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Becker Spotlight: Latest Proposals for Immigration Reform in Congress

Becker Spotlight: Latest Proposals for Immigration Reform in Congress

Written by: Jose Molinelli, Legislative Intern

Amid the ongoing push for immigration reform from both parties in Congress, two proposals have recently emerged in the House of Representatives and the Senate: The bipartisan “Dignity for Immigrants while Guarding our Nation to Ignite and Deliver the American Dream Act of 2023” (DIGNIDAD), which was introduced by Reps. María Elvira Salazar (R-FL) and Veronica Escobar (D-TX), and the “Dignity for Detained Immigrants Act of 2023 (DDIA), which was introduced by Sen. Corey Booker (D-NJ). Together, these two bills generally aim to reform several aspects of immigration processing, residency requirements, and border security.

Although both bills deal with immigration reform, DDIA deals primarily with the operations of immigrant detention centers, whereas DIGNIDAD would affect a wider range of Department of Homeland Security (DHS) authorities, including border security, visa caps, worker requirements, etc.

The Senate Bill: Generally, the DDIA tasks DHS with implementing the American Bar Association’s civil immigration detention standards and prohibits the outsourcing of detention center operations to private institutions within three years of the bill’s enactment. DDIA prohibits DHS from detaining minors, asylees, and family units. In addition, the bill establishes a presumption that detained individuals should be released and requires that they be held in the least restrictive conditions.

Furthermore, DDIA raises the burden of proof for detaining primary caregivers and vulnerable populations which the bill defines to include asylum seekers, pregnant women, LGBTQ+ migrants, victims of torture, and those under 21 years of age. To ensure compliance with the bill, DHS’s Inspector General must conduct unannounced inspections of these facilities and impose appropriate sanctions. DHS must also report to Congress and investigate any deaths of individuals in its custody and maintain contact information of family members of its detainees.

The House Bill: DIGNIDAD grapples with numerous aspects of immigration reform. Regarding border security and migrant care, the bill would dedicate $25 billion to bolster resources at the southern border, specifically regarding points of entry, physical barriers, and border patrol staffing. It also cracks down on family separations, while also requiring that current asylum seekers be held in custody for no longer than 60 days while their cases are processed. The bill limits temporary protected status (TPS) to migrants from Venezuela, Afghanistan, Haiti, and Ukraine arriving after March 8, 2021. It also sets standards for the care of detained migrant children and families arriving at the southern border. It creates in-country processing centers in Latin America which offer asylum pre-screening, family reunification services for children, and work consultations. It also shields Deferred Action for Certain Childhood Arrivals Act (DACA) holders from deportation by creating a conditional permanent resident status while eliminating age-out limitations.

DIGNIDAD would also create the “Dignity Program” allowing migrants residing in the U.S. for over five years to apply for deferred action, employment, and travel authorization provided they pay into the system through income taxes, obtain health insurance, work for 8-10 years, and pay back taxes (the bill excludes participants from receiving federal benefits). Upon successful completion of the program, participants may receive Dignity Status which provides a renewable five-year status providing full work authorization, the ability to live in the U.S., and travel authorization outside the U.S., or the ability to enter the “Redemption Program,” which offers a chance to earn permanent legal status if participants learn English and contribute to their community through volunteer work, national community service, or contributions into a proposed American Worker Fund.

The bill also opens up certain visa programs while enforcing new compliance provisions. The bill creates a pre-clearance process for visa applicants, while also requiring them to submit their biometric information to immigration authorities and employers. It also establishes a multiagency and international screening process to identify criminal and national security concerns. Furthermore, DIGNIDAD grants work authorization to the spouses of H-1B workers and opens up visa and residency eligibilities for migrants with STEM PhDs and agriculture experience. It also exempts returning H-2B workers from national visa caps, increases the visa cap for immediate family members of lawful permanent residents, and creates a 90-day visitor visa for business, pleasure, and family.

To accommodate these new visa flexibilities, DIGNIDAD establishes an E-Verify process for new hires, which takes effect six months after the bill’s enactment. Prospective hires must attest to their legal status with the prospective employer (through passports, residencies, permits, etc.). If the applicant’s status cannot be verified, then they cannot be hired (or they must be furloughed in the case of current employees). Knowing violations of this process can result in a fine of $5,000 per case. However, employers may provide conditional job offers pending the eventual clearance of the E-Verify process.

Under the bill, H2B employers must also maintain worksite safety and compliance plans and disclose the name and location of any foreign recruiters with which they engaged. Employers must also notify DHS within three business days if an H2B worker fails to report to work or if the work is completed more than 30 days before the end date stated on the visa petition.

How They Compare: Both bills aim to address the level of migrant care upon arrival at the southern border, specifically with DDIA focusing primarily on the legal standards of care and processing that DHS must employ when detaining undocumented immigrants. However, DIGNIDAD goes much further to address issues of admissibility, work requirements, and border control. Both bills provide protections from deportation to families, recipients of DACA and TPS holders, and family members of certain visa holders. They also insist on the public availability of documentation relating to immigration procedures and statistics.

However, both bills diverge regarding proposed detention practices. Specifically, DIGNIDAD imposes mandatory detention to asylum seekers, while DDIA prohibits them outright. Furthermore, DDIA’s prohibition on privatizing detention facilities could come into conflict with DIGNIDAD’s $25 billion in new resources for DHS (which does not include DDIA’s prohibition on privatization). Additionally, DDIA is silent as to DIGNIDAD’s provisions impacting areas such as immigration processing at ports of entry and places of business, in addition to national visa caps, workplace requirements, and pathways to citizenship. In all, DDIA is more tailored to the treatment of detained migrants, while DIGNIDAD goes further to address additional facets of the immigration reform debate