Articles Posted in U.S. Immigration Reform

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The situation along the US-Mexico border involving thousands of migrant children has raised a lot of questions these past few weeks. A recent Chicago Tribune article does a fantastic job of summarizing a lot of the issues at play. Here is the background for those that have not been following too closely. About two months ago, the US states along the border began to see an influx of unaccompanied minors crossing the US border from Mexico into the United States. The flow of children continued to grow, overwhelming many of the US facilities along the border. Here are some answers to some questions that have been raised about the situation.

Firstly, where are these children coming from? Most are coming from Central American countries such as Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala, as well as Mexico. Recent flare ups in violence and unrest in those Central American countries have sent the children fleeing to neighboring countries. Most of the children are unaccompanied minors traveling without their parents.

Secondly, why can’t we just send them back to the country they came from? Under a 2008 law signed by President Bush, immigrant children from Central American countries not sharing a border with the US get special protections granting them an immigration or asylum hearing not granted to minors from Mexico. Under a proposal from President Obama, that extra step would be removed from the process and the minor would have to justify his or her stay upon apprehension by a border patrol agent.

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Last Thursday, I joined hundreds of other attorneys in Washington, D.C. to lobby for immigration reform as part of AILA’s National Day of Action 2014: Taking on the House. I am so glad I had the opportunity to be part of such an important movement because America simply cannot push immigration reform off to the side any longer. The Department of Homeland Security already deports almost 400,000 people each year, leaving behind broken families and communities. In addition, the U.S. misses out on numerous economic opportunities and over $5 billion in additional tax revenues because of the broken immigration system.

The call for immigration reform is getting even louder. Three out of four Americans support immigration reform. Polls also show that nearly seven out of 10 Americans are in favor of providing a path to citizenship for the undocumented in the U.S. as long as they meet certain requirements such as passing a background check, paying taxes retroactively, and learning English. The Senate passed Immigration Reform Bill S.744 last year, but the House has yet to even bring comprehensive immigration legislation to the floor for a vote. It is now time for Republicans and Democrats to work together and cooperate so that a real reform of immigration legislation and policies can finally happen.

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The U.S. may move closer to immigration reform this week when House Republicans meet for a three-day GOP retreat to consider various matters including immigration. At the top of the list is an immigration proposal that would involve a narrow pathway to citizenship for the millions of illegal immigrants who are currently in the U.S.

The House Republicans have proposed a path to citizenship that differs from the Senate’s plan in many ways. Most importantly, the House Republicans are likely to require that immigrants gain legal status and apply for citizenship through the existing legal framework. This would be a lengthy process considering that backlog in immigration cases is high and continues to rise. However, previous House proposals have never addressed a path to citizenship, so this a step in the right direction.

In addition, the House Republicans are thinking about removing an existing condition that requires most illegal immigrants to go back to their native country for as many as ten years before receiving legal status to enter the United States. Other immigration topics that will be discussed include border security and visas for foreign workers. Although viable immigration reform requires more work and cooperation between the House and the Senate, it is encouraging to see the House finally addressing a path towards citizenship.

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The Senate’s Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act (S. 744) lays out a 13-year path towards citizenship for some of the 11.7 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the U.S. Only those who came to the U.S. before December 31, 2011 and do not have any felony convictions or three or more misdemeanor convictions will qualify.

Qualifying undocumented immigrants must first apply for Registered Provisional Immigrant status. Qualified immigrants will be granted this status for a 10-year period and then move into Lawful Permanent Resident status for an additional 3 years. When the 13-year period is over, those immigrants will be eligible for citizenship. In addition to application fees, the process also requires four background and criminal checks and penalties of at least $2,000. Applicants must also be able to prove that they have not been unemployed for more than 60 days. Applicants who cannot do so must show that they meet or exceed the federal poverty line in order to be become lawful permanent residents.

The bill lays out a less challenging path towards citizenship for DREAMers and immigrants who work in the agriculture sector of the economy. DREAMers will be required to apply for Registered Provisional Immigrant status, but they will be able to apply for Lawful Permanent Resident status after 5 years rather then 10 years. They will also be eligible to naturalize and become citizens immediately after attaining that status. Agricultural workers who apply and obtain a “blue card” will be allowed to continue working for up to 8 years. They will also be able to apply for Lawful Permanent Resident status after 5 years, but they must wait an additional 5 years before being eligible for citizenship.

