US Immigration Reforms

Immigration reform has been on President Obama’s agenda since he was first elected President, and he has now stated that he expects comprehensive immigration reform legislation to be passed by the end of 2013, if not before. The President’s plan has four components:

  • Continuing to strengthen border security;
  • Streamlining Legal Immigration, by making legal immigration simple and efficient, providing visas for foreign entrepreneurs looking to start businesses in the United States, helping the most promising foreign graduate students in science and mathematics to stay in the United States after graduation, and reuniting families in a timely and humane manner;
  • Earned Citizenship, providing undocumented immigrants with a legal way to earn citizenship- holding them accountable by requiring them to pass background checks, pay taxes and a penalty, “go to the back of the line”, and learn English. It requires everyone to play by the same rules;
  • Cracking down on employers hiring undocumented workers. The President’s proposal is designed to stop businesses from exploiting the system by knowingly hiring undocumented workers. It holds these companies accountable, and gives employers who want to play by the rules a reliable way to verify that their employees are in the United States legally.

In his State of the Union address on 29 January 2013, President Obama talked of the need “to fix the system”. He continued “We have to make sure that every business and every worker in America is playing by the same set of rules. We have to bring this shadow economy into the light so that everybody is held accountable- businesses for whom they hire, and immigrants for getting on the right side of the law. That’s common sense. And that’s why we need comprehensive immigration reform.”

A week ago, on 13 February 2013, the Senate Judiciary Committee began its consideration of the matter, which affects the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States. The discussion reflected the contentious nature of the issue. One Republican on the Committee, which has seven Democrats and six Republicans (reflecting the Democratic majority in the Senate), noted that he voted for an 1986 amnesty which he believed was a onetime solution to the problem, but that today we were forced to deal with the same problems, the same arguments, and the same ideas on how to solve the problem; while another warned that any immigration bill would be subject to close scrutiny by him and others. Given the Democratic majority, however, the President’s proposals seem likely to pass in the Senate. They are, however, likely to face more difficulties in the Republican controlled House of Representatives.

Nevertheless there seems a continued readiness on both sides to try to find an agreed solution to what has been a long-standing and vexing problem, as evidenced by the fact that a bipartisan group of four senior Democratic Senators, and four senior Republican Senators agreed, at the end of January, on the outline of a comprehensive immigration reform effort, but it is clear that getting any plan into legislation is likely to prove a major challenge.