Here at LIRS, we’ve spent the past 10 days analyzing the immigration reform legislation that the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” released on April 17. This bill, known as S.744 or the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, would overhaul our current immigration system. It includes numerous improvements to our immigration laws that would benefit migrants, refugees, their families and communities, and our nation. LIRS applauds these improvements, but also decries changes made by the legislation that would divide some immigrant families.
S.744 is far from becoming law. Proposed changes by senators on the Judiciary Committee will be voted on during a series of hearings in the month of May. Next, the amended bill will move to the floor of the Senate where it will be subjected to additional debate and voting. Finally, S.744 must either be adopted by the House of Representatives or be reconciled with any competing immigration reforms put forward by that chamber.
LIRS has carefully considered how S.744 would impact our five principles for reform. Details of our analysis are available now on our website, and we are releasing the analyses on our blog over the course of this week. Today, we take an in-depth look at positive change for U.S. citizen and migrant workers. See also our analyses for family-based immigration, refugees and other vulnerable migrants, and detention.
Comprehensive Immigration Reform Through Senate Bill S. 744
Positive Changes for U.S. Citizen and Migrant Workers
As Congress builds an immigration system to ensure the supply of labor meets national demands, future immigration laws must recognize the contributions migrants make to our communities and improve protections for the safety, dignity, and fair treatment of every worker. Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) has long advocated for ample protections in our immigration system for U.S. citizen and migrant workers.
S. 744 (The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act) introduced April 17, 2013, includes the following improvements for workers in the United States:
- Undocumented agricultural workers and their dependents would be eligible for an expedited roadmap to citizenship with a “blue card.” Blue card holders who continue to work in agriculture would be eligible to become lawful permanent residents in 5-8 years, at which point they could work in any occupation.
- Victims of serious workplace abuse, exploitation, or retaliation would be eligible for U visas, which provide immigration status to migrant survivors of crime who assist law enforcement.
- Employers would be prohibited from withholding back pay or certain other damages because of a worker’s immigration status.
- Workers employed by registered employers in low-tech fields facing labor shortages would be eligible for a “W visa.” This program would be subject to an annual cap determined by the newly-created Bureau of Immigrant and Labor Market Research. The W visa permits workers to change to another registered job for another registered employer, allows workers’ spouses and children to join them and lawfully work, and grants W visa holders the ability to self-petition for lawful permanent residency through a new merit-based immigration system.
- Agricultural guest workers would be eligible for temporary work visas subject to caps designed to protect U.S. workers. These guest workers would receive worker’s compensation, employer-provided housing, fair wages, and the ability to transfer to certain other agricultural employers.
S. 744 mandates that employers begin using a federal government verification system to confirm new hires are authorized to work. S. 744 includes the following protections for workers screened under this system:
- U.S. citizens and work-authorized immigrants would be able to file an administrative appeal to contest a rejection or “non-confirmation” by the system. If necessary, individuals would be able to appeal this decision through the courts. Workers would be compensated with any lost wages, reasonable costs, and attorneys’ fees if non-confirmation was due to employer or government error.
- Would establish regular assessments of the system, complaint and investigation mechanisms, and privacy and information security protections. Would expand anti-discriminatory provisions in the current immigration laws to include discriminatory or unlawful use of electronic verification.
Throughout the legislative process, lawmakers will be listening for voices from their constituents. It’s critical that they hear from you and everyone who stands for welcome for migrants and refugees. This is a moment of opportunity to encourage Congress to provide a roadmap to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and their families, ensure humane and just enforcement of our immigration laws, uphold family unity for migrants and refugees, improve our refugee and asylum processes, and protect U.S. citizen and migrant workers. Visit our Action Center and tell your representatives in Congress that you support the rights of working people, whether migrants or U.S. citizens. You can also keep tabs on the latest immigration reform developments by reading our Monday updates by Hill experts.
Thank you for continuing to Stand for Welcome for migrants and refugees!