March 30, 2007 in Nation/World

Immigration plan makes employment new priority

Nicole Gaouette Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON – A White House proposal to overhaul immigration laws would abandon admitting immigrants seeking to reunite with their families, instead giving preference to applicants based on the nation’s employment needs.

The proposals to stem illegal immigration also include enforcement requirements that must be met before other changes could go forward. Those include stationing 18,300 Border Patrol agents on the frontier with Mexico – a 50 percent increase – and building more than four times the current amount of fencing along the border.

The GOP plan also states that anyone seeking jobs in the United States, including citizens, likely would have to present secure identification. And it outlines a special visa system for those in the country without proper documents.

Republican lawmakers presented the ideas – the initial results of a collaborative effort with the White House – to Democrats late Wednesday. The proposals are part of an effort to put a GOP stamp on legislation and win Republican support to pass a bipartisan bill in the Senate.

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who was heavily involved in the planning, called the presentation of the Republican position “a temperature-taking.” He added: “It’s still very early; there will certainly be controversy.”

The distance between the Republican and Democratic positions suggests rocky negotiations ahead. The two sides met Thursday night for talks that will continue through the congressional break next week.

Immigrant advocacy groups condemned the GOP plan. “What we’ve seen is neither passable or workable,” said Angela Kelley, deputy director of the National Immigration Forum. “The direction they’re going in is a serious step back.”

A general outline of the plan indicates that one of the most significant changes would be to rework the criteria for who is allowed to immigrate, which the plan said currently “favors those lucky enough to have a relative here.” Of the 1.1 million visas issued in 2005, 58 percent went to relatives. The plan immediately would redirect 50,000 visas to “merit-based and national-need categories” that take into account education, training and language ability, among other things.

The estimated 12 million people in the United States without papers would be allowed to apply for a “Z Visa” that would be renewable every three years. Applicants would have to pay $3,500 with each renewal.If illegal immigrants wanted to begin the process of applying for citizenship, they would receive no special preference and would have to pay $2,000 when they applied for a legal permanent resident visa, or green card, and $8,000 when they were approved.

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