President Obama and the U.S. Senate set out two complementary visions for immigration reform – but what shape will comprehensive reform finally take?
© Attorney Farhad Sethna 2013
In the last week, we heard two important policy statements that give us hope that we will have immigration reform in the near future. But, is this just a dream or will it become a reality?
President Barack Obama said on Tuesday, January 29 in Nevada:
“We need Congress to act on a comprehensive approach that finally deals with the 11 million undocumented immigrants who are in the country now.”
On January 28, a group of senators from both parties – Democrats and Republicans – unveiled a four-point plan for reforming immigration. President Obama’s proposal, revealed on Tuesday tracks the same plan and adds a few more points. The following is a summary of the key aspects of both the Senate’s and the President’s proposals.
Both proposals lay the foundation for a law that will create a fair path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants. The Senate and the President both recognize that the legal immigration system is currently broken and needs to be revamped. The President’s proposal calls for increasing the “per country” quota from the current 7% to 15% of all immigrant visas. This will considerably ease backlogs for high immigration countries such as Mexico, the Philippines, China, and India.
Hand in hand with the pathway to citizenship comes the need for undocumented aliens to come out of the shadows and be able to legally work and support their families. By creating a employment verification system that would be mandatory for all employers, the government aims to stop unauthorized employment once and for all. Coupled with this would be steeper fines and penalties for employers who would still continue to hire undocumented workers.
Both President Obama and the Senate recognize that there needs to be an orderly process for admitting future workers based on U.S. economic necessity. In awarding U.S. residency, the Senate proposal gives preference to undocumented aliens who are already in the country under “DACA” (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) status and to undocumented agricultural workers.
Finally, both proposals require payment of fines, back taxes, background and criminal checks, and learning English as pre-conditions for grant of permanent legal resident status. Criminal aliens will be removed (deported) from the USA.
The President’s proposal also provides for three additional factors not considered in the Senate’s plan. These are: first, recognition of same-sex marriages for immigration benefits; second, more discretion for immigration judges to grant relief to aliens in removal proceedings, and third, tough criminal penalties for notarios and those who exploit the hardships faced by undocumented immigrants.
The Senate proposal seems to focus more on enforcement before any permanent benefits will be granted. Under the Senate proposal, “probationary” legal status will be granted to those aliens who register. The Senate proposal calls for a committee composed of governors and other elected officials of border states to declare that there is no illegal immigration across the southern border. This condition must be met before any undocumented immigrants receive any permanent benefits under the immigration law. At such time, the “probationary” status can be converted to “permanent” status. However, the President’s proposal does not call for any such committee or declaration. The President offers a more compassionate approach which recognizes that the government has already made great progress in controlling unauthorized immigration across the southern border and undocumented aliens should receive legal status.
While this is one of the differences between both proposals, it may also prove in the long run to be the most contentious. The devil they say, is in the details.
The House, which is Republican controlled and fueled by Tea Party anti-immigrant rhetoric greeted the President and Senate proposals with initial skepticism. What remains to be seen is whether pragmatic leaders in both parties, in both the House and the Senate recognize the strength of the Latino and the Asian vote. Congress needs to come to realize that immigration reform must become a reality and not a political football. Else, both parties can expect some major changes in the next midterm elections.
As President Obama said in Nevada:
“I believe we are finally at a moment where comprehensive immigration reform is within our grasp.”
Si, se puede.
Yes we can. Together let us make today’s dream into tomorrow’s reality!
About the author: Attorney Farhad Sethna has practiced law for over 20 years. Since 1996, he has been an adjunct professor of Immigration Law at the University of Akron, School of Law, in Akron, Ohio. His practice is limited to immigration and small business. With offices in Akron and Dover, Ohio, Attorney Sethna represents clients in all types of immigration cases. Our number is: (330)-384-8000. Please send your general immigration questions to AttorneySethna@immigration-america.com. We will try to answer as many questions as possible.
This is only general legal information. Please consult a qualified immigration attorney for advice on your specific case.