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Legislation Introduced to Legalize Undocumented Workers
By Deborah W. Meyers
Migration Policy Institute
November 1, 2002
House Democrats Propose Legalizing Undocumented Workers
House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-MO) introduced the Earned Legalization and Family Unification Act of 2002 (HR 5600) on October 10, one day after supporters of legalization rallied in Washington, DC and delivered one million postcards to Congress and the president in support of legalization. The proposal would regularize the status of undocumented workers and their spouses and children who meet various requirements, including: five-year residence in the US, a two-year US work history, a federal background check, no outstanding tax liability, no history as a public charge (that is, dependence primarily on the government for subsistence), and a minimal knowledge of English and US history. Applicants would receive work authorization pending adjudication of their petitions; special provisions were included for students without eligible parents.
The bill also would end the inclusion of the immediate relatives category (spouses, unmarried minor children, and parents of US citizens) in the count for the overall ceiling on family-based immigrants. This would effectively double the number of visas available for the other family-preference visas (e.g., spouses and minor children of legal permanent residents, adult children of US citizens and permanent residents, and brothers and sisters of US citizens). Such a change would reduce the period of separation for families. Supporters and opponents alike acknowledge that there is no chance of passage this year. Critics assert the plan is politically motivated, aiming to attract Latino support in the upcoming elections. Business groups, labor unions, churches, and ethnic advocacy groups favor the proposal.
Appeals Court Allows Secret Deportation Hearings
In contrast to the decision of the United States 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals in October upheld the government?s right to conduct secret deportation proceedings. While recognizing the dangers of excessive deference to the executive branch, this court concluded that the hearings should remain closed so as not to compromise investigations and provide information to would-be terrorists. The conflicting decisions set the stage for the involvement of the US Supreme Court.
Laser Visas Now Required for Mexican Border Crossers
As of October 1, the old, non-biometric Border Crossing Cards (BCC) are no longer valid entry documents for qualified border residents from Mexico crossing into the United States for up to 72 hours without a visa. Instead, the high-tech laser visa, which was introduced in 1998, is the new required document. The laser visa includes the bearer's fingerprint and photo and is valid for 10 years. Although US ports-of-entry still lack sufficient equipment to read the information encoded on the cards, visa-scanners allow officials to check the border crossers against a national criminal database. The State Department has issued more than five million laser visas since 1998.
US Accepting Applications for Annual Diversity Lottery
Applications for the annual diversity lottery, which provides 50,000 permanent resident visas to randomly chosen people from countries which are "under-represented" in the US immigration system, are due between October 7 and November 6. Winners will be notified in 2003 and will be eligible to emigrate to the US as of the beginning of Fiscal Year 2004. The 50,000 visas comprise approximately seven percent of total US legal immigration. Approximately 72 percent of the total number of US visas go to family reunification, 12 percent are employment-based, and eight percent are for refugees.
The visa lottery program is very popular worldwide, drawing 13 million applications for the 2000 lottery, nearly 10 million for the 2001 lottery, and 8.7 million for the 2002 lottery. The program is criticized by those who believe that the US should reduce the number and diversity of its immigrants (and who point out that some winners come from countries labeled by the State Department as state sponsors of terrorism). It is supported by those who argue that providing such opportunities is part of the American tradition, and that immigration and increased diversity benefit the US.
Fees Rise for Visitor Visas
The State Department has announced that beginning in November, the fee for a non-immigrant visa will increase from $65 to $100. The increase is attributed to the costs of additional security measures imposed on the visa process since the September 11 attacks.
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