U.S. Immigration bill–what happens now?
SAN JOSE, California—The U.S. immigration reform bill approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee last week and slated for the Senate floor in June is still getting mixed reviews from immigrant rights supporters.
For Filipinos directly affected by the U.S. immigration reform bill, family reunification is the big question. How long will the wait be for petitioned siblings, who are not undocumented students and not agricultural workers?
Of the more than 200 proposed amendments to the U.S. immigration reform bill, 141 passed in almost 30 hours of debate in the Judiciary Committee Analysts say if the Republican-controlled House passes the bill by July, legislation may occur in early August this year.
“There are both good and bad consequences” as the bill stands now, Pramila Jayapal, co-chair of women’s rights campaign We Belong Together and founder-executive director of the biggest immigrants advocacy movement in Washington state OneAmerica, told INQUIRER.net.
“One positive thing is that there’s a major concern to wipe out the backlog (of petitions) so Filipino families can be together. We need to get rid of a 4.3 million backlog.” The wait for relative-sponsored visas took up to 10 years before siblings could come over to the US. The bill could be cut down significantly to about two years.
“Spouses and minors (children not over 21) will be re-classified as immediate relative category,” Jayapal explained. “But the bad side of it is that the sibling and adult children categories (as we know it) will be eliminated. Sponsoring for these categories will no longer be allowed. But there will be an 18-month grace period after legislation before it happens.”
The bill will also change the US immigration policy to something much like the policy in some countries like Canada. It would institute a merit system that takes into consideration the applicant’s education and “if he works in the U.S . and his family connections.”
But the jury is still out on the merit system, said Jayapal. “Sen. Hirono is working on an amendment to collect data first.”
Sen. Mazie Hirono is the first Asian-American woman and the only immigrant in the Senate. She is also the first female senator from Hawaii and served under Governor Ben Cayetano as lieutenant governor from 1994 to 2002.
Hirono successfully sponsored an amendment to help qualified undocumented aliens pay the required fees and taxes by installment, which could be reduced by two thousand dollars. She is also working on an amendment to exempt children of Filipino World War II veterans from the numbers category.
As to the fear of skilled labor visa quota being prioritized over family reunification, Jayapal said the bill is shaping up to be “truly comprehensive” and not just beneficial for any one specific culture.
But the bill mandates the e-verify requirement for employers of immigrants, Jayapal said, although “there’s a possible amendment (exempting) women informally working as nannies and for some small businesses.”
The bill is a long way from perfect.
At a New America Media press briefing Wednesday, America’s Voice Deputy Director Lynn Tramonte said many of the family amendments were not passed, triple-checking student visas was proposed and amendments to include same-sex marriage were not included lest some Republicans abandon the Bill.
American Immigration Council Executive Director Benjamin Johnson said immigration policy enforcement was “more politics than policy” and that there were legal requirements and family backlogs “that did not make sense.” Johnson identified as “critical components, due process and discretion missing since 1996” and a need to ”look at status before deportation.”
Center for American Progress Immigration Policy Vice-president Angela Maria Kelley said that a major concern is that there is no health care coverage for the undocumented and that “benefits for (their) children, tax credits and Social Security will likely be challenged by (some) conservatives.”
Fears over abuses on work visa-holders were not allayed. It is still not clear how long out-of-status work visa holders can stay after renewal and the fate of the undocumented workers uncovered by e-verify.
For now, Kelley advised would-be applicants “not to file early.” “Keep records proving you were in the US before 2011. Keep out of trouble. Keep your wallet closed and don’t be quick to give away money. And keep paying taxes.”
Kelly advised applicants to “look at the (documents specified in the questions) at the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) website.”