Simplifying Immigration: The Orange Card?

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As the immigration bill, Hagel-Martinez S. 2611, works its way slowly through the Senate, numerous amendments fasten onto it like barnacles and pilotfish, then are put to a vote and either firmly secured to the bill or sheared off. This Thursday list of some of those amendments and their fates, posted at the unabashedly pro-immigrant American Friends Service Committee, is an utterly fascinating look at the process of democracy in action in a divided nation. Note the rarity of senators pairing up across the aisle (the Lieberman-Brownback amendment to restore protection for asylum seekers and humane detention conditions, stalled by Homeland Security concerns — the senators request your calls). Also note some surprises: Colorado Democrat Ken Salazar’s provision that the border must be secured before a legalization program can take effect (passed); Obama and Feinstein proposing measures to protect unemployed low-wage American workers; Kerry’s amendment to beef up border security. I’m sure those more knowledgeable and cynical than I will find horse-trading and posturing and window-dressing here, but the absolute necessity for debate and struggle and compromise is on display. Enforcement-only appears to be off the table. There will be some kind of path towards legalization, and some kind of guest-worker program.

Close friends of mine who are strongly progressive and pro-immigrant sent me the following description of the streamlined “Orange Card Amendment” being proposed by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), along with a call to barrage Senators with phone, e-mail and fax messages in support of the amendment on Monday. This amendment describes a “simple and single,” though not fast or easy, process for any current undocumented immigrant who meets certain requirements to work towards permanent-resident status. It would replace the three-tiered system currently in the bill.

I am not knowledgeable enough about the issue to have an opinion yet about this amendment, so I’m posting it here for discussion and possible action. I’d be grateful if someone would provide a clear description of the three-tiered approach Senator Feinstein wants to replace. Here’s the document:

Senator Dianne Feinstein to Introduce Orange Card Program Amendment

Prepared on May 19, 2006

What is the Orange Card program?

The Feinstein Orange Card amendment replaces the three-tiered treatment of undocumented immigrants in S. 2611 (the bill now being considered by the senate) with one simple process that applies to undocumented immigrants who lived in the U.S. on 1/1/06 and meet certain other requirements.

Requirements for Orange Card

The requirements to get an Orange Card are as follows:

  • Undocumented on 1/1/06
  • Physically present in the U.S. on or before 1/1/06
  • If over 18, employed or in school on 1/1/06
  • Paid taxes
  • Speak English
  • Have an understanding of American Civics
  • Pass criminal and security background checks
  • Registered for the selective service if required
  • Pay $2,000 fine

The spouse and children of Orange Card holders may also qualify.

Requirements during waiting period

Orange Card holders may become lawful permanent residents when all current applicants for green cards have received them (estimated to be 6 years), or eight years after the bill becomes law, whichever is earlier.

Orange Card holders must check in each year with the government and show that they continue to meet all of the requirements listed above.

Requirements for permanent Green Card

After the 6-8 year waiting period, Orange Card holders may qualify for a permanent green card, if they meet the following requirements:

  • Continue to meet all of the requirements to get an Orange Card
  • If over 18, worked or attended school for at least 6 years

What are the advantages of the Orange Card program?

  • One simple process to legalize qualifying undocumented immigrants who entered the U.S. before 1/1/06.
  • Does not leave out millions of undocumented immigrants who live in the U.S. and contribute to the economy, as does the current version of S. 2611
  • Treats all family members equally
  • Much easier to administer, so less fraud and fewer problems
  • For 2-5 year immigrants:
    • No requirement to leave the U.S. and come back
    • No guestworker requirement
    • No waiver of right to appeal
    • Same waiting period as others

If you believe this amendment is an improvement on the bill as written, Monday is the day to call your Senator and say so. (Capitol switchboard: 202-224-3121.) If not, tell me why not. This is a hugely important issue, and I hope everyone will let fly.

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