Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Comprehensive Immigration Reform introduced in Congress

Note: This is a press release, as are many of the things I add in here. Just 'cause it's here, doesn't mean I support it... agree with it... or like everything or anything... use this to blog, act, get involved...

24-7 - On December 15, 2009, Representative Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) introduced the "Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America's Security and Prosperity Act" (CIR ASAP) in the U.S. House of Representatives. In keeping with the Obama Administration's campaign promise to bring badly needed immigration law reform to the table early in its first term, the CIR ASAP proposes sweeping changes to the broken US immigration system that will help to protect the borders, protect US workers, unify families and legalize the status of millions of "undocumented" immigrants already in the US. Congress will likely move on the CIR ASAP very quickly, as the Act's name alone reflects Congress' recognition that change is needed urgently: CIR ASAP: "As Soon As Possible!"

Over the past 13 years since Congress passed the "Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act" (IIRIRA), a hastily passed and extremely damaging "immigration enforcement first" overhaul of the Immigration & Nationality Act (INA) little has been done to ameliorate its harsh effects. Families have been torn apart, employers have been forced to wait several years for specialty workers in short supply, including nurses, and millions of "undocumented immigrants" have been forced to remain in the US due to the dreaded "3 and 10 year bars" IIRIRA implemented, that effectively keep undocumented people in the US, for fear that if they leave, they will not be able to return for up to 10 years!

Although many politicians have noted the absurdity of the visa backlogs and notion that the US could somehow deport all 15 million or so "undocumented immigrants" in the US, few have risen to the occasion and introduced legislation for fear that they be labeled a supporter of "amnesty." "Amnesty" has been a politically unpopular word for many years as Conservative politicians throughout much of the U.S. have used "undocumented immigrants" as scapegoats for many of the nation's problems, including crime, budget deficits and high unemployment. The situation has gotten even worse over the last couple of years, as the economic crisis has forced even moderate politicians to bury their heads in the sand when it comes to the immigration debate in order to secure reelection.

With the commitment of the new administration and a Democratic majority in both houses, however, the stage is set for the sorely needed reforms the CIR ASAP will bring. CIR ASAP contains four main sections to address Border Security and Enforcement, Employment verification, Visa reforms and the Legalization of Undocumented Immigrants.

The Border Security provisions will create a security task force among Federal, State and Local law enforcement agencies to thwart violence along the Mexican border and provide additional manpower, training and support for all Customs and Border Patrol agents throughout the US. The ports of entry to the US will be studied to identify security risks and necessary improvements and modernization to reduce threats to our national security, among other upgrades.

The CIR ASAP creates a comprehensive Employment Eligibility Verification System to replace the obsolete patchwork system established in 1986, which will eventually become mandatory for all employers and their newly hired workers. This entirely computerized system will include enhanced penalties for employers who knowingly hire unauthorized workers, while forbidding employers to discriminate against workers on the basis of nationality.

In the area of Visa Reforms, the bill will alleviate the extreme backlogs in the family and employment-based categories, allowing the "recapture" of previously unused visa numbers from 1992-2008 and allowing such unused future numbers to be "roll over" to the following year. Beneficiaries of employment-based petitions (I-140) will be issued work authorization while waiting for their priority date, instead of being ineligible to work regardless of their employer's needs under the current system. US educated foreign nationals in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fields will be exempted from the skilled worker visa quota altogether and Nursing occupations, which are pre-certified as "Shortage Occupations" by the US Department of Labor, will be exempt from the current numerical quotas the current system inexplicably includes them in, despite their "Shortage Occupation" status.

The Visa Reforms will also create a special "Prevent Unauthorized Migration" (PUM) Visa for citizens of currently oversubscribed countries facing the longest backlogs, which could include the Philippines and Mexico. The law will allow issuance of 100,000 PUM visas annually, to selected individuals present in the US with college degrees and no other means to immigrate. After three years in PUM status, such individuals may apply for lawful permanent resident (LPR) status in the US.

Perhaps the most urgently needed, and most controversial, of the bills proposals is the program to Legalize Undocumented Immigrants. The CIR ASAP will allow qualified applicants to obtain conditional immigrant status for a period of 6 years, after which they may obtain permanent resident or green card status. To be qualified, an applicant must establish that he or she was illegally in the US prior to December 15, 2009; has made contributions to the US through employment, education, military or other volunteer and community service; and pay an application fee plus a fine of $500.00. Criminals, including any felon or person with three or more misdemeanors, will be permanently ineligible.

The Bill will also make the long-awaited Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act "DREAM Act" law. The new version of the DREAM Act will allow people who were brought to the US while under the age of 16 to apply for legalization in the US in accordance with the general legalization rules. The DREAM Act provision, however, will allow for speedier LPR status for these applicants upon their graduation from High School, completion of two-years of college, military service, or employment. These applicants will become eligible for Naturalization in the US three years from the date they acquire their LPR status, as opposed to the usual 5-year wait.

While the CIR ASAP presents many laudable and necessary reform provisions, there is a long and hard-fought battle ahead as the US Congress undertakes debate over the bill early next year. Before CIR ASAP becomes law, it must pass in the House, pass in the Senate and be signed into law by the President. As for now, undocumented immigrants and students in the United States who feared that attending college in the US was an impossibility should remain hopeful.A chance to work in the US, attend college at one of this nation's fine institutions and live the American dream may be just around the corner.

Article provided by Hanlon Law Group, P.C.

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