The Latest on Immigration Reform Proposals
January 23, 2004

No doubt about it, there is lots of talk going around. What about Bush’s amnesty? Who qualifies? How, when and where can I apply? etc.

As of this writing, no new amnesty type immigration legislation has been enacted, although loads of proposals are on the table. That means, as of today, there is nothing to apply for, and the requirements to qualify under any new law have not yet been established. Thus, my message to those in the undocumented community and others who may stand to benefit from new legislation, such as employers in industries with a shortage of ready, willing and able U.S. workers – sit tight and wait.

With immigration reform being placed on the national agenda by President Bush, it seems that much of the pre-September 11 atmosphere has been revived in terms of the viability of forgiving immigration initiatives. In the name of filling jobs that no U.S. workers are willing to perform, increasing our nation’s security and affording the hard working, honest undocumented worker the right to come out from hiding (or hungry overseas foreign workers looking to travel to the U.S. and work hard) and live with basic human rights, President Bush has presented his vision for immigration reform.

For political reasons, President Bush does not want to call his proposal an amnesty. Instead, he prefers to highlight that the spirit of the program is to allow just temporary status for workers to fill jobs that U.S. employers have been unable to fill, with no automatic path toward U.S. permanent residence or citizenship. Although the Bush proposal is short on many details, it appears that his program may indeed incorporate a path toward permanent residence if continued unavailability of U.S. workers to fill the position at issue can be demonstrated by an employer.

The program would benefit both the undocumented in the U.S. as well as those seeking to travel to the U.S. to work, as long as an employer in need is prepared to file the necessary paperwork. According to the Bush proposal, individuals working in the U.S. in a temporary status will have an incentive to depart the U.S. following their 3 year term (or an extended term), since a non-taxable savings/retirement account will be established during the course of their employment and claims to such an account can only be asserted from the individual’s home country.

With the promise of only a 3 year work visa, critics of the Bush program argue that the provisions do not provide enough of a carrot for large segments of the undocumented population to come out from underground. That is, short of the prospect of a permanent legalization of their status, the undocumented worker may be more inclined to remain underground than risk the possibility of deportation at the expiration of their temporary visa. Also noted by opponents of the Bush plan, is the heightened risk of increased employer abuse and exploitation of workers, especially given that the worker will no longer have the same anonymity after having registered with immigration authorities pursuant to such a visa program.

Under the Bush plan, the foreign worker will have the opportunity to legally work in the U.S. for a finite period, and travel internationally during that term. The worker will also have the opportunity to facilitate the entry of their spouse and children into U.S., although no automatic employment authorization is provided for under the proposal. Instead, each individual seeking employment authorization will be required to have a sponsoring employer file paperwork on their behalf.

Other legislative proposals on the table include a bi-partisan bill co-sponsored by Senator Chuck Hagel (Republican from Nebraska) and Senator Tom Daschle (Democrat from South Dakota). Many of the same benefits to the undocumented population and foreign workers are featured in this proposal, except a more certain path toward permanent residence is offered in this plan.

With our nation seemingly prepared to enact some sort of immigration reform program which will, among other things, allow the undocumented community to improve their condition, this column will continue to provide detailed coverage relating to the what, where, when and how of any legislative developments.

Copyright © 2004-2008, By Law Offices of Richard Hanus, Chicago, Illinois