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The Senate made major progress towards immigration reform in 2013 when it passed the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act (S. 744) – a broad proposal for reforming the nation’s immigration system. The House, on the other hand, has preferred a “step-by-step” approach to immigration reform. Five separate bills have passed out of the House committee, but a comprehensive immigration reform bill has yet to be heard on the House floor. Much of the debate surrounding immigration reform has fixated on the following components of the immigration system:

Undocumented Immigrants

Almost two-thirds of Americans support providing a path to citizenship for the more than 11 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the U.S. The Senate’s Bill establishes a path towards legalization for qualifying undocumented immigrants. However, it is a rigorous 13-year path with many requirements and application fees in addition to at least $2,000 in penalties. None of the bills that have passed out of the House committee address a path towards legalization for undocumented immigrants in the U.S. While various House Republicans support granting these immigrants legal status, they do not support efforts to design a special path to citizenship.

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The Illinois Secretary of State‘s Office is now accepting applications for temporary driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants. Although these licenses are only a small step towards immigration reform, they can help alleviate the fears and concerns of many undocumented immigrants who risk driving, and being arrested and deported, in order to work.

In order to be eligible for the license, applicants must prove that they have lived in Illinois for at least one year. Applicants can do this by bringing a copy of a lease, utility bills, a valid passport or consular identification card, or other proof of their residency. Applicants must also pass vision and driving exams and obtain insurance before receiving a license.

The licenses will be valid for three years and can be renewed. Applicants should remember that the licenses only legalize driving within the state of Illinois. They will not serve as valid forms of identification for other purposes such as boarding a plane, voting, or buying a gun.

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On December 3rd, the Illinois Secretary of State’s office will begin accepting applications for temporary driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants. In order to qualify for the license, applicants must prove that they have lived in Illinois for at least one year. They must also show that they are not eligible for a Social Security Card. Documents that will be accepted as proof include a copy of a lease, utility bills, a valid passport or consular identification card.

Applicants must also pay a $30 fee and pass vision, written and road tests. The state will then verify application information and conduct a facial recognition search against other government databases. This process may take about 15 to 20 business days, and licenses will be issued once it is complete.

These temporary driver’s licenses will be valid for three years, and applicants will be allowed to reapply after that period. However, these licenses will not serve as valid forms of identification for some purposes including boarding a plane, voting, or buying a gun.

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House Democrats recently revealed their own immigration reform bill last month. Although the bill is similar to the bipartisan one passed in June by the Senate, one main difference is that it would set specific goals for border enforcement rather than require billions of dollars to build 700 miles of new border fence and $30 billion to double the number of border agents. The bill would require the Department of Homeland Security to create a comprehensive plan of how to catch and detain people who illegally cross the border. Before it could receive any funding, Congress would have to review and approve the plan.

The House bill has a lot of similarities to the Senate’s version.

Both include a pathway to citizenship for the 11.5 million unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. right now. For instance, both bills would give 6.3 million people “registered provisional immigrant” status once they have paid a $1,000 fine and other fees. Immigrants with this status would be able to stay and work in the U.S. However, they would not receive any federal benefits. Registered provisional immigrants could apply to become permanent residents after ten years.

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A few House Republicans have quietly been working on their own immigration bill in the midst of the government shutdown. The bill would not grant citizenship to every single illegal immigrant. However, it could ultimately result in citizenship for as many as 7 million of the immigrants who are currently in the U.S.

Two issues are at stake. First, the reform seeks to grant visas for skilled illegal undocumented workers that may eventually put them on the path to citizenship – either via marriage to a U.S. citizen or sponsorship from an employer or relative who is a U.S. citizen. Second, the bill proposes a path to citizenship for the millions of illegal immigrants that were brought to the U.S. as children. A good number of Republicans have supported the bill. Yet many are wary of backing a bill that appears to give amnesty to immigrants who have broken immigration laws to get in the U.S.

Because immigration reform has traditionally been limited as a Democratic agenda, this bill is significant because it’s a Republican-sponsored bill that’s gathering support in the Republican party. This dynamic may indicate a higher probability of success for this bill than other immigration reform bills have received in the past.

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Immigration Reform is finally becoming a reality. Five days ago, the Senate passed an Immigration Reform Bill (S.744). Now it is being debated in the House of Representatives. If the bill in its current form is passed in the House, it could ultimately give citizenship to the 11 million people who are currently here in the U.S illegally.

One of the key components of this Bill will be to improve security of the Border between Mexico and US. This will be accomplished by doubling the number of Border Patrol agents, adding hundreds new miles of fencing as well as installing new technology along the borderline for better surveillance. If this bill passes the House of Representatives, undocumented people will be able to apply for registered provisional immigrant status (RPI) after the Homeland Security Department has developed plans to secure the border as stated above.

In order to qualify for registered provisional immigrant status, applicants must prove the following: that they arrived in the U.S before December 31 of 2011 and maintained continuous physical presence; they do not have a felony conviction or three or more misdemeanors, and pay a $500 fine. Once granted, provisional legal status will be effective for six years, and renewable for another 6 years. With RPI, people will be permitted to work and travel within the United States. It is important to note that people with RPI status would not be eligible for most federal benefits such as health care and welfare.

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