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The Dignity Act and BPC’s Immigration Recommendations

In May 2023 a group of representatives. led by Reps. María Elvira Salazar (R-FL) and Veronica Escobar (D-TX), introduced the Dignity Act of 2023. This piece of legislation is a relatively rare, bipartisan attempt at comprehensive immigration reform, addressing the major components of immigration: the border, legal immigration, and the status of the undocumented, including Dreamers.

The bill aligns closely with several of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s recommendations to Congress for immigration reform, particularly those regarding improving border security, and legal immigration reform, including enabling more employment-based opportunities, reducing green card backlogs, and providing undocumented immigrants with an opportunity to obtain legal status. While the bill addresses most of the major issues in our domestic immigration system, it does not deal with the so-called “root causes” that are driving much of the current migration in the hemisphere. BPC has recommended such efforts as part of a comprehensive framework to address border security and migration. However, those policies are more in the realm of foreign policy and aid than domestic immigration, which may be why they were not included in this effort.

Dignity Act Provisions

 The Dignity Act seeks to achieve reform in several key areas of the U.S. immigration system. Regarding the U.S.-Mexico border, it would authorize $25 billion to improve security through both physical and technological infrastructure. It purports to end so-called “catch-and-release policies”—which critics allege allow migrants who have crossed the border to live within communities in the U.S. as opposed to being detained while they wait to go through the U.S. immigration process. Instead, the bill would establish five humanitarian campuses along the U.S.-Mexico border for asylum seekers and enhance screening procedures to ensure decisions are made in a timely manner and that only valid claims are accepted. Screening will include criminal background checks, identity verification, and an interview where migrants must demonstrate credible fear of persecution in their home country—all aimed to be completed within 60 days— before final asylum determinations are made.

The bill also seeks to improve U.S. competitiveness through legal immigration reforms that would expand pathways for skilled workers. It would create a new uncapped temporary worker visa program for current long-serving unauthorized farmworkers called Certified Agricultural Worker (CAW) status. After eight years of CAW status, or a total of 10 years of previous agricultural work and four years of CAW status, individuals could apply for green cards. The bill would also expand opportunities for temporary non-agricultural workers—who are crucial for meeting seasonal labor demands—by expanding the definition of “returning worker” to include any worker who entered on an H-2B visa in the last three years and exempting them from the existing 66,000 annual cap on H-2Bs.

The bill would reduce immigrant visa backlogs by granting immediate green cards to individuals who have been waiting for more than 10 years, and raising country-specific caps on green cards from 7% to 15% of the total annual limits. It would exempt spouses and minor children of green card holders from annual caps and prevent children of green card applicants from “aging out” while waiting in line. It would also allow Ph.D. graduates in STEM fields from American universities to be eligible for an O visa—a nonimmigrant visa designated for “individuals with extraordinary ability or achievement.” This would avoid the limitations on the H‑1B category, which is capped and selected by lottery unlike the O visa, and potentially streamline access to a future green card in the similar EB-1 immigrant visa category for those of “extraordinary ability.” It would also allow foreign students to apply for green cards without jeopardizing their student status.

The bill also includes the “Dignity Program”—a seven-year deferred action program for undocumented individuals who have been in the U.S. continuously for at least five years before the bill is passed. Participants in this program would be eligible to receive immediate residency and lawful status, given they pay $5,000 in fees over the seven-year period. After completing the Dignity program, participants could continue in Dignity status, renewing it every five years, or they could move into the “Redemption Program.” This secondary program requires another five years of participation and another $5,000 in fees, and upon completion would allow individuals to adjust to lawful permanent resident status (obtain a green card). However, other enforcement provisions of the bill, including implementation of mandatory E-Verify and certification of a secure border must be completed before individuals can gain permanent legal status. The fees collected for both the Dignity and Redemption programs would be used to fund the remaining provisions of the bill as well as provide grants that would assist U.S. workers.

Similarities with Previous BPC Recommendations

 Overall, the Dignity Act closely aligns with many recommendations BPC has made. Regarding border security, BPC recommends the upgrading and installation of physical infrastructure such as lighting and roads to enable efficient surveillance, as well as the need for greater technological management of the border. BPC aligns with the Dignity Act in favoring these measures over the construction of border walls.

BPC recommends the management of children and families seeking asylum be addressed separately from securing the border from threats such as smuggling or migrants evading capture. Both BPC and the Dignity Act support addressing humanitarian needs at the border and recommend using regional processing centers to proactively identify and assist people who need protection. Both BPC’s recommendations and the bill align on enhancing screening procedures for those seeking asylum and removing individuals who don’t have a credible case to stay.

As with the Dignity Act, BPC has emphasized the need to reduce visa backlogs and expand pathways from temporary to permanent status to attract and retain talented individuals who can help drive the U.S. economy. Finally, BPC has also made it clear that Congress should pass legislation to provide legal protection and a pathway to permanent residency for Dreamers and other individuals with undocumented status who have been in the U.S. for several years.

Gaps Between BPC Recommendations and the Dignity Act

Addressing Root Causes

BPC makes it clear that reducing the number of migrants trying to enter at the U.S.-Mexico border in the long term requires addressing the driving factors behind migrants leaving their home countries. Migrants often view leaving as a safer option than staying, regardless of how risky the journey may be or their potential to secure protection in the United States. For this reason, lasting solutions to current immigration challenges need to tackle the underlying country conditions that drive migrants to flee, however long-term those efforts may be.

BPC has recommended that the U.S. work to improve governance, end corruption, and provide more protection for vulnerable populations in the hemisphere. By increasing monetary and programmatic assistance that addresses the root causes of crime, such as poverty and lack of educational opportunities in Central America, fewer individuals would resort to violence and gang-related activities—the main conditions pushing individuals to migrate to the U.S.

Expanding Mexico’s Asylum Capacity

BPC has also emphasized the importance of bilateral work with Mexico to support their capacity to take in more asylum seekers. This would require assistance from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees which expands Mexico’s capacity to accept and process asylum claims. In conjunction, BPC has recommended the U.S. support Mexico in securing its southern border with Guatemala to decrease unauthorized crossings while making legal migration a more accessible alternative.


The Dignity Act covers several major tenets of immigration reform from national security to humanitarian needs to U.S. economic competitiveness. There are many alignments with prior BPC recommendations, particularly with the provisions to reduce green card backlogs and provide legal protection to undocumented individuals.

The bill doesn’t directly address the underlying causes that are driving much of the current migration in the hemisphere, but these efforts may be better covered in foreign policy legislation. Regardless, the Dignity Act demonstrates that, even if Congress has not had much success recently in passing bipartisan immigration bills, there are members continuing to try, and for that we applaud them.

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