Most days, I love being an immigration lawyer. I’m able to advise people on the best or fastest way to become a green card holder or US citizen. Occassionally, though, I have a rough day where I have to tell somebody that I don’t think I can help them. The end of the conversation usually includes me telling them to volunteer with the immigration reform movement, as that is the only way they will get to fulfill their dream of living legally in the US.

Heartbreaking cases for an immigration lawyer

Most of the heartbreaking cases for any immigration lawyer involve families where one member is subject to the lifetime bar for having entered without inspection after being in the US for more than a year or having been deported. The alien must remain outside the US for ten full years before being eligible to apply for a waiver. Other cases involve prior drug-related convictions; America treats drug offenders very harshly and aliens with criminal records for controlled substance offenses are rarely permitted to immigrate. Finally, I talk to a lot of people who are in line for a visa so that they can be reunited with family members, but have a long way to go until their number is called. For instance, the waiting time for sibling visas for Mexican citizens is approximately fifteen years.

There has been talk of immigration reform since…well, since before I became an immigration lawyer. While there aren’t many people arguing that we don’t need reform, there is certainly no general consensus as to what form the reform should take. Some radical anti-immigrant factions want to send everyone home, lock the doors and start over. Some radical pro-immigrant factions want to open the doors to everyone and call it a day. The solution, however, is somewhere in between.

The focus of the majority of Obama’s first year in office was health care reform. Now that the health care reform bill has been passed, political pundits predict that his attention will now shift to immigration reform. Although the contents and timing of the ultimate immigration reform bill are anybody’s guess, two senators have taken the lead in drafting a comprehensive immigration reform proposal.

Comprehensive Immigration Reform Proposal

Chuck Schumer and Lindsey Graham are poised to present their version of comprehensive immigration reform to the Senate shortly.  In drafting their bill, the Senators made sure to address many issues, including tighter border security, better visitor and resident tracking, enhanced employment verification, and a path to legalization (amnesty). There are approximately 11 million people currently living and working in the US without authorization.

Aspects of the Comprehensive Immigration Reform plan include:

  • ensure that illegal workers cannot get jobs via a tamper-proof ID system and a high-tech version of the social security card;
  • fulfill and strength our commitments on border security and interior enforcement;
  • zero tolerance policy for gang members, smugglers, terrorists and felons;
  • expanding domestic immigration enforcement to better apprehend and deport those who commit crimes or overstay visas;
  • award green cards to immigrants who receive PhD or master’s degree in science, technology, engineering or math from a US university;
  • create system for admitting lower-skilled workers when we need them, and offer a path to a green card for continuous service;
  • implementing a tough but fair path to legalization for 11 million undocumented foreign nationals who are already here including requiring proficiency in the English language, passing a background check, performing community service, and paying fines and back taxes.

Reaction from an immigration lawyer

I think the Senators’ plan is a great start. Under their plan, the focus is on cleaning up the mess, while ensuring that it won’t happen again. However, there is a complete lack of mention of taking steps to reunite families who are separated either by past infractions or, worse, because the line to get in is currently too long. Things like eliminating the need for a 601 waiver, eliminating the ten year wait to file a waiver in the case of a permanent bar, decreasing the wait for family-based visas, and easing the sanctions of prior drug offenders are entirely missing from this early discussion. Let’s hope we are able to fill these holes prior to the passage of any immigration reform bill.