President Obama has repeatedly stated in press conferences and releases through the White House’s website that improvements in American immigration policy are at the top of his agenda. But how close to change are we, and if comprehensive immigration reform does make it through Congress, what would some of its main features be? While no one knows for sure when such reform will take place, and while the specifics of such a bill have not been spelled out yet, there are some steps and precautions you can take now to help ensure a smooth process if and when the time comes to apply for benefits. Read on to find out more.
Despite the fact that Democrats have a majority in both the Senate and the House, the success of any type of immigration overhaul will still require the support of some Republicans. Given the polarization of both camps around radically different approaches and the bitterness that this issue tends to stir up each time it is discussed, this will not be an easy task.
Senator Charles Schumer of New York is working on new immigration legislation in his role as Chairman of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees and Border Security. He has stated in an address during the 6th Annual Immigration Law and Policy Conference, which took place June 24, 2009, that he is optimistic that comprehensive immigration reform can be achieved and that this might even be possible later this year.
One of the most highly important and anticipated features of potential immigration legislation would have to be the legalization of the millions of undocumented immigrants already in this country, and identifying a path for them to become U.S. citizens. The term undocumented refers to both aliens who have crossed the border illegally and those who arrived on a temporary visa and overstayed. The new laws may require aliens to register their presence with the federal government and/or pay a fine for having violated immigration law.
Another possible aspect of comprehensive immigration reform may be the reduction of the backlog in family and employment based immigrant petitions, which currently involves waits of several years for visas to become available. One proposed way of allowing this to happen would involve the reduction of the flow of illegal immigration in the future through various measures.
Opening up legal paths for essential workers in the future and implementing reforms in the agricultural worker category may also be features of new immigration legislation. If there are more legal channels by which temporary workers may arrive here, it is argued, the influx of illegal migrant workers would decrease.
Reforms in the immigration court system are thought to be a necessary component of comprehensive immigration reform. For instance, many believe that government resources are being wasted in this area and that by working to ensure cases are adjudicated quickly and efficiently the first time around without involving appeals, savings can be achieved.
Tightening up enforcement measures to crack down on illegal border crossings as well as American businesses who seek to employ undocumented immigrants at lower wages is also thought to be a feature of any proposed comprehensive reform. Some specific measures may include increasing the number of border patrol agents and ensuring employers are only hiring those authorized to work in this country through use of an online verification tool.
What You Can Do To Be Ready
At this point in the discourse of comprehensive immigration reform, it is too early to know the specific rules and procedures that would be part of a legalization program, or whether one will be implemented at all. You should be wary of those offering to prepare applications for a fee, and wait until more concrete information is known.
At the same time, there is no harm in taking a few precautionary steps to prevent difficulties or save time later on. The following suggestions are adapted from those of the CUNY Citizenship and Immigration Project.
1. Keep records of your presence in the United States. This can include records from a hospital stay, school records, apartment lease documents, or utility bills. If you don’t have a valid passport from your country of nationality, obtain one from the nearest consulate.
2. Obtain dispositions of all arrests. If you have ever been arrested, go to the clerk’s office of the county where you were arrested and ask for a certificate of disposition. You should bring photo identification and know the date of the arrest and the name you used at the time.
3. Pay taxes. Those who do not have a social security number can still file an income tax return through the use of an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN). For information on how to apply for an ITIN you can visit www.irs.gov/individuals.
4. Learn English. Though unknown whether this will be a requirement of a legalization program, naturalization applicants are currently required to know a basic level of English. You can find a list of low-cost or free English classes in the tri-state area by visiting www.cuny.edu/citizenshipnow.
If and when comprehensive immigration reform does become a reality, it will bring the millions of undocumented immigrants already in this country out of the shadows and allow them to truly become part of and contributors to American society. It will address the inefficiencies in our system in a fair and meaningful way. We look forward to the outcome of legislative efforts and will be eager to report positive changes in the months to come.