Maria Elvira Salazar Champions Immigration Reform Proposal

This week, U.S. Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar, R-Fla., unveiled an “updated version of the Dignity Act to fix our nation’s broken immigration system,” which her office trumpeted as the “first serious bipartisan immigration solution proposed by Congress in over a decade.”

U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-Tex., is the main co-sponsor of the proposal. Other backers include U.S. Reps. Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon, R-PR, Hillary Scholten, D-Mich., Lori Chavez-DeRemer, R-Oreg, Kathy Manning, D-NC, and Mike Lawler, R-NY.

“The bill consists of four core principles: (1) stopping illegal immigration; (2) providing a dignified solution for undocumented immigrants living in America; (3) strengthening the American workforce and economy; and (4) ensuring the United States remain prosperous and competitive in the future,” Salazar’s office noted. “The Dignity Act is based on the biblical principles of dignity and redemption. It will restore law and order to our immigration system and support American workers. It was written in consultation with American businesses leaders, agriculture and farming industries, the faith-based community, immigration reform groups, and border security experts.

“Our broken immigration system is frustrating Americans, causing people to suffer, and fracturing our country — economically, morally, socially, and politically. A solution is long overdue,” said Salazar. “I am proud to introduce the new and improved, bipartisan Dignity Act. This bill gives dignity to the border agents who need support, the job creators who need employees, the American people who need secure borders, and those who currently live in the shadows.”

“Decades of congressional inaction on immigration law has real consequences, and the humanitarian crisis unfolding before our eyes requires a bipartisan solution,” said Escobar. “I have seen the toll our broken immigration system has on federal personnel, local representatives, nonprofits, and the migrants themselves, and the need for a realistic, common-sense compromise could not be more urgent. These challenging times call for both compassion and action, and the Dignity Act of 2023 offers a bipartisan, meaningful approach that restores dignity to people who have tried to navigate a broken system for far too long. With the introduction of this legislation that Representative Salazar and I have been working on since December 2022, it is our hope that Congress seizes the opportunity to solve the immigration challenges of today and tomorrow.”

While Salazar and Escobar championed the bill over the past two years, they have made some changes which the South Florida Republican’s office focused on this week.

“Specifically, the new bill secures the border once and for all, fixes our broken asylum system, strengthens support for border communities, and stops the humanitarian crisis we are currently facing,” Salazar’s office insisted. “To address those currently in the United States, the bill establishes a seven-year Dignity Program and an optional five-year Redemption Program. These programs provide eligible undocumented immigrants the opportunity to work and earn renewable legal status, conditional on good conduct and restitution payments made to the American taxpayer. While we are a nation of laws, we have also historically been a nation of second chances. This provides the undocumented living in the shadows a second chance to get right with the law. Additionally, the bill solves critical labor shortages across industries. It addresses longstanding backlogs and inefficiencies in our legal immigration process, giving U.S. employers the ability to fill the millions of job vacancies that remain open. If the U.S. economy cannot grow and prosper, the American Dream could be out of reach for future generations.

“The Dignity Act prioritizes American workers and our national security every step of the way, both through the establishment of the American Worker Fund to retrain American workers to meet the needs of a changing economy, and through the resources that are provided for border security and law enforcement to keep our communities safe. All of this will be fully funded through fees on immigrants and restitution payments made by participants in the Dignity and Redemption programs, at no expense to the American taxpayer,” Salazar’s office added.

The bill was sent to a dozen committees including the U.S. House Judiciary; Homeland Security; Ways and Means; Agriculture; Transportation and Infrastructure; Budget; Education and the Workforce; Foreign Affairs; Oversight and Accountability; Intelligence (Permanent Select); Financial Services; and Armed Services Committees. So far, there is no companion measure over in the U.S. Senate.

