The sweeping immigration reform bill unveiled Wednesday would bring a raft of new regulations and add more layers to the federal bureaucracy.
The 844-page Senate bill calls for a dramatic expansion of the country’s worker verification system, an overhaul of visa programs and a new set of proposed regulations allowing undocumented people to become “registered provisional immigrants.”
The bill would establish penalty systems for employers and create protections for vulnerable immigrant workers in order to achieve the largest overhaul of the nation’s immigration system in decades.
The bipartisan Gang of Eight in the Senate, which penned the bill, set out “to establish clear and just rules for seeking citizenship, to control the flow of legal immigration, and to eliminate illegal immigration, which in some cases has become a threat to our national security,” according to the legislation’s preamble.
Unlike the Dodd-Frank financial reform law, President Obama’s healthcare overhaul and other legislation requiring major regulatory undertakings, the immigration proposal has significant support from Republicans and business groups.
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Still, its passage would set the stage for intense lobbying efforts to influence the federal rules that an assortment of agencies would be required to write. Business groups are already girding for the fight.
“As was the case with immigration legislation from the 1980s, there are going to be many regulations coming out from this bill,” said Craig Regelbrugge, vice president of government relations for the American Nursery & Landscape Association. “It’s going to be a full-court press by those of us working on the legislation to make sure that these regulations are workable.”
Regelbrugge, a co-chairman of the Agriculture Coalition for
Immigration Reform, was heavily involved in negotiations on the Senate
bill to help draft its farm worker component. That section of the bill
will create a new “blue card” for farm workers.
The designation, along with a new visa program for low-skilled workers, would require new rules from the government.
“Both of those will have extensive regulatory processes associated with them,” Regelbrugge said. “Our goal is get to the statutory language clear enough so we won’t have to struggle with the regulations once the bill passes.”
In addition to a flurry of rulemaking, the bill calls for major
structural changes in the agencies that oversee immigration. The bill
would remake U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services' Office of Citizenship as the “Office of
Citizenship and New Americans,” whose chief would help direct the major changes proposed in the legislation.
The Senate bill
would also create a taskforce of Cabinet members and other high-level
administration officials. The panel would begin work 18 months after
enactment of the law and establish programs to assist with immigrant
A nonprofit corporation, to be called the “United States Citizenship Foundation,” meanwhile, would solicit donations and provide assistance for those seeking provisional immigrant status.
Angelo Amador, vice president of labor and workforce policy for
the National Restaurant Association, raised concerns over another new
government apparatus that would be created by the bill: a bureau to
devise when and where new low-skilled worker visas, or “W Visas,” are
“The bottom line is we don’t want more bureaucracy created on a guest worker program where we already have so much bureaucracy that doesn’t work,” Amador said.
Agricultural groups are sifting through the bill to see how it deals with a federal mandate for electronic employee verification, or “E-Verify.” Farms could find it difficult to institute the system due to their high turnover and rural location, which can sometimes lead to limited Internet access.
“Farmers tend to lean conservative and could see E-Verify as an intrusion, as big government. Not everybody is going to be enthusiastic about E-Verify, but those of us advocating for the agricultural industry knew it was coming and we want to make sure that it can work,” Regelbrugge said.
Now largely voluntary, E-Verify would be mandatory for companies with at least 5,000 employees two years after the new regulations are published. Firms with at least 500 employees would have three years to comply, and the program would be mandatory for all employers after four years.
The dramatic expansion, along with the addition of “biometric,” or photo-matching components, would amount to government overreach and a step toward a national identification system, according to The Cato Institute’s Jim Harper, a lawyer specializing in information studies.
“It’s not the role of employers to do immigration law enforcement,” Harper said.
Some business groups expressed concerns when previous drafts of the immigration reform bill had employee verification language that allowed workers to file workplace complaints in order to avoid deportation. Kelly Knott, senior director of federal government relations for the National Retail Federation, said she is carefully looking at that section of the bill.
“There are some concerns that it will allow people to file workplace complaints just for the sake of filing workplace complaints,” Knott said. “I was hoping that there would be some clarifying language moving against frivolous claims. I’m still hoping that I will find that in the bill.”
Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.), a longtime champion of E-Verify, said he was optimistic that the competing immigration legislation expected to emerge soon in the House would also expand the program, and called the Senate language “something we can work with.”
Calvert said the imposition of new regulations was necessary given the scope of the immigration problem in the United States.
“When you have people coming here under no rules, no regulation, by definition you have to come up with a set of rules and regulations,” Calvert said.
Restaurants are pleased with the addition of the Jobs Originated through Launching Travel (JOLT) Act, which would speed up visa processing to help boost tourism.
“There is a lot of money coming into our restaurants from travelers. Anything facilitates that travel is something of course we would support,” Amador said.
Other provisions that would require potentially contentious regulations include a proposed pilot grant program for states and local governments to fund “New Immigrant Councils” to help integrate immigrants. The grants would total $100 million over the first five years.
The Agriculture Department would also be charged with creating new housing and pay standards for certain parts of the agricultural industry, including sheep and goat herders, those involved in open range livestock and other itinerant workers.
The bill outlines new regulations that would impose penalties totaling into the thousands of dollars for companies found to be employing illegal immigrants, while establishing protections for whistleblowers that expose them.
Even the proposal’s centerpiece — a path to legal status for the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants now in the country — would require new federal rules.
Those seeking registered provisional immigrant status would have to demonstrate compliance with regulations requiring them to pass a background check and pay penalties and back taxes. Just how their tax liability would be calculated would be dictated through regulation.
The bill would require that many of the new rules be finalized within a year after the bill is enacted. Some, including the E-Verify provision, must be in place before the provisional immigrant status is given to people in the country illegally.
Lawmakers, businesses and other groups with a stake in the bill were poring over the highly anticipated document for other clues about how its provisions would affect them.
“I plan to have some fun reading the bill this weekend,” Amador said. “Not everyone is going to be 100 percent happy.”
This artical was updated at 12:47 p.m. and 3:46 p.m.