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Proposed Immigration Reform: Waiting for More Answers

Last month, the bipartisan Senate Gang of 8 released their proposal for Comprehensive Immigration Reform called the “Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013” (S.744). The proposed bill is set for numerous hearings and mark-ups before it may be voted on later this spring. No one knows what might end up as law, but there appears to be general consensus among everyone in Washington that the time has come to mend America’s dysfunctional immigration system.

The Senate proposal sets out a “tough but fair” 13-year path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. It includes criminal background checks, fees, English and civics lessons, income restrictions, and myriad other requirements for undocumented immigrants to earn American citizenship.

As they are written in S.744, the fees and income and employment requirements may pose a problem for many aspiring citizens. Employment verification requires documenting 13 years’ worth of work and proof of income over 125% of the federal poverty level. Most immigrants come to the United States because of the promise of economic opportunity, but in many communities  immigrant families struggle to find consistent employment or wages that lift them much above the poverty line. Non-citizens cannot access safety net programs such as SNAP or TANF. These requirements could be a roadblock to well-meaning, hard-working people with important service jobs that are critical to our economy and our communities but that pay only the minimum wage.

Given that many undocumented immigrants work in lower-wage jobs, coming up with the $1,000 in fees required by S.744 may also be challenging. For many immigrant families struggling on the verge of poverty, especially those with families or in places with a high cost of living, such large lump sum payments may be impossible. This potentially leaves undocumented immigrants open to predatory lending.

Although these requirements may change in the final bill, any legislation that makes citizenship financially prohibitive for lower-income families and individuals will continue to drive undocumented immigrants into the shadows and cannot be truly effective. To help explore these issues and more, the Public Policy Office of the Alliance for Children & Families and United Neighborhood Centers of America will be hosting a webinar on proposed immigration reform on Tuesday, May 7 from 3-4 pm ET. Registration is free and open to all. Join us to learn more about the proposed legislation and what it might mean for families and communities around the country.

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by Dr. Radut