EDUCATION ISSUES RAISED BY S.744
The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act
June 13, 2014
An Essay by Garrett Murphy
The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act (S.744) contains many
requirements to be satisfied by undocumented immigrants. Assuming that S.744 will move forward in
Congress, legislators and planners should be aware of the issues examined in this article having to do
with certain language, civics and government, and education/training provisions as they relate to
A basic tenet of S.744 is that undocumented immigrants must "get in line." People who have entered
the country legally must be served ahead of those who have not. Thus, undocumented aliens are
assigned long waiting periods before they can adjust to legal status. Except for agricultural workers and
Dreamers, who only need to wait 5 years, most will have to wait 10 years.
The Congressional Budget Office estimates that there are 1.5 million agricultural workers. Even though
these people do not have to satisfy any language or civics requirements during that 5-year span, they
are mentioned here solely to be sure that planners and service providers who expected otherwise know
that 5.744 doesn't call for that.
Dreamers are immigrants who entered the U. S. as children (under age 16 on their date of entry). There
are about 1.5 million of them. Dreamers must have lived in the U.S. as Registered Provisional Aliens
(RPI's)* for at least 5 years. They must have completed high school or an approved state high school
equivalency test, and/or have acquired a degree from an institution of higher education or have
completed 2 years in good standing in a program for a bachelor's or higher degree, or have served
honorably for 4 years in one of the armed forces. They must also satisfy a language and civics
requirement - a test of English language ability and U.S. history and government described in Section
312(a) of the Immigration and Nationality Act. This same test is administered to all applicants for
naturalization except in certain hardship cases. Meeting all these requirements will result in Dreamers
having their status adjusted to Legal Permanent Resident (LPR) and they will be able to apply for
All other nonagricultural undocumented immigrants must register with the federal government as RPI's.
Most RPI's and their dependents, who must also register, will have to wait 10 years before adjusting to
RPI's make up a special category established in the law that allows illegal aliens to remain in the country and
Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) status, and an additional 3 years before applying for citizenship. RPI's
must be continually employed or show in other ways that they will not become a public charge.
RPI's may substitute full-time education for full-time employment for some period during their 10 -year
waiting period. This provision appears to pave the way for career advancement, but the law does
contain obstacles. For example, RPI's may not apply for any public benefit program, which by definition
includes a means test. Examples of such programs are Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF),
the Affordable Care Act, the Earned Income Tax Credit, Medicaid or Medicare, and Pell Grants.
Flowever, federal student loans and work-study aid are allowed, and S.744 restores to the states the
right to determine residency for higher educational benefits (by repealing Section 505 of the Illegal
Immigrant Reform and Immigrant Responsibility act of 1996).
ISSUE #1 - Under S.744, an RPI may have difficulty earning enough to meet living expenses if
education and/or training can only be full time. Some combination of work and study might
be more feasibie and sustainabie.
Sometime during the 10-year waiting period, RPI's and dependents who are 16 or older must satisfy an
English language and U.S. history and government requirement. S.744 provides two ways to do this.
The first is to take the same test that is administered to all applicants for citizenship (see INA Section
321(a) for a description of the requirement). RPI's who pass this test, satisfy the law's employment
requirements, and have no problems with the criminal justice system can have their status adjusted to
lawful permanent resident (LPR) at the end of the waiting period. Three years later, should LPR's wish
to become citizens, they need not take the Sec. 321(a) test again.
ISSUE #2: If an RPI may take the Sec. 321(a) test at any time during the 10-year waiting
period, preparation for the test and possibly readiness assessment must be available prior to
the actual testing (except in cases where an RPI can pass the test without instruction). If the
need for instruction and testing occurs evenly throughout the 10-year period, adult education
providers should be able to maintain an even level of instructional service. But if need
for instruction waxes and wanes during this 10-year period, there will be periods when
instructional resources may be insufficient and/or when there may not be enough business to
occupy existing program staff. It may be beneficial for adult education providers to work with
the Office of New Americans to work out a schedule that keeps the instructional and
assessment flow as even as possible.
Flomeland Security reports that 91% of immigrants who have been administered the Sec. 321(a) test
have received a passing score, with an average preparation time of 4.5 months.
ISSSUE #3: Some of the refugee and immigrant assistance programs that have worked with
people who have passed the test should have a pretty good idea of the language level and
civics content needed to succeed. States may find it useful to identify and work with
programs that have demonstrated such success.
S.744 provides an alternative way to satisfy the English language, civics, and government requirement
for those RPI's unable to pass the Sec. 321(a) test. These RPI's must be "satisfactorily pursuing a course
of study pursuant to standards established by the Secretary of Education, in consultation with the
Secretary, to achieve an understanding of English and knowledge and understanding of the history and
Government of the United States as described in Section 321(a)." The outcome of either method of
satisfying the English language/civics requirement is that the RPI has a status adjustment to Lawful
Permanent Resident (LPR), but the RPI's who satisfy the requirement by passing the Sec. 321(a) test will
not have to take that test again when applying for citizenship. RPI's who choose the alternate route
must pass the test to become citizens.
