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Democrats Finally Unveil an Immigration Reform Proposal

Friday, April 30th, 2010

On Thursday, April 29, Senate Democrats announced the REPAIR (Real Enforcement with Practical Answers for Immigration Reform) proposal with the intention of making real progress on the immigration reform issue. The 26-page proposal is not yet a formal bill, but rather a “framework of concrete bipartisan ideas.”

The proposal outlines plans in the following areas:

1. Border Enforcement:
Achieving operational control of America’s borders to prevent future illegal immigration.

2. Interior Enforcement:
Detection, apprehension and removal of unlawfully present persons in the United States.

3. Biometric Identification and Employment Verification:
Ending illegal employment through biometric employment verification.

4. High-skilled Immigration, Immigration of Lower-skilled Workers, Promoting Family Immigration:
Reforming America’s legal immigration system to maximize American economic prosperity.

5. Registration and Legalization Plan:
Mandatory registration, acceptance of responsibility and administration of penalties to unauthorized aliens presently in the United States.

6. Other:
Reforms to enhance efficiency and effectiveness in America’s immigration system.

There are many steps outlined in the proposal to limit future illegal immigration to the U.S., and to make it harder for undocumented people to stay and work in the U.S. There are also plans to make it easier for students with U.S. degrees in math, engineering and science to attain permanent residence in the U.S., and to make it harder for U.S. employers to hire non-U.S. citizens and residents when there are American workers available.

HOWEVER, for undocumented aliens currently living in the U.S. (approximately 10.8 million) who want to get legal status, the most important area is number 5, listed above: Registration and Legalization Plan.

This is the plan through which currently undocumented aliens with clean criminal records will be able to achieve legal status in the U.S. It involves 2 phases.

The first phase is the mandatory registration. All undocumented people will be required to step forward and declare their presence in the U.S. The registration process will include identity, criminal background and security screening, fingerprinting, and the payment of applicable fees. Those who have been lawful, have a clean record and do not threaten national security with terrorism will be granted a special status, called LPI: Lawful Prospective Immigrant. LPIs will be able to work in the U.S. and travel outside of the U.S. They will be able to legally bring their spouses and minor children to the U.S.

It is extremely important to note that if you enter the country illegally after the bill is passed, you are not eligible to become an LPI. This means that if you are already in the U.S. illegally, you must not leave the country after this bill is passed and before you get LPI status. If you do leave during this time, when you come back, you will no longer be eligible for the special status.

If during the registration period, it is discovered that you have a criminal record (have been convicted of any felony offense under Federal or State law [all offenses punishable with a term of imprisonment greater than one year, even if you had actually served less than one year following conviction], or three or more cases of misdemeanors), you will be deported. If you do not come forward to register, you will remain an undocumented alien, and you will still be subject to arrest and deportation.

The second phase of the plan begins eight years after the first phase. LPIs will then be able to apply for Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) status. To be eligible for this status, LPIs will have to show that they have basic citizenship skills, good English language skills, and continuous residence in the United States. There will be extra background and security checks; all taxes, fees and civil penalties will have to be paid; and LPIs will have to register for the selective service.

If you wish to consult with an immigration attorney please call 1-800-422-7666.

The Obama alternative to immigration raids

Monday, July 6th, 2009

On the subject of immigration raids, the Obama administration promised to do things a little differently than was characteristic of Bush’s presidency, and now there’s proof that they’re sticking to that promise.

Instead of breaking down the doors of companies and factories suspected of employing undocumented workers and rounding up/arresting workers on the spot, the current government’s approach has been to decrease the number of illegal employees by targeting employers, especially those who hire many illegal immigrants and violate wage and labor laws.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) now issues hiring audit notices to suspect companies. The companies’ hiring records and practices are then reviewed, and if a given company is found to have undocumented workers on its payroll, the company has to pay a fine and fire all unauthorized workers. The company has time to dispute ICE’s findings, and workers are given the opportunity to prove their legality.

Which is exactly what’s been happening recently to American Apparel, the L.A. clothing company and manufacturer. A January 2008 hiring audit indicated that the T-shirt maker had approximately 1800 illegal workers on the books. The fines amount to about $150,000.

Even though the Obama approach is significantly more civil than that of his predecessor, at the end of the day, workers who used false papers still stand to lose their jobs – jobs that some of them have held for over a decade.

No criminal charges have yet been issued to American Apparel, but the end of invasive raids does not mean the end of deportations.

ICE has just sent notices of hiring record audits to over 650 companies across the United States.

Finally – Obama speaks definitively about immigration reform

Tuesday, June 30th, 2009

On Thursday, June 25, President Obama promised to immediately start negotiations geared to drafting comprehensive immigration reform legislation. He hopes Congress will pass the bill either later this year or at the beginning of next year.

He met with Republican and Democratic lawmakers for an hour at the White House – specifically to discuss immigration reform, and everyone present agreed that the immigration system in the U.S. is “broken and needs fixing.”

