Lexington immigration attorneys and members of Kentucky's Congressional delegation said they were keeping an open mind about the bipartisan Senate bill introduced Wednesday to overhaul the nation's immigration law.
But Brian Rich, an advocate for Lexington's immigrant community, said "there is great trepidation and skepticism within the immigrant community about the legalization aspect of the bill."
"At this point, until we are able to understand this complex proposal in more detail, I would say that no one should jump to any conclusions," he said. Among Rich's concerns is the length of time it would take for an immigrant to acquire legal status.
The 844-page bill — titled the "Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013" — creates a path for the 11 million immigrants who entered the country illegally. It offers new visa programs for workers, puts requirements on border security, and institutes a new requirement for employers to check the legal status of their workers, according to the Associated Press.
Under the bill, legalization would take 13 years, the first 10 in a provisional legal status that would not grant immigrants access to federal benefits. Immigrants would have to pay $2,000 in fines and hundreds in fees and back taxes. Those with certain criminal histories would not be allowed to apply, according to the AP.
Lexington immigration attorneys Jonathan Bialosky and Glen Krebs said they went to Washington, D.C., last week to talk to Kentucky's congressional delegation about the need to pass comprehensive immigration reform.
The attorneys said they had not been able to read the legislation in detail.
But Bialosky, program director of the Maxwell Street Legal Clinic said Wednesday, 'This gets the conversation started. Regardless of any positives or negatives of the bill, it's a starting point and hopefully it does lead to something that's very comprehensive."
Krebs in an interview said the bill took a balanced approach that in a similar format could have a strong chance at passage.
"Is the bill ... everything we wanted? No," Krebs said in a statement. "But it is a good start on the path toward legislation that will fix our current patchwork of mismanaged and broken immigration laws which tear families apart and hurts American businesses. As an immigration attorney I know firsthand the positive effects a bill like this could have for the people and businesses in our community."
Lexington attorney Joshua Santana, the president of the Lexington Hispanic Education Association, said "it's good to have a start."
But Santana, said he had some concerns about measures in the bill that will require the United States' borders to be secure. "... How do we measure when the borders are secure? How that's going to be gauged and measured is a concern."
Santana said the timeline for people to gain citizenship seemed "extraordinarily long."
U.S. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said in an e-mail statement that he appreciated the hard work that had gone into drafting the immigration legislation.
"The rest of the Senate will now have an opportunity in the coming weeks to review it and form their own views,'' McConnell said.
U.S. Rep. Andy Barr, R-Lexington, said the current immigration system needs reform, and that Congress should "focus on strengthening the enforcement of our current laws and enhancing border security; streamlining our overly complex and bureaucratic temporary guest worker programs; and providing a clear distinction between legal and illegal immigration that discourages people from entering our country illegally and is fair to those who have done it the right way."
Barr said he looks forward to examining the law in light of those principles.
U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Louisville, issued a statement along with seven other representatives in the House who said they applauded the senators' efforts and were working on their own bipartisan effort in the House.
U.S. Rep. Harold "Hal" Rogers, R-Somerset, said in a statement that "any immigration deal must first include strong protections for American workers and be complimented by a secure border and a viable electronic worker verification system."
Valarie Honeycutt Spears: (859) 231-3409. Twitter:@vhspears