Immigration Law Reforms Would Legalize Millions

New immigration laws proposed last week by Senator's Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Lindsay Graham (R-NC) present dramatic reforms. The most notable are the opportunity for millions of undocumented immigrants to legalize their immigration status, and the introduction of a biometric Social Security card for EVERYONE, including U.S. citizens.

The two Senators set forth their bi-partisan immigration reforms in last Friday's Washington Post article, "The right way to mend immigration." The plan is based upon four pillars: (1) a biometric Social Security card that employers would need to swipe to verify an employee's authority to work in the U.S.' (2) further resources towards border security and interior enforcement; (3) more options for both skilled and unskilled temporary workers, and (4) a pathway to legalization for the approximately 11 million undocumented immigrants living here.

One of the proposals would award green cards to immigrants who receive a Ph.D. or a Master's degree in science, technology, engineering, or math from a U.S. university. This proposal is commendable, and this blog as advocated for such a reform. As stated before, it makes no sense to allow the best and brightest from across the world to be educated at our universities, and to then force them to leave the U.S. instead of remaining and using their skills.

Surely legalization will be the most hotly-contested proposal. The Senators describe the path to legalization as a "tough but fair path forward". According to the proposal, they would be required to "admit they broke the law and to pay their debt to to society by performing community service and paying fines and back taxes." They would also undergo background checks (as all immigrant applicants do), and be proficient in English. Paying fines and back taxes have always been a hallmark of legalization programs, but forced community service is new. Does community service mean picking up trash on the side of the highway while wearing an orange vest? Helping in a soup kitchen? Do you owe the same debt to society if you've been here illegally for two years v. twenty years? Also, as an immigration lawyer, I don't know whether I would advise a nineteen-year old who was brought here as a baby to "admit that they broke the law".

Probably just as controversial will be the biometric Social security card. It will be controversial because it would apply to EVERYONE who wants a job, U.S. citizen and immigrant alike. Instead of presenting their regular social security card and state driver's license, as the majority of U.S. citizens have done for years, U.S. citizens will have to proactively get their biometrics taken and obtain a new Social Security card. The supposed purpose is to make employers further responsible for verifying the legal work status of all their workers, and ultimately decreasing the incentive for illegal immigrants to come to the U.S. because they would not be able to obtain the biometric social security card. The article states that each person's biometric information would only be stored on the card, and that no government database would house everyone's information. At least that's what the article says.

It is encouraging that President Obama met with Senators Schumer and Graham, and that he supports moving forward with reforms. The last major proposed bi-partisan immigration overhaul fell short in the Senate in 2007, and was a major disappointment. Ultimately, immigration reform that promotes U.S. security, recognizes that our laws should make it easier for the "best and brightest" to remain in the U.S., and positively addresses the 11 million undocumented immigrants, is good. As an immigration lawyer, I truly look forward to seeing more details as to how these proposals can work, and what they will ultimately have to provide in order to get passed by Congress.

Immigration Reform / by Michelle Gee