Gwinnett Chamber endorses federal immigration overhaul

The Gwinnett Chamber’s board of directors passed a resolution this month, endorsing federal legislation that would provide a “path out of the shadows” for the estimated 11 million immigrants living illegally in the United States.

The chamber’s resolution doesn’t mention offering them U.S. citizenship, but that is one of the key provisions in the legislation introduced last week by a bipartisan group of U.S. senators.

Such immigrants would need to meet “strict conditions, such as paying civil penalties and back taxes and learning English” before they could benefit from the path out of the shadows, according to the chamber’s resolution.

The resolution also supports an immigration overhaul that would boost border security, develop visa programs for higher- and lower-skilled foreign workers and create a new federal work authorization program.

“There is no question that the current U.S. immigration system is broken,” said Jann Moore, the chamber’s vice president of public policy.

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“Our current system is not serving the interests of our economy, businesses, or our society. We need an immigration system with laws that are easy to enforce, make sense, and work.”

Among other things, the Senate bill introduced last week seeks to tighten border security, allow companies to temporarily hire more foreign workers and unclog the nation’s legal immigration system.

But the provision that is getting the most attention would provide a pathway to citizenship for immigrants living illegally in the U.S., including 440,000 the government estimated to be in Georgia in 2011.

Immigrants would first have to apply for a provisional legal status, pay $2,000 in penalties plus taxes, learn English and wait 10 years before they could seek green cards giving them legal permanent residency. Once they have green cards, they could apply for citizenship. Only those who arrived here before Dec. 31, 2011, would be eligible. And people convicted of felonies or three or more misdemeanors would be barred.

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