Salazar and Escobar Introduce Bipartisan Dignity Act
Tuesday, a bipartisan group of representatives led by Reps. María Elvira Salazar (R-FL) and Veronica Escobar (D-TX) introduced an updated version of the Dignity Act to fix our nation’s broken immigration system. This historic bill is the first serious bipartisan immigration solution proposed by Congress in over a decade.
Original cosponsors include Reps. Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon (R-PR), Hillary Scholten (D-MI), Lori Chavez-DeRemer (R-OR), 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.
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 Rep. 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 Rep. 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.”
“The Dignidad or Dignity Act we are introducing today takes into account the contribution of immigrants - including Dreamers - to our country by granting them legal protections to remain in the United States if they meet certain conditions,” said Rep. González-Colón. “Our nation is a nation of immigrants; it always has been. But we cannot ignore the fact that illegal immigration is at an all-time high, and that Congress hasn’t passed any significant legislation to address it since the Immigration and Reform Control Act in 1986, when just under 3 million people obtained legal status. I commend my dear friend, Rep. María Elvira Salazar, for her commitment and work towards finding a commonsense solution to immigration.”
“As an attorney who has worked on immigration issues, both at the nation’s top law enforcement agency and at a community legal aid organization, helping migrants in West Michigan, I know this system,” said Rep. Scholten. “I’ve seen firsthand what patchwork and reactionary immigration policies do to families and communities. Our broken immigration system is a national security threat, an economic and workforce emergency, and a humanitarian crisis. This is Congress’ issue to solve, and we’re here to solve it. This bill is not perfect. But we cannot let the illusion of a perfect bill prevent us from doing what is good and necessary. This bill will make our communities and our country safer, it will bring our workforce into the 21st century, and will bring dignity to millions of hardworking families already living in the United States to make our country a better place.”
“We are a proud nation of immigrants, yet our current immigration system is outdated and broken. Unfortunately, we now also have a humanitarian and national security crisis occurring at our southern border due to insufficient border security policies. These problems reflect poorly on our country, and they put the lives of both migrants and American citizens at risk. It’s past time for Congress to act,” said Rep. Chavez-DeRemer. “The bipartisan Dignity Act is a comprehensive solution that would bolster border security while taking a compassionate approach to immigration reform – helping families stay together, supporting immigrants’ contributions to our workforce, and growing our economy by creating new opportunities in rapidly expanding industries. I’m proud to join Congresswoman Salazar on this historic legislation, and I look forward to working with her to get it signed into law.”
“America’s immigration system is broken; the time for policy change is now. As an immigration attorney, I’ve seen the flaws in America’s immigration system,” said Rep. Manning. “As Congresswoman, I’ve met with countless business leaders who have shared their concerns that our outdated system hinders their ability to attract and retain talent. I’m proud to join Representatives Salazar and Escobar to introduce the bipartisan Dignity Act, a historic immigration reform bill that will address the country’s workforce needs and strengthen our economy, provide pathways to citizenship for DREAMers and asylum seekers, and secure the border. When passed, this once-in-a-generation legislation will provide the first meaningful immigration reform our nation has seen in decades.”
“As the husband of an immigrant who recently became a citizen, I’ve seen firsthand just how broken our immigration system is,” said Rep. Lawler. “Both parties have failed to fix the problem for decades and it is going to take both parties working together to solve this. The Dignity Act is a commonsense, bipartisan measure that secures our porous border, creates a process for those already here to pay restitution and integrate into American society, and fixes our legal immigration system so that people who want to come here can do so and can contribute to our society, our economy, and our culture as immigrants have and always will.”
In March 2021, Rep. Salazar announced her vision for immigration reform in the Dignity Plan. Less than a year later, she introduced the first version of her Dignity Act. After consulting with members of both parties and a diverse group of interested stakeholders, Reps. Salazar and Escobar teamed up to introduce a new, better, and bipartisan version of the Dignity Act.
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.
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.
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.
For a link to the full press conference, click here.
For a one-pager on the Dignity Act, click here.
For a more detailed summary of the Dignity Act, click here.
For a section-by-section breakdown of the Dignity Act, click here.
For the full text of the bill, click here.
Rep. María Elvira Salazar will continue working to get the bipartisan Dignity Act signed into law. Rep. Salazar is a recognized champion of human rights, democracy, and liberty both in the United States and abroad.
The Miami community has rallied around Salazar for her bold leadership on immigration reform. Salazar has spent 35 years as a Spanish-language primetime journalist, covering immigration and speaking with the Hispanic community in America about the complexities surrounding immigration policy and politics.