By: Richard Hanus, Esq.
June 8, 2023
The Dignity Act is the name of the latest immigration reform proposal coming out of the U.S. House of Representatives. News of the bipartisan bill was announced last month and its language covers extensive ground, ranging from improving border security, to making asylum processing fairer and more orderly, to establishing a legalization program and path to citizenship for millions of our nation’s undocumented.
In the past 20+ years, significant bipartisan immigration proposals touching on many of the same issues have come and gone, with none reaching the finish line of being passed into law. From a substantive immigration law perspective, much of this new proposal is very similar to ones presented in recent decades. However, the timing of the proposal along with novel approaches to addressing the claims of desperate asylum seekers, the continuing humanitarian crisis at our border, along with border integrity, may be the key, new ingredients. Add to the mix our nation’s struggle to find workers of all skill levels to fill open positions in the labor market, and we might very well have the necessary impetus for politicians to take risks, compromise and present a workable law for the President’s signature.
Highlights from the 500+ pages of proposed legislation include:
- A path to resident status for the approximately 11 million undocumented immigrants who have been in the U.S. for more than 5 years on the condition they: 1) pay a $5,000 penalty over a seven year period, 2) pass a criminal background check and 3) meet certain tax payment requirements,
- A special, quicker path to citizenship if the undocumented foreign national enlists in the U.S. military,
- Expanded investment to reach mandatory border security milestones – where a 90% apprehension rate of individuals attempting to illegally enter the U.S. from the southern border is achieved,
- The creation of processing centers and “humanitarian campuses”, including in Latin American countries, where asylum seekers would be provided humanitarian services, immigration counsel, and opportunities to have their asylum claims evaluated by US authorities. If deemed to meet threshold legal standards, the asylum seekers would be issued special visas to enter the U.S. for further hearings on their claim.
The Dignity Act was introduced into the House of Representatives by a bipartisan team led by Rep. Veronica Escobar (D- Texas) and Rep. Elvira Salazar (R-Florida). For this proposal to truly be different from all similar, broad reaching predecessor bills, Rep. Escobar summed it up best: “(w)aiting for either side’s idea of what is perfect is exactly what’s gotten us into the situation we face today. Neither side can afford to continue to wait. Otherwise communities again like ours continue to pay the price.”
The next steps in the legislative process involve further discussion in both houses of Congress. To be sure, any compromise bill arrived at is destined to contain only pared down or greatly modified versions of the initial legislative offering.
But will Republicans continue in their almost unanimous knee jerk rejection of any legislative reform that includes a path to legalization for the undocumented in light of a significantly increased commitment to border security measures? Are we as a nation finally motivated enough, desperate enough and/or brave enough to pass laws to address immigration and labor related problems that have spanned generations?
Whether this new legislative proposal is different from all previous legislative proposals remains to be seen, and developments in negotiations will continue to be covered in this blog.
PUBLISHED June 8, 2023 – “IMMIGRATION LAW FORUM” Copyright © 2023, By Law Offices of Richard Hanus, Chicago, Illinois