In the wake of the November 2012 election, this year is an ideal time for Congress and the President to agree on a specific plan to fix the nation’s broken immigration system. For the first time since 2007 (when the last comprehensive immigration bill stalled and failed to pass), the Senate is set to introduce legislation that provides a pathway for undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. to become citizens or permanent residents.
Proposals for Immigration Reform
There are now at least three different proposals for immigration reform:
1) The Senate Gang of Eight’s proposal includes a 10-year waiting period in provisional status before undocumented immigrants could apply for lawful permanent resident status (green cards), but allows them to apply for citizenship after only three years.
2) The House’s proposal permits undocumented immigrants to apply for green cards after 10 years, with naturalization possible 5 years after that.
3) President Obama has prepared a plan that permits a five-year path to citizenship to begin after eight years of provisional status.
All proposals require the applicants to meet certain requirements such as paying fines and back taxes, passing criminal backgrounds checks, and learning English and American civics to qualify for lawful permanent resident status. All proposals also seem to agree that DREAMers –individuals who qualified for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) – should not be punished and should have a shorter path to citizenship.
To qualify for provisional status, the applicants will likely need to meet the following requirements:
- Have arrived in the United States at least 5 to 8 years before the legislation becomes law.
- Have continuously resided in the United States for at least five years preceding the date of the legislation.
- Have not been convicted of a felony offense, a significant misdemeanor offense, or multiple misdemeanor offenses, or do not otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety.
- Pay a fine.
- Pay back taxes through current year.
- Possess good moral character.
Provisional status would allow immigrants to legally work in the United States with a work permit or a similar document, which they could use to further obtain a driver’s license and a social security number. With provisional status, immigrants would be able to emerge from the shadows and lead a normal life in the U.S.
Qualifying applicants should apply for DACA because this could put them on the fast track or allow them to bypass certain other requirements for citizenship. Furthermore, DACA currently provides various benefits for young undocumented immigrants, such as a work permit, driver’s license and social security number.
While there is bipartisan effort to achieve immigration reform, there is disagreement between the parties on a few divisive issues. For example, 73% of Democrats support a path to citizenship for undocumented workers, while only 35% of Republicans do. President Obama and most Democrats want to approve immigration reform this year, but Republicans seem to want more restrictions and modifications that could delay the process.
Senate Leads the Charge for Immigration Reform
Although it is uncertain when immigration reform would take effect, the Senate plans to introduce its bill next week. Senator Marco Rubio (R. FLA) stated that the Gang of Eight’s legislation “will only be a starting point” that will be considered and modified by Senate as a whole. The bill would likely be voted on by the fall of 2013 and take effect by the end of the year.
The Senate’s bill includes a new “W visa” program that would permit businesses to hire low-skilled workers. In particular, it would allow 200,000 foreign national workers a year into the country to fill jobs in construction, hospitality, nursing homes, and other areas where employers generally find it difficult to hire Americans.
The bill calls for monitoring 100% of the U.S.-Mexico border and stopping 90% of those attempting to cross in certain high-risk areas. It requires employers to use E-verify to check employees’ immigration status after a five-year phase in period. It proposes the installment of a new electronic system to monitor everyone who departs the U.S. through airports and seaports, in an effort to identity those who overstay their visas.
The Obama administration and Congress seem to be heading in the right direction for comprehensive immigration reform. There are still, however, hurdles to overcome and details to be ironed out. In the meantime, individuals who qualify for DACA should apply as soon as possible. And those who are likely to benefit from immigration reform should watch out for changes in the law and plan accordingly.
Nothing in this article should be taken as legal advice for an individual case or situation. The information is intended to be general and should not be relied upon for any specific situation. For legal advice, consult an attorney experienced in immigration law.