By Attorneys Robert Reeves and Jeremiah Johnson
When President Obama first took office, he made a promise to “pursue genuine solutions day in and day out [including] immigration reform that will secure our borders, and punish employers who exploit immigrant labor; reform that finally brings the 12 million people who are here illegally out of the shadows by requiring them to take steps to become legal citizens.” Although President Obama may have been pursuing immigration solutions day in and day out, comprehensive immigration reform still remains a distant reality. However, Congress recently took another step towards comprehensive immigration reform, and fortunately this latest step is a big one.
On September 29, 2010 Senators Robert Menendez and Patrick Leahy introduced the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2010 (Senate Bill 3932). The Menendez-Leahy bill is the first comprehensive immigration bill introduced in the Senate since 2007. The bill includes key elements that both Republican and Democratic leaders have called for including enhanced border security, mandatory employment verification, fixes to the business and family visa systems and stiffer penalties on illegal immigration. The bill also contains some controversial provisions like a legalization plan for the millions who are undocumented. The one thing everyone can agree on is that the bill is certainly comprehensive.
The bill is divided into six parts: border enforcement, interior enforcement, worksite enforcement, reforming the current immigration system, legalization of undocumented persons, and immigrant integration. As with previous comprehensive immigration reform proposals, this bill strikes a balance between immigration enforcement and immigration reform.
Perhaps the least controversial aspects of the bill are the three sections strengthening immigration enforcement. This bill would increase funding and staffing for border enforcement; require the tracking of the departure of noncitizens to ensure individuals do not overstay their visa; and mandate the use of employment verification systems for all employers within 5 years. The bill also clarifies that the power to regulate immigration resides with the federal government and states such as Arizona do not have “inherent authority” to enforce federal immigration laws.
The Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act also includes many provisions reforming a broken immigration system. For example, the bill creates a new nonimmigrant worker visa program (H2C) and incorporates the AgJOBS bill which provides a path to permanent residency for farm workers. The bill also exempts spouses and minor children of lawful permanent residents from counting against the annual quotes so that they can immediately reunite with their family. Another welcomed addition to the bill is the revising the unlawful presence bars to immigration so that individuals are not permanently barred from the United States. There is a lot of fixing needed, and this bill seems to have most of the necessary tools.
While the enforcement provisions are the least controversial, and the reform provisions are the most practical, it is the legalization provisions that are the most significant. The Menendez-Leahy bill creates a pathway to legal status through the creation of a “Lawful Prospective Immigrant (LPI)” status for non-criminal undocumented immigrants living in the United States since September 30, 2010. To obtain LPI status, the applicant must undergo background checks and pay a fine. Although LPI status is initially valid for only four years, LPI status can be extended until the immigrant becomes eligible for lawful permanent resident status (i.e. “green card”). To apply for their green card, a person must wait in LPI status for at least 6 years, pay taxes and a fine, learn English and U.S. Civics, and undergo additional background checks. It is important to note that immigrants may apply for LPI status even if they are in removal proceedings or already have a final order of removal.
The bill also includes the DREAM Act which creates a path to legal status for individuals who were brought to the United States illegally as children. Although the bill was recently defeated in the Senate, the DREAM Act remains popular with most people. As comprehensive immigration reform continues to develop and undergo debate, Reeves & Associates will continue its commitment to providing its clients with accurate and reliable immigration advice as we work to meet your immigration needs.