The Senate Judiciary Committee cleared a comprehensive immigration reform bill late yesterday afternoon after a week of considering over 200 amendments. The bill, drafted by a bipartisan groups of Senators dubbed the ‘gang of eight’ would, among other things; expand the annual cap of H-1B visas to 110,000 from the existing cap of 65,000, raise the number of visas for foreign graduates with advanced degrees from U.S. universities that are exempt from the annual cap, and create a 13-year path to citizenship for nearly 11 million immigrants.
The bill will also create what is certain to be a controversial pathway to citizenship for the nation’s 11 million undocumented immigrants to become permanent legal residents a decade after they register with the government. Immigrants would be required to pay a $2,000 fine, pass a background check, have a job, and wait 10 years before applying for a green card. Three years after that, they could apply to become U.S. citizens. Dream Act youth – the term given to undocumented students advocating for permanent residency status, can obtain green cards in five years and citizenship immediately thereafter.
In exchange for the “pathway to citizenship” for many immigrants, conservatives demanded language in the bill that would call for billions of dollars to be spent on tightened security at the U.S.-Mexico border with a goal of apprehending 90 percent of those crossing the border in “high-risk” areas. But the whole process is contingent, at several points over a decade, on the government meeting certain border-security benchmarks.
The legislation now moves to the full Senate for debate and approval.