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English key to realising US dream

If proposed immigration reforms come into force, many Indians may get a headstart in the quest for a green card.

india Updated: May 27, 2006 13:30 IST

Many Indians and other Asians among over ten million illegal immigrants to the United States may get a headstart in their quest for American citizenship, thanks to their knowledge of English, if the US Congress agrees with the Senate version of proposed immigration reforms.

A landmark legislation approved by the Senate on Thursday divides the illegal immigrants into three groups while providing for 200,000 temporary guest worker visas annually and creating a separate programme for immigrant farm labour.

Those who have been in America for five years or longer would be allowed to stay and seek citizenship provided they pay back taxes, learn English, and have no serious criminal record.

Those who have been here two to five years would have to go to another country and apply for a green card to come back.

But about two million people who have been in America illegally for less than two years would be ordered to go back home, while those convicted of a felony or three misdemeanours would be deported irrespective of how long they have been in the United States.

Critics of the bill call its three-tiered formulation unworkable as the notion of apprehending and deporting two million illegal immigrants who have been in America less than two years defies logic.

But the task would be six times as enormous under the bill approved last year in the House of Representatives providing for deportation of all with tougher enforcement of immigration laws to prevent future influx.

The White House is reported to have already started lobbying efforts to bring about an accord between the two houses ahead of a House-Senate Conference next month with President George Bush himself favouring an approach similar to that of the Senate.

The product of a tenuous bipartisan coalition that faced tough conservative opposition, the Senate version would declare English the country's national language, 230 years after independence from the British.

It was a gesture that many advocates found insulting but accepted in the hope of helping to give legal status to millions of undocumented workers "who harvest our crops, tend our gardens, work in our restaurants and clean our houses," in the words of Republican senator John McCain.

The immigration debate has caused a storm in the US with supporters of the reforms describing them as "a comprehensive and realistic attempt to solve the real world problems" while critics say "the problem of illegal immigration would never be solved by rewarding those who break our laws."