Immigration bill raises hopes of North Coast undocumented immigrants

Details of the wide-ranging immigration bill emerged from the nation's capital Tuesday, fueling hopes among some North Coast immigrants that it would finally give them a path to live in the United States legally.

The bill, crafted by a bipartisan group of eight senators known as the Gang of Eight, would create a new "legal status" -- Registered Provisional Immigrant, or RPI -- for many of the country's 11 million undocumented immigrants.

But this status -- as well as the possibility of later earning legal permanent residency and U.S. citizenship -- would be contingent on the country meeting a number of "border security triggers."

To meet that goal, the federal government would spend up to $7 billion for border security measures, including beefed up border patrols, unmanned surveillance drones, new communications systems and increased border fencing.

The bill would also require all businesses to use the E-Verify employment verification system within five years, create a new guest-worker program for low-skilled workers and increase the number of work visas for high-skilled workers, people with advanced degrees and entrepreneurs.

But the prospect that millions would be lifted out of illegal status was the portion of the bill welcomed by many local undocumented immigrants. Under the new RPI status, immigrants could work for any employer and travel outside the United States.

"I hope they pass it this time," said one undocumented immigrant, who asked that his name not be used for fear that it would jeopardize his job. "I would feel freer in this country and I'd be able to go back to visit my family."

The immigrant, who lives in Petaluma and works as a certified nursing assistant, said he came to the United States in 2002 with his wife looking for work and a better life.

Six months after he crossed the border, his father died. He could not return to help bury him for fear of risking another dangerous border crossing coming back.

Jesus Atilano, an undocumented immigrant who was recently granted a temporary reprieve from deportation under the deferred action for childhood arrivals program, said the immigration bill would give him a clear path to being "legal."

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