Thursday, 14 February 2013 09:57
By Max Nuyen
By most accounts, there are over 11 million people in the United States who live here without legal authorization. Many have been in the country for years. In my work, I have met folks who have been living in the shadows undetected for decades. Almost all have stable employment, established community ties, own homes and businesses, and often times have children who were born here. However, they either snuck in this country or overstayed their visa.
Where Immigration Reform has been?
What to do with these undocumented persons has been an issue that has concerned the American political system for a very long time. Some people think that this issue is new, but in fact, immigration reform has been a staple of the political scene almost since the founding of our country. Although the issued gets argues about quite often, real reform rarely happens. In fact, the last time Congress comprehensively reformed U.S. immigration law occurred when Ronald Reagan was still a first-term president. Since then, there have been a few incremental changes, but nothing sweeping. More recently, a bill was introduced in 2010 which everyone (including yours truly) thought would pass, but it wound up dying in the Senate.
In the last few months, however, comprehensive immigration reform has been rearing its head in Washington. A bipartisan group of eight senators have been negotiating and crafting a reform bill that aims to please everyone. That is why, if you examine the proposals carefully, they seem to have countervailing goals.
Immigration Reform Nuts and Bolts
As of the date of this writing, there is no bill pending. However, whatever legislation may emerge from the ongoing reform discussions will most likely include the following components.
• Increased funding for border security. Better technology, more border agents, and improved infrastructure in order to prevent, detect and apprehend unauthorized entrants. Without border security, nothing else will follow.
• A path to legalization for undocumented aliens currently living in the U.S. This will only apply to those who can prove they have been here for a certain period of time, and have established community ties. The path is going to be long and winding for those who want to go down this road.
• Drones! The U.S. borders will be patrolled with a fleet of unmanned aerial vehicles and other surveillance equipment. How this will play out with the American public is yet to be seen. Although we like secure borders, we also don’t care for Big Brother very much.
• An entry-exit tracking system for persons who come and go in this country. This is actually a gaping hole in the U.S. immigration system. The government meticulously tracks who comes in lawfully, but once someone is in, we don’t track when they leave or where they go. A large number of undocumented residents are those who came in as tourists, lawfully, but never left. The new reform proposals will address this weakness.
• Strengthening of prohibitions against racial and ethnic profiling. This is a response to the infamous “racial profiling” law that the state of Arizona passed.
• A registration system for undocumented residents who currently live in the U.S. The undocumented residents will be required to pass background checks to establish they do not have criminal pasts.
• A provision that undocumented residents who benefit from the immigration reform do so only after everyone else who is currently waiting in line. There is a long queue for immigration visas (legal immigrants). The first person to obtain authorized status under the proposed reform will not be able to do so until the last person in line for an immigration visa at the time the reform is enacted has been issued one. At the current rate, that could mean 15-20 years before a person who registers under immigration reform will be eligible to receive authorized status.
• Enhanced employment verification. Employers should expect additional requirements to show that all their employees are authorized to work in the U.S. Also, penalties and fines for the employment of unauthorized workers will become steeper. More resources will be devoted to investigating and prosecuting employers who violate immigration law.
One interesting aspect of the proposed reform is immigration benefits will be expressly multi-tiered. That is, different people will fall into different immigration categories and will receive different treatment. For instance, undocumented residents who came as children will not face the same onerous requirements as others. Also, farm workers will be given preferential treatment if they commit to remaining farm workers long-term. Those with advanced degrees will be more welcome, especially if they work in certain industries.
Something for Everyone
The proposed-reforms seem to have been carefully crafted to appeal to everyone in the political spectrum. There is a consensus that there must be immigration reform, but there is no agreement on what this reform should look like. The proposed reform has taken ideas from everyone and squeezed them into a single package. It is also designed to address the criticisms the last immigration reform effort received in 2010. The new immigration reform will have a strong emphasis on border security and employment enforcement, yet it also recognizes the necessity to permit those residing unlawfully in the country long-term be given an opportunity to change their status as well.
These discussions are in their preliminary stages. As they progress, I will bring readers more on this issue.