What You Need to Know About the Border Security and Immigration Reform Act
Since the bill’s introduction, it has been improved to include a new, workable agricultural guestworker program for America’s farmers and ranchers, a returning worker exemption for the H-2B guestworker program, and the requirement that all U.S. employers use E-Verify to protect jobs for legal workers.House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), Congressman Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.), House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas), and Congressman Jeff Denham (R-Calif.) recently introduced the Border Security and Immigration Reform Act of 2018 (H.R. 6136), a consensus bill that is the product of negotiations between Republicans of all perspectives and addresses the four pillars for immigration reform outlined by President Donald Trump.
Since the bill’s introduction, it has been improved to include a new, workable agricultural guestworker program for America’s farmers and ranchers, a returning worker exemption for the H-2B guestworker program, and the requirement that all U.S. employers use E-Verify to protect jobs for legal workers. Below are key provisions of the bill.
• Secures the Border: The bill provides nearly $25 billion in advance appropriations to build a wall along the Southern border. It also combats visa overstays by ensuring the biometric entry-exit program is completed so that we know whether or not those on temporary visas leave the U.S.
• Contains More Tools to Prevent Illegal Immigration: The bill ends “catch and release,” increases the standard for credible fear to root out fraudulent claims, ensures unaccompanied alien children are returned safely and quickly to their home country, and provides the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) with the ability to detain dangerous criminal aliens, among other provisions.
• Modernizes Our Immigration System: The bill ends the visa lottery, protects the nuclear family while reducing chain migration, reduces overall immigration numbers over the long term, and begins a shift to a merit-based system. It also shifts to a first-in-line visa system by eliminating the per-country cap on employment-based green cards and by increasing the cap on family-sponsored green cards from 7 to 15%.
• Provides a Legislative Solution for DACA: The legislation allows the DACA population – children who came to the U.S. as minors and grew up here – an opportunity to earn a legal status. If these individuals meet certain requirements they will be eligible for a 6-year renewable legal status, allowing them to work here and travel abroad.
• Creates a New Merit-Based Green Card Program that Encourages Advancement:
o The bill establishes a new, merit-based green card program – without increasing legal immigration – based on applicants earning points for skills, education, vocational training, work experience, English language proficiency, and military service. More points are awarded for each achievement. Once applicants meet the threshold number of points for eligibility, they will qualify for a green card, although those with the highest points each year will earn their green cards more quickly.
o Those eligible include children of E1, E2, H1B, and L workers who were brought by their parents lawfully into the U.S. as minors and have been continuously in the U.S. for 10 years before the date of enactment AND any individual granted a “contingent non-immigrant status” due to DACA eligibility may apply.
o Importantly, the bill also requires the border wall to be funded before new visas are available under the new merit-based program.
• Keeps Families Together:
o The legislation fixes a court decision, the Flores settlement, to ensure that children who are apprehended at the border with their parents are not separated from their parent or legal guardian while the parents are in DHS custody.
o It also addresses family separation in light of the Zero Tolerance prosecution initiative by mandating that DHS, not the Department of Justice, maintain the custody of those charged with illegal entry along with their children. This would only apply to those who enter the country with children and would not permit those charged with felonies or any other criminal activity to be detained along with children. The bill allocates funding for family detention space to facilitate this requirement.
o To enhance the safety of children, the bill prohibits releasing a child to any individual other than a parent or legal guardian.
• Creates a New, Workable Ag Guestworker Program:
o The current H-2A program is broken. It’s expensive, flawed, and plagued with red tape. The Border Security and Immigration Reform Act replaces the H-2A program with a new, reliable, efficient, and fair program, known as H-2C, to ensure that farmers and ranchers have access to a legal, stable supply of workers for seasonal as well as year-round work.
o The bill provides for a generous cap and current unlawful farmworkers and H-2A workers won’t count against the cap. Should the cap ever be reached, there is an automatic escalator to increase the cap on non-meat and poultry processing visas.
o The bill allows experienced unauthorized workers to participate in the program and it provides flexible visa term lengths and touchback requirements to ensure that farm operations are not adversely disrupted.
o It also streamlines the program, ends excessive regulatory burdens – like housing and transportation mandates – and provides reasonable wage requirements.
o The bill also contains effective enforcement measures to ensure compliance with the program and its requirements. And it protects U.S. taxpayers by prohibiting H-2C workers from getting federal public benefits like Obamacare subsidies.
• Contains a Returning Worker Exemption for H-2B Visas: The bill now provides that any guestworker counted against the H-2B cap during either of the prior two fiscal years is not counted against the cap for the current fiscal year. The H-2B guestworker program is used by American employers to hire foreign workers for temporary and seasonal work, such as forestry, seafood processing, and other industries.
• Requires Employers to Use E-Verify:
o E-Verify is a web-based program that discourages illegal immigration by ensuring jobs are made available to those authorized to work in the United States.
o E-Verify is free, quick, and easy to use. It quickly confirms 99% of work eligible employees and takes less than two minutes to use. Nearly 800,000 American employers currently use E-Verify.
o The revised Border Security and Immigration Reform Act contains the Legal Workforce Act, which gradually phases in employers of all size to use this web-based program.