Democratic Senator Charles Shumer from New York will be introducing the legislation to Congress in a couple months, and immigration advocacy groups are relieved because while “the economy and health care have always been issues that are essential…you can do more than one thing at one time,” as per the words of Clarissa Martinez, a director with a Latino advocacy group.

One point of dispute is whether a temporary guest worker program will be included in the bill or whether a separate federal commission will be created each year to monitor the number of visas issued based on current economic conditions. The labor unions are in favor of the latter approach, but Senator John McCain (Republican – Arizona) says he cannot support a bill that excludes such a program, highlighting that the legislation needs to be comprehensive.

Although Obama stayed away from facing controversial topics head-on at the immigration reform launch meeting, he did refer to amnesty, to giving undocumented workers a chance to become legal.

“What’s also been acknowledged is that the 12 million or so undocumented workers are here – who are not paying taxes in the ways that we’d like them to be paying taxes, who are living in the shadows, that is a group that we have to deal with in a practical, common-sense way,” Obama said following the meeting. “And I think the American people are ready for us to do so. But it’s going to require some heavy lifting, it’s going to require a victory of practicality and common sense and good policy making over short-term politics. That’s what I’m committed to doing as president.”

U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has been named as the key figure who will work with a bipartisan group to determine strategy and draw up policy details.

Obama talks about immigration reform to Hispanic-American organization

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009

Last week, President Obama spoke at the Esperanza National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast and Conference in Washington, D.C. He spoke briefly – only for about 10 minutes – which is why he had to get onto the topic of immigration quickly.

The Esperanza group is the largest Hispanic faith-based network in the United States, and it’s not a secret that Hispanics came out in record numbers to vote for Obama, who has yet to commit a definitive timeline to his promised immigration reforms.

Addressing the group, Obama said: “We know that keeping this promise means upholding America’s tradition as a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants. Those things aren’t contradictory; they’re complementary. That’s why I’m committed to passing comprehensive immigration reform as president of the United States.”

“We must also clarify the status of millions who are here illegally, many who have put down roots,” Obama continued. “For those who wish to become citizens, we should require them to pay a penalty and pay taxes, learn English, go to the back of the line behind those who played by the rules. That is the fair, practical, and promising way forward, and that’s what I’m committed to passing as president of the United States.”

Clearly, giving undocumented workers a chance to obtain legal status is still one of Obama’s priorities, although it is still unknown when comprehensive immigration legislation will be presented to Congress.

Senate Majority Leader vows to fight for comprehensive immigration reform

Monday, June 22nd, 2009

On Monday, June 15, Harry Reid, the Nevada Democrat and Senate Majority Leader, promised that a “comprehensive” immigration reform bill would definitely include bringing millions out of the shadows – that is, granting illegal aliens living in the U.S. a real chance at becoming legal.

He thinks that immigration reform needs to be approached in a holistic way – that addressing the issue bit by bit is a cop out, an excuse to not make the type of big changes that are necessary to properly reform immigration in the United States.

Reid said that after the Senate has sorted healthcare and energy, it will go on to tackle immigration. The legislation currently under review in the Senate is the national healthcare plan that President Obama is in favor of, and a proposed cap on U.S. carbon emissions so as to effectively combat climate change.

Reid was quoted as saying, “I’ve got to do health care, I’ve got to do energy, and then I’m looking very closely at doing immigration. …We have an immigration system that’s broken and needs repair.”

He continued, “We’re going to do it all at once, and we’re going to have comprehensive immigration reform that will include taking care of our borders, a decent guest-worker program, bringing the 11 million people out of the shadows, doing something that is so important with the employer sanctions bill that really is a catch-22 for everyone.”

Nationwide immigration reform campaign launched June 1, 2009

Tuesday, June 2nd, 2009

On Monday, immigrant rights activists across the country met to launch a new, unified campaign for comprehensive immigration policy reform. In over 40 rallies, people chanted in support of the brand-new, nationwide campaign called Reform Immigration for America.

The campaign comprises 198 local and federal organizations, including unions, religious organizations and immigrant advocacy groups and coalitions. The campaign’s mission is to pull together and lobby Congress – for better visa programs and worker rights – as one powerful body.

Although the campaign has not yet outlined specifics, the broad principles it is pushing Congress for are the legalization of undocumented immigrants, reforming visa programs to keep families together, supporting the rights of all workers, and going after employers who violate immigration and labor laws.

In Los Angeles, people marched from the Our Lady Queen of Angels church to City Hall, carrying signs that read “Economic Recovery Includes Immigration Reform.” In Santa Barbara, demonstrators chanted in front of the courthouse: “Yes we can / End the raids” and “Obama escucha / Estamos en la lucha.”

The campaign was launched in over 35 cities across the United States on June 1, 2009. From June 3-5, it will sponsor a national convention on immigration reform in Washington D.C., where organizers hope to connect the various communities involved and speak to policymakers.

Executive Director Bob Hildreth of the Open America Foundation confirms that immigration advocacy groups have more money and are more prepared than ever – both organizationally and technologically – to convince Congress that immigration reform is crucial to the well-being of the United States and all of its citizens and residents.

