Deportees Can Come Back Under Draft Immigration Bill

Fawn Johnson
April 16, 2013

Details about the much anticipated, bipartisan immigration proposal are starting to emerge even as the “Gang of Eight” senators who are drafting the immigration legislation cancelled their Tuesday press conference in response to the bombing at the Boston Marathon on Monday. 

Under the measure, immigrants who were in the United States before Dec. 31, 2011 and were deported for noncriminal reasons could return to the country with a provisional legal status if they a legal spouse or child in the country or if they qualify for the Dream Act

This comes from a summary of the immigration bill slated to be unveiled this week in the Senate.

An outline of the bill obtained by National Journal illustrates the months of hard-nosed negotiations that the four Republicans and four Democrats have endured. In response to the repeated calls from Republicans for heightened border security, the bill increases customs agents by 3,500, allows the National Guard to  build additional border fencing, deploys unmanned and manned aerial surveillance systems along the U.S./Mexico border, and aids the U.S. Customs and Border Protection in patrolling rural, high-trafficked areas.

But the “gang” also was clearly listening to Democrats and immigration advocates who have been ardently protesting the family separations that result from President Obama’s deportation policies. Allowing deportees to return to the country would put a salve on the wounds of families whose parents or spouses have already been deported but who would have qualified for legal status if they hadn’t been unlucky enough to get noticed by immigration authorities.

So-called “dreamers”, young people who were brought to the United States illegally as children and were deported, also would be eligible to come back into the country even if they don't have a legal family member already here.

The deportee language goes a long way toward answering calls from immigrant advocates like Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., who has repeatedly stated that time is of the essence when it comes to passing an immigration bill. Gutierrez has long been a critic of Obama’s deportation policies, and he says it makes no sense to deport people now who could be in the country legally six months from now.

Conservative favorite Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., made the same argument on Sunday when he responded to criticisms from Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., that the draft legislation is not “enforcement first.”

“What do we do in the meantime? While you're doing all these enforcement mechanisms, what do you do with the millions of people that are undocumented? Is it a big game of cat and mouse, where if we catch you, you have to leave, but if we don't catch you, in the future you get to apply,” Rubio said on ABC’s This Week.

Sessions responded angrily later in the day with a statement accusing the "gang" of abandoning the principle of enforcement-first. "In fact, legalization--or amnesty--would come first," he said.

The draft legislation would also allow undocumented immigrants who are currently in deportation proceedings to apply for “registered provisional immigrant status,” according to the summary.

The penalty fee assessed to apply for “RPI” status is $500. The penalty would not apply to “dreamers” in deference to the oft-stated description of kids who were brought to the United States “through no fault of their own.” For everyone else, the provisional visa would be renewable after six years, but another $500 fee would be due at that time.

After 10 years, all immigrants in RPI status can apply for green cards through normal mechanisms. Dreamers and workers who qualify for visas under a separate agricultural program could have green cards after five years. For dreamers alone, the bill would waive the five-year interim period between obtaining a green card and applying for citizenship.

Under current law, the green-card process can take several years, but it’s a safe bet that the Department of Homeland Security will undergo a dramatic revision of its visa processing systems to accommodate the current backlog of applicants and the onslaught of green card applications it would receive under the new law.