Comprehensive Immigration Reform

The House voted 239 to 182, in December 2005, to implement some harsh enforcement provisions which would have serious due process consequences and basically criminalize being an illegal or undocumented person living in the U.S. (H.R. 4437). The Senate discussed immigration reforms in both 2006 and 2007 in the form of the Comprehensive Immigration reform Act of 2006 (S. 2611) and 2007 (S.1348; S. 1369), which had they passed would have lead to a path to permanent legal status for some 11 millions undocumented foreigners. The bills included a new temporary worker program, a very significant increase in family, employment-based immigration, and an important relief for undocumented high school graduates. Unfortunately, the Senate bill did also include some of the harsh provisions found in the House bill.

The 2007 bill introduced a new visa, a Z visa, which would have lead to legal residency and eventually citizenship for millions of illegal people already in the country before January 7, 2007. In the short term, the Z visa would have provided people with social security cards and legal employment. But, it only allowed people to accede to permanent residency after an eighth year wait, a fine of up to $ 2,000 and payment of any back taxes. Those who entered the country after January 7, 2007 would not have been eligible for the Z visa but the Y visa or guest worker program. The Y visa would have been good for two years, renewable twice but would have required its holder to go back home for a year before being able to renew their visa. Minors who are attending school or are in the military would have been eligible for a fast track to citizenship status and lower tuition in their state of residency.

Thus, this bill introduced many changes and was a positive step, but not in its entirety. Some portions were taking away the rights of immigrants rather than expanding them. People would no longer have been able to help their parents and siblings immigrate, as family reunification would have mostly been limited to children and spouses. Further, the bill called for an increase in border security and a much greater monitoring of immigrants.

The 2007 bill was defeated because while opponents called their Senators to the point of crashing the Senate’s phone system, supporters remained mostly silent.

Today, the reforms are once again being discussed. While the House is still discussing the reform the Senate passed a bill S744 on July 2013 that made many changes to the Immigration Act but the bill did not pass the House, in fact the House republicans stopped it from even being discussed on the floor.

President Obama on November 20, 2014 signed an executive action that helps some five millions undocumented people to stay in the country, avoid deportation and work legally while waiting for the House and Senate to take up the issue once more.

It is almost certain that there will be an immigration law allowing illegal immigrants a path to citizenship but what is being discussed so far will allow such a long wait for such benefits that it might just become meaningless. 

* Minnesota and New York
** Minnesota


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