President Obama calls the country’s immigration policy badly broken and out of date. This week, he pitched his plan for immigration reform to create a more direct path to citizenship for the estimated eleven million undocumented immigrants now living in the U.S.
Back in June of 2012, the President gave us a few clues on what he might propose when I asked him during our exclusive one on one interview at the White House about reforming the nation’s immigration policy and its impact on agricultural workers here in the Central Valley.
Click on the video player to watch how the President responded:
You may have noticed the President said then... that Congress seems willing to move on the ag portion of immigration reform, but it’s taken the harsh reality of an election and the growing impact of the Latino vote to get some members on Capitol Hill to finally act. However, some Congressional members believe the President’s plan and a proposal from a group of bi-partisan Senators are nothing more than amnesty for those who have broken the law.
The White House invited Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin to watch the President’s speech in person in Las Vegas. Afterward, she talked with Action News Reporter Mariana Jacob about the importance of immigration reform for our region.
Mayor Swearengin said "In Fresno, the issue of immigration reform is directly tied to our economy and that’s true for other places in the country but probably nowhere is it more true than in Fresno. So, when we talk about immigration reform we are talking about economic development in our region."
According to the Associated Press... these are the main elements of President Obama’s plan:
PATH TO CITIZENSHIP
- Create a path to citizenship for an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants, with "provisional legal status" and a green card as intermediary steps, regardless of whether border security measures are completed.
- Illegal immigrants can earn "provisional legal status" by registering, passing background checks and paying fees and penalties.
- Immigrants on "provision legal status" could get in line for permanent residency behind other immigrants already in the system.
- Five years after receiving permanent residency, immigrants can apply for citizenship.
- Improve infrastructure at ports of entry and use public-private partnerships to boost investment in technology for foreign visitor processing.
- Create new criminal penalties for those who smuggle people, drugs, weapons or money across the border and crack down on passport and visa fraud.
- Deport convicted criminals at the end of their prison sentences and streamline the process for removing those who overstay their visas or pose a national security threat.
- People brought to the U.S. as children would have same path to citizenship, but could expedite that path by attending college or serving for two years in the military.
- Raise the annual cap for how many family-sponsored immigrants can come from any given country from 7 percent to 15 percent.
- Temporarily increase annual visa numbers by an unspecified amount.
- Create "startup visa" for job-creating entrepreneurs and expand visa opportunities for those who invest in the U.S.
- Allow greater flexibility to add countries to the visa waiver program for tourists and let the State Department waive interview requirements for very low-risk visitors.
HIGHLY SKILLED IMMIGRANTS
- Award green cards to immigrants who obtain advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering or math from American universities.
- Create a new visa category for highly skilled immigrants to work in federal science and technology labs on national security programs after being in the U.S. for two years and passing background checks.
- Allows U.S. citizens and permanent residents to sponsor a visa for a same-sex partner.
- Farm workers in the country illegally would have the same path to citizenship.
- - Create a fraud-resistant Social Security card and create non forgeable documents for those without Social Security cards.
- Increase penalties for employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants.
- Over five years, phase in mandatory electronic employment verification, with exemptions for some small businesses.