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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