A Giant Step Towards Immigration Reform

After years on the back burner, immigration reform is now one of the top priorities of Congress. What used to be the subject of political gridlock has brought influential members from both parties in the Senate to come together and come up with a framework for comprehensive immigration reform, one which seeks to provide a permanent fix to the present broken immigration system.

The proposed reform will allow most of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country to gain lawful status which will ultimately create for them “a path to citizenship.” This is, however, conditioned on the government’s success in securing its borders and the effective implementation of a system for tracking temporary visitors.

Measures to secure the border include intensifying efforts of the Border Patrol and increasing unmanned aerial vehicles and surveillance equipment. A commission will be created which will determine whether the border is already secure. The government will start issuing green cards to undocumented immigrants only when the border is secure and a system ensuring that people on temporary visas leave the country when required is already in place.

Meantime, under the plan, undocumented immigrants will be required to register with the government. Before they can be granted “probationary legal status” that will allow them to live and work legally, undocumented immigrants will have to go through a background check and pay a fine. They will also be required to pay back taxes. Once they are granted probationary legal status, they may apply for their green cards.

Undocumented immigrants who have committed serious crimes and are a threat to national security will not benefit from the program and may be subject to deportation.

Applying for lawful permanent residence will require the undocumented immigrant to go through another background check, pay taxes, learn English and civics and comply with other requirements. However, unless every intending immigrant who went through the legal process and are currently waiting in line are issued their green cards, no undocumented immigrant may be issued a green card. Less stringent rules will apply to childhood arrivals and agricultural workers.

The plan seeks to significantly reduce the wait time for family and employment immigrant visas. It will allow foreign nationals receiving advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) from U.S. universities to obtain green cards. It puts strong emphasis on an effective employment verification system.

In order to address the agricultural needs of the country, the proposed reform will create a program which will allow farm workers to enter the country and take on jobs which Americans are unwilling to fill. It also recognizes the need of businesses for lower-skilled workers allowing them to recruit immigrant workers while protecting its own labor force.

The bipartisan framework is said to be consistent for the most part with President Obama’s immigration plan. Although differing in some major points with President Obama’s plan and more heated debates expected in Congress, this is seen by many as a good start. With the President’s support of the bipartisan efforts of these senators, a comprehensive immigration reform may be realized sooner than we think.