Mark A Ivener, A Law Corporation

President Obama Speaks on Immigration Reform, Senators Announce Bipartisan Agreement

President Obama spoke in Las Vegas, Nevada, on his immigration reform ideas and released a statement one day after a bipartisan group of senators proposed principles for comprehensive immigration reform, on January 28, 2013.

A fact sheet on President Obama’s immigration reform proposal outlines four principles:

First, continue to strengthen our borders. Second, crack down on companies that hire undocumented workers. Third, hold undocumented immigrants accountable before they can earn their citizenship; this means requiring undocumented workers to pay their taxes and a penalty, move to the back of the line, learn English, and pass background checks. Fourth, streamline the legal immigration system for families, workers, and employers.

Among other things, President Obama’s proposal includes providing visas to foreign entrepreneurs who want to start businesses in the United States and “helping the most promising foreign graduate students in science and math stay in this country after graduation, rather than take their skills to other countries.” He also would provide a legal way for undocumented people to “earn citizenship” by passing national security and criminal background checks, paying taxes and a penalty, “going to the back of the line,” and learning English. Young people could earn citizenship more quickly by serving in the military or pursuing higher education.

The President is proposing the following measures, according to the fact sheet:

  • Mandatory, phased-in electronic employment verification. The President’s proposal provides tools for employers to ensure a legal workforce by using federal government databases to verify that the people they hire are eligible to work in the United States. Penalties for hiring undocumented workers are significantly increased, and new penalties are established for committing fraud and identity theft. The new mandatory program ensures the privacy and confidentiality of all workers’ personal information and includes important procedural protections. Mandatory electronic employment verification would be phased in over five years with exemptions for certain small businesses.
  • Combat fraud and identity theft. The proposal also mandates a fraud?resistant, tamper?resistant Social Security card and requires workers to use fraud? and tamper?resistant documents to prove authorization to work in the United States. The proposal also seeks to establish a voluntary pilot program to evaluate new methods to authenticate identity and combat identity theft.
  • Protections for all workers. The President’s proposal protects workers against retaliation for exercising their labor rights. It increases the penalties for employers who hire undocumented workers to skirt the workplace standards that protect all workers. And it creates a “labor law enforcement fund” to help ensure that industries that employ significant numbers of immigrant workers comply with labor laws.

The proposal also would eliminate annual country caps for employment-sponsored immigration and add visas to the system. It would allow “greater flexibility” to designate countries for participation in the Visa Waiver Program, and would “staple” green cards to advanced STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) graduates with master’s degrees or Ph.D.’s who have found employment in the United States. The proposal would require employers to pay a fee to support education and training “to grow the next generation of American workers in STEM careers.”

President Obama’s proposal would permanently authorize immigrant visa opportunities for regional center (pooled investment) programs; and provide incentives for visa requestors to invest in programs that support national priorities, including economic development in rural and economically depressed regions. The proposal would create a new visa category for a limited number of highly skilled and specialized employees of federal national security science and technology laboratories who have been in the United States for two years.

Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), John McCain (R-Ariz.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) proposed the following four “basic legislative pillars”:

  1. Create a tough but fair path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants currently living in the United States that is contingent upon securing our borders and tracking whether legal immigrants have left the country when required;
  2. Reform our legal immigration system to better recognize the importance of characteristics that will help build the American economy and strengthen American families;
  3. Create an effective employment verification system that will prevent identity theft and end the hiring of future unauthorized workers; and
  4. Establish an improved process for admitting future workers to serve our nation’s workforce needs, while simultaneously protecting all workers.

Among other things, they propose that those who have been working in the U.S. agricultural industry without legal status and who “commit to the long-term stability of our nation’s agricultural industries” will be able to “earn a path to citizenship through a different process under our new agricultural worker program.”

The senators also lament the “broken” U.S. immigration system that “sadly discourages the world’s best and brightest citizens from coming to the United States and remaining in our country to contribute to our economy.” This failure, the senators note, makes legal entry into the United States “insurmountably difficult for well-meaning immigrants” and “unarguably discourages innovation and economic growth,” in addition to creating substantial visa backlogs that force families to live apart and incentivize undocumented immigration.

To address these challenges, the senators propose a “new immigration system” that recognizes the characteristics that will “help build the American economy and strengthen American families,” in addition to reducing backlogs in the family and employment visa categories. Among other things, they propose permanent resident status to immigrants who have received a Ph.D. or master’s degree in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics from a U.S. university.

The senators also recommend a mandatory employment verification system with stiff penalties for egregious offenses.

For unauthorized workers, the senators propose legislation that would:

  • Allow employers to hire immigrants if it can be demonstrated that they were unsuccessful in recruiting an American to fill an open position and the hiring of an immigrant will not displace American workers;
  • Create a workable program to meet the needs of America’s agricultural industry, including dairy to find agricultural workers when American workers are not available to fill open positions;
  • Allow more lower-skilled immigrants to come here when our economy is creating jobs, and fewer when our economy is not creating jobs;
  • Protect workers by ensuring strong labor protections; and
  • Permit workers who have succeeded in the workplace and contributed to their communities over many years to earn green cards.

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About the Author

Mark A. Ivener, A Law Corporation, a nationally recognized law firm, has successfully assisted hundreds of clients in immigration matters.