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Breaking down Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar’s Dignity Act

The freshman Republican representative has her own immigration reform to counter proposals by Democrats.

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In early February, Florida Congresswoman Maria Elvira Salazar and a group of her House colleagues introduced the Dignity Act, a comprehensive immigration reform bill consisting of three core principles.

The Dignity Act, which was written in consultation with American business leaders, agriculture and farming industries, the faith-based community, immigration reform groups, and border security experts, seeks to enact a 10-year program providing renewable legal status and an additional option to pursue permanent legalization.

In constructing the bill, Salazar applied takeaways she got from examining the last extensive immigration reform bill to be enacted with such expansive legalization programs, the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) of 1986. 

Salazar discovered that only a third of the almost 3 million undocumented immigrants the IRCA legalized actually became citizens: the other 2 million were content to have a legal status that allowed them to live and work in the United States. 

Last March, Salazar announced her vision through the Dignity Plan.

Salazar claims that the legislation, a 532-page reform package, could both create a new path to citizenship while also strengthening the border. 

The bill would create a program that permits immigrants to enter the country illegally and stay and work in the U.S at a cost of $1,000 annually for up to 10 years. Money raised through the program would fund workforce training programs available to U.S. workers now. 

Workers on the “dignity path” can work legally, with 2% of their income taxed to directly fund border security. Those in the program can also sign up for a five-year “redemption program” to learn English and U.S. civics and contribute to community service so they can attain permanent legal status. 

DREAMers who are already in the U.S. legally could immediately move towards completing the redemption program. 

Salazar, who is the daughter of Cuban refugees, told the Tampa Bay Times that her initiative is the only “reasonable” immigration bill currently in Congress. 

“My community sent me to Washington, D.C., to fight for them, and I’m doing just that with my Dignity Act. It is the right thing to do for my district, for our state, and for America,” she said. 

Some Latino leaders in Florida told Tampa Bay Times that the bill is a good step in the right direction, but human rights activists and DREAMers themselves don’t see it that way. 

“The Dignity Act affords them the peace of mind, that, if they do what citizens in this country are asked to do  — obey the law and pay their taxes — the government will accept them,” said Eli González, founder and president of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Pinellas County.

But 27-year-old Cirenio Cervantes, a DREAMer who works with the nonprofit Faith in Florida, feels that the bill is far away from true dignity. 

“Any talks on immigration should include provisions on family reunification and a pathway to citizenship for all those that call this country their home,” Cervantes said. 

So far, the measure has failed to attract widespread support, partly because of the conditions it sets and limits it places on who would be eligible to reap its benefits. 

Meanwhile, many of the 11 million undocumented immigrants wonder when they’ll be able to emerge from the shadows. 

The Dignity Act allows immigrants who have lived in the states for more than five years to stay and work with protection from deportation. 

The path to citizenship is there, but it remains a lengthy process. Most won’t be able to apply for permanent residency and a green card — required before seeking citizenship — for at least 15 years.

“The Democrats for the last 30 years have been promising immigration reform law to my community. Now the Republican Party once again is coming out and saying, ‘Welcome,’ because it's not only good for them — but it's good for the country,” Salazar said.

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