By Robert S. Whitehill and Catherine V. Wadhwani
With legislative gridlock during the past 4 years, the Obama administration has been able to do little to address the many immigration issues that both presidential candidates identified as needing to be fixed. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program is one administrative “fix” that was implemented, but only through an administrative order rather than an act of Congress. Now that the election is behind us, more of our broken immigration laws and regulations may be fixed–and fixed by legislation passed by Congress.
On June 15, the President announced the DACA temporary relief measure for certain undocumented aliens who came to the US as youngsters (before reaching the age of 16), had been in the US for more than 5 years on June 15, 2012, had pursued an education or military service and otherwise had a clean record. The race for President complicated the program as there was uncertainty over its continuation in a Romney administration.
Last week, we received our first DACA approval with a shout of euphoria from our client. She is a perfect DREAMer, having come to the US as a child to obtain ongoing lifesaving medical treatment. She earned her B.S. from Penn State, but has had to work under the table at minimum wage to pay for her health insurance and living expensive because of a lack of employment authorization. She now has a legal place in the US for at least 2 years–or longer if there is immigration reform.
Among the post-election predictions is immigration reform. Reform has been in the wings at least since George W. Bush’s presidency, if not before. With the newly recognized political strength of Hispanic-Americans, comprehensive immigration reform, or a review of the entire immigration scheme for the US has been raised as a priority by both parties. So, if we look forward with rose-colored glasses (we did this in 2009) what legislative changes may be on the horizon?
Jobs, jobs jobs.
* There may be changes that encourage rather than discourage foreign-born entrepreneurs who start businesses that create jobs.
* There may be changes that give graduates with advanced degrees from US institutions an immigration advantage that keeps them in the US rather than sends them packing.
* There may be a relationship between the annual number of temporary worker visas (H visas) available and the legitimate need of business and industry for foreign-born talent.
* There may be a required, accurate system of employment verification based on E-verify to detect undocumented workers and protect employers from sanctions.
* There may be a form of “legalization” that gives the millions of otherwise law-abiding undocumented workers a lawful status.
* There may be technical changes that expedite the removal of criminal aliens and reduces the number of undocumented aliens detained in US jails.
We’ll have to wait and see what comes out of the next 4 years, but there seems to be hope for improvements which will presumably be driven by the demands of the electorate.