Salazar’s office offered the following provisions of her proposal:

Key Provisions of the Dignity Act

Securing the Border and Restoring Law and Order

Provides $25 billion to fully secure the border.
Mandates 100% nationwide E-verify to ensure all American business are hiring legal workers.
Achieves operational control and advantage of the Southern Border by employing a comprehensive Southern Border Strategy.
Constructs enhanced physical barriers and deploys the most up-to-date technology at the border.
Hires thousands of new Border Patrol agents, CBP officers, and border intelligence units.
Implements new policies to stop criminals crossing the border illegally, including new authorities to track cartel spotters, and raises penalties on human traffickers and child sex traffickers.
Authorizes DHS to officially designate an organization as a criminal street gang, making any alien involved in a criminal gang inadmissible and deportable.
Designates Mexican cartels as Special Transnational Criminal Organizations.
Directs DHS to complete and implement biometric exit at all air, land, and sea ports-of-entry for international travelers.
Provides DHS the authority to use DNA testing to verify family relationships.
Enhances port-of-entry security by expanding surveillance and intrusion detection systems.
Improves legal commerce and trade by expanding inspection lanes and investing in X-ray technology to safely inspect commercial vehicles.

Fixing our Asylum System

Expedites processing and ends catch-and-release policies.
Establishes at least five Humanitarian Campuses (HC) that will receive individuals and families arriving at the southern border for immediate processing.
Asylum-seekers will remain at an HC until their case is decided.
They will have freedom of movement within the HC, access to state-of-the-art facilities, medical personal, legal counsel, and non-governmental organizations.
Decides asylum cases within 60 days. Asylum-seekers will undergo an initial credible fear interview within 15 days of their arrival and further screening by trained asylum officers for final determination within an additional 45 days.
Complex cases may be referred to case management to await a hearing before an Immigration Judge.
Creates five additional immigration centers in Latin America to stop migrant caravans and prevent individuals from making the dangerous land journey to the United States.
The centers will offer asylum pre-screening, child reunification services, and employment counsel to determine eligibility for work visas in the United States.
Implements a security and development strategy to address instability in Central America. This will help bring stability and economic development to Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras.
Increases U.S. authorities to target transnational criminals, smugglers, human traffickers, drug traffickers, and gangs like MS-13.
Cracks down on asylum fraud by increasing penalties for those that make false statements or provide false documentation.
Establishes a new two-strike policy for anyone caught crossing at a non-port-of-entry, to ensure legitimate asylum seekers are processed appropriately while bad actors are apprehended.

Giving Dignity and Redemption to Undocumented Immigrants

Creates immediate protected status and streamlined path for Dreamers and TPS recipients, as outlined in the Dream and Promise Act.
Establishes the Dignity Program, a practical solution for undocumented immigrants who have been in the U.S. for more than five years.
Recipients will be offered a chance to work, pay restitution, get right with the law, and earn legal status.
Applicants must comply with all federal and state laws, pass a criminal background check, and pay outstanding taxes or debts.
Dignity participants will also pay $5,000 in restitution during the seven years of the program, check in with DHS every two years, and remain in good public standing.
Individuals in the Dignity Program will not have access to federal means-tested benefits or entitlements.
Establishes two options after successful completion of the Dignity Program – Dignity Status or the Redemption Program:
Dignity Status: Dignity recipients who choose this option will immediately receive a five-year Dignity Status, which provides full work authorization, the ability to live in the U.S., and travel authorization outside the U.S. They will also remain ineligible for citizenship, means-tested benefits, and entitlements. Dignity Status can be renewed an indefinite number of times as long as the individual remains in good standing with the law.
Redemption Program: The Redemption Program (+5 years) requires completion of the seven-year Dignity Program. It offers Dignity recipients a chance to redeem themselves and earn permanent legal status. Redemption Program participants must learn English and U.S. civics and contribute to their local community either through community service or an additional $5,000 in restitution payments. Successful completion of the Redemption Program provides legal permanent resident status and eligibility for existing pathways to citizenship. Participating individuals would go to the back of the line.

Dignity for American Workers

Creates a new American Worker Fund, using restitution payments from the Dignity and Redemption Programs. This fund will provide workforce training, upskilling, and education for unemployed American workers.
For every participant in the Dignity Program, their restitution payments will be able to train or retrain at least one American worker.
The American Worker Fund provides grants for workforce education initiatives, apprenticeship programs, higher education, and Career and Technical Education to give opportunities for Americans to enter new careers.
This will ensure Americans can secure employment in in-demand careers.

