Comprehensive Immigration Reform
Click on the tabs below to learn more about CIR:
Earned Legalization: A Repair to the Broken Immigration System
Most politicians and policy makers agree that the U.S. cannot practically deport the unauthorized population and instead, must create a legal status for the 10–11 million residing in the U.S. However, there remains a temptation to create high penalties in exchange for a green card because many politicians want to ensure that people have paid the price for coming to the country illegally. An overly punitive process, however, ultimately defeats the purpose of a legalization program because it will deter people from participating and potentially drive people further underground. A successful legalization program combines measured penalties with clear and achievable goals that will get the maximum number of people into the system, identify the relatively few who do not belong here based on criminal activity, and integrate those who can contribute their talents as quickly as possible.
Legalization, when accompanied by comprehensive immigration reform, is beneficial to the nation. Taking care to get legalization right will pay off in a host of ways. If done correctly, legalization offers the following benefits:
It is part of the solution to ending illegal immigration as we know it, which allows federal, state, and local governments to focus scarce resources on other issues.
It benefits the economy and American workers by transforming unauthorized immigrants into legal workers, thereby leveling the playing field for all U.S. workers and employers.
It is critical to fully integrating immigrants into our communities.
It enables legalized workers to better invest in their education and future and become professionals, homeowners, taxpayers,
consumers, and entrepreneurs.
It promotes national security and public safety by allowing DHS and the police to focus resources on threats to U.S. communities’ safety and security.
Earned Legalization Is Not an Amnesty
Amnesty, by definition, is an automatic pardon, or free pass, granted to a group of individuals who do not have to do anything in return and are not penalized in any way for their past actions. While an earned adjustment (often referred to as earned legalization) is neither amnesty nor automatic; it requires unauthorized immigrants to earn legal status. It is a practical solution that balances the need to punish law violators with the recognition that our current immigration laws are unrealistic and inhumane because they fail to accommodate U.S. labor demands and impose unacceptable wait times on family reunification. Earned legalization is also the most realistic and humane response to the plight of the more than 1.1 million unauthorized children and the additional 3.2 million U.S. citizen children with at least one unauthorized parent. These kids should not be punished for their parents’ decision to pursue a better life.
Unlike President Reagan’s 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act (which could plausibly be described as providing “amnesty”) the earned legalization component of comprehensive immigration reform requires unauthorized immigrants to satisfy significant prospective requirements.
To earn legalization unauthorized immigrants would be required to: come forward and register their presence with the government, demonstrate past work history, pay significant fines, work prospectively for a number of years, undergo rigorous security and background checks, learn English and American civics, pay any back taxes, and satisfy additional criteria.
It is disingenuous to paint such stringent requirements with the “amnesty” brush.
Moreover, unauthorized immigrants who successfully meet these demands would not move to the head of the line or gain any preferential treatment over others who have been waiting for their green cards; they have simply earned the opportunity to apply for permanent residence and to get in line with everyone else.
Earned legalization cannot be equated with other government-run programs such as tax amnesty. Tax amnesty does not need to be earned; it is simply granted to those who failed to meet their previous tax liabilities. It encourages individuals to come forward and satisfy those prior tax obligations by waiving all penalties and interest associated with the prior noncompliance. In direct contrast, earned legalization requires individuals who previously failed to comply with the immigration laws to pay hefty fines, in addition to meeting other non-monetary requirements.
The DREAM Act would also repeal section 505 of the Illegal Immigrant Reform and Immigrant Reconciliation Act of 1996 (IIRIRA) that prohibits states from providing any higher education benefit based on residency to unauthorized immigrants unless they provide the same benefit to U.S. citizens in the same circumstances, regardless of their residence. An example of the latter category would be a student who attended schools in the state and graduated from an in-state high school, but who resides in another state at the time of application to the institution. Even with passage of the DREAM Act and the repeal of section 505, U.S. colleges could still choose to deny in-state tuition rates to unauthorized immigrant applicants, but they would no longer be penalized for providing it.
