Category Archives: Immigration Reform

The latest developments in the immigration reform debate.

U.S. Immigration: Then and Now

The United States has had a rich history of accepting immigrants from a wide array of backgrounds and for a variety of reasons ranging from humanitarian and religious to political and economic. Commonly regarded as a “melting pot,” the U.S. has been a nation of immigrants since its founding; pilgrims fled the tyrannies of the old world in search of what we now call the “American Dream”.  Today, the U.S. finds itself at a pivotal crossroads in its immigration policy. Demographic shifts resulting from immigration during the past half-century (as a result of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965) are proving to be an irreversible trend, rather than a statistical anomaly. Can national immigration policies be structured in an adequate way to ensure social cohesion, economic prosperity and national security, without compromising civil rights or undermining national identity?

 The statistics on immigration help provide a more concrete description of the issue. Today, the United States is home to 40 million immigrants, which constitute 13% of the total population. While this is a large figure nominally, it is proportionally less than the previous peak of 15% during the industrial boom of 1890-1920, when Europeans were entering the country in large numbers, many of them through the iconic Ellis Island. However, the biggest issue in today’s immigration policy is the presence of roughly 11 million undocumented persons who face discrimination and abuse economically, socially and politically due to lack of legal status. The debate around this issue, specifically whether a pathway (semantics may differ) to citizenship will exist to legalize undocumented aliens, will be the deciding factor in any meaningful immigration reform.  

The last major attempt at reform came in 1986, under the Reagan administration through the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA), which aimed to curtail illegal immigration by imposing stricter employer accountability standards for hiring undocumented workers. At the time, there were about 3 million unauthorized individuals in the U.S. who received amnesty through a legalization process. Despite best intentions, IRCA was poorly enforced and underfunded, resulting in the creation of a large document fraud industry both in the U.S. and Mexico and ultimately attributed to the increase of undocumented immigrants currently residing in the U.S. IRCA was seen as “amnesty” which provided a solution to undocumented problem, but did not clearly define or enforce the regulations to minimize further flows of unauthorized individuals.

From this perspective, we can better understand the recently proposed immigration reform bill S.744. (Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act), which aims to improve where previous reform attempts have failed.  As the title suggests, the main concern revolves around national security, economic growth and improved methods of immigration compliance both at the borders and in workplaces. Such a bill provides a necessary compromise between hard-line nationalists who see border security as the primary method of regulating immigration flows and free-market liberals who encourage open labor markets to fill both high-skilled and low-skilled labor needs. In the next few months, the country will find out if compromises and proper appropriations can be made to create an enforceable bill that promotes a secure, economically viable and sustainable immigration policy.

If this issue is important to you, I urge you to contact your local representative.

 

 ImageNiko Druzhinin is a legal assistant at Lipman & Wolf, LLP and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Global Policy Studies at the Lyndon Baines Johnson School of Public Affairs in the University of Texas at Austin. Niko received his Bachelor’s degree from UC Santa Barbara in Global and International Studies with an emphasis in the Latin America region. Niko is fluent in Spanish and Russian. If you have questions or comments about the article, please contact us.

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Senate Passes Landmark Immigration Reform Bill

After two months of heated debate and much speculation in the media, S.744 – the bipartisan immigration reform has passed through the Senate by a margin of 68-32 (with 14 of 46 Republicans voting in favor). Along with the controversial provision of a “pathway to citizenship” for the 11 million undocumented residents, a significant increase to border security is prominently featured in the bill. Over the next ten years, $46 billion (this figure was $3 billion in the original bill) will be invested to: hire 20,000 new federal law enforcement agents, increase high-tech surveillance (including drones and infrared cameras) and finish construction of a 700-mile long fence along the border the Mexico-US border.

