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By Nadin Abbott

June 27, 2013 (San Diego)—The United States Senate passed a comprehensive immigration bill today with 68 Senators voting for it, and 32 Senators voting against it.

In addition to citizenship for some undocumented immigrants and other provisions, the bill contains many provisions that would impact many in East County, including businesses, agriculture, and bolstering medical personnel.

It also calls for a border security “surge” including hundreds of miles of new border fencing and 18,000 additional federal agents on the U.S.-Mexico border.  Former Republican presidential candidate John McCain, who supports the bill, said it would create “the most militarized border since the fall of the Berlin Wall.”

The measure faces stiff opposition from House Republicans.  Speaker John Boehner has said that this bill will not come before the House, and that the House of Representatives will come up with its own bill with even stronger border protection measures.

California Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, both Democrats, voted in favor.  

Estela de los Rios, immigrant rights leader in El Cajon, praised the Senate’s passage of the bill as as “a good outcome” from a human rights standpoint but added that for those committed to justice and human rights, there is still a lot of work to do.

But De los Rios called the dramatic increase in border security the bill calls for “a waste of taxpayer’s money.” She believes that the billions of dollars that will go to this, should go to social services, education and healthcare.

“It is about the economy,” she added. “We have enough border security.” She also said the measure is not comprehensive enough in meeting needs of all minorities.

De los Rios told ECM that last week she had five legislative visits with all five members of San Diego’s House delegation in Washington DC. She also met with the Republican Caucus, which is chiefly concerned with border security.

Del Rios also made an observation not uncommon among political observers. The Republican House has a great divide between the Tea Party and more moderate Republicans. She predicted Speaker Boehner will not have an easy time trying to forge an alternative bill.

What the immigration measure would do

The Bill, S744, has among other things added a pathway to citizenship for 11 million immigrants who presently have no way to qualify for citizenship. It is not an easy path.

It creates a new category of Alien, Registered Provisional Immigrant (RPI).  People in this category would remain such for at least 10 years, before they can apply to Permanent Resident Status (green card). A resident will be able to apply to citizenship only after three years of being a legal resident, for a total of 13 years in the U.S.

For Dream Act children of undocumented immigrations, the bill shortens the process to five years as an RPI, as long as the Dreamer  “was younger than 16 years of age when such person entered the United States; (3) has earned a high school diploma or obtained a general education development certificate in the United States; (4) has acquired a degree from an institution of higher education or has completed at least two years in a program for a bachelor's or higher degree in the United States, or has served in the Uniformed Services for at least four years and, if discharged, received an honorable discharge; and (5) has provided a list of each secondary school attended in the United States.”

These are other sections in the Bill that are of interest to East County residents and employers, involving both E-Verify and agricultural workers.

E-Verify is a program set by the federal government that establishes the ability of employers to send for verification of migratory status for all employees from the federal government using an internet connection.

The program has been found to have false positives, and can cost an employee, even a U.S. Citizen, their ability to work until migratory status is proven. A 2011 GAO report for example found the following: 

“The report stated that the system had problems with workers whose names are recorded “differently on various authorizing documents.” Whenever names are listed differently on databases and documents (such as misspellings and including or excluding initials), E-Verify will issue tentative non-confirmations (TNCs) automatically. While many TNCs can be cleared up in a matter of days, according to GAO researchers, some errors persist and force employers to not hire or to discharge workers who are eligible to work in the United States.”

The bill also establishes the Office of the Small Businesses and Employee Advocate.  The goal of this office is to help small business to comply with Immigration requirements. 

Businesses that make an immigration error in good faith will have ways to clear themselves, and business will have to keep records.

San Diego’s East County is also considered a medically underserved area according to the State of California. The new Immigration Bill makes the J-1 Visa Waiver permanent. This allows for foreign trained physicians to come to the United States as immigrants, and go work in these areas. This potentially will increase access to medical care locally. Another part of the bill allows for the non-immigrant status of foreign trained registered nurses.

As far as our local immigrant communities,  the bill ends the preferential treatment of Vietnamese who were children of U.S. Soldiers due to the Vietnam War, but it continues the preferential treatment of both Iraqi and Afghan immigrants. All these communities are well represented in the East County.

The Senate’s bill also establishes a skills points immigration system for the United States and essentially ends the diversity immigration system that has dominated Immigration policy for a few decades. This becomes effective on October 1st, 2014. For those of us who are now citizens, it also removes the ability to request brothers or sisters. The skills set immigration concentrates on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics skill sets, otherwise known as STEM.

It also sets “a nonimmigrant H-1B visa (specialty occupation) cap of 115,000 for the fiscal year after the date of enactment of this Act, and (2) a minimum of 115,000 visas and a maximum of 180,000 visas in subsequent years based upon market conditions.” Most H-1B visas are granted in the Technology field.

Border Security:

This is a serious point of contention for both advocates and critics of immigration. While the Border Patrol has said that illegal crossings are at an all time low, some contend that the border is not secured. The bill itself “directs the Secretary to enhance border infrastructure by: (1) constructing additional Border Patrol stations in the Southwest border region, (2) upgrading and establishing additional Border Patrol operating bases, and (3) establishing a grant program with the Secretary of Transportation (DOT) to construct transportation improvements at international border crossings.”

It also adds non-manned and manned vehicles at the border, and adds agents. In addition, it authorizes the transfer of Border Patrol agents from the northern border to the southern border.

As for interior enforcement provisions, the measure makes “an alien who has been convicted three or more times for driving under the influence or driving while intoxicated inadmissible and deportable.” It also does the same for gang members, and those who commit aggravated assault, or other serious crimes.

Other provisions:

In a quirk this reporter found interesting in passing, it prevents U.S citizens from resigning their citizenship in time of war. It also adds protections for immigrants who are victims of human trafficking and increases the penalties for such crimes.

Since our East County is quite rural, this provisions, part of the Blue Card Program, might be of interest: “(Sec. 2231) Amends the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) to create: (1) a W-3 nonimmigrant visa for an alien to perform agricultural services who has a written contract that specifies the wages, benefits, and working conditions of such full-time employment with a designated agricultural employer for a specified period of time; and (2) a W-4 nonimmigrant visa for an alien to perform agricultural services who has a full-time employment offer from a designated agricultural employer for such employment.”

Some of these workers might move to the RPI status if they cannot fulfill their agricultural contract.

Another provision caught my eye given our fire season. The legislation also provides for the issuance of non-immigrant 90 day visas for emergency relief workers in a federal disaster area. In the past, there has been indeed mutual aid from fire personnel in Tijuana and Tecate helping to battle wildfires in East County.



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