By Attorneys Robert L. Reeves and Joseph I. Elias
Washington, D.C. June 28, 2007. The Nation’s capital braced itself for another day of stifling 96-degree summer heat and humidity. In the Senate, another heated debate on Immigration reform was brought to a head by Republican Senators who voted to kill the immigration bill dousing hopes for millions of immigrants.
The reform bill would have tightened border security and enforcement while providing an avenue for millions of undocumented immigrants to normalize status. Opponents ignored the fact that key provisions would require immigrants who are out of status to get in line with everyone else for permanent residency, calling the bill an “Amnesty”. Amnesty became a dirty word that suggested if one violates immigration law, rewards will be heaped upon him and as one senator said, “violates the notion of fairness.”
The Republican Senators did acknowledge that over 12 million people in the US are undocumented. These are productive, working members of society who are subject to exploitation by employers, landlords, and financial providers because of their status. The US abolished slavery and vigorously attacks countries with policies of indentured servitude such as Sudan. Yet this vote refused to address the 12 million people who are ripe for and are easily exploited within our own borders. By killing the reform bill, the Senate just granted an amnesty to exploiters. Apparently it does not violate the notion of fairness for a system to exist that allows the undocumented to be exploited.
The reform bill would have only allowed undocumented immigrants to work, pay taxes, have health insurance while waiting on a slow path to permanent residency. The line to the green card would not be jumped. Rather, it would allow more people to be able to get into the back of the line from which they were once excluded. The reform bill would have benefited those people who have been contributing in a positive way to society.
Poll after poll, survey after survey, showed that the majority of the US population favors immigration reform that would allow undocumented immigrants to become documented. Yet why did the Senate act this way? Did it ignore the voice of the people? No. Sadly, the anti-immigration minority was extremely loud in its campaign, deafening out the sounds of the majority. This was a classic example of a vocal minority beating a silent majority.
The majority failed to speak up. “The price of failure will be hundreds of more people dying in the desert,” said Eliseo Medina, an executive vice president of the Service Employees Union. “The price of failure will be more workplace raids and families separated as breadwinners are arrested and deported. The price of failure will be more public anger at the broken immigration system. More states and cities will pass punitive laws that target immigrants.”
It may be two or more years before the immigration reform laws will be visited again. In the mean time those who can, must endure the slow and expensive process of obtaining status in the US. Temporary worker visas will continue to be oversubscribed. For instance, this year, H-1B visa applications exceeded the number available by almost double on the first day they became available. This means workers and employers will have to line up and be ready to file for H-1B visas on the first day they become available. The must hope that their case is chosen in a random lottery.
Family and employment based green cards are backed up several years. This means that in order to reserve a place in line, employers and family members must file labor certifications and petitions as soon as possible. There is some relief in the month of July for employment-based visas with no backlog for virtually all categories except unskilled labor. It is unlikely that the numbers will remain current in the month of August with expectations that visas will be backlogged once again for several years.
Any expected relief has effectively been killed by the hardline anti-immigration Republicans. Those wishing to immigrate to the US must not delay and should begin processing petitions and applications as soon as possible. Competent counsel should be contacted to review the options that are available and when applications can be filed.