The DREAM Act
Each year about 65,000 students who graduate from U.S. high schools hit an immigration road block. They are honor roll students, star athletes, talented artists, homecoming queens, and aspiring teachers, doctors, and U.S. soldiers. They are young people who have lived in the U.S. for most of their lives and desire only to call this country their home. They face unique barriers to higher education, are unable to work legally in the U.S., and often live in constant fear of detection by immigration authorities because, like their parents who brought them here as children, they are unauthorized.
These hardworking students, who did nothing wrong, should not be punished for their parents’ actions. Most of them were brought here at an age when they had no say in the matter, and have since overcome language barriers and, in many cases, poverty to succeed. Yet, unlike their US-born classmates, these students (which include valedictorians, class presidents and other honor students) do not have the same opportunities to pursue higher education, join the military, or apply for professional jobs. Their unfortunate situation could be resolved with a targeted legalization program called The DREAM Act.
The DREAM Act would ensure that no child in America is denied their dream of having a better life if they’re willing to work for it. The Development, Relief and Education of Alien Minors (DREAM) Act (S. 729/H.R. 1751) is a bipartisan bill that would provide a conditional six-year pathway to legal permanent residence for certain unauthorized youth who, as children, were brought to the U.S. if they: complete high school; demonstrate good moral character; and complete at least two years of higher education or serve for at least two years in the U.S. military.
Dream Act Law provisions made effective by President Obama / Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA)
The Obama administration announced on Friday June 15, 2012 that it would no longer seek the removal of many young undocumented immigrants. Instead immigration authorities are allowing such persons to apply for “Deferred Action” from removal, renewable every 2 years, which will provide for a means to apply for a Work Authorization Document (also known as an EAD card) and a valid Social Security Card.
USCIS began accepting applications for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals on August 15, 2012.
In practical terms this will pave the way for eligible young immigrants to come out of the shadows and,
- Obtain a valid Social Security number,
- Obtain a valid state driver’s license,
- Work legally and pay income tax, and
- Attend high school and college.
Who will Qualify:
In a memorandum to immigration enforcement officials, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano wrote that immigrants who were illegally brought to the United States as children "lacked the intent to violate the law," and pose few national security risks.
The memo said the government would offer Deferred Action to immigrants who met 5 criteria:
- Have entered the United States under the age of 16,
- Be currently no older than 30 as of June 15, 2012,
- Be currently enrolled in school, have graduated high school, OR willing and eligible to serve in the military,
- Have been in the United States since June 15, 2007, AND
- Have a minimal criminal record. (No felonies, DUI's, or high-level misdemeanors. Minor traffic and most minor misdemeanor crimes should not cause a problem.)
It is very important to have your case handled by an experienced immigration attorney.Applicants that do not meet these criteria may be placed into removal proceedings and deported from the United States. If you apply for Deferred Action without consulting a lawyer first, damage may be done that cannot be undone.
“Our nation’s immigration laws must be enforced in a firm and sensible manner,” said Napolitano. “But they are not designed to be blindly enforced without consideration given to the individual circumstances of each case. Nor are they designed to remove productive young people to countries where they may not have lived or even speak the language. Discretion, which is used in so many other areas, is especially justified here.”
This memorandum gives no substantive right, immigration status or pathway to citizenship. Only the Congress, acting through its legislative authority, can confer these rights.
It is important to understand that this is only a change in existing policy. Relevant federal agencies already possessed these powers, only a willingness to implement them was lacking. The best way to think about this policy shift is a band-aid over a gaping wound, but a band-aid that will in the short term allow many of the most vulnerable and blameless undocumented immigrants live a more normal life until a permanent solution to fix our country’s broken immigration system is implemented.
