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."
Atilano, who was illegally brought to the country by his parents when he was a year old, said he longs to see his great-great-grandmother, who cared for him as an infant.
"Eventually I'll be legal," Atilano said. "I'll be able to travel and visit Mexico and see my great-grandmother ... she was there for me when my parents were broke. I kind of want to meet her."
Under the proposed immigration bill, undocumented immigrants would qualify for RPI status if they entered the United State prior to Dec. 31, 2011 and have lived in the country continuously since then.
RPI applicants would be required to pay a $500 fine, assessed taxes and all application fees. They would not be eligible if they were convicted of a felony or three misdemeanors, voted unlawfully, or are inadmissable for reasons of national security or public health.
Also, the spouses and children of immigrants in RPI status could be petitioned for as "derivatives" of the applicant, though they must be in the United States at the time they are petitioned.
One key provision would grant relief to some immigrants who were in the country before Dec. 31, 2011 and later deported. These people can apply to re-enter the United States in RPI status if they are the spouse or parent of a child who is a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident.