As previously reported, both the U.S. Congress and President Obama have recently focused on achieving Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR) to fix what many perceive as a “broken” U.S. immigration system. While consensus concerning certain components of CIR such as increased border security and changes to visa availability for highly educated immigrants seems to be building, the treatment of the estimated 11 million persons currently in the U.S. without U.S. immigration status and specifically whether their status should be legalized will likely be a key point of contention in determining whether CIR can be achieved.
Legalizing the status of persons currently in the U.S. with no immigration status as part of CIR is a controversial issue that is closely intertwined with how the U.S. defines itself as a nation and what steps should be taken to ensure the future economic health of the nation. Interestingly, both sides of the legalization debate focus on the issue of fairness.
Recognizing the reality that an estimated 11 million persons with no U.S. immigration status are part of the U.S. society and economy, supporters of legalization view it as the way to ensure fair treatment and accountability of both undocumented persons and their employers. On the other hand, those against legalization contend that providing a path to citizenship for undocumented persons undermines the rule of law and creates an unfair reward for law breakers.
The main CIR proposals at this point, including the Bipartisan Framework for CIR authored by Senators Schumer, McCain, Durbin, Graham, Menendez, Rubio, Bennet, and Flake, and the White House’s Draft CIR Bill, both include provisions for legalization and a path to U.S. citizenship for persons in the U.S. without status. The Bipartisan Framework provides for legalization contingent upon achievement of increased border security. The White House’s Draft CIR Bill provides for the creation of a Lawful Prospective Immigrant (LPI) status that, following satisfaction of requirements such as paying a fee, paying taxes, and proving understanding of the English language and U.S. civics, would ultimately provide a pathway to citizenship. Both proposals provide that legalization applicants would need to “go to the back of the line” behind those already awaiting permanent residence in the U.S., though the practicality of achieving that goal in a system with multiple “lines” could prove challenging.
It remains to be seen at this point how the issue of potential legalization of persons currently in the U.S. with no immigration status will be resolved in any CIR, but it is an issue that is likely to be decisive in determining the outcome of current CIR debates.
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