Immigration Reform 2013: 4 Highlights in the Bill

There are currently 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States, according to a 2011 report from the Pew Research Hispanic Center. The median age for this group of immigrants is only 36 years old, making them a decade younger than the median age of U.S. citizens. This means it’s very likely you attended high school with undocumented immigrants, ate lunch with them in your cafeteria, sat next to them in class, went to parties and sporting events with them, worked on a school project with them, and you’ve volunteered in the community with them.

Unfortunately, many states are now enacting legislation to enforce discriminatory barriers that prevent undocumented people from becoming fully documented, legal U.S. citizens. Now more than ever, it is vital for the nation to address our undocumented immigration crisis.

In order to combat the controversy surrounding the nation’s undocumented population, a bipartisan group of eight senators, commonly referred to as the "Gang of Eight," recently took on the daunting task of reforming our country’s immigration system. The result of their efforts is the 844-page bill, S.744, also known as the "Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act." Here are some of the important highlights of the bill:

1. Creates a path to citizenship, although it’s quite long and complicated.

Under this plan, it would take at least 13 years for an undocumented immigrant to achieve full citizenship status and benefits. An undocumented immigrant would spend 10 years as a "provisional immigrant" allowing him/her to work, but preventing him/her from receiving government benefits such as welfare or Medicaid. After those 10 years, the undocumented individual is then able to apply for a green card. Three years after that, he or she can apply for citizenship. The bill also calls for these individuals to pay fees (estimated at around $2000 per person) and have continuous employment. Additionally, this plan only applies to those who arrived in this country prior to December 31, 2011. It is also crucial to note that this pathway cannot begin until efforts to secure the border have been noticeably implemented.

2. Incorporates the major parts of the DREAM Act.

According to a New York Times analysis of the bill, "An expedited path to citizenship would be available for immigrants who arrived in the United States before they were 16 years old, graduated from high school in this country (or received an equivalent degree), and have attended at least two years of college or served four years in the military." The analysis goes on to say these individuals would receive the "provisional immigrant" status. After five years, "they would be able to apply for a green card, and as soon as they receive it, they would be eligible to apply for citizenship." This is the category our peers would most likely fall under.

3. Does not aid LGBT immigrant families.

With all the attention documented LGBT marriage and families have received in recent months, it is somewhat surprising that the bill makes no mention of extending a path to citizenship path and rights to same-sex undocumented couples.

4. Provides billions in funding for border security and additional fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Under this bill $4.5 billion will be provided to continue building the fence, use technology to monitor activity on the border, and employ more border patrol officers.