A blog about U.S. immigration matters by Paul Szeto, a former INS attorney and an experienced immigration attorney and counsel. Contact Info: 732-632-9888, http://www.1visa1.com/ (All information is not legal advice and is subject to change without prior notice.)

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Understanding and Getting Ready for Comprehensive Immigration Reform (1)

As the economy appears to be recovering, the November elections seem far behind us, and the issues having been discussed so many times from all possible angles, the time is finally ripe for Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR).  Although any CIR plan will likely encounter resistance in Congress from conservatives, a bipartisan group of senators including former presidential candidate Republican John McCain recently came together and jointly announced a plan to overhaul our immigration system and provide a mechanism for the estimated 11 million of unauthorized immigrants living in the U.S. a chance to be legalized.  Almost simultaneously, the While House also announced its own plan to overhaul the current immigration system.  While the details of these CIR plans are not yet available, there are some principals and priorities common to these proposals. 

Border Security: First of all, everybody seems to agree that a prerequisite to CIR is border security.  Although after the 911 attacks and the establishment of the Department of Home Security, tremendous amount of resources and funding have already been allocated for border security.   The issue will likely be under the spotlight again.  Most hi-tech equipment and system will be deployed to safeguard our borders and ports of entries.  New entry and visa requirements will also likely be proposed for foreign visitors.

Hurdles to Legalization:  The media likes to label any CIR as “a path to U.S. citizenship” or “a way to become American citizens.”  True, if immigration reform materializes, many unauthorized individuals will eventually be able to acquire U.S. citizenship.  However, what is being left out in the news reports is “when” and “how” these individuals may be able to do that.  Realistically, the road to getting a U.S. passport will prove to be long and winding for the undocumented.  For instance, there is always a threshold of time before which a foreign must be present in the U.S. in order to apply for legalization.  The policy is to discourage any newcomers from trying to enter the U.S. after the plan is announced.   But no matter what date we set for grandfathering, there will always be a group of individuals who would not make the cut.  Then the question becomes: What do we do with them?  Other than entry requirements, the usual requirements for permanent residence status (“green card”) will likely be used in any CIR proposal.  So for instances, individuals who have a criminal background including demeanors and DUIs, prior immigration violations, contagious deceases, etc., may not be eligible for legalization.

Changing the Legal Immigration System:  It is also clear that any new proposal will also require unauthorized individuals to wait in line for their turn for a green card.  Currently, legal immigration in many preference categories is seriously backlogged, making the waiting time for an immigrant visa extremely long.  Fortunately, in almost all CIR discussions, revamping the current legal immigration system is also under consideration.  For example, one proposal is not to count the dependents (spouses and children) when counting the visa number usage.  So a family of three will only use up one visa number instead of three.  Granting foreigners with advance technology and science degrees special visas is also part of the consideration.  The unauthorized individuals will become direct beneficiaries of these changes in the legal immigration system.

Sanctioning Employers:  Any CIR proposal will also likely contain provisions that punish U.S. employers who hire unauthorized workers.  In fact, President Obama’s proposal specifically mentions about this issue.  What is interesting is that there already exists laws and regulations in the area of employer sanctions.  Enforcement of these laws is sometimes relaxed due to political and other considerations.  One way to ensure compliance is through a computerized verification system such as E-Verify.  Currently, use of the system is voluntary.  It is possible the new CIR plan will make it mandatory for employers to use the system to verify status of all employees.   However, any new changes will also have to be balanced with the additional financial and administrative burden imposed on employers, since economic recovery is still our nation is top priority.

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