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Undocumented immigrants eligible for ‘dignity program’ under bill

Salazar’s legislation offers path to legal residency, boost in border security efforts

Rep. María Elvira Salazar, R-Fla., says her legislation would strengthen the U.S. economy in addition to boosting stability for undocumented immigrants.
Rep. María Elvira Salazar, R-Fla., says her legislation would strengthen the U.S. economy in addition to boosting stability for undocumented immigrants. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Millions of undocumented immigrants would receive legal protections and, eventually, a possible path to citizenship under broad legislation unveiled Tuesday that also would ramp up efforts to secure the southern U.S. border.

Under the “dignity program” proposed by Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar, R-Fla., undocumented immigrants who have lived in the U.S. for at least five years would be allowed to work legally while paying $1,000 annually into a new fund supporting job training for American workers.

After 10 years, the immigrants would become eligible for a five-year “redemption program” requiring civics education and community service, and could be considered eligible for citizenship through existing procedures for naturalization.

“If you have been here in this country for more than five years, you have been working, you have been paying taxes, you have not committed a crime — then you can come out of the shadows and live a dignified life,” Salazar told reporters during a press call Tuesday morning, before officially introducing the draft bill.

The legislation also would allow undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children, often called Dreamers, and Temporary Protected Status holders to adjust their status to lawful permanent residency.

Salazar said her plan also is designed to reduce illegal immigration in the future by ramping up border security. It includes a “trigger mechanism” to ensure border security — including the hiring of additional agents and an update of border technology — is emphasized first before any other bill measures are implemented.  

The legislation also would mandate the national use of E-Verify, the government electronic system used to verify employees are legally authorized to work in the U.S., and increase penalties for illegal border crossings.

It also aims to revamp the asylum system by creating regional processing centers at the border for family units, requiring families to stay at the centers until their asylum claims are decided.  

Salazar argued her legislation would strengthen the U.S. economy in addition to boosting stability for undocumented immigrants — particularly in light of current labor shortages and supply chain issues.

“This is a clear message to the farming industry, to the construction industry, to the hospitality industry in the United States that we feel your pain and we are here to give you that reliable workforce that you need,” she said.

A freshman from the Miami area, Salazar has long advocated for Republicans to think more seriously about an immigration overhaul as they try to build momentum among Hispanic voters. Her legislation is cosponsored by Reps. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., John Curtis, R-Utah, Pete Sessions, R-Texas, Tom Reed, R-N.Y., and Peter Meijer, R-Mich., and Del. Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon, R-P.R.

The bill’s introduction comes as Democrats seem increasingly unlikely to secure broad immigration protections before the midterm elections. Three separate attempts to include immigration provisions in their budget reconciliation package were rejected by the Senate parliamentarian, and the overall plan remains in flux amid divisions in the Democratic caucus.

“The Democrats for the last 30 years have been promising immigration reform law to my community,” Salazar said. “Now the Republican Party once again is coming out and saying, ‘Welcome,’ because it’s not only good for them — but it’s good for the country.”

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