Hope Restored: Immigration Reform Back on Track

By Attorneys Robert L. Reeves and Jeremiah Johnson

After some close races and even closer counting, the results of the mid-term Congressional elections seem pretty clear: the Democratic Party will be the majority party in Congress. Perhaps what’s more important than who won what race, is how the overall election results will now affect the immigrant community and their families. On election night, the Democrats promised a “new direction” for America, and the obstacles in the House of Representatives are no longer there to keep undocumented immigrants on the margins of our society. As such, immigration reform appears ready to get back on track.

Last spring, Congress addressed the immigration issue, and a consensus arose for comprehensive immigration reform. The proposed legislation contained real promises to legalize millions of undocumented immigrants in the United States and their families. Unfortunately, a vocal minority (in Congress) blocked any attempts to pass sensible and humane legislation. The House of Representatives adopted a hardline approach, insisting that immigration reform contain only enforcement provisions. Although the Senate and the President agreed to proposed legislation that would provide comprehensive immigration reform, the House hardliners scuttled this opportunity. Congress is now ready to take a new direction, and the voters have provided an opportunity to put comprehensive immigration reform back on track.

Although it is still too early to tell for certainty what any immigration legislation will look like, previous reform proposals are a good place to look. The Senate’s original proposal called for the creation of a new temporary worker program that would be valid for three years and could be renewed only one time for a total of six years. After that, the temporary guest worker would be required to return to their home country for at least one year before returning on another temporary worker visa. Comprehensive immigration reform also included an earned adjustment, or legalization program. This program would divide the current undocumented population into three categories and permit them to adjust their status (green card) if they meet certain requirements. These requirements include a prospective six to eight year work requirement, passing background checks, learning English and paying back taxes and additional penalties. Whether or not they had to leave the United States would depend on the length of time they have resided in the United States.

Although the President’s Republican Party may have taken a “thumpin” on election night, the President appears ready and willing to work with the Democratic Congress to pass immigration reform. Specifically, the President thinks that the Democratic Congress would give him a “good chance” to pass comprehensive immigration reform, including a guest worker program.

Members of Congress have heard the voices of immigrants and their families: “march today, vote tomorrow.” The votes have been counted, and though much work still needs to be done before any proposal can become law, Congress and the President appear ready to enact comprehensive immigration reform. When Congress and the president are finished with their work, it is important for immigrants and their families to consult with a reputable and trusted attorney to make sure they are ready to take advantage of this historic opportunity as well.