• 01Feb
    I-9 Compliance, Immigration Reform, Worksite Enforcement Comments Off on Is Comprehensive Immigration Reform Finally Within Our Grasp?

    On January 29, 2013, President Obama addressed the country on his principles for comprehensive immigration reform. A major theme running through the President’s remarks was that there should not be a struggle between “us” and “them.” President Obama pointed out that most of “us” used to be “them,” reminding the country that America was built by immigrants. He urged Congress to adopt a common-sense approach to immigration issues, hoping that progressive reform could be attained in the near future.

    The President’s plan is similar to the blueprint that was released earlier this month by the bipartisan group of Senators known as the “Gang of Eight.” The members of the “Gang of Eight” are Republican Senators Marco Rubio (FL), John McCain (AZ), Jeff Flake (AZ), and Lindsey Graham (SC); and Democrats Chuck Schumer (NY), Robert Menendez (NJ), Michael Bennet (CO), and Richard Durbin (IL). The issues at the heart of the immigration debate are border security, workplace verification, a pathway to citizenship, and a revamping of our legal immigration system.

    The first steps to immigration reform have been (and will continue to be) stepped up efforts of border security and a continued expansion of prosecutions for worksite compliance violations (I-9 and H-1B compliance) against employers. Opponents of immigration reform will push hard for tougher border security before considering a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. As such, we can expect more enforcement actions against U.S. employers, and perhaps a nationwide mandate to require employers to utilize the E-Verify system. (The Department of Homeland Security’s E-Verify system cross-references the Social Security Administration database with the DHS’ Immigration database to ensure that employees are legally authorized to work in the U.S.) A reform bill will most likely call for improvements to the E-Verify system to cut down on technical errors within the system.

    The next issue is creating a pathway to citizenship for the more than 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. The plan proposed by the “Gang of Eight” calls for immediate “probationary legal status” for undocumented immigrants. This will be followed by an opportunity to obtain a permanent residence conditioned on the payment of back taxes, submitting to a background check, and other requirements, including learning English, passing a civics test, paying fines, and completing community service. In addition, it has been noted that undocumented immigrants will not jump ahead of those already “in line” for U.S. lawful permanent residence. Lastly, the Senate’s proposal supports implementing the Dream Act, which will open the door to citizenship for undocumented children who, through no fault of their own, were brought to the U.S. illegally by their parents. The DREAM Act will allow such undocumented children to pursue their studies at U.S. colleges and universities as well as a pathway to U.S. lawful permanent residence that would not require the same lengthy process as other undocumented immigrants.

    Last, but certainly not least, there has been discussions on many other types of backlog and quota reforms relating to legal immigration system. The President addressed the need for reform in the Immigration Courts, judicial review, increased opportunities for entrepreneurship visas in the United States, as well as a more expansive definition of families that includes same-sex couples. These reforms were not mentioned in the original plan outlined by the “Gang of Eight,” but are meant to be expanded upon in discussion on the Senate floor. Other possible reforms include increasing the H-1B cap to over 100,000 visas per year  and increases in the quotas for immigrant visas in order to shrink the horrendous backlogs we are currently facing in the both employment-based and family-based applications for lawful permanent residence.

    It should be interesting to monitor the progress made in Congress on immigration reform over the coming months. If the President is not satisfied with the progress of comprehensive immigration reform, he may propose his own legislation ahead of the “Gang of Eight.” The ability of politicians from both sides of the aisle to compromise and work together will be critical prior to any reform bill being passed.

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