Immigration Reform

by Carla Hansen

Immigration reform is slowly stumbling its way through two bipartisan groups in the House and Senate. President Obama expects actual legislation sometime in April. This progress and aggressive time line creates hope for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants residing in the United States, as well as a huge line of persons waiting to get visas or full citizenship.

President Obama and a bipartisan group of Senators known as “the Gang of Eight” have offered “pillars” of immigration reform or an over arching policyframework that a future bill will include. The House of Representatives bipartisan group is also working on legislation, but it hasn’t released anything specific yet.

The Gang of Eight, which includes Senators Charles E. Schumer of New York, John McCain of Arizona, Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Robert Menendez of New Jersey, Marco Rubio of Florida, Michael Bennet of Colorado, and Jeff Flake of Arizona, provided a fairly detailed framework for what a Senate immigration reform bill might look like. In preparation for the April 23rd Club meeting here’s an overview of that framework:

The four basic pillars include:
I. Creating a path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants already here that is contingent upon securing the border and combating visa overstays

  • Increasing Border Patrol’s personnel, improving surveillance equipment, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles and other infrastructure
  • Strengthening prohibitions against racial profiling and other inappropriate uses of force
  • Creating an entry-exit system that tracks all persons entering the US on temporary visas through sea and airports.
  • Developing a committee of southwest border state representatives to ensure security measures are implemented
  • Requiring all persons who came or remain in the US to register with the government, pass background checks, and settle any debts to society in order to earn probationary legal status
  • Requiring individuals who have earned a probationary legal to go to the “back of the line” of prospective immigrants, pass additional background checks, pay taxes, learn English and civics, demonstrate history of work in US in order to apply for a lawful permanent residency. Then, the individual will “eventually” get a green card
  •  Ensuring those who are present without lawful status will only receive a green card after all those in line have received one—This does not apply to immigrants who entered the US as minors or those who have been working for the agricultural industry.

II. Improving our legal Immigration System and attracting the world’s best and brightest

  • The broken immigration system discourages the “best and brightest” and “well-meaning” immigrants from coming to the US and created a backlog of visas thus incentivizing illegal immigration
  • Any reform must reduce backlogs, and provide family and employment visas
  • Any reform must reward immigrants who have earned PhD’s or Master’s degrees in science, technology, engineering and math from an American University.

III. Strong employment verification

  • Because immigrants almost always come to the US for jobs, an employment verification system must hold employers accountable for knowingly hiring undocumented workers and make it harder for unauthorized immigrants to falsify documents to obtain employment
  • Provide a fast and reliable method for US employers to verify applicant’s status and prevent identity theft through non forgeable electronic means prior to offering employment

IV. Admitting new workers and protecting workers rights

  • Provide business the ability to hire lower-skilled workers in a timely manner when Americans are unavailable or unwilling to fill those jobs
  • Employers must demonstrate that they were unsuccessful in recruiting Americans to fill an open position and that an immigrant will not displace an American worker
  • Create a workable program to meet the needs of America’s agricultural industry when American’s are not available to fill open positions
  • Allow more immigrants to come to the US when the economy is creating jobs and less when it is not creating jobs
  • Ensure labor protection for workers
  • Permit workers who have succeeded in the workplace and contributed to their communities over many years to earn green cards

In contrast, the House of Representatives offer three distinct paths to citizenship. According to a recent New York Times article published April 2nd, a House bill will “most likely” feature the following:

  • Young immigrants or “dreamers” and low-skilled agricultural workers would qualify to be expedited through the process of becoming “legal”
  • Immigrants who have a family or an employment relationship here in the US would be allowed to apply for a legal permanent residency instead of being forced
    to return home for three to 10 years before being eligible to apply. The House bill would “relax or waive” the current process if immigrants pay back taxes or learn
  • Other immigrants must pay fines and back taxes, learn English and apply for a “provisional legal status.” Then after 10 years, they will be eligible to apply for a
    green card. After having a green card for five years, they can apply for citizenship

The two potential bills have many similarities that will hopefully create a less volatile bill blending process.

According to the article, the sticking point could be whether or not immigrants can receive State or Federal benefits during their “provisional status.”

On the employment side, an agreement was just reached by labor union representatives and business owners on how much a business should pay a “guest workers” or low-skilled undocumented immigrants (mostly working in the hotel, restaurant and construction industries) brought in during labor shortages. Guest workers will be paid the higher of the prevailing industry wage determined by the Labor Department or actual employer wage. Crane operator and electrician positions
were excluded from the guest worker visa program.

At this point, keeping track of all the current happenings around this topic may be more difficult that actually coming to a consensus on a new policy. Stay tuned. There’s never a dull moment in immigration reform.