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Non-Citizens Would Earn Legal Status Under Immigration Bill, Meissner Says

Doris Meissner, director of the Immigration Policy Program at the Migration Policy Institute, says the current proposed immigration bill offers “earned legalization” rather than amnesty.

Provisions in an immigration reform bill introduced earlier this month would give a pathway to citizenship to people who are living in the United States illegally.

The bill, introduced April 18 by a group of eight senators, would grant “registered provisional immigrant” status to law-abiding non-citizens who have lived in the U.S. since December 31, 2011.

In exchange for registering and paying a $500 fee, they could work for any employer and travel outside of the country. Registered provisional immigrant status would last six years and could be renewed. After 10 years, non-citizens could adjust their status to “lawful permanent resident.”

Opponents of the proposal have said that the estimated 11 million non-citizens living in the U.S. illegally should be required to return to their home countries.

Immigration policy expert Doris Meissner acknowledges that people who have illegally crossed the border or who are living in the U.S. on expired visas have broken the law. But she says the country needs to move on.

“It’s time to reconcile this issue because these are people that are contributing. They are in our communities. They are paying sales taxes. They are paying property taxes,” Meissner, director of the immigration policy program at the Migration Policy Institute, said in a recent conversation with NewsHour’s Kwame Holman.

The argument that non-citizens be required to return to their countries is hypocritical, Meissner says, because U.S. businesses and consumers have benefited from the labor of a group of workers whose employment has not been subject to U.S. employment laws.

“Yes, they did violate the law. Yes, they came across the border in ways that they shouldn’t have…There needs to be accountability for that, but at the same time, we as a society have been complicit in that,” Meissner said.

“We have as consumers enjoyed lower priced services….Our own housing costs for the last 20 to 25 years have arguably been subsidized by illegal labor.”

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