Alberto R. Gonzales for The Hill: We must do better on immigration reform

July 10th, 2013

The Hill
by Alberto R. Gonzales
July 10, 2013

The bill passed recently by the U.S. Senate on immigration reform includes unprecedented border security measures, as well as a formidable pathway to legalization for undocumented immigrants. In certain areas the Senate bill represents a significant step in advancing immigration policy. It also requires employers to implement over time the E-Verify program to confirm the legal status of prospective employees. However, despite the provisions in the bill securing the border and providing a pathway to citizenship, the bill’s framework, forged in part by politics, creates a serious possibility that results will not match the rhetoric.

Under the Senate bill, approximately

2 million undocumented immigrants who are either children of immigrants in the country illegally or are agricultural workers have a realistic shot at some type of legalization. Theoretically, the remaining estimated 9 million undocumented immigrants could obtain registered provisional immigration status six months after enactment of a new law. The provisional legal status lasts six years and is renewable for another six years. After 10 years of provisional status, these immigrants can seek lawful permanent resident status.

However, these undocumented immigrants must satisfy substantial requirements related to average income, continuous employment and payment of taxes before they are eligible for legalization. There will be significant fees and penalties that some immigrants will never be able to afford. The bill also includes a back-of-the-line requirement requiring that those who broke the law by coming to this country illegally not be afforded legal status before those who followed the rules and filed petitions for entry. Because our government has a residual of straggler cases, this requirement could block provisional residents from obtaining permanent resident status for decades, if ever.

Additionally, these undocumented immigrants will be allowed to apply for permanent resident status only if certain border security triggers are met. It is possible, of course, that those triggers will never be met because of political or ideological factors. Future congresses may simply refuse to appropriate money for border security.

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