention in the U.S. Senate.  The Mc-Cain-Kennedy and Cornyn-Kyl bills have been the subject of two Judiciary Committee hearings and elements of the guest worker programs proposed in these bills have been incorporated into a “chairman’s mark” currently being circulated by Senate Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter (R-PA).  Senator Specter’s legislation also includes penalties on employers that hire unauthorized immigrants, from legislation (S. 1917) proposed by Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE).  Although not a comprehensive immigration reform bill, “AgJobs” did garner a significant number of votes in the spring of 2005. 




The Agricultural Jobs Opportunities, Benefits, and Security (AgJOBS) Act of 2005 (S. 359/H.R. 884).  This legislation would allow adjustment of status for unauthorized agricultural workers and revise and expand the H2A agricultural guestworker visa program.  It was introduced by Senator Craig (R-ID) with 47 co-sponsors and Representative Cannon (R-UT) with 34 co-sponsors.  AgJOBS was attached as an amendment to the Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act for Defense, the Global War on Terror, and Tsunami Relief, 2005 (H.R. 1268, S. Amend. 375), however it was ruled non-germane.  The amendment had 53 votes when considered by the Senate, enough to pass a simple majority vote but not the required 2/3 majority vote.  





The Secure America and Orderly Immigration Act of 2005 (S. 1033 and H.R. 2330).  Introduced on May 12, 2005, the original bipartisan co-sponsors of S. 1033 include Senators McCain (R-AZ), Kennedy (D-MA), Brownback (R-KS), Lieberman (D-CT), Graham (R-SC), and Salazar (D-CO).  H.R. 2330 was introduced by Representatives Kolbe (R-AZ) and has eighteen co-sponsors including original co-sponsors Flake (R-AZ), Gutierrez (D-IL), L. Diaz-Balart (R-FL), M. Diaz-Balart (R-FL), Napolitano (D-CA) and Pastor (D-AZ).

Enforcement.  The bill requires the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to create a strategy for border security by involving federal, state, local, and tribal authorities; requires new visas and immigration documents to be biometric, machine-readable, and tamper-resistant; and requires the creation of an electronic employee verification system.

Temporary worker visas.  The bill creates a new H5A “essential worker” visa capped at 400,000 for the first year, indexable based upon demand, for jobs other than agricultural or high-skilled.  The visas are for 3 years, renewable once.  Workers must pass criminal and security background checks, pay a $500 application fee, and undergo a medical examination.  Federal, state, and local labor and employment laws apply. 

Legalization.  The new H-5B visa would allow unauthorized immigrants present in the United States prior to May 12, 2005 to apply for adjustment of status to nonimmigrant.  Applicants must pay a fee, a $1000 fine, submit fingerprints, and pass criminal and security background checks.  The worker visas are authorized for 6 years; adjustment to any other nonimmigrant or immigrant status is prohibited during this period of time.  H-5B nonimmigrants may apply for permanent residence.  The applicant must meet work requirements; pay an additional $1000 fine; show proof of payment of taxes; demonstrate knowledge of English and civics; and register for military service.

To reduce immigration backlogs, the bill exempts immediate relatives (spouses, children and parents of U.S. citizens) from the annual visa cap of 480,000 family sponsored visas.  The bill allows unused family visas from previous years to be made available in future years.  Employment visas are increased from 140,000 to 290,000 per year, and “rollover” of unused visas is allowed.  The per country limits for family and employment visas are increased from 7 percent to 10 percent of the annual total visas issued.  The preference categories within family and employment visas are also adjusted.

The State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAAP) reauthorization is set at $750 million for FY 2006, $850 million for FY 2007, and $950 million for each year from FY 2008 – 2011.  The bill provides $200 million in new funds FY 2005 – 2011 to reimburse states for indirect costs such as court costs, detention costs, and indigent defense costs for unauthorized immigrants charged or convicted of crimes, with special consideration for border states and states with a large number of unauthorized immigrants.

The bill extends the federal reimbursement for hospitals that provide emergency health care to unauthorized immigrants for FY 2008 – FY 2011 and adds the new H-5A and H-5B temporary guest workers as eligible patients.  This program was created in the Medicare prescription drug law under Section 1011.  Payments may not be considered "third party coverage" under Section 1923 SSA or be offset by reduced federal Medicaid funding for hospitals for the treatment of low-income patients.

The bill would create a foundation under the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) office in DHS to solicit and make charitable gifts to support a competitive grant program for English language instruction and civics.





Comprehensive Enforcement and Immigration Reform Act of 2005 (S. 1438).  The bill was introduced on July 20, 2005 by Senators Cornyn (R-TX) and Kyl (R-AZ). 

  • Interior enforcement.  adds 10,000 new DHS detention center beds; and increases penalties for human smuggling, document fraud, drug-trafficking, and gang violence.  Reaffirms state and local law enforcement officials’ “inherent authority” to enforce federal immigration law; requires communication with DHS about unauthorized immigrants.
  • The bill authorizes $4.45 billion over five years for SCAAP and $2 billion new funds to reimburse states and localities for court costs.
  • Border enforcement: adds 1,250 Customs and Border Protection officers and 10,000 Border Patrol agents over five years, $5 billion for technology and DHS infrastructure, and funds for expedited removal.
  • Worksite enforcement: expands a pilot employment eligibility verification system nationwide and requires all employers to participate; reduces number of acceptable identity documents; adds 10,000 DHS personnel for enforcement; adds 1,000 personnel to detect fraud in adjudication; requires new tamper-proof Social Security cards; and requires new standards for state issued birth certificates.
  • Temporary guestworkers:  establishes a new W visa, machine-readable, tamper-proof, with a biometric identifier, good for two-year stays, with a maximum of three renewals.  Applicants must provide fingerprints, undergo background checks and health screening.  Countries that participate in this program must cooperate with the U.S. to control illegal immigration, human trafficking, and gang membership and violence, and to provide health insurance for workers and access to databases. 
  • Unauthorized immigrants:  those already employed who have resided in the U.S. for at least 12 months must apply for “Mandatory Departure” to leave the U.S. voluntarily and reenter legally.  All unauthorized immigrants are required to depart within five years or face monetary penalties and a 10-year bar (excluding applicants for asylum or protection). 

For additional bills on immigration reform and enforcement, please see the Immigrant Policy Project website: