House Republicans Introduce Dignity Act to End Illegal Immigration and ID and Tax Unauthorized Immigrants

Tuesday, a group of House Republicans led by Representative Maria Elvira Salazar (FL-27) introduced the Dignity Act, an immigration reform bill they say will end illegal immigration, re-establish law and order, provide a solution for unauthorized immigrants, and revitalize the American workforce and economy. The bill includes needed policies centered around improving border security and enforcement, creating conditional methods for unauthorized immigrants to earn legal status, and improving employment visas.

Original cosponsors of the bill are Representatives Dan Newhouse (WA-04), John Curtis (UT-03), Pete Sessions (TX-17), Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon (PR), Tom Reed (NY-23), and Peter Meijer (MI-03).

Our broken immigration system is fracturing America — economically, morally, socially, and politically. It's threatening the American Dream and our very way of life,” said Congresswoman Maria Elvira Salazar. “I am introducing the Dignity Act to secure our border, provide a dignified solution to immigrants in the United States, and support American workers. While we are a nation of laws, we are also a nation of second chances. I'm grateful to my colleagues for joining me to keep the American Dream alive.

Texas Congressman Pete Sessions said “for 25-years, illegal immigration and protecting the American worker, American sovereignty, and the rights of those who’ve sought refuge in the United States has been a balancing act between Congress and Presidential administrations. These entities have failed to work together to find agreement on a plan and laws, leaving the American people in chaos and dangerI applaud Congresswoman Maria Salazar for coming to Congress with substantial ideas to fix this pressing issue. Maria has chosen to tackle an extremely difficult situation—one that has only increased in severity every day since Biden took the Oath of Office. I am proud to be joining the great work Maria has started to safeguard our nation and reinforce the Rule of Law.

Border security and comprehensive immigration reform are responsibilities that Congress has failed to act on for far too long,” said Congressman Peter Meijer (MI-03). “Securing our borders and making humane reforms to our immigration system are not mutually exclusive. Both of these actions are necessary for the United States to live up to its principles as a nation of laws and values. This bill offers real solutions for fixing our broken immigration system that will enhance our national security, reinvigorate our economy, and enrich our society"

On the border security and enforcement, the bill authorizes funding to fully secure the border and pay for things like increasing DHS and immigration court personnel, improved technology, physical barriers, establishing regional processing centers at ports of entry, and addressing root causes of northern triangle migration. It would also modernize and improve the E-verify system and mandate its use by employers nationwide.

To pay for itself, the legislation plans to ID and Tax unauthorized immigrants who have lived in the US for at least five years by creating a Dignity Program that would allow them to earn legal status and work permits by meeting a number of requirements.  During the 10-year program, unauthorized immigrants would be required to comply with all federal and state laws, pass a criminal background check, pay back taxes they owe, and pay income taxes. Over the 10 years, 2% of the participants' paychecks would be deducted to pay for the border security provisions of the bill. Participants would also pay an initial fee, and $10,000 over 10 years that would go into an American Worker Fund that will pay for workforce education initiatives and apprenticeships for US citizens. Throughout the 10-year program, participants would not have access to federal means-tested benefits or entitlements, so they will have a significant fiscal benefit.

Upon completing the 10-year Dignity Program and adhering to all of its requirements, participants could opt to receive a 5-year temporary renewable Dignity Visa or complete a 5-year Redemption Program that would allow them to earn green cards if they learn English and US Civics and either complete 200 hours of volunteer work or community service or contribute $2,500 to the American Worker Fund every 20 months.

The bill would also provide a solution for unauthorized immigrants who were brought to the US as children, known as Dreamers. It would allow those who came at least five years ago to obtain 10-year conditional permanent legal status and work permits. Those who graduate college, complete three years of military service, or maintain gainful employment for four years could apply for permanent legal status.

In addition, to help fight agricultural workforce shortages and food inflation, the bill would create a Certified Agricultural Work (CAW) Visa that would allow unauthorized immigrants who have worked in agriculture for at least 180 days in the last two years to obtain temporary renewable visas if they pass a criminal background check. They would have the option to apply for green cards after eight years of CAW status or four years of CAW status plus ten years of previous agricultural work experience if they pay a fine and any back taxes owed. It would also update H2A agricultural visa system by removing the seasonal requirement and expanding the visa to additional industries including dairy.

The bill also provides a method for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) recipients who have been in the US since 2016 to apply for green cards.

Immigrants who earn green cards through completing the programs above would gain the option to apply for citizenship at the back of line. For the majority of them, this would take at least 15 years before they could apply for citizenship.

In addition, the bill reforms the H-2B program by exempting returning workers from any one of the three previous fiscal years from counting against the cap.

It is exciting to see these Republican lawmakers making a genuine effort at fixing the broken immigration system with sensible policies. This bill would have numerous benefits for the US. Among them, it would improve national security and prevent future illegal immigration. It would generate fiscal revenues and would help make sure that workers and their employers are paying their fair share in taxes. It would allow unauthorized immigrants to obtain car insurance and work permits, helping them to pursue lawful careers and increase their contributions to the US economy. It would help to alleviate workforce shortages and inflation. 

