For most of the century thus far, the issue of immigration and how to address the estimated 11 million people who are in the U.S. illegally has been in the foreground of national dialogue.
Despite the often bitter back-and-forth, the U.S. Senate passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill, S.744, with bipartisan backing, drawing 14 Republican votes to pass 68-32. Not surprisingly, the leadership of the House of Representatives objects to large swaths of the Senate’s plan and resists passing a “comprehensive” reform package at all, preferring a “piecemeal” approach. Nonetheless, the Senate bill will likely serve as a blueprint for the negotiations to come.
Pathway to Citizenship
The central question and biggest point of controversy in the immigration reform debate is what to do about undocumented residents currently residing in the U.S. While immigration reform advocates claim no real progress can be made until these immigrants have a pathway to citizenship, opponents view this as amnesty (a free pass for people who have broken the law).
The Senate adopted the former approach in its recently passed bill, proposing a way for those in the U.S. illegally to earn their citizenship if they follow certain steps and meet a number of criteria. By the Senate plan, for an undocumented immigrant to become a citizen he or she has to:
- Wait 13 years, and reapply for resident status halfway through that period.
- Pay back taxes and penalties.
- Demonstrate a lack of felony or multiple misdemeanor convictions.
- Go through the standard naturalization processes.
The House of Representatives declared their intent to take a different approach. Speaker John Boehner stated that whatever bill comes out of the chamber he leads will not include a provision for most illegal immigrants in the U.S. to become citizens. However, the Speaker floated the possibility that undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. when they were children could be eligible for citizenship.
Expansion of Worker Visas
American businesses have long complained of the difficulty in legally hiring workers from outside the country. Challenges stem from caps on visas to long bureaucratic procedures that consume time and money. The Senate bill addresses these concerns in several ways, including:
Raising the ceiling on visas for high-skilled workers (H-1B visas) from 65,000 to 110,000.
Increasing visas for foreign students that want to stay after finishing an advanced math or science degree at a U.S. school.
Creating a new “W” visa program for low-skilled workers such as construction or agricultural laborers.
The immigration reform measures listed above are contingent upon certain “triggers” being met, the most prevalent of which involves border security. Both sides (more or less) agree that the only way any reform will work is if the tide of people crossing the border illegally is stemmed. Under Obama, deportations increased, and additional National Guard troops were called to the border. These, however, were the results of temporary efforts and policies. Under the Senate’s plan, permanent measures would be enacted, including:
- Completion of a border fence.
- Doubling of Border Patrol agents to over 38,000.
- More surveillance equipment and activities along the border.
- Expansion of the E-Verify system to all U.S. employers.
These provisions are the most attractive to the House leadership, which will likely vote to enact some or all of them in its piecemeal approach.
This article was written together with Robert Tritter, an aspiring lawyer who hopes to help you be more informed about the law. He writes this on behalf of the McLean Law Firm, your number one choice when seeking a lawyer for all Immigration issues. Check out their website today and see what they can do for you!