Comprehensive Immigration Reform to Take Center Stage Again

By Attorneys Robert L. Reeves and Jeff L. Khurgel

During his campaign, President Obama made a commitment to push for real, comprehensive immigration reform. While domestic issues such as healthcare and financial regulation have occupied the public debate throughout 2009, there is good reason to believe that the nation’s attention will once again turn towards immigration reform in 2010.

On December 15, 2009, Congressman Luis V. Gutierrez (D-IL) introduced the Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America’s Security and Prosperity Act of 2009 (CIR ASAP) in the U.S. House of Representatives. Rep. Gutierrez’s legislation has its heart in the right place, focusing on the values that are at the core of America – family, civil rights, economic opportunity and diversity.

The bill ends and amends some enforcement measures, while establishing a long-term path to citizenship for immigrants who are not in legal status. That path would require immigrants to pay a $500 fine, pass a background check and learn English and civics to gain legal status. After six years, they could apply for legal permanent residence, or a green card, which is the interim step to citizenship. There is no “touchback” requirement, forcing immigrants to return home as a necessary step.

The bill was devised through months of collaboration with human rights advocates, labor organizations, and members of Congress. The immigration reform legislation has already been endorsed by the Congressional Progressive Caucus, the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus and members of the Congressional Black Caucus as a solution to both stem illegal immigration and promote legal migration that will protect and strengthen our nation’s economic and national security. Rep. Gutierrez stated: “We have waited patiently for a workable solution to our immigration crisis to be taken up by this Congress and our President, the time for waiting is over.”

Other members of Congress are expected to introduce their own immigration bills in the early part of next year. Reform advocates want the Judiciary Committee to take up the issue by February, at least for debate. A representative for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said he hopes the Senate can take up the issue “in the first half of next year.” During a trip to Mexico in August, President Obama said he was “confident” Congress would ultimately pass an immigration overhaul, but he indicated action on such legislation would have to wait for lawmakers to complete their work on health care, energy and regulating the financial markets.

Support for Immigration Reform was also expressed just last week at a Los Angeles fundraiser honoring Congressman Howard L. Berman. Congressman Berman, a Democratic member of the U.S. House of Representatives since 1983, represents the 28th District of California which largely covers northern San Fernando Valley. He is a senior member of the Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security, and International Law. 

Joining prominent community activists, business owners, and lawyers, Reeves & Associates Attorneys were in attendance, as Congressman Berman reaffirmed his longstanding commitment to a workable solution for Immigration Reform. Congressman Berman mentioned that a practical immigration solution would need to address the need for agricultural employment visas (“AgJobs”), and he reaffirmed his support for the DREAM Act. As enumerated in prior versions, the DREAM Act (“Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors” Act), if enacted, will allow undocumented children who entered the U.S under the age of 16 to obtain conditional permanent residency. The applicant must have lived in the U.S. for at least five years, and have either been admitted to a college in the U.S. or obtained a high school diploma or general education development certificate. The immigrant’s conditional status would be lifted after demonstrating that he or she has earned a college degree or completed at least two years towards a bachelor degree or higher in the U.S. 

It is expected that AgJobs, the DREAM Act and other fragments of immigration reform will be encompassed in a single, comprehensive immigration reform bill rather than enacted as stand-alone bills so as to cultivate broad support from disparate groups including employers, labor, and immigrant rights activists.

Reeves & Associates stands behind Congressmen Gutierrez, Berman, and other lawmakers who understand the gravity of the domestic crisis posed by our current failing immigration policy. The best and brightest, hardest working and most deserving Americans and aspiring Americans stand to benefit from reform, and the nation will be strengthened as a result. Whether it be innovation-minded entrepreneurs, registered nurses and other critical healthcare workers, families divided by draconian deportation enforcement, or agricultural workers critical to our nation’s economy, many eagerly anticipate the actions of our elected officials.