Header graphic for print
Immigration Law Journal

THE GAME – Immigration

Posted in Federal Immigration Law
On Friday, immigration reform looked good, then came Saturday…

by Bill Stiers, February 18, 2013

Last week, immigration reform looked possible. The Administration had been giving small bi-partisan groups in the House and Senate room to work on compromise legislation, comments from both sides of the aisle were very positive, and things generally looked good.

That was Friday.

On Saturday, the Administration draft proposal was leaked to the press. On Sunday, Republicans denounced it. Now it’s Monday, a Federal holiday, the government is shut down, and Congress is in recess for the rest of the week. Where will this go now?

Forget about how or why the Administration proposal was leaked. Yes, it’s interesting, but not important. It is the substance of the proposal you should examine.

The President’s proposal would create a new visa entitled “Lawful Prospective Immigrant” which would allow illegal immigrants to work and travel after paying fees and passing a criminal background check. Immigrants holding the “Lawful Prospective Immigrant” visa could apply to become a legal permanent resident (green card) after eight years. Current law allows green card holders to apply for full U.S. citizenship after five years.

Some Republicans call this “Amnesty” and will not support any plan that contains a path to citizenship for undocumented workers, but many seem willing to move forward as long as the borders are secured. Reluctant GOP members point to the last immigration reform legislation in 1986  that granted blanket amnesty to illegal immigrants, and allowed them to cut into line for a green card if they could prove they had been in the U.S. for five years. On top of that, they also argue that it does nothing to address guest workers or future immigration.

There are some things that the Republicans do like – increased funding for Border Patrol, additional immigration judges and expanded use of the E-Verify system for employers to check the immigration status of job applicants. There were other tidbits for the GOP mentioned in the Administration proposal like requiring “Lawful Prospective Immigrants” to pay back taxes and pass English and civics tests currently only required for citizenship applicants. Nevertheless, this is a draft proposal. Democrats interpret it as a ”trial balloon” while Republicans see it as a “veto threat”, but I see it as a good sign.

Congress was making progress on the issue, and moving forward quickly. The Administration realized it, and knew that they needed to quickly define its position more clearly than it did in the State of the Union Address. While it was clumsy, putting their unofficial position on the table as Congress left town for a week was probably a good idea. They’ve said their piece, appeased their supporters, ticked off the Republicans, and can now work on other agenda items. When Congress gets back to town next week, the Republicans will have cooled off, the Administration “leak” will be old news, and the working groups in the House and Senate can get back to work. And, it would be a good idea for the Administration to hold their peace until Congress starts moving legislation.

There is still a very good chance we’ll see something move forward in 2013, but then comes 2014, a mid-term election year…