By Attorneys Robert L. Reeves and Elsie Arias

Reeves & Associates met with Congressman Howard L. Berman last week to discuss immigration reform, including earned legalization of undocumented aliens and the DREAM Act. Attorneys Robert L. Reeves and Elsie Arias, along with other prominent immigration lawyers and community activists, responded to the Congressman’s legislative update and advised him of specific issues concerning the immigrant community.

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.

In the private lunch meeting, Congressman Berman said that the committee would use S. 2611 – “Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006” as a starting point to draft legislation that would address the U.S.’s complex immigration problems. He reported that the subcommittee intends to mark up the bill in March, and forward its version to the Senate by late May. He also stated that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wanted a compromise bill forged between the Senate and the House by July or August, for a final vote by September of this year.

Congressman Berman averred that bipartisan support in the House of Representatives is critical, as Republicans in the House largely oppose proposals for legalization.
Congressman Berman confirmed that a comprehensive immigration reform bill would contain four main components: One, legalize the estimated 12 million undocumented aliens in the U.S. with an eventual path to citizenship. Requirements would include employment sponsorship, background checks, English fluency, and paying back taxes.

Another possible requirement may involve the alien returning to his or her home country to process residency documents, but various individuals at the meeting advised the Congressman that such a “touch-back” requirement would present logistical and economic hardships to qualified applicants.
A second component of an immigration reform bill would entail a temporary guest worker program to meet continuing and immediate employer needs. A third component would increase immigrant visas to reduce the backlog for family-based categories and reunite families more quickly. Addressing Republicans’ concerns, a fourth component of the bill would bolster border security and increase enforcement of laws prohibiting unauthorized employment.

Congressman Berman also mentioned that the subcommittee would address the need for agricultural employment visas (“AgJobs”), and an increase in H-1B and H-2A/H-2B visas. Additionally, he confirmed that the DREAM Act would be reintroduced to Congress. If enacted, the DREAM Act (“Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors” Act) will allow undocumented children who entered the U.S under the age of 16 to obtain conditional permanent residency if they 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 alien’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. Congressman Berman indicated that all of these issues would be encompassed in a single, comprehensive immigration reform bill rather than enacted as stand-alone bills so as to cultivate broad support from discrete groups including employers, labor, and immigrant rights activists.

Following his update, Congressman Berman elicited comments and questions from the small group of immigration attorneys and community leaders. Attorney Robert Reeves expressed concerns about the fee increase proposed recently by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which would double or triple the current filing fees and represent a financial bulwark to low-income immigrants. He also requested Congress to consider including foreign nationals presently in removal proceedings, or who have been deported but remain in the U.S., in an earned legalization program.

Attorney Elsie Arias indicated that Congress should also address the extensive visa backlogs in the employment-based immigration categories, particularly the delays in obtaining immigrant visas for registered nurses and other critical healthcare workers.

In his letter inviting Reeves & Associates to his meeting, Congressman Berman concluded: “I remain steadfast in my commitment to comprehensive immigration reform and hopeful that legislation can be enacted this year…Finding an effective solution to what has become a serious domestic crisis is a top priority of mine.” Reeves & Associates hopes that Congress will indeed enact legislation that will enable millions of undocumented aliens to legalize their status, and implement policies that will both meet U.S. employer needs and reunite families.