The Dignity Act of 2023: A Step Towards Comprehensive Immigration Reform

The Dignity Act of 2023, introduced by Representatives María Elvira Salazar (R-FL) and Veronica Escobar (D-TX), tackles various aspects of immigration, including border security, legal status for undocumented immigrants, new pathways for asylum seekers and economic migrants, and the broken immigration system.

This comprehensive legislation aims to balance security and compassion, offering a more efficient and equitable immigration system. The act would provide legal status to some undocumented immigrants and new pathways for those seeking asylum or economic opportunities. The Dignity Act represents a significant step towards immigration reform, offering hope for a more inclusive and compassionate America.

The Dignity Act is guided by four core principles that shape its provisions and goals:

  • Stop illegal immigration: By implementing effective border security measures and reforms, the act aims to curb unauthorized entry into the United States while ensuring fairness and respect for human rights.
  • Provide a dignified solution for undocumented immigrants living in America: The act recognizes the need to address the situation of undocumented immigrants by offering some legal status and a potential path to citizenship, acknowledging their contributions to society.
  • Strengthen the American workforce and economy: The act seeks to harness the potential of immigrants by integrating them into the workforce and contributing to economic growth. Creating opportunities for skilled workers and entrepreneurs aims to enhance America's competitiveness.
  • Ensure the U.S. remains prosperous and competitive: The act recognizes that a well-functioning immigration system is vital for the prosperity and global competitiveness of the United States. It aims to position the country for success in a rapidly changing world by reforming and modernizing the system.

Essential Provisions of the Dignity Act

Border Security Measures

The Dignity Act recognizes the importance of restoring law and order in the immigration system through enhanced border security measures.

Some key provisions include:

  • Increased funding and personnel: The act would allocate increased funding for infrastructure, equipment, and additional agents and officers. It also introduces retention incentives, ensuring a more robust and efficient border control system.
  • Operational advantage: The Dignity Act would replace "operational control" with "operational advantage." The shift emphasizes the need to detect and respond to high-priority potential threats or national security risks, allowing for a more strategic approach to border security.
  • Assessment of threats: The act would mandate the assessment of threats along both the northern and southern borders. The comprehensive evaluation would help identify vulnerabilities and develop targeted strategies to address them effectively.
  • Strategic plan for border security: The Department of Homeland Security would be tasked with developing a strategic plan to enhance border security. This includes information sharing, increased awareness of human trafficking, and an assessment of training programs to improve the effectiveness of border control efforts.

Border Infrastructure Measures

Recognizing the significance of modernized ports of entry and improved infrastructure, the Dignity Act introduces the following provisions:

  • Expansion and modernization of ports of entry: The act would direct the Department of Homeland Security to upgrade ports of entry, ensuring that they can handle the increasing volume of cross-border traffic efficiently.
  • Immigration infrastructure fund: The act would establish an Immigration Infrastructure Fund to provide necessary funding for infrastructure, personnel, and costs related to the Dignity Program created under the act. The fund would ensure adequate resources for effective implementation.

Legal Status for Undocumented Migrants Measures

The Dignity Act addresses the issue of undocumented migrants by introducing measures to grant them legal status.

Key provisions include:

  • “Dignity” legal status: The act would establish the Dignity Program, offering a 7-year temporary legal status, along with work and travel authority, to some undocumented individuals in the United States. They can renew their status if they meet the qualifying criteria.
  • Requirements for dignity program beneficiaries: Beneficiaries of the Dignity Program must fulfill several conditions, including paying $5,000 over seven years, passing a background check, and satisfying outstanding taxes. They must also begin or continue to pay taxes to maintain their legal status.
  • Certified agricultural workers: The legislation would offer a renewable legal status for undocumented individuals who have worked in agriculture for a certain number of years. The act aims to support the long-term agricultural workforce by offering a pathway to legal status while recognizing their significant role in the agricultural sector.

Pathways to Citizenship Measures

The Dignity Act aims to provide pathways to citizenship for different groups.

Some of the provisions include:

  • Redemption Program: At the end of the 7-year Dignity Program, an optional 5-year Redemption Program would become available. Eligible individuals who complete additional requirements can apply for citizenship, allowing undocumented immigrants to achieve permanent status.
  • Military service: Dignity Program recipients who have reached the age of enlistment can choose to serve in the Armed Forces. By doing so, they may seek a pathway to citizenship through service.

Asylum Reform Measures

The Dignity Act acknowledges the need for significant reforms in the asylum process to ensure a fair and efficient system.

The following provisions are included:

  • Construction of additional facilities: The act calls for additional facilities in Latin American countries to provide services to asylum seekers and economic migrants. These facilities would offer pre-screening for asylum eligibility, providing individuals with an opportunity to present their claims in a safe and organized manner.
  • U.S. Humanitarian Campuses: The Dignity Act would establish U.S. Humanitarian Campuses as screening centers for asylum seekers. These campuses would conduct a credible fear interview (CFI) within 15 days of an individual's arrival, facilitating a timely process. Importantly, asylum seekers could consult with legal counsel before their CFI, ensuring a fair assessment of their claims. The act would also require the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to have a minimum of 500 asylum officers at these campuses to handle the caseload effectively.
  • Secondary review of final determination: Asylum seekers who receive an unfavorable judgment would have the right to request a secondary review. The provision ensures that individuals can challenge decisions that may have been made in error or without proper consideration of their circumstances.
  • Expanded reunification program for minors: The Dignity Act recognizes the importance of family unity and expands the reunification program for minors. This provision addresses the separation of families and facilitates the reunification of children with their parents or legal guardians.
  • Federal loan repayment for lawyers: To support legal representation for asylum seekers, the act includes a provision for federal loan repayment for lawyers serving at the Humanitarian Campuses.

American Prosperity and Competitiveness

The Dignity Act includes measures to enhance American prosperity and competitiveness by addressing visa backlogs and protecting children legally residing in the U.S. from aging out of visas due to processing delays.

The provisions include the following:

  • Cuts visa backlog: The act sets a maximum limit of 10 years for the visa backlog. This means that anyone waiting for a visa for 10 years or more can be granted that visa, reducing the waiting time for individuals seeking legal entry into the United States.
  • Raise per-country visa caps: The Dignity Act would increase per-country visa caps from 7% to 15%. The adjustment aims to create a more equitable distribution of visas and address the disproportionate waiting times faced by applicants from certain countries.
  • Protection for children from aging out: Processing delays in visa applications can sometimes lead to children "aging out" and losing their eligibility for certain benefits. The legislation creates measures to safeguard the legal status of children affected by these delays.

The provisions of the Dignity Act demonstrate a comprehensive approach to immigration reform. By addressing border security, legalizing undocumented migrants, establishing pathways to citizenship, reforming the asylum process, and enhancing American prosperity, the act aims to create a more fair, compassionate, and efficient immigration system. These provisions, if enacted, would bring about significant changes that positively impact immigrants, communities, and the overall well-being of the United States.

At Guerra Sáenz, PL, we remain current on changes in immigration law to provide sound and strategic legal guidance in Fort Lauderdale. Contact us at (954) 466-0323 to schedule a consultation.