National Immigration Law Center
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Our mission is to defend & advance the rights & opportunities of low-income immigrants and their family members.

STRIVE Act of 2007 Introduced

Compose

Thursday, March 22, 2007

This morning Reps. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ) introduced the first bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform bill of the 110th Congress.  If enacted, the Security Through Regularized Immigration and a Vibrant Economy (STRIVE) Act would be the most complete overhaul of our nation's immigration system since 1965.

We welcome this first step in the long and uncertain process that could lead to the passage of desperately needed comprehensive immigration reform this year.  Reps. Gutierrez and Flake have exhibited rare courage and commitment in moving forward despite the slowdown of similar efforts on the Senate side.  As the first to commit to a specific proposal, they face inevitable attack by anti-immigrant forces, as well as criticism by groups such as ours-that have long been committed to immigration reform-for compromises made in crafting a bill with any real chance of passage.

Democrats and Republicans in Congress will pay close attention to the response to the STRIVE Act as they evaluate their next steps.  The STRIVE Act will be referred to the Immigration Subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee, chaired by Rep. Zoe Lofgren.  The subcommittee could work off of the STRIVE Act, or more likely Rep. Lofgren could introduce a modified version or she could start from scratch with a different bill that would then become the focus of committee consideration.  If the response to the STRIVE Act is dominated by anti-immigrant forces, as is often the case with immigration proposals, the prospects for positive reform this year will dim significantly.

As of this writing, the text of the ambitious Gutierrez-Flake proposal was not yet available, but based on the attached summaries provided by the sponsors and on briefings by their staffs, it appears to contain the same core elements as the bill that passed the Senate last year; and it may eliminate some of the most glaring wrinkles, contradictions, and incoherence of that bill.

Like last year's Senate-passed bill, the STRIVE Act is an amalgam of desperately needed and problematic elements.  The bill includes provisions that:

  • Provide temporary status and a path to eventual permanent residence for many of the estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. via whichever one of three new mechanisms for which they may qualify:

    • "Earned legalization" for workers and their spouses and minor children who have lived and worked here since June 1, 2006;

    • The DREAM Act for individuals who arrived at least 5 years before the date of enactment of the STRIVE Act at the age of 15 or younger and have graduated from high school; or

    • AgJOBS for certain agricultural workers.

  • Reform our legal immigration system to significantly reduce family and employment immigration waiting lists and backlogs.

  • Create a large new worker visa program with features intended to avoid the constant abuses inherent in past and current guest worker programs.

  • Impose a mandatory electronic employment verification system for new hires that would apply to all employers and workers.

  • Address illegal border crossings by further militarizing the border region with a smaller number of provisions intended to protect the human and civil rights of the residents of that region.

  • Make numerous changes in interior immigration enforcement including new and increased penalties, increased detention space, new identity documents with biometric identifiers, and reduced due process.

As with all immigration proposals, the devil is in the details, and we now have only the roughest of summaries.  Since the details can be critically important, an analysis of the bill will have to wait until we have had an opportunity to study the actual language.

Pending such an analysis, we have highlighted a few of the features included in the summary that will require particular scrutiny once the language becomes available.

  1. Conditions that must be met before earned legalization and the new worker visa program can begin The provisions providing a path to legal status and creating the new worker visa program would not take effect until and unless the Secretary of Homeland Security certifies that the first phases of the border technology, document security, and employment verification systems are in place.

  2. Legal reentry requirement.  The path to legal status would include at least 6 years of "conditional nonimmigrant status" during which the immigrant would be required to leave the country and return legally at least once.

  3. Other legalization requirements.  It is not clear from the summary whether the English language and tax payment requirements for legalization are similar to the reasonable provisions in previous legislation, or whether like last year's Senate bill they would mandate a higher standard that would preclude many immigrants from qualifying.  It also is not clear whether legalized workers would be denied the right to collect the same social security benefits as other lawfully present immigrants and citizens.  Last year the Senate rejected a proposal that would have prevented legalized immigrants from receiving their full earned social security benefits upon retirement or disability, even after becoming citizens, by preventing them from getting credit for money they paid into the system before legalizing.

  4. Labor protections.  Although the summary refers to increased labor law enforcement, this appears to be largely or solely in relation to the new worker visa program.  The summary does not include reform of the provisions in current immigration law that undermine labor protections for U.S. and immigrant workers; it does not address the gaps in anti-discrimination protections for immigrant workers; and it does not include improved enforcement of labor laws, which is the most effective enforcement strategy available to reduce future unlawful immigration.

  5. New worker visa program.  The STRIVE Act represents an effort to legalize the flow of workers into the U.S. by shifting the estimated 500,000 who currently enter without documents into legal channels.  It would do so by (1) removing some of the features of current law that restrict access to permanent family and work-based immigration, and (2) creating a new worker visa system that is intended to avoid the deeply problematic experience with current guest worker programs.  Among the essential features of any such system, in addition to full labor rights, are "portability," the ability of the temporary workers to quit their job and find another without losing their legal status, and "path to citizenship," their ability to adjust to permanent status either by having their employer submit a petition or by petitioning on their own behalf after residing here for at least 5 years.  Unfortunately, the new system does not appear to provide full portability.  Workers with visas under the new program would not be able to work for any employer, but only for those who comply with paperwork and recruiting requirements designed to ensure that U.S. workers are hired before any worker visa holders can be considered.  This requirement could make it extremely difficult for a worker to find employment with a new employer other than the one who initially petitioned for the worker.  A new worker visa holder who is unemployed for more than 60 days would be required to leave the U.S.

  6. Employment verification.  The provisions outlined in the summary appear to improve the workability of the employment verification system compared with the version that passed the Senate last year.  However the summary refers to a reduction in the number of documents that employers can accept.  A certain amount of reduction from the current 29 acceptable documents would be reasonable, but not unless all work authorized individuals would have at least one of the required documents.  Most troubling, there is some indication that the system might rely on REAL-ID compliant drivers' licenses.  As of now, there are no such licenses, and the states are in revolt against the new requirements because they are costly, unreasonable, and unworkable.

  7. Reduction of due process protections.  Numerous provisions in the bill increase immigration penalties or appear to affect the ability of immigrants to obtain relief when the government mistakenly moves to deport them.  These include the expansion of expedited removal without the right to a hearing, affirming the authority of local law enforcement agents to enforce immigration laws, adding more criminal penalties for immigration violations, and expanding the criminal grounds of removal.  It is impossible to evaluate these changes fully without examining the language of the bill.

We at NILC are pleased that the process has now begun.  We remain hopeful for a good outcome this year, despite the obstacles and despite our awareness that any comprehensive bill with a chance of enactment in this or any year be deeply flawed.  We continue to believe that there is an urgent need for reform because the current system is unworkable and unjust, and deteriorating.  We are mindful of the accelerating efforts to enact anti-immigrant legislation at the state and local levels, and of the suffering, indignity, and deaths that are caused by the feckless but increasing efforts to enforce current unacceptable laws.  It is now up to other members of Congress to do what is necessary to take advantage of, and hopefully improve upon, the foundation that has been laid by Reps. Gutierrez and Flake.