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New immigration reform act introduced in the House

Side view of the front of the US capitol building.

News about the U.S. House of Representatives has focused obsessively about the debt ceiling deal. In its wake, a new piece of legislation to reform immigration policy has been widely overlooked.

On May 23, 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 (H.R. 3599).

The act claims to be “the first serious bipartisan immigration solution proposed by Congress in over a decade.”

Chief aims of the act: “Securing the Border and Restoring Law and Order”; “Fixing our Asylum System”; and “Giving Dignity and Redemption to Undocumented Immigrants”; and maintaining “American Agricultural Dominance.”

The act would streamline the unpopular H-2A guestworker program, eliminating the seasonal requirements and creating “a year-round Agricultural Workforce.” It would streamline the application process, enabling employers to apply to several agencies on a single platform. It would also eliminate the “complicated and unpredictable Adverse Effect Wage Rate (AEWR),” a formula calculated on a state-by-state basis requiring minimum wages for H-2A workers to avoid depressing domestic wage rates. The law would also allow staggered entry to enable starting dates at different times of the year to facilitate planning.

Among other goals, the act, according to Salazar’s website,

“• 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.”

“• Expedites processing and ends catch-and-release policies.”

“• 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.”

“• Establishes the Dignity Program, a practical solution for undocumented immigrants who have been in the U.S. for more than five years.”

Immigrants who have been in the U.S. for five years or more would be eligible for a seven-year Dignity Program, giving them opportunity to work, pay restitution, and earn legal status. Applicants would have to comply with all federal and state laws, pass a criminal background check, and pay outstanding taxes and debts. They would not be eligible for “federal means-tested benefits or entitlements.”

The sponsors say that the new act would not add to the nation’s tax burden. Instead “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.”

For the full text of the legislation, visit


Richard Smoley, contributing editor for Blue Book Services, Inc., has more than 40 years of experience in magazine writing and editing, and is the former managing editor of California Farmer magazine. A graduate of Harvard and Oxford universities, he has published 12 books.