One problem with the Dignity Act is that it requires nationwide E-verify and the border to be “fully secure,” which the bill defines as achieving a trigger mechanism of 90% detection and apprehension rate of individuals illegally crossing the southern border, before the other reforms in this bill can take place. With the US economy experiencing unprecedented workforce shortages with its highest number of open jobs ever, forcing unauthorized immigrants out of the workforce with mandatory nationwide E-verify before allowing them to earn work permits would greatly exacerbate workforce shortages and rampant inflation. Furthermore, how can the bill fully secure the border “at no cost to American taxpayers” if it funds security reforms before generating fiscal revenues from its legalization programs? Also, refusing to initiate the additional reforms upfront could dissuade needed bipartisan support from Democrats.

To maximize its benefits and increase its chance of legislative success, the policies in the Dignity Act should be implemented simultaneously. Lawmakers should not worry about creating a pull factor for illegal immigration with this bill because the legal status it provides would only be available to unauthorized immigrants who came to the US at least five years prior to the bill’s enactment.

Key provision of the Dignity Act are listed below. For a more detailed summary of the bill click here.

Key Provisions of the Dignity Act:

Border Security and Enforcement

  • Authorizes funding to fully secure America’s border at no cost to American taxpayers.
  • Implements best border technology available – including radar, cameras, infrared, secure communications, and autonomous detection technology.
  • Restarts all currently paused border infrastructure contracts and increases funding for physical border infrastructure.
  • Hires 3,000 new DHS border security personnel and prioritizes hiring of military veterans and law enforcement agents.
  • Creates a task force to detect and destroy cartel smuggling tunnels along the southern border.
  • Mandates 100% nationwide e-verify to ensure all American business are hiring legal workers.
  • Increases criminal penalties for illegal border crossings and immediately deports illegal immigrants who commit crimes.
  • Expands U.S. authorities to go after transnational criminals, smugglers, human traffickers, drug traffickers, and gangs like MS-13 operating outside the United States.
  • Establishes 4 Regional Processing Centers to house asylum claimants at the border to end catch and release policies while cases are being determined.
  • Enacts last-in, first-out judicial policy to cut down multi-year backlog in immigration courts.
  • Hires 1,700 new immigration court personal to rule on asylum cases faster.
  • Curbs irregular migration from Central America and address roots causes of northern migration by bring law, order, and increased development to Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras.

Addressing Immigrants Living in America

  • Creates immediate legal status and streamlined path for Dreamers.
  • Dignity Program (10 Years): Through the 10-year Dignity Program, undocumented immigrants will be provided a chance to work, earn legal status, pay restitution, and get right with the law. They must comply with all federal and state laws, pass a criminal background check, work or serve as a family caregiver, and pay taxes. They must contribute to the American Worker Fund to begin the program. The Dignity program provides work authorization and protection from removal proceedings as long as conditions are being met. Dignity participants will pay $10,000 in restitution during the 10 years of the program, must check in with DHS every 2 years, and must remain in good public standing.
  • Individuals in the Dignity Program will not have access to federal means-tested benefits or entitlements. They will be net contributors to tax revenue and the U.S. economy.
  • The Redemption Program (+5 years): The Redemption Program is optional, and individuals must complete the 10-year Dignity Program to start the Redemption Program. It will offer a chance at redemption and to earn more permanent legal status. The 5-year Redemption Program requires that participants learn English and U.S. civics, and provides the opportunity for those seeking permanent legal status to contribute to their local community either through local volunteer work, national community service, or increased contributions into the American Worker Fund. It also opens up eligibility for existing pathways to citizenship, but would not be a special pathway. Individuals applying would go to the back of the line.
  • Enforcement through a functioning mandatory e-verify system and certification of a fully secure border will be completed before the Redemption Program can begin.

American Workforce and Economy

  • Creates an American Worker Fund, using restitution payments from the Dignity and Redemption programs, at no-cost to taxpayers. This provides grants to American citizens for workforce education initiatives, apprenticeship programs, and Career and Technical Education to give opportunities for Americans to enter new careers.
  • For every $10,000 paid by 1 immigrant in the Dignity program will, this can retrain at least 2 Americans workers.
  • Implements a market-based solution for our labor shortages by expanding and modernizing the H-2A Agricultural Guest Worker program to adequately respond to workforce needs.
  • Updates the antiquated definition of farming to reflect modern-day farming practices, setting a policy that works for all of America’s farmers, growers, and ranchers.
  • Provides wage stability for farmers and ensures a resilient and reliable agricultural commodity supply chain.
  • Combats food price inflation so families can continue to have access to affordable groceries and a large variety of products that originate from American farms.
  • Includes the H-2B Returning Worker Exception Act to ensure that small and seasonal businesses can fulfill their labor needs and contribute to our nation’s post-pandemic economic recovery.

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