Yesterday a bipartisan group of senators announced the framework for a comprehensive reform of the current immigration system. By far the biggest part of the legislation is the “path to citizenship” for 11 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States. As seen below, the path is a very rocky one and filled with all kinds of potential detours. Here is how an undocumented immigrant would eventually become a citizen under the proposed legislation, according to a text of the framework released by the Huffington Post.
Step #1 – Legalization
Currently all undocumented immigrants are residing in the country illegally, and therefore subject to deportation if they are discovered. The bill would make these undocumented immigrants legal temporary residents and give them a limited amount of time to complete the following steps.
Step #2 – Registration, Background Check, Fines, and Taxes
While the federal government invests more resources into securing the border, undocumented immigrants would be required to register with the government, pass a background check, and pay back any fines or back taxes. After these undocumented immigrants register, pass the background check, and pay back fines or taxes, they would be granted “probationary legal status” to stay in the United States. Those undocumented immigrants who fail to register or fail the background check would be subject to deportation.
Step #3 – Securing the Border
At this point, the bill would also require that a commission declare the border secure before any undocumented immigrants could move forward from their probationary legal status. The board would be comprised of “governors, attorneys general, and community leaders living along the Southwest border.” If the board says the border is insecure, than undocumented immigrants would be allowed to stay but not to earn legal permanent status or citizenship.
This is the hardest part of the path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants under the bill because the immigrants have no control over whether it happens. Some have speculated that if people like Gov. Jan Brewer (R-AZ) are placed on the commission, the border will never be declared secure.
Step #4 – Another Background Check, More Taxes, Employment, and Learning English
Assuming the commission declares the border is secure, probationary legal immigrants would then be required to go to the “back of the line of prospective immigrants, pass an additional background check, pay taxes, learn English and civics, demonstrate a history of work in the United States, and current employment” in order to apply for lawful permanent residency. Given the current backlog of applications for legal permanent status, it would likely take many years before undocumented immigrants were able to reach the front of the line.
Step #5 – Citizenship
Once they obtained legal permanent status, immigrants could then apply for citizenship. The last step would actually be the easiest, since the immigrant would already be employed and know English under the requirements to obtain legal permanent status. All that would be required for citizenship, at that point, is taking the oath.
The bill explicitly makes exceptions for minors who did not knowingly break the law when they entered the country illegally, and for agricultural workers who have been “performing very important and difficult work to maintain America’s food supply while earning subsistence wages.” These undocumented immigrants presumably would face a much easier path to citizenship, though the bill does not spell out the specifics.