00:45 - Source: CNN
'Guardedly optimistic' on immigration

Story highlights

Offers for legal status all depend on border security

There are two legal statuses undocumented migrants can reach

Three misdemeanor convictions is enough to disqualify an applicant

NEW: Proposal calls for issuing agricultural workers a new type of legal status card

(CNN) —  

The border with Mexico must be secure.

This requirement is the cornerstone of an immigration reform bill a bipartisan group of senators are to file on Capitol Hill on Tuesday. There will be no path to legal residency for migrants without it.

Undocumented immigrants may also not reach the status of fully legal residents under the proposed legislation, until the Department of Homeland Security has implemented measures to prevent “unauthorized workers from obtaining employment in the United States.”

The measure drafted by the “Gang of Eight” senators says “high risk border sectors” – those with at least 30,000 illegal crossings a year – must be sealed off before most undocumented immigrants could start their journey to legal residency.

It makes exceptions for law-abiding immigrants who arrived in the United States as children and completed high school. It also exempts some farm workers, according to the summary.

Conservative senators have insisted on border security as a condition for the legislation. Some Democrats, whose party controls the chamber, have agreed.

Once border security has been established via criteria laid out in the legislation, many undocumented migrants would get a shot at gaining legal footing in the United States, according to a summary of the proposed legislation passed on to CNN.

But it will take time to establish border security and the pathway to residency can be costly and take more than a decade to complete, although it is quick to reward successful applicants with the right to participate freely in America’s workforce.

Quota-based border security

The bipartisan bill lays down strict criteria for the creation of a secure border. It calls for $3 billion to beef up border security, which includes fortifying fences, staffing up patrols and acquiring surveillance technology from the Department of Defense – including drones and drone pilots, according to the summary.

It calls for $3 billion to beef up border security, which includes fortifying fences, staffing up patrols and acquiring surveillance technology from the Department of Defense, including drones and drone pilots.

Border officers must keep “High Risk Sectors along the Southern Border” under constant surveillance, and they must apprehend and turn back at least 90% of those who cross into the United States illegally each year.

A high-risk border sector is defined as a section where the number of apprehended illegal crossers tops 30,000 per year, according to the summary.

The achievement of border security is based on maintaining that quota.

“If an Effectiveness Rate of 90% or higher for all High Risk border sectors is reached during the first five years after the bill is enacted – the ‘Border Security Goal’ has been achieved,” the summary reads.

The path to legal residency? Border security

The bill summary introduces two statuses on the pathway to legal residency: registered provisional immigrant (RPI) and lawful permanent resident. Neither is attainable without border security, with the exception of immigrants eligible for the DREAM Act.

To be considered eligible, an undocumented immigrant cannot have arrived in the United States after December 31, 2011, and cannot have any felony convictions in the United States or abroad.

But smaller offenses can also block residency. The bill would block applicants with more than three misdemeanor convictions, including for offenses such as reckless driving, trespassing or vandalism.

Time and money

The bill would also require undocumented immigrants to pay a penalty of up to $500 for having come to the United States illegally and also pay any back taxes before receiving temporary approval to stay.

But once the applicant qualifies for that status, the registered provisional immigrant may work for any U.S. employer and is free to travel outside the country.

The status lasts for six years and can be extended for an additional $500 fee, if the applicant has not gotten into any trouble with the law.

After 10 years as provisional residents, immigrants could become lawful permanent residents by following the same guidelines as immigrants who enter the country legally. That process includes a $1,000 fee.

Again, before any provisional status RPI is allowed to transition into lawful permanent resident status, the Southern border must be certifiably secure.

In addition, the secretary of Homeland Security must have “implemented a mandatory employment verification system to be used by all employers to prevent unauthorized workers from obtaining employment in the United States,” according to the bill summary.

Meeting with Obama

Two senators from the “Gang of Eight” – John McCain, R-Arizona, and Chuck Schumer, D-New York – discussed the bill with President Barack Obama on Tuesday at the White House.

Out of respect for the victims of the violence that marred the marathon, Schumer and McCain canceled a news conference on Tuesday where the proposal was to have been formally rolled out.

The other legislators in the “Gang of Eight” are Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colorado; Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida; Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina; Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Arizona; Sen. Robert Menendez, D-New Jersey; and Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois.

Members of the Republican-led House of Representatives, which is typically more conservative than the Senate, are working on their own immigration overhaul plan, which also includes border security measures.

Blue card for ag workers

The proposal also calls for issuing agricultural workers a new type of legal status card: a blue card.

Agricultural workers who are currently in the country illegally would be allowed to apply for the card if they have worked in the U.S. agriculture industry for at least 100 days in the two years prior to December 31, 2012.

Applicants must also pay a $400 fee, show they have paid their taxes and have not committed a crime.

The bill caps the blue cards at about 112,000 for the first five years.

And depending on the type of work they are doing, some agricultural workers in the country illegally will have to continue to work a certain period of time in that industry in order to stay in the country.

Blue card holders would be eligible for permanent legal residency in five years, half the time of other adult immigrants in the country illegally, according to the summary.

The proposal would also set minimum wages across several categories of agricultural workers.