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Begich Supports Bipartisan Immigration Reform Bill to Strengthen Alaska Economy

Secures Border, Prevents Amnesty and Protects American Jobs

U.S. Sen. Mark Begich today voted to pass the bipartisan Senate immigration bill that will crack down on illegal immigration and keep Alaska’s seafood industry strong.

The Congressional Budget Office has determined the bill would save nearly $200 billion over the next decade.

"Today I joined an overwhelming majority of my colleagues to support this bipartisan immigration package and fix our broken immigration system,” said Sen. Begich. “This bipartisan bill includes the right mix of increased border security, enforcement on employers, and a clear path to citizenship for immigrants who have played by the rules."

Highlights of the bill include:

  • An unprecedented surge of an additional 20,000 Border Patrol agents who will be stationed along the southern border, more than doubling the current force and allowing the Border Patrol access to the tools they need to do their jobs more effectively.
     
  • Provisions to prevent employers from hiring foreign workers when Americans are available.
     
  • The E-Verify system which will be used by all the employers in the U.S. and make it virtually impossible to work here illegally.
     
  • Rules that illegal immigrants undergo a background check and pay taxes and fees before starting the path to citizenship.  The bill also contains specific triggers which ensure that illegal immigrants cannot receive green cards until at least 10 years after the enactment of the bill and clear measures on border security are in place.  This bill prevents amnesty.
     
  • A crackdown on those who overstay their welcome in our country.  With 40% of illegal immigrants resulting from visa overstays, the bill requires the federal government to begin the removal process for 90% of visa overstays and will hold the Department of Homeland Security accountable for failing to enforce the law.  
     

How the Bill will Affect the Alaska Seafood Industry

At the insistence of Sens. Begich and Murkowski, two amendments to help the seafood industry recruit and hire seasonal workers were included in the final immigration bill.

"I was pleased to work with Senator Murkowski to make sure this bill protects Alaska seafood processors by ensuring a steady source of seasonal staffing in order to keep our Alaska economy strong," said Sen. Begich.

The Alaska seafood industry has historically relied upon J-1 or “Summer Work Travel” visas to hire guest workers.  These short term (4-month) visas were a good fit for the Alaska seafood industry but were excluded from the Summer Work Travel Program last year, and new restrictions were put on working hours.   Sen. Begich sent a request to Secretary of State John Kerry this year asking for seafood jobs to be reinstated to the program and has continued to work to find ways for the seafood industry to hire seasonal workers when Americans are unavailable.  The new language in the immigration bill would put Alaska seafood processing back into the J-1 program.  A fee will be charged to the industry for each guest worker.

The other fix provides additional flexibility by declaring Alaska fish processing as a “shortage occupation,” which would expedite the industry’s ability to recruit seasonal workers outside the U.S. through the new W-Visa Program created in the immigration bill. 

The W-Visa is a new idea to restructure various guest worker programs.  This longer term (3-year) visa is intended for jobs that chronically fail to attract enough domestic workers.  Foreign workers in these so-called “shortage occupations” must be paid at the same rate as domestic workers and must work under the same circumstances. 

How the Bill Saves Taxpayer Dollars

"Another key reason I supported this bill is because the price was right - saving nearly $200 billion over the next decade and even more after that,” said Sen. Begich.  “Today's vote is a good example of the important progress we can make if we are willing to roll up our sleeves and get to work.”

Despite misinformation about the cost of the immigration bill, the Congressional Budget Office has determined the bill would reduce the deficit by $197 billion over the next 10 years and $690 during the following decade.  Any costs of the program will be offset by visa fees that are estimated to add $459 billion in additional tax revenue which will result in even bigger deficit reduction.

 

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