As an Immigration Lawyer, I am frequently asked the question about what I think of all the talk on Capitol Hill regarding Immigration reform. Having been actively engaged in the practice of Immigration Law since 1995, I have seen many changes and reforms in the law, policy, and the application of both. The last major federal immigration benefit was phased out with the sunset of INA 245i on April 30, 2001. And coincidentally, this was followed by the horrible terrorist attacks of 9/11 - perpetrated by foreign nationals - which then ushered in a new age of harsh application of immigration enforcement and gave rise to the current debate over what the government should do with the estimated 12 million "illegal aliens" in the United States.
First of all, what most people unfamiliar with immigration law or policy fail to understand is that the term "illegal alien" is an incredibly unfair and broad catch-all phrase that ensnares the good with the bad, the eligible with the ineligible, and the admissible with the inadmissible aliens. In other words, the term is used to describe a child who was legally brought to the U.S. by his parents and forced to over stay his visa with equal force as it would be used to describe an alien who skipped bail on a first degree murder charge and is fugutive from justice. While all of them may be technically removable (deportable) on the ground that they are in the U.S. without permission (ie. without a visa or other authorization), each one has a unique story and a possibility of relief from removal. And in so many cases, the alien has potential sponsors and would qualify for relief from removal but are prevented from doing so because of a technical bar or block that stops them from legalizing (such as in the case of an alien who crossed the border illegally, but who has been in the US for 10 years, is otherwise law abiding, paying taxes, and is married to a US citizen and has US citizen children). In other words, if the illegal entry was excused (as was previously allowed under Section 245(i)), the alien would be able to legalize and remain in the U.S.
I believe that there are millions of "illegal aliens" who, were it not for a technicality that prevents them from adjusting or changing their status, have sponsors (family members or offers of employment), would be admissible into the US, and would otherwise meet all of the requirements to become permanent residents (ie. green card holders). At the same time, there are many who are inadmissible for a wide variety of reasons (particularly those with serious criminal convictions) and would require a major overhaul of the existing law in order to open the door for them to get green cards. So perhaps there is no practical way to enact reform that would make all 12 million legal again without turning the existing legal frame work on its head. But this is not a reason to fail to act in order to make the minor adjustments necessary to allow the majority of them to gain some form of legal status. And what is becoming more obvious each day is that it is a fantasy to think that deporting all of these 12 million aliens is actually an option. Clearly something must be done to recognize this reality and to begin the process of attempting to sort out this situation.
In 2013, the U.S. Senate passed the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013 (S.744). Despite this effort by the Senate, the U.S. House of Representatives failed to take action on the bill and did not even take up the legislation for discussion or vote. This year, however, may be different and I believe that there is a good possibility that we will see progress on Comprehensive Immigration Reform and the passage of some form of law that will extend benefits to several million aliens in the U.S.
Earlier this month (January 2014), House Speaker John Boehner publically announced his commitment to move forward with a "step-by-step" approach to comprehensive immigration reform. In a bold step forward, Mr. Boehner hired Rebecca Tallent, a seasoned veteran on immigration policy and advocate for immigration reform. This move was seen by many on Capitol Hill, as well as pro-Immigration circles, as the first step in a renewed effort to put this issue on the front burner and tackle it in 2014.
Although the Republican Party is generally associated with a hard line approach to immigration policy and a desire to crack down on illegal immigration, Tallent's hiring suggests that Boehner may push for some form of Amnesty in 2014 and that there is hope that we will see a Comprehensive Immigration Reform and benefits law passed in Congress and signed into law by the President. While I have been a strong vocal proponent of Immigration Reform for many years and been heard to say on many occasions that reform is on the way, this year, I believe that the political climate is ripe for change and that we will see a new law emerge.
As a final thought, even if we do not see change this year, in my mind, its not a question of IF we will see Comprehensive Immigration Reform in the future, but rather, WHEN?
If you have any questions regarding Comprehensive Immigration Reform in 2014 or if you would like to discuss anything in this blog post, feel free to call South Florida Immigration Lawyer Sean D. Hummel at (954) 385-3111.