January 29, 2013
It appears that the time has finally come for Congress to seriously address the broken immigration system in the United States. Realizing that the nation can no longer ignore the plight of the estimated 11 million undocumented individuals residing in the US, a bipartisan group of Senators announced on January 28, 2013, a framework for Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR). The framework rests on four basic legislative pillars:
Create a tough but fair path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants currently living in the US that is contingent upon securing our borders and tracking whether legal immigrants have left the country when required;
Reform our legal immigration system to better recognize the importance characteristics that will help build the American economy and strengthen American families;
Create an effective employment verification system that will prevent identity theft and end the hiring of future unauthorized workers; and
Establish an improved process for admitting future workers to serve our nation’s workforce needs, while simultaneously protecting all workers.
These pillars will serve as the foundation for Congress as it now works toward formally drafting a Comprehensive Immigration Reform bill.
The first tenet is aimed at resolving the untenable situation that plagues the undocumented community presently residing in the US. The goal is to provide individuals with a probationary status that allows them to lawfully live and work in the US. Individuals will have to pass a background check, as well as pay a fine and any past unpaid taxes. Individuals with a serious criminal background or who otherwise pose a threat to national security will be ineligible for probationary status and subjected to removal.
The framework clarifies that individuals granted probationary status will only be granted green cards after more robust security measures have been implemented to secure the nation’s borders and a solid entry-exit system has been completed that will track compliance by temporary visa holders. The framework also makes it clear that individuals granted probationary status will be granted a green card only after every individual who is currently on the immigration’s waiting lists are given green cards, thereby ensuring that individuals are not rewarded for having violated the immigration laws. Once these conditions are met, then individuals granted probationary status will be eligible to obtain permanent residency upon passing another background check, paying taxes, learning English and US civics, demonstrating a history of employment in the US, and current employment.
Two special groups that will be eligible for a more expedited path to obtaining permanent residency are identified in the framework set out by the bipartisan group of Senators. The first group are those who have come to be known as “Dreamers” – individuals who did not knowingly chose to violate immigration laws as they were brought to the US as young children. The second group is individuals who have arduously conducted agricultural work in the US, as recognition of the difficult work that the job entails and the importance to the US food supply. Individuals in these groups will be provided with more expedited opportunities toward acquiring a green card.
The second legislative pillar seeks to discourage future immigration violations by overhauling the current immigration system. It recognizes that the current waiting lists for green cards are much too long and seeks to reduce the backlogs for those sponsored for green cards based on a family or employment petition. The framework also recognizes the importance that a skilled workforce provides to the US economy by proposing green cards to those who obtain a PhD or Master’s degree in science, technology, engineering or math from an American university.
The third legislative pillar aims to stem future unlawful immigration by ensuring that the incentive of unauthorized employment is quashed. Recognizing that individuals come to the US primarily for work and economic incentives, the Senators seek to establish an effective employee verification system that will render it very difficult for employers to unlawfully hire unauthorized individuals. Along that line, measures will be sought to heavily penalize, both civilly and criminally, employers who violate the law.
The final pillar strives to prevent future unlawful immigration by providing more viable ways for individuals to obtain visas in order to work in the US. The goal is to provide American businesses with the ability to hire individuals for lower-skilled jobs. To protect American workers, businesses would need to demonstrate their inability to recruit and employ American workers for the jobs. After many years, individuals will be provided an opportunity to obtain green cards.
The framework set out by the bipartisan group of Senators establishes the path toward long-awaited immigration reform. It recognizes the challenges that so many have been experiencing for much too long, while addressing legitimate concerns of fairness and solutions for sustainable reforms to combat future unlawful immigration. It truly appears that 2013 will be the year that the broken American immigration system will finally be addressed and the American dream once again made a reality.