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Tucked away in the 844-page immigration bill is a provision that could thwart citizenship hopes for many undocumented workers.

Under the immigration reform bill, undocumented immigrants would first be given provisional status. Later, they would have to prove that their family income stayed above 125 percent of the poverty level -- that’s about $29,400 for a family of four. Or they could show they didn’t go more than 60 consecutive days without a job. Otherwise, they could be deported.

Angela Kelley, who heads immigration policy at the left-leaning Center for American Progress, says the proposed rules are too strict.

“That is just simply creating quasi-documented people, who will never fully be able to integrate," Kelley says.

Kelley wants some flexibility. So if you’re unemployed for, say, 61-days straight, you keep your status if you have a good explanation.

Doris Meissner led the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service under President Clinton as is now with the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute. She says the rules should be more flexible, but still make people work for citizenship.

“People earn their way, over time, into a legal status in the country," Meissner says.

Meissner adds the rules will satisfy critics, who don’t want to create new citizens who rely too much on government help.  

About the author

Nancy Marshall-Genzer is a senior reporter for Marketplace based in Washington, D.C. covering daily news.

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