Democratic lawmakers, led by Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., on Tuesday filed the first comprehensive immigration reform bill in the current Congress, giving renewed hope to millions of undocumented immigrants in South Florida and around the country.
But the prospects for passage remain as uncertain as ever.
"This is a great thing for everyone," said Walter Lara, a 23-year-old former Miami Dade College student from Argentina who almost got deported in July after immigration officers discovered he had no papers. "If this passes, this is the type of change President Obama has been talking about. It will make the United States a more welcoming country."
Provisions in the Gutierrez legislation -- Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America's Security and Prosperity Act of 2009 -- are somewhat similar to those in prior bills.
Undocumented immigrants in the United States prior to Dec. 15, 2009, would be encouraged to come forward and register with the government in exchange for a future path to residency and citizenship.
Certain immigrants in deportation proceedings, facing removal or ordered to depart would be able to apply for legalization under Gutierrez's bill. Applicants would pay a $500 fine -- lower than the thousands of dollars sought in prior bills -- and must have clean criminal records. If approved, applicants would receive a six-year visa, which eventually could be replaced by a green card -- the path to possible citizenship.
The bill also incorporates provisions of the DREAM Act, separate legislation filed earlier that would provide green cards to children of undocumented parents who are in high school or college and were brought to the United States as minors.
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