Despite the valiant bi-partisan collaboration in the Senate, the real challenge remains to be met in the House of Representatives, where Republicans are unlikely to support any bill unless the majority of their party is in full agreement.  John Boehner, speaker of the House, even went as far as to say that the Senate bill was “dead on arrival” and the House would have to come up with a radically different bill to address their major areas of concern – namely the issue of border security and what Republicans perceive as amnesty in the proposed pathway to citizenship.

Despite the uncompromising, hard-line attitudes from many representatives of gerrymandered, overwhelmingly white districts,  the Republicans as a party, have a lot at stake in their treatment of the immigration issue. With the election loss in 2012 still fresh in their mind – where Republicans only got 29% of Latino vote, the party will have to make tough choices between local and national politics. Every month 50,000 Hispanics reach voting age and will likely continue to vote Democrat, meaning Republicans could become politically irrelevant if they cannot come to a compromise on immigration.

If you follow our Facebook or Twitter, then you know about the immense economic and social benefits of immigration reform. However, we know there is no such thing as “no-brainer” legislation as evidenced by the failure to pass universal background for gun purchases. We will continue to closely monitor the immigration debate unfold and hope for the best outcome for the country. In the meantime, one should not forget about programs like DACA, VAWAU-Visa and the new stateside waiver program that continue to provide relief to immigrants during this time of uncertainty. 

We welcome your inquiries and feedback and look forward to keeping you up to date on all of the latest happenings in the immigration world!

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Highlights of the Immigration Reform Bill Released Today

S. 744 – the bipartisan bill, sponsored by Senator Charles Schumer was released to the public today. The 844 page document outlines a path to citizenship and addresses many of the pressing issues that create backlogs and inconsistencies within our immigration system.

As expected, the proposed legislation adds significant funding (~$3 billion) and resources to secure the southern border of the US.  About half of the funds will be allocated to build a two-layered border fence, while the rest will pay for increased surveillance and man-power in the border region. Additionally, an electronic exit system will be instated at all sea and airports throughout the country for consistent record keeping. 

To crack down on abuses in the employment-based categories, the bill calls for the implementation of an E-Verify system to check employment eligibility of all new hires. Employers heavily dependent (more than 50%) on foreign workers, will be punished with higher visa fees and limits on future foreign hires. At the same time, the H-1B cap for high-tech workers will be increased from 65,000/year to 110,000/year to meet growing demand in the industry. Finally, the spouses of H-1B workers will also be allowed a work permit, if their country of origin grants reciprocal benefits for US workers. New merit-based visa categories will be introduced, along with “new start-up visas” to promote the increase of immigrant entrepreneurs. 

Long awaited relief may finally arrive in the provisions for the 11 million undocumented individuals who currently reside in the US. If they are found to be eligible (not presenting a threat to national security and having paid a fee to the government), these individuals can apply for Registered Provisional Immigrant Status (RPI). After successfully maintaining said status for 10 years (5 for DREAMERS), a provisional immigrant can file for Lawful Permanent Resident Status i.e. Green Card – with eligibility for citizenship another five years down the line. This entire process will require that the immigrants maintain good moral character (stay out of trouble – no felonies, or more than three misdemeanors), pay taxes and fees to adjust their status. 

Lastly a new visa class will be introduced – W visa – for low skilled workers, which will replace the H-2A category. This status will be granted for up to three years (both at will and contract positions) and any potential employers must first register with the government and prove that their jobs necessitate the use of immigrant labor. 

This seems like a solid list of amendments to fix a malfunctioning immigration system, however aspects of concern still remain. For example, there could be long delays in processing and backlogs, unless significant resources are dedicated to dealing with the huge influx of petitions which will be filed in the next 5-15 years.

At this point, the bill will take 3 full days just to read start to finish – but it is important to nail down all of the minutest details as it could mean creating one of the world’s most efficient, economical and fair immigration policies. Challenges still remain, especially considering heavy opposition in the house and difficult compromises will have to be made, but it looks like we are on the right path. 

Read the entire bill here: http://cnsnews.com/sites/default/files/documents/Senate%20Immigration%20Bill.pdf

 

 

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