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Dignity Act Would Pave Way to Legality for More Than 11 Million Undocumented Immigrants

Ley Dignidad, El American

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Congresswoman Maria Elvira Salazar (R-FL) introduced the Dignity Act, the main challenge that Republicans will make this year in light of the failures of the Biden administration on immigration and border security. In general, it is a bill that seeks to address a major problem that for years different administrations have been unable to solve.

Salazar introduced her long-awaited Dignity Act on the House of Representatives Tuesday afternoon, marking the first major move by Congressional Republicans to act on immigration since President Biden took office last January.

The 484-page Dignity Act contains numerous provisions centered on granting “dignity” to the more than 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. while also prioritizing American sovereignty and security over the Mexican border.

Currently, the bill is co-sponsored by Republican Representatives John Curtis (UT-03), Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon (PR), Peter Meijer (MI-03), Dan Newhouse (WA-04), Tom Reed (NY-23), and Pete Sessions (TX-17).

In a conference call with members of the press, Congresswoman Salazar and her legislative staff reiterated three major policy points: (1) curtailing illegal immigration by bolstering border security and cutting off incentives to cross illegally or commit criminal activity; (2) creating a Dignity Program and Redemption Path to provide temporary support to already present undocumented immigrants while they pay their debt to the United States government; and (3) modernizing the workforce by establishing mandatory E-Verify and addressing the needs of U.S. labor markets in manufacturing, hospitality, and the service industry, among others.

Of utmost priority for Congresswoman Salazar is reestablishing order at the U.S.-Mexico border. Her legislation primarily boosts funding for personnel and technological operations to the U.S. Border Patrol (USBP) and their officers. USBP will be given financial resources to hire more agents, increase their pay, and provide incentives for veterans and former police officers to enlist. The bill also appropriates funding for modern security equipment including, but not limited to, infrared cameras, drones, border barriers, and levee construction.

The bill formally puts an end to the controversial “catch and release” immigration enforcement practice by constructing four processing centers at major ports of entry. These centers will provide humane shelters for asylum seekers while U.S. officials review their cases. 

For undocumented immigrants themselves, major change comes with the introduction of the Dignity Program, a 10-year period by which participants pay a $10,000 penalty ($1000 per year) to the federal government. To qualify, the applicant must pass a criminal background check, pay any and all back taxes, and begin to pay income tax moving forward. The participant would not qualify for federal benefits or entitlements.

The revenue generated from these penalties will be used to create a job training program made available to U.S. citizens alone. Additionally, participants will have 2% of their reported income deducted to pay for the aforementioned processing center and border security improvements.

Paired with the Dignity Program is the ‘Redemption Path,’ an optional 5-year pathway to permanent residency. After the tenth year of membership in the Dignity Program is completed, participants are given the opportunity to engage more fully in their adoptive community by participating in community service, paying additional restitution, and learning English and U.S. civics. Once this 5-year period is completed, the participant can apply for permanent legal status but must go to the back of the line to do so. Dreamers and TPS recipients have a parallel, but expedited timeline to follow.

Finally, employers in the United States will also be required to verify the citizenship status of their employees through a mandatory e-verify system.

Salazar is hopeful her legislation will fundamentally alter the conversation on immigration in the Republican Party moving into the 2022 midterm elections. With Republicans poised to retake the House and likely the Senate, Congressional leadership is continuing to devise a strategy to challenge the failed policies of the Biden administration. 

Salazar’s bill consists of numerous measures popular with the average American and Republican voter, including instituting mandatory E-Verify for all American businesses and increasing the resources the U.S. dedicates to border security.

Although Salazar faces an uphill battle in convincing members of Republican leadership and her own caucus to support the bill, she expressed confidence and resolve in her ability to rally all interested parties in passing her broadly bipartisan legislation.

While the Republican Party continues to build inroads with Hispanic and Asian-American communities across the United States, it is clear the Republican Party will need to continue rebranding its message of economic stability, traditional values, and safe communities to a broader, more diverse audience. But beyond that, the immigration issue is critical, and Salazar is betting that the Dignity Act will become a reasonable alternative, one that will gain bipartisan support, and one that will truly help the Hispanic community.

Vanessa Vallejo. Co-editor-in-chief of El American. Economist. Podcaster. Political and economic analysis of America. Colombian exile in the United States // Vanessa Vallejo. Co-editora en jefe de El American. Economista. Podcaster. Análisis político y económico de América. Colombiana exiliada en EE. UU.

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