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Quick road to U.S. citizenship
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Members of the Senate's bipartisan Gang of Eight stress that under their new immigration plan, currently illegal immigrants will have to wait more than a decade before achieving citizenship. Newly legalized immigrants will be given a provisional status and "will have to stay in that status until at least 10 years elapse and (border security) triggers are met," Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio told Fox News on April 14. After that, Rubio said, they'll have to wait longer for a green card and, ultimately, citizenship.
Unless they don't. A little-noticed exception in the Gang of Eight bill provides a fast track for many -- possibly very many -- currently illegal immigrants. Under a special provision for immigrants who have labored at least part-time in agriculture, that fast track could mean permanent residency in the U.S., and then citizenship, in half the time Rubio said. And not just for the immigrants themselves -- their spouses and children, too.
First the agricultural workers. The Gang of Eight bill creates something called a blue card, which would be granted to illegal immigrant farm workers who come forward and pass the various background checks the bill requires for all illegal immigrants. Instead of the 10-year wait Rubio described in media appearances, blue card holders could receive permanent legal status in just five years.
How does an illegal immigrant qualify for a blue card? If, after passing the background checks, he can prove that he has worked in agriculture for at least 575 hours -- about 72 eight-hour days -- sometime in the two years ending Dec. 31, 2012, he can be granted a blue card. That's it. His spouse and children can be granted blue cards, too -- it can all be done with one application.
The next step happens five years after the Gang of Eight bill is enacted. At that time, the legislation requires the Secretary of Homeland Security to change the blue card holder's status to that of permanent resident if the immigrant has worked in agriculture at least 150 days in each of three of those five years since the bill became law. A work day is defined as 5.75 hours. Also, the immigrant can qualify for permanent residence with less than three years, of 150 work days each, if he can show that he was disabled, ill, or had to deal with the "special needs of a child" during that time period.
So the road to permanent resident status Rubio said would take a decade will take only five years for currently illegal immigrants who have done some work in agriculture.
The agricultural exception could affect millions of currently illegal immigrants. The bottom line is that what Rubio claimed would be a long and arduous path to legal residency and then citizenship will be much shorter for some than for others.
Byron York is chief political correspondent for The Washington Examiner.