House Republican leaders laid out their long-awaited immigration reform principles yesterday, January 30th, to the GOP conference, suggesting a broad step-by-step plan that would include more border security and enforcement, major changes to the legal immigration system and what will likely be the most contentious issue: legal status for some people who are in the country without authorization.
The principles are not an official bill, but rather are a list of priorities the House Republicans intend to address and confront in forming a bill. Although the Senate passed a bill in June that would allow for a path to citizenship and/or legal status for the 11 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the U.S., the majority of House Republicans have stated they will not discuss or pass a similar version of the Senate bill. New estimates put the number of people allowed to obtain legal status under the Republican plan amount to a little more than half those eligible under the senate bill–6.5 million people.
The preamble to the Republican principles states that “Our nation’s immigration system is broken and our laws are not being enforced,” adding that “Washington’s failure to fix them is hurting our economy and jeopardizing our national security.” It then addresses six principles, divided into sections: “Border Security and Interior Enforcement Must Come First,” “Implement Entry-Exit Visa Tracking System,” “Employment Verification and Workplace Enforcement,” “Reforms to the Legal Immigration System,” “Youth” and “Individuals Living Outside the Rule of Law.”
The most contentious sections will likely be those discussing how to deal with undocumented immigrants. The principles recommend different things for so-called Dreamers — the undocumented young people who entered the country as children — and undocumented adults. Fortunately, under these principles Dreamers should be allowed “an opportunity for legal residence and citizenship,” the principles state, so long as they meet certain requirements. However, its less clear whether there will be a path to citizenship for the older generations.
Undocumented immigrants in general wouldn’t be given a “special path to citizenship,” typically defined as a set way for applicants to become legal residents and then citizens. But the principles suggest they “could live legally and without fear in the U.S., but only if they were willing to admit their culpability, pass rigorous background checks, pay significant fines and back taxes, develop proficiency in English and American civics, and be able to support themselves and their families (without access to public benefits).” The document specifically excludes “criminal aliens, gang members, and sex offenders and those who do not meet the above requirements.”
The principles also suggest that legalization be delayed until “specific enforcement triggers have been implemented to fulfill our promise to the American people that from here on, our immigration laws will indeed be enforced.” They do not address whether immigrants under the new status could obtain green cards and eventually become citizens.
In addition to border security and interior enforcement, the principles call for the government to better track individuals entering and exiting the country and to require businesses to check the immigration status of their would-be hires. They also call for changes to the legal immigration process that would limit family immigration, allow foreign-born students to remain in the U.S. more easily after attending college here and make employer-based and temporary-worker visas more flexible based on “economic needs of the country.”
The border security and enforcement section states that “the United States is failing” in its mission of protecting the border. The GOP leaders’ principles look to emphasize border security and enforcement by creating a “zero tolerance policy for those who cross the border illegally or overstay their visas in the future.” The principles also state that reform should ensure presidents cannot selectively enforce immigration laws — something President Barack Obama has been accused of doing with executive orders, including the Deferred Action for Early Childhood Arrivals (DACA).
For more information read the article in the Huffington Post or contact our law offices in Las Vegas, Reno, and San Francisco to find out how we can help you now or when reforms push through Congress (hopefully) later this year.