Legalization For The Undocumented

By Attorneys Robert Reeves and Jeremiah Johnson

Just last month, Reeves & Associates reported on their meeting with Congressman Howard L. Berman discussing comprehensive immigration reform. This morning, Democratic Congressman Luis V. Gutierrez and Republican Congressman Jeff Flake unveiled a proposal in the House of Representatives for comprehensive immigration reform entitled the STRIVE Act of 2007 (Security Through Regularized Immigration and a Vibrant Economy Act of 2007). According to Congressman Gutierrez, this approach “reflects the enormous contributions immigrants make every day, it respects our nation’s proud history of welcoming men and women to seek a better life and it better protects our homeland by creating a system of improved accountability and security.” Although still just a proposal, this is an encouraging step toward providing millions of people real immigration solutions. Buoyed by last fall elections, the House will now consider a bill that offers more that just enforcement – this bill offers real hope.

As previously discussed, a comprehensive immigration reform bill coming out of Congress will likely contain four main components: 1) a legalization program for the estimated 12 million undocumented aliens in the United States with an eventual path to citizenship; 2) a temporary guest worker program to meet continuing and immediate employer needs; 3) an increase in immigrant visas to reduce the backlog for family-based categories and reunite families more quickly; and 4) a provision to bolster border security and increase enforcement of laws prohibiting unauthorized employment.

In many ways, this new House proposal is similar to the McCain-Kennedy proposal introduced in the Senate last year. However, one major difference is that now the political climate presents a real opportunity for passage.

One of the key components of the STRIVE Act provides the opportunity for the 12 million undocumented aliens in the United States to legalize their status if they arrived before June 1, 2006. Specifically, the STRIVE Act would require undocumented aliens to pay a $2,000 fine and back taxes; pass background and security checks; learn English and civics; background checks; and if after six years the requirements are met, the head of household must “touchback” and reentered the U.S. legally. It is important to note that the “touchback” provision does not require the alien to return to their home country; rather the alien could renter the United States via Canada or Mexico. After fulfilling these requirements, the previously undocumented aliens could become lawful permanent residents and eventually United States citizens.

Another component of the STRIVE Act is the inclusion of the DREAM Act. The DREAM Act will allow undocumented children who entered the United States under the age of 16 to obtain conditional permanent residency if they have lived in the United States 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 United States. The STRIVE Act also includes a guest worker program similar to last year’s Senate proposal and a border security and enforcement provision.

Both Congressman Gutierrez and Blake are optimistic that the STRIVE Act, or a similar version, could become law. With each passing day, the opportunity for immigration reform takes a step closure to reality and Congressman Gutierrez hoped to see a bill coming out of Congress and on the President’s desk by this July. Reeves & Associates will be continuing to meet with more Congressional representatives to discuss key provisions of the proposed legislation.