ISSUE #4: If an RPI chooses an alternative process to satisfy his or her English/civics
requirement early in the 10-year waiting period by presenting evidence of enrollment in an
approved program, can an examiner reject the application, indicating that there is still plenty
of time to prepare to take the Sec. 321(a) test? Or will there be a set number of hours of
instruction in an approved program that the examiner must accept as meeting the
ISSUE #5: On what basis would an approved program issue a document indicating that an RPI
has been attending?
ISSUE #6: Will there be any mandatory length of instruction for applicants choosing the
alternative process as there was in the Simpson-Mazzoli immigration legislation of 1981?
ISSUE #7: Will an RPI be able to try the Sec. 321(a) test and, if failing, fall back to the
alternative way to satisfy the English language/civics requirement if indeed they had been
attending an approved instructional program?
ISSUE #8: The use of the present tense (i.e., "is satisfactorily pursuing") in the alternative
English/civics bill language could be interpreted to mean that the RPI must actually be
enrolled in an approved program when seeking adjustment of status. Since RPI status cannot
be adjusted until 10 years has passed, it is possible that all RPI's using the alternative process
would have to be "satisfactorily pursuing" at the end of 10 years, creating a need for many
approved instructional programs to be operating at the time. But once RPI's attained LPR
status they would no longer be required to be in instruction, so all of those programs would
suddenly be without students. Educators need to explore ways in which RPI's choosing the
alternative route may submit evidence of enrollment and progress throughout the 10-year
waiting period rather than at the end of the period.
S.744 would create three new entities, the Office of Citizenship and New Americans (OCNA), the Task
force for New Americans (TFNA), and the United States Citizenship Foundation. OCNA will be
responsible for promoting training on citizenship responsibilities for new immigrants, providing advice
on integrating immigrants into society, establishing goals for immigrant integration, and providing
information about English and citizenship education programs. The TFNA will coordinate the federal
response to immigrant-integration issues, and advise on how to carry out policies and goals concerning
access to education, workforce training, heaith care poiicy, access to naturaiization, and community
deveiopment. The Secretary of Education serves on the Task Force. The Foundation wouid be the
repository of gifts and bequests and is responsibie for expanding citizenship preparation programs,
coordination thereof, and providing assistance to individuais appiying for RPi status, LPR status, and
An authorization of $10 miiiion for the first 5 years is made avaiiabie to support activities of ONCA,
TFNA, and the Foundation. $100 miiiion is authorized for two new grant programs for the first five
years. These programs are the initiai Entry, Adjustment and Citizen Assistance Grant Program and The
Pilot Program to Promote Immigrant Integration. For the former program, the Secretary, through the
Director of the U.S. immigration Service, may award grants to pubiic and private agencies and
institutions on a competitive basis to design improved deiivery of services needed by both RPi's and
LPR's - inciuding Engiish ianguage and civics instruction, in the iatter program, the Chief of OCNA may
award grants on a competitive basis to states, iocai governments, or other quaiifying entities to form an
immigrant Councii of 15 to 19 members (two of whom couid be aduit education representatives). The
Chief may aiso award competitive state grants to deveiop, impiement, expand, or enhance programs
that provide Engiish as a second ianguage, civics instruction, and financiai iiteracy, and to engage
receiving communities in the citizenship and civic integration process by increasing iocai service capacity
and buiiding meaningfui connections between newer immigrants and iong-term residents.
ISSUE #9: The level of funding authorized in S.744 for the first 5 years is grossly insufficient
even if used only for English and civics instruction. English and civics instruction expenditures
in the existing Workforce Investment Act (WIA) or even just ESL alone, is three times the
amount authorized in S.744, and the WIA level is considered inadequate. It should be noted
that waiting lists are already prevalent nationwide.
ISSUE #10: The authorized amounts in S.744 must support a number of direct services to
participants other than instruction, rendering the grossly inadequate funding even more so. It
is also a problem that not all states would be funded - only the 10 with the most RPI's or the
most recent arrivals.
ISSUE #11: At the markup session for the bill. Senators learned that the fiscal impact of the
legislation would be to reduce the federal deficit by close to $900 billion, leading some
Senators to add to the cost of the bill by enacting an amendment by Senator Corker that adds
$1.5 billion for Jobs for disadvantaged youth. If this much funding can be made available for a
non-immigrant program, the bill should be able to provide a more realistic amount for
educational services for nearly 10 million people throughout the nation.
Special Note: The legislation promises streamlined action for DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood
Arrivals) eligibles. These provisions will undoubtedly make it possible for DACA youth to become
Dreamers. DACA youth who are unable to satisfy Dreamer reguirements would likely be classified as RPTs
and thus be subject to the 10-year waiting period.