President George W. Bush and Republicans and Democrats in the United States Senate have reached agreement on a bill to reform U.S. immigration procedures. The bill, says Mr. Bush, includes "all the elements required for comprehensive immigration reform":
"It will improve security at our borders. It will give employers new tools to verify the employment status of workers and hold businesses to account for those they hire. It will create a temporary worker program. It will help us resolve the status of millions of illegal immigrants who are here already, without animosity and without amnesty. And it will honor the great American tradition of the melting pot by strengthening our efforts to help new arrivals assimilate into our society."
The immigration reform plan includes security "benchmarks," including doubling the number of U.S. Border Patrol agents, a tamper-resistant identification card to verify worker eligibility, and stiffer penalties on companies that knowingly violate the law. Once these security and enforcement "benchmarks" are met, says Mr. Bush, a new temporary worker program will provide foreign workers with a legal and orderly way to enter the U.S. to fill jobs that Americans are not doing:
"To ensure that this program is truly temporary, workers will be limited to three two-year terms, with at least a year spent outside the United States between each term. Temporary workers will be allowed to bring immediate family members only if they demonstrate that they can support them financially, and that their family members are covered by health insurance."
Immigrants in the U.S. illegally will be given "probationary status" if they come forward. President Bush says that if they then pass a strict background check, pay a fine, hold a job, maintain a clean criminal record, and eventually learn English, they will qualify for and maintain a Z visa, allowing them to apply for three-year work permits:
"If they want to become citizens, they have to do all these things, plus pay an additional fine, go to the back of the line, pass a citizenship test, and return to their country to apply for their green card" [allowing them legal permanent residence and employment in the United States]
Both the U.S. House and the Senate must pass the immigration reform bill before the president can sign it into law. "This bill," said President Bush, "brings us closer to an immigration system that enforces our laws and upholds the great American tradition of welcoming those who share our values and our love of freedom."