Upton joins GOP group on immigration overhaul framework

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News

Washington — Republican U.S. Rep. Fred Upton joined a group of Republicans on Wednesday to put forward a framework for immigration reform that includes a pathway to legal status for undocumented immigrants who pay a fine and back taxes and pass background checks.

The proposal comes amid a surge of thousands of unaccompanied minors crossing the Southern border in recent weeks, and as House Democrats set up votes on a pair of immigration bills this week that are not expected to pass the narrowly divided U.S. Senate. 

Upton of St. Joseph suggested that Democrats and Republicans should instead work together on compromise legislation that could pass both chambers of Congress.

U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph

"President Trump urged us in the Congress to do our job. To get it done. To send him a bill that would be bipartisan, that would strengthen the border and really do the right thing," Upton said Wednesday outside the U.S. Capitol.

"And here we are today with a real crisis at the border," Upton added. "Let's take up the challenge that President Trump gave us. Let's deliver, and let's help the people that are here with a pathway that really makes sense."

The framework, put forward by GOP Rep. Maria Salazar of Florida with the backing of Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, calls for securing the Southern border and finishing the wall there, as well as asylum reforms.

It would offer immediate legal status to Dreamers — immigrants who were illegally brought into the country by their parents when they were kids — and a pathway to permanent legal status for Dreamers through work, military service or higher education.

The framework lays out a guest-worker program that includes visas for current agricultural workers and reforms for the H-2B visas for temporary foreign workers that do non-agricultural labor. 

The framework also describes a 10-year "Dignity Program" that provides work visas and temporary legal status for undocumented immigrants who pass a criminal background check, pay back taxes, pay a fine and make a contribution to the American Small Business Fund. 

Completion of the program would provide a renewable five-year visa to maintain a work permit and legal status; however, these immigrants would not have access to federal entitlement programs or means-tested benefits. 

When immigrants complete the Dignity Program, they could start the "Redemption Program," that would allow participants to earn permanent legal status if they learn English and U.S. civics and contribute to their local communities through volunteer work or through contributions to the small business fund.

The GOP proposal is in response to the immigration plan put forward by the Biden administration this month that includes an eight-year path to citizenship for many undocumented immigrants, eliminates restrictions on family-based immigration and expands worker visas.

Graham said that legislation would effectively create an open border. He set up a high bar for starting bipartisan negotiations on a "workable" reform package. 

"The only way we'll be able to ever sit down with our Democratic colleagues is for us to regain control of the border, and I want to say without any hesitation that Biden has lost control of the U.S.-Mexican border," Graham said. 

"Until he regains control by implementing policies that work, it's going to be hard to do the Dreamers or anybody else. ... Legalizing anybody under these circumstances will lead to even more illegal immigration."