U.S. Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) voted today to start debate on the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act - bipartisan immigration reform legislation that includes provisions to secure our border, implement an employment verification system, create a tough but fair means for those who are here illegally to earn legal status, and allow high-skilled and other needed immigrants to work here legally and help grow our economy. On Sunday, Ayotte became the first Republican senator outside of the bipartisan "Gang of 8" to announce her support for the legislation - providing a key vote for the bill.
"Today's vote reflects overwhelming bipartisan support for having this urgent debate," said Senator Ayotte. "We need immigration reform that serves our country's best interests. That means stopping the dangerous flow of illegal immigrants into our country through greater border security, more effective enforcement and a vigorous employment verification program. This legislation also modernizes our legal immigration system to allow high-skilled and other needed immigrants to work here legally and help grow our economy, addressing a critical need I've heard frequently from New Hampshire's business community."
KEY COMPONENTS OF BORDER SECURITY, ECONOMIC OPPORTUNITY, AND IMMIGRATION MODERNIZATION ACT:
Securing the Border:
* The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) must create, fund and initiate a border security and border fence plan within six months of bill's enactment.
o The Secretary would be directed to present Congress with a "Southern Border Security Strategy" and a "Southern Border Fencing Strategy" within six months of enactment, to include additional border agents and surveillance and identify where fencing, infrastructure, and technology should be deployed. $1.5 billion would be made available from the fund for constructing additional fencing and $3 billion for the security strategy.
* DHS must achieve 100 percent border awareness and at least 90 percent effectiveness in all border sectors (within five years of bill's enactment)
Stopping the Flow of Illegal Immigrants:
* Employment Verification - "E-Verify' - technology must be implemented. Under the bill, all employers will be required to use the E-Verify system over a five year phase-in period. Employers with more than 5,000 employees will be phased-in within two years. Employers with more than 500 employees will be phased-in within three years.
* Employers would face fines and civil penalties for violations of the E-Verify requirements, and possible criminal penalties for extensive and knowing employment of undocumented workers.
* To stop abuse of the existing visas system, DHS must implement an electronic biographic visa exit system at all international airports and seaports by the end of 2015.
* The bill would require DHS to report all visa overstays to the appropriate law enforcement, intelligence, or national security agency, and require that enforcement resources are used to locate the visa overstay and commence removal proceedings.
Earning Legal Status:
* The legislation also includes strict requirements for those illegal immigrants who have been here since before 2012.
o No undocumented immigrant is eligible to apply for temporary status until the border security and fencing plan have been submitted to Congress and the implementation of those plans is underway.
* Before any of these 11 million could earn a green card, they would go to the back of the line, not receive means-tested federal benefits and Obamacare subsidies, and they would be required to pay fines, pay taxes, and pass background checks, learn English, and secure a job.
* The minimum most immigrants would have to wait to earn a green card would be ten years - and 13 years for naturalization. And this timeline is dependent on first meeting border security and employment enforcement measures.
Boosting the U.S. Economy Through Legal Immigration Reform:
* After companies make every effort to recruit Americans to perform particular jobs and can't find any - especially those with expertise in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) - they are forced to look elsewhere.
o This legislation addresses that shortfall and will strengthen our economy.
o The bill expands the highly skilled H1-B visa program from 65,000 up to 180,000 to fill job shortages.
* The bill establishes a new guest worker visa program for lower-skilled workers that ensures the future flow of workers is manageable, traceable, and fair to American workers.
* The bill also allows current undocumented farm workers who have made a substantial prior commitment to agricultural work in the United States to obtain legal status through an Agricultural Blue Card Program.