The following are some highlights of major immigration proposals currently in Congress:
Senate Judiciary Committee's bill:
—Allows illegal immigrants who were in the United States before 2004 to continuing working legally for six years if they pay a $1,000 fine and clear a criminal background check. They would become eligible for permanent residence upon paying another $1,000 fine, any back taxes and having learned English.
—New immigrants would have to have temporary work visas. They also could earn legal permanent residence after six years.
—Adds up to 14,000 new Border Patrol agents by 2011 to the current force of 11,300 agents.
—Authorizes a "virtual wall" of unmanned vehicles, cameras and censors to monitor the U.S.-Mexico border.
—Creates a special guest worker program for an estimated 1.5 million immigrant farm workers, who can also earn legal permanent residency.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's proposal:
—Requires all employers to verify the identity and immigration status of their employees through an electronic system.
—Assesses civil penalties of between $500 and $20,000 against employers for each illegal immigrant they hire and criminal penalties of up to $20,000 per illegal immigrant hired and up to six months in jail for engaging in a pattern of employing illegal workers.
—More than doubles the number of employment-based green cards, from 140,000 to 290,000, and makes more employment based visas available to unskilled workers. It also would free up other visas by exempting immediate relatives of U.S. citizens from being counted in the annual pool of 480,000 visas, and increase country-by-country ceilings on family sponsored and employment-based immigrants.
—Cancels visas of immigrants who have overstayed their visas and requires them to return to their home country to undergo additional screening at U.S. consulates.
—Makes it a misdemeanor crime for an immigrant to be in the country illegally.
—Increases the number of visas available for high-tech workers.
—Does not address President Bush's proposal for a guest worker program.
House bill passed in December:
—Requires all employers to use within six years a database to verify Social Security numbers of employees or face civil or criminal penalties for hiring illegal workers.
—Requires mandatory detention for all non-Mexican illegal immigrants arrested at ports of entry or at land and sea borders.
—Establishes mandatory sentences for smuggling illegal immigrants and for re-entering the United States illegally after deportation.
—Makes illegal presence in the country a felony.
—Makes a drunken driving conviction a deportable offense.
—Requires building two-layer fences along 700 miles of the 2,000-mile border between Mexico and the United States.
—Does not address President Bush's proposed guest worker program for illegal immigrants already in U.S.