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Julie Jacobson/AP

Immigration reform set to pass first hurdle in US Senate - so what's in it?

Here’s a quick guide to the proposals which will face their first vote among the 100-member Senate this evening.

THE US SENATE will hold the first major vote on the bill to reform the country’s immigration system later today.

It is expected to pass a 60-vote threshold to open debate.

But what exactly is in the bill?

Here are some of the major provisions contained in the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, which was the result of months of work from the bipartisan ‘Gang of Eight’.

  • A pathway to citizenship: Unauthorised immigrants who lived in the US before December 31, 2011 could apply for Registered Provisional Immigrant status, which would allow them to remain in the country legally after paying a fine, fees, and any back taxes owed, as well as passing a background check. They could then apply for Permanent Resident Status after 10 years, meaning it would take a total of about 13 years to achieve citizenship.
  • Stronger border enforcement: Within six months after the bill passes, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano must submit a plan for securing the border that meets certain benchmarks, including increasing the number of Customs and Border Protection agents, creating a fence along certain parts of the US-Mexico border, and a target of stopping 90 per cent of crossings.
  • More high-skill immigration: The bill  makes it easier for companies to import workers fields like science, engineering, and technology, and increases the number of H-1B visas companies can offer to these high-skilled workers.
  • More low-skill immigration: After a compromise between business and labour groups, the bill also provides changes to the existing guest worker programme, which has been one of the biggest hurdles in past attempts for reform. The agreement resolved what wages should be paid to guest workers, who are often employed at hotels and restaurants or on construction projects and brought in during labour shortages.

Where the bill’s fate could be sealed in the Senate is with a vote on an amendment introduced by John Cornyn (Republican, Texas).

Cornyn’s amendment uses the 90 per cent apprehension mark as a hard trigger before the path to citizenship can be enacted. It also includes provisions to monitor every segment of Southern border and implement a nationwide “E-verify” system and a “biometric exit” system that would ensure workers don’t overstay their visas.

In other words, Cornyn’s amendment would impose much stronger border security requirements before the path to citizenship could be activated — and might mean that it never gets activated at all.

That’s why Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and other Democrats view this as a “poison pill” amendment that may kill the legislation.

“The goal is obviously to meet the goals as soon as possible and all parties involved will work hard towards that goal, but it’s conceivable that it could be many years before all of the metrics are met,” a senior Democratic Senate aide said.

“It’s conceivable that they could never be met, or that opponents of legalisation could at least be able to argue they aren’t met. So tying the path to the metrics puts the entire idea of a path to citizenship in jeopardy.”

Explainer: How the proposed new US green card system will work

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