Sunday, December 21st, 2014

The Senate takes up immigration

Hundreds of immigrants from Georgia and surrounding areas marched around the state Capitol in April in favor of immigration reform. (AJC photo/Johnny Crawford)
Hundreds of immigrants from Georgia and surrounding areas marched around the state Capitol in April in favor of immigration reform. (AJC photo/Johnny Crawford)

The Senate begins its work today of scrutinizing, amending and tweaking an ambitious piece of blueprint legislation to repair and modernize the nation’s immigration system.

Until now, S. 744 has been confined to a public relations battle between supporters and opponents of reform. Now the real work of -- possibly -- turning the bill into law begins.

The measure, crafted by a bipartisan group of senators knowns as the Gang of Eight, creates a 13-year pathway to citizenship for many of the 11 million immigrants living in the U.S. illegally. And it allocates billions of dollars to tighten border security.

The bill also would strengthen workplace-enforcement efforts by mandating that all employers use the E-Verify system to check if potential employees are authorized to work in the United States. New visa programs for high-tech, agricultural and low-skilled foreign workers would also take effect.

Here are some of our recent fact-checks on immigration.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, the Florida Republican who has been leading the charge for reform, has tried to rebut criticism from the right that the bill amounts to amnesty for the millions of illegal residents. Rubio says the bill is not amnesty. He’s right that the bill does not offer blanket legal residency to unauthorized immigrants. It mandates fines, background checks and waiting periods. But it also offers a measure of clemency to those immigrants, who would not be required to return to their home countries. We rated Rubio’s statement Half True.

Here’s one thing the Gang of Eight bill definitely doesn’t do: give new immigrants taxpayer-funded cell phones, as bloggers critical of the bill have claimed. The measure includes grants aimed at helping American ranchers and others in remote locations along the border get satellite phone service so they can be in touch with authorities. But it by no means creates welfare in the form of free phones to immigrants. We rated that bogus claim False.

Arizona Sen. John McCain, another proponent of reform, said the work visa program needs overhauling because "over half" of science, technology, engineering and mathematics students "receiving advanced degrees are not citizens of the United States of America." The immigration bill would offer graduates in those fields a green card so they could stay and work in the U.S., which McCain said is important for the economy. We found that McCain’s estimate was off -- no more than 37 percent of students earning those degrees are temporary residents. But he had a point that temporary residents account for over half of those earning degrees in many economically important fields, such as electrical engineering and computer science. The rating: Half True.

Finally, we return to another claim from Rubio who has cast President Barack Obama as the foil in the immigration reform fight. If Republicans don’t act, Rubio tells critics from the right, Obama will. "We are dealing with 11 million people, but we are also dealing with the future of immigration in this country, and we are dealing with an administration that, quite frankly, has shown a reluctance to enforce the immigration law," Rubio said on Fox News. His office provided some examples of where enforcement has either tapered or shifted to different priorities under Obama, such as his decision to deport alien criminals and allow many other illegal residents to remain in the U.S. But we also found instances of enhanced immigration enforcement, such as adding more agents at the Mexico border. We rated the claim Half True.