Wednesday, January 30, 2013

50% of President Obama's Immigration Reform Proposal Involves Enforcement

The President held an immigration reform pep rally yesterday, where he rolled out his vision of what a new law should look like.  After the speech the White House released a fact sheet that summarizes this vision, breaking it down into four parts.  I couldn't help but notice that 50% of the President's vision relates to immigration enforcement.

From the Fact Sheet:
  • Continuing to Strengthen Border Security: President Obama has doubled the number of Border Patrol agents since 2004 and today border security is stronger than it has ever been.  But there is more work to do.   The President’s proposal gives law enforcement the tools they need to make our communities safer from crime.  And by enhancing our infrastructure and technology, the President’s proposal continues to strengthen our ability to remove criminals and apprehend and prosecute national security threats.
  • Cracking Down on Employers Hiring Undocumented Workers: Our businesses should only employ people legally authorized to work in the United States.  Businesses that knowingly employ undocumented workers are exploiting the system to gain an advantage over businesses that play by the rules.  The President’s proposal is designed to stop these unfair hiring practices and hold these companies accountable.  At the same time, this proposal gives employers who want to play by the rules a reliable way to verify that their employees are here legally.
These were the first two points that were stressed.  The other two points include earned citizenship (with penalties), and streamlining legal immigration.

There are some things in the President's plan that I find unsettling.  Specifically, it includes administrative "streamlined" removal for individuals considered to be a threat to public safety, which may result in completely arbitrary determinations being made by the agency effectively bypassing any right to a hearing before a judge.  It further embraces mandatory detention and a summary removal process, which potentially could be applied to lawful permanent residents convicted of crimes that may or may not have any immigration consequences.  The plan also refers to the E-verify system, which has proved to be innefective at best.  Same-sex couples have not been mentioned in the plan, although that is next on the list.

As for earned citizenship, the political reality is that an automatic pathway to citizenship is a poison pill that will doom reform because the GOP will only support legislation that requires lawbreakers to legalize incrementally.

As most of you are aware the bulk of my practice is deportation defense. Ask any one of my clients whether they care if immigration reform includes an immediate pathway to citizenship and they will tell you that they just don't want to be separated from their families, that they are afforded the ability to work in this country legally, that they can obtain a driver's license and social security number, and that they have the ability to leave the country periodically to visit family without penalty.

If immigration reform provides a temporary status to 11 million qualifying people that does not preclude adjustment under employment or family based categories I could get behind it.  A renewable nonimmigrant status as a stop-gap measure is better than what the law currently provides. Couple it with a tweak in the law to include spouse, parents and unmarried children under the age of 21 of lawful permanent residents into the definition of immediate relative and most of those people will have a pathway to lawful permanent residency, and three or five years later they will be eligible to naturalize.

Even a simple policy change to provide parole in place in the exercise of discretion to immediate relatives of United States citizens that have already had a provisional waiver approved to enable them to adjust would be a quantum leap in the right direction.

Point being the problem can be solved without an immediate solution that will ultimately doom reform.
So the next question is: when will we see a Bill, and will it come from the White House?

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