Maria Elvira Salazar

Republican U.S. Congresswoman from Florida

Maria Elvira Salazar represents a congressional district where 72 percent of her constituents are Hispanic and 23.6 percent are noncitizens. As the daughter of Cuban refugees, her close connection with Florida’s immigrant community shapes both her political and personal identities. In a 2021 interview with Ideaspace, she said, “I think that only a brown girl from the ‘hood being a Republican could definitely bring some solutions to our immigration reform problems.” 

Salazar has attempted to strike a balance between the GOP’s tough-on-the-border messaging and policies that could protect otherwise law-abiding undocumented workers already living in the U.S. In the 117th Congress, she distinguished herself as a rare Republican willing to break with her party to back Democrat-led immigration bills like the American Dream and Promise Act and the Farm Workforce Modernization Act. She was one of only three Republicans to vote in favor of the Veteran Service Recognition Act, a bill which would have provided permanent resident status to noncitizen veterans. 

Salazar’s balancing act is best seen in her flagship piece of legislation, the DIGNIDAD (or Dignity) Act. First introduced in February 2022, the 485-page bill attempted to synthesize a Republican vision of comprehensive immigration reform: one that cracks down on border security, legalizes Dreamers, reforms the agricultural guest worker program, and creates a process that would after many years allow undocumented workers already in the country to obtain legal status. 

The latter process, the “Dignity Program,” is Salazar’s most notable addition to the immigration reform debate. On the basis of her belief that many undocumented workers don’t want to be American citizens but simply want to live, work, and travel without fear of deportation, Salazar’s bill would create a 10-year conditional legal status for law-abiding undocumented immigrants. Participants would have to work continuously, check in with DHS every two years, and pay a total of $10,000 over the course of the 10-year program, which would go into a fund to retrain American workers. They would also be barred from accessing any government benefits. For those who complete the Dignity Program, an additional five-year “Redemption Program” would provide an optional pathway to citizenship, requiring more fees or community service, as well as English and civics classes. 

However, the pathway to citizenship in Salazar’s original draft would only open once strict border security and immigration enforcement benchmarks were met. Salazar’s bill defined these benchmarks as a “90 percent or greater” apprehension rate of unauthorized border crossings, and a certification from the Secretary of Commerce that “all employers in all States” are in compliance with laws that prohibit hiring undocumented workers. Democrats balked at these strict metrics, which are difficult to accurately measure (estimates of current and historic border apprehension rates vary significantly, with some experts claiming the apprehension rate has never risen above 40 percent).  

After the original bill failed to gain more than a handful of moderate Republican co-sponsors, Salazar began negotiating over a new version with Democratic Rep. Veronica Escobar of Texas. The second iteration of the DIGNIDAD Act, first announced in May 2023 and co-sponsored by Rep. Escobar, reduced both the timeframe and the fees for the Dignity Program, and rejected the apprehension rate benchmark altogether in favor of “operational advantage,” which it defined flexibly as “as the ability to detect, respond, and interdict border penetrations in areas deemed as high priority for threat potential or other national security objectives.” These concessions cemented Salazar’s status as one of the only Republicans in Congress open to significant bipartisan negotiations on immigration reform.


Salazar’S IDEAS

  • Border Security

    Salazar’s DIGNIDAD Act contains a number of provisions to expand border security infrastructure and funding, including hiring 3,000 additional DHS personnel. The original bill set the goal of a 90 percent apprehension rate for unauthorized crossings at the border, while the second version aimed to maintain “operational advantage” at the border.

  • Border Wall

    Salazar has avoided explicitly coming out in support of or against the Trump-era border wall, but has said she supports “any type of tower, any type of technology, any type of guards.” The DIGNIDAD Act would give the Secretary of Homeland Security “authority to waive all legal requirements the Secretary determines necessary” to construct physical barriers along the border and implement border security technology.

  • Detention

    Salazar’s DIGNIDAD Act would create four regional processing centers at the U.S.-Mexico border to detain asylum-seeking families while their cases are being adjudicated, with some exemptions for families who could be released into a case management and remote monitoring program. The bill would also codify Sarah’s Law, which would make ICE detention mandatory for undocumented immigrants accused of a violent crime.

  • Immigration Courts

    Salazar’s DIGNIDAD Act sought to hire 1,700 new immigration court personnel to combat adjudication backlogs.

  • Undocumented Population

    Salazar supports a variety of bills that provide pathways to legal status for otherwise law-abiding undocumented workers already living in the U.S.

  • ICE

    “The sanctuary city movement is making us Hispanics look like a bunch of imbeciles and idiots. Why? Because then it projects to middle America that we want to protect criminals and we don’t want to do that,” said Salazar in a 2017 interview with Fox News. Salazar added that she supports ICE’s ability to operate anywhere in the country, but believes the agency should go after “bad hombres” and not otherwise law-abiding undocumented workers.

  • DACA

    Salazar supports immediately granting legal status and a pathway to citizenship to Dreamers.

  • Asylum

    Salazar’s DIGNIDAD Act would punish fraudulent asylum claims with a fine or a sentence of up to 10 years in prison. The bill would also create regional processing centers at the border to detain family units seeking asylum.

  • Central American Policy

    Salazar supports a “root causes” strategy that encourages American companies to invest in Central America. She has also tweeted, “Reagan was right: intervention in Central America is sometimes inevitable.” The second version of the DIGNIDAD Act would create regional processing centers in Central America to pre-screen migrants for asylum eligibility.

  • Visas

    Salazar sponsored a bill to reduce lengthy wait times for visitor visa appointments at U.S. embassies abroad. She has also co-sponsored the Temporary Family Visitation Act, which would create a temporary family visitor visa. She voted for the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, and her DIGNIDAD Act included a section reforming the agricultural guest worker visa program. She supports mandatory E-Verify.

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