Nowhere is the failure of our immigration laws more evident than in the agricultural sector where the shortage of legal, documented agricultural workers has reached crisis proportions. The Department of Labor (DOL) estimates that over 50% of the 1.6 million agricultural workers are unauthorized foreign nationals. (Private estimates run much higher.) These individuals work grueling jobs putting food on our table, yet cannot assert the most basic rights and protections. Agricultural Job Opportunities, Benefits, and Security (AgJOBS) Act of 2009 (S.1038/H.R.2414) is a bipartisan compromise bill that reflects the interests of workers and growers.
The bipartisan AgJOBS Act would replace a broken system with a “win-win” solution, including a streamlined process for employers and additional rights for employees, and provide relief through an earned adjustment program. Under this program, unauthorized workers would be eligible to apply first for temporary resident status based on their past work experience, and then become permanent residents upon satisfying prospective work requirements.
H-1B workers do not undercut wages of U.S. workers. When an employer submits a petition for an H-1B worker, there are safeguards to help prevent highly educated foreign professionals from undercutting the wages offered to U.S. workers. The employer must offer the foreign professional a wage that is the higher of either the typical wage in the region for that type of work (“prevailing wage”), or what the employer actually pays existing employees with similar experience and duties. Furthermore, there are other safeguards that the employer must meet including indicating that: the foreign professional will not adversely affect the working conditions of U.S. colleagues, there is no strike or lockout at the worksite and the position requires a professional in a specialty occupation and the intended employee has the required qualifications.
Through the H-1B program, U.S. employers are able to hire, on a temporary basis, highly educated foreign professionals for “specialty occupations”—jobs that require at least a bachelor’s degree or the equivalent in the field of specialty. Examples include doctors, engineers, teachers and researchers in a wide variety of fields, accountants, medical personnel, and computer scientists. Besides using these foreign professionals to obtain unique skills and knowledge in short supply in this country, U.S. businesses use the program to alleviate temporary shortages of U.S. professionals in specific occupations, and to acquire special expertise in overseas economic trends and issues, thereby allowing U.S. businesses to compete in global markets.
U.S. employers also turn to H-1B professionals when they recruit post-graduates from U.S. universities. Foreign students represent half of all U.S. graduate enrollments in engineering, math, and computer science. It is imperative that U.S. businesses have access to foreign professionals who have graduated from U.S. master’s and Ph.D. programs.
The H-1B visa is a vital tool necessary to help in the recovery of the U.S. economy and to keep jobs in America. Far from harming U.S. workers and the U.S. economy, highly educated foreign professionals benefit our country by allowing U.S. employers to develop new products, undertake groundbreaking research, implement new projects, expand operations, create additional new jobs, and compete in the global marketplace.
Without access to more temporary H-2B workers, many small businesses will be extremely short-staffed this year and could be forced to close. Small businesses need relief now so that they can get the seasonal temporary workers they need to stay afloat and contribute to America’s economic recovery.
The H-2B visa program is vital to America’s small businesses and thus to America’s economic recovery.The H-2B program is capped at 66,000 visas per year and equally split between the winter and summer seasons. This is the same arbitrary number set by Congress 20 years ago, in 1990. Small business owners rely on the H-2B program because it is the only way they can legally hire workers for temporary and seasonal positions when they cannot find Americans to hire.
Small and seasonal businesses have every incentive to hire any qualified American who applies for a seasonal or temporary short-term position. Nevertheless, even in this economy, positions remain unfilled, leaving these businesses desperately in need of workers. This is not surprising since these jobs typically involve low-skilled and semi-skilled labor, involve work at remote locations, and are only short-term in duration.
Unlike the hiring of American workers, small business owners must go through a tough application process to hire foreign workers through the H-2B program. Employers must prove to the U.S. Department of Labor that there are no available U.S. workers to fill vacant short-term positions. The H-2B workers are in most cases required to return to their home country at the end of the season. They are not allowed to stay in the U.S. permanently through this program.