Every once in a long while Immigration reform captures center stage among issues of interest in the country and this is such a time.  Comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) was part of President Obama’s  Second Inaugural address and is being proposed by the “Gang of 8”.  It has been a lead topic for several news cycles and on the Sunday talk shows.

The  specific fixes to our “broken immigration system” are numerous, too numerous to discuss in a blog post. As stated by the White House, the four key principles for common-sense immigration reform are: “continuing to strengthen border security, cracking down on employers hiring undocumented workers, earned citizenship and streamlining legal immigration.” 

In 2009,  fixing our broken immigration system was part of the President’s first Inaugural and early agenda.   The fix had 3 key elements, as stated by Secretary of Department of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano: “When I talk about immigration reform, I’m referring to what I call the three-legged stool that includes a commitment to serious and effective enforcement, improved legal flows for families and workers and a firm but fair way to deal with those who are already here.”

By most accounts, the current immigration law contains all the tools necessary to secure the border.  DHS has implemented prosecutorial discretion, yet statistics report that removal of the undocumented is at an all time high.  As Doris Meissner, former Commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (nka Citizenship and Immigration Servic) opined in a recent editorial in The Washington Post:  “The enforcement machinery that has been built can serve the national interest well if it also provides a platform for policy changes suited to the larger challenges that immigration represents for the United States in the 21st century.”

By most accounts, legal immigration has not been streamlined, nor have the legal flows for families and workers improved since 2009.  In fact, there have been precious few meaningful changes to-date in law or policy to streamline or improve legal flows of families or workers. 

Earned citizenship or legalization is still on the to do list—although there has been some relief to those who undocumented young people who entered as children, sometimes known as “DREAMERS”.  They may be dreaming of waking up without the nightmare of removal hanging over their heads, but the term comes from the so called DREAM Act that would provide them a path to legal status, not just deferred action.

The difference between the 2009 3-legged stool and the 2013 4 key principles is “cracking down on employers hiring undocumented workers”.  Employers should expect that there will be a gradual phase-in of mandatory use of E-Verify and more attention by DHS, USCIS, DOL and other federal agencies on  employers.  That is one take away.  Employers should make sure that their HR house is in order, with correct I-9s, hiring policies and practices and a workforce of documented workers.

 Stay tuned as the CIR drama continues to unfold.