The new immigration bill would only grant a pathway to citizenship to illegal immigrants who made it into the U.S. before 2012 — a date that Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Wednesday should be widely publicized in order to stop a new wave of illegal border crossers.
The 844-page bill, which negotiators released to the public early Wednesday, includes a long process for illegal immigrants to obtain citizenship, but would only apply to those in the U.S. by Dec. 31, 2011.
Ms. Napolitano said that date should serve to discourage those that might plan to try to cross the border now in order to take advantage.
“It is very important to get that out,” she said, pointing to the last amnesty in 1986 as an example of the danger. “One of the things that happened after 1986 was there was a surge. We do not want that to happen again.”
The 1986 amnesty applied to those who had been in the country by 1982 — a four-year gap. This year’s bill is more generous, holding out the chance for legal status to anyone who came more than 16 months ago.
Already this year, ahead of Wednesday’s bill introduction, illegal immigration appeared to be up. The U.S. Border Patrol has apprehended 13 percent more people in the first half of fiscal year 2013 compared to 2012, and the apprehension rate is considered a surrogate measure for total illegal crossings.
Sen. John McCain said both the promise of legalization and a reviving U.S. economy are the reasons for the jump, and he said the increase suggests Ms. Napolitano’s assertion that the border is more secure now than it ever has been.
Ms. Napolitano countered that she isn’t sure what the reason is for the current surge in illegal immigration.
She said it appears to be heavily concentrated in the southern tip of Texas, and she said her department is moving manpower and equipment there to try to halt it. She said the increase appears to be non-Mexican immigrants from further south in Latin America.