Postville: broken by an immigration raid, rallies for immigration reform

Tuesday, May 12th, 2009

A year ago today in Postville, Iowa, one of the biggest immigration raids in US history was carried out at Agriprocessers, a kosher meatpacking plant that was once the region’s biggest employer. The plant is now facing bankruptcy and operating very minimally.

389 undocumented immigrant workers – mostly from Mexico and Guatemala – were seized in the raid. Many were deported after serving 5 months in jail, but there are those who still remain – some are being tracked by the government with an electronic device that they must wear around their ankles.

Today marked a somber morning in Postville. On the 1-year anniversary of the notorious raid that put Postville on the map, the bell at St. Bridget’s Catholic Church rang exactly 389 times, once for each seized worker. Nearby churches of other denominations also rang their bells in commemoration of the workers.

On the outskirts of town, a billboard states that “ICE raids destroy communities,” ICE standing for Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

An anti-raid rally (expected to draw 500 protesters) was held this afternoon, and Rev. Paul Ouderkirk, a Catholic priest and leading critic of the Postville raid, said he hoped “the national attention to this tragedy will call people from all over the United States to say the time for comprehensive immigration reform is now.”

USCIS still accepting H-1B visa applications

Tuesday, May 5th, 2009

Every year, the U.S. offers 65,000 H-1B visas for foreigners looking to work in the United States. Foreigners must have a U.S. employer who is willing to sponsor them, and they must have at least a bachelor’s degree or its equivalent. Every year, the USCIS (United States Citizen and Immigration Services) starts accepting applications, or petitions, for H-1B visas on April 1.

For the past few years, the USCIS has received the maximum 65,000 applications allowed within the first week after April 1. This meant that an employer wanting to petition a foreigner for an H-1B visa in May, for example, had to wait a whole year (until the next April 1) to submit the application.

This year is very different. Thus far, the USCIS has only received 45,000 H-1B visa applications, which means that it is still possible to apply for this type of work visa this year. For more information on applying for an H-1B visa, please contact us at 1-800-422-7666 or email [email protected].

Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Immigrant Workers

Monday, May 4th, 2009

Today, the Supreme Court made a unanimous decision to reject an argument that the government has been using against undocumented workers in immigration cases. Moving forward, the federal law against stealing someone else’s identity may not be used against illegal workers who use random, fake social security numbers to get jobs.

Those found guilty of identity theft must serve a minimum of two years in prison, and prosecutors in immigration cases often use the threat of this sentence to get undocumented workers to admit to the smaller crime of faking papers. But now – as per today’s Supreme Court decision – an undocumented worker must be aware that they are taking the identification of a specific person in order to be convicted of identity theft.

Chuck Roth, the litigation director at the National Immigrant Justice Center in Chicago commented, “The court’s ruling preserves basic ideals of fairness for some of our society’s most vulnerable workers. An immigrant who uses a false social security number to get a job doesn’t intend to harm anyone, and it makes no sense to spend our tax dollars to imprison them for two years.”

Undocumented workers often choose social security numbers randomly, which means that the government’s use of the anti-identity theft law means they base the responsibility for a crime on chance – the chance that the social security number chosen at random will belong to a real American citizen or legal resident.

The identity theft law is very specific and applies when a person “knowingly transfers, possesses or uses, without lawful authority, a means of identification of another person.” Until today’s Supreme Court ruling, the government has been mis-applying this law in immigration cases.

This ruling will make it more difficult for the government to press criminal charges against immigrants who have done nothing wrong besides working illegally.

Arguments in favor of legalizing undocumented workers

Friday, April 24th, 2009

Opponents of Obama’s immigration reform think there are more pressing issues, like health care and energy reform, as well as the rising unemployment rate of Americans and legal residents. They don’t want to condone or legalize the ‘stealing’ of American jobs by undocumented workers, especially not during a recession.

But it’s important to remember that millions of undocumented workers are already working here, so they are not taking new jobs, and the benefit of legalizing them is significant.

It is worse for the economy (and for Americans) to have lots of undocumented workers because:

•    They work for less money. This means American employers have more incentive to hire undocumented workers than legal workers. This makes it harder for Americans to find jobs – not easier.

•    They pay no taxes. This means the government has less money, even though it is supporting more people (about 500,000 more illegal aliens every year). The taxes that go to pay for the education of the children of undocumented workers come from legal residents and citizens.

The Immigration Policy Center recently published a review that stated, “legalizing undocumented workers would improve wages and working conditions for all workers, and increase tax revenues for cash-strapped federal, state and local governments.”

Illegal aliens could also get better jobs – many have professional degrees – which means they would pay more taxes and also spend more on consumer goods and services, which would stimulate the economy – not to hurt it.

Obama plans to officially speak about the issue in May 2009, which will open the floor for dialogue and debate. By addressing the topic now, Obama is reaffirming its importance and showing that in order to fix the economy, immigration policy must also be fixed.