American Agricultural Dominance

Streamlines the H-2A application process by allowing employers to file with relevant agencies in a single platform, reducing regulatory burden for farmers and businesses.
Creates a year-round Agricultural workforce, removing “seasonal” requirements on the H-2A program and expanding it to year-round labor.
Combats price hikes so families can access affordable groceries and a large variety of U.S.-based produce.
Repeals the complicated and unpredictable Adverse Effect Wage Rate (AEWR) formula to calculate wages for farmers set by the Department of Labor. It replaces it with either 125% of the federal minimum wage or the applicable state/local minimum wage.
Allows Staggered Entry for advanced planning so employers can have workers start at different dates of the year to meet their specific needs.
Opens the H2A program to apple cider pressing on farms, aquaculture, the equine industry, forestry activities, conservation, forest management, and wild fish and shellfish processors.
Includes special procedures regulations for shepherding and goat herding, shearing, bee keeping, and custom combining.
Creates a Certified Agricultural Workers (CAW) program, as established in the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, with renewable five-and-a-half year visas available only to undocumented workers that have been working in agriculture for several years previously.
Foreign workers could apply for lawful permanent residence (LPR) after successfully maintaining either eight years of CAW status or four years of CAW status plus ten years of previous agricultural work experience in addition to making restitution payments and paying owed back taxes.
Includes the Returning Worker Exception Act, which Reforms the H-2B program by exempting returning workers from the visa caps of the three previous fiscal years. It also improves the H-2B application process, requiring the DOL to maintain a publicly accessible online job registry, and strengthening program integrity measures and anti-fraud provisions to protect American workers and guest workers.

Unleashing American Prosperity and Competitiveness

Modernizes our legal immigration system and fixes backlogs.
Cuts the legal immigration backlog at ten years, ensuring anyone that has been waiting for a legal visa (either family-based or employment-based) for ten years or more (calculated by priority date) will be provided with that visa.
Raises the per-country cap set in the Immigration Act of 1990 from 7% to 15%.
Allows STEM PhD graduates from American universities, including medical students, to be eligible for an O visa. This allows “Individuals with Extraordinary Ability or Achievement” to stay and work in the U.S. if they choose to.
Increases high-skilled employment visas opportunities by only counting the principal applicant and excluding derivatives (children and spouses) from counting towards the annual Employment-Based visa caps. It does not raise the caps.
Includes the H-4 Work Authorization Act, allowing spouses of H-1B immigrants to automatically be granted work authorization upon receiving their H-4 visa.
Includes the American Families United Act, which authorizes discretion if an undocumented child or spouse of a U.S. citizen is denied a visa or has received a deportation order, affording families relief on a case-by-case basis.
Includes the Temporary Family Visitation Act, which creates a new, 90-day visitor visa that can be used by foreigners to travel to the United States for business, pleasure, or family purposes.
Ensures that children legally present in the United States do not age out of receiving certain visas due to USCIS processing delays.
Requires students working in the United States as part of the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program to pay FICA (Social Security and Medicare) taxes.
Modernizes student visas by changing the F visa to be “dual intent.”
Creates an Immigration Agency Coordinator position to oversee and streamline immigration functions at USCIS, the State Department, and the Department of Labor.
Surges resources to USCIS operations, the Bureau of Consular Affairs and Visa Service at the State Department, and the Office of Foreign Labor Certification at DOL to reduce delays and improve visa processing.

No taxpayer funds will be used to pay for the Dignity Act.

The border infrastructure, improved ports of entry infrastructure, new humanitarian campuses, increased personnel, and all other associated costs in this bill are paid for by an “Immigration Infrastructure Levy.”
A 1.5% levy will be deducted from the paychecks of individuals given work authorization under the Dignity Program. These levies will be deposited into the Immigration Infrastructure Fund to be used to carry out the provisions of this act.
The American Worker Fund, used to provide workforce development for American workers, will be funded by restitution payments from the Dignity and Redemption Programs.

Kevin Derby
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