Published: December 16, 2009

For about the tenth time in the past decade, I am writing about a new legislative initiative presented to allow for the legalization of the vast majority of those present in the U.S. in violation of our immigration laws. This time, the initiative is called Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America’s Security and Prosperity Act of 2009 (“CIR ASAP”). The measure was introduced before the U.S. House of Representatives on December 15, 2009 by Congressman Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), a lawmaker who has shown himself to be a leader in the comprehensive immigration reform movement. Gutierrez, like many other politicians in Congress, along with our President, realizes that eventually our society has to make a choice about what we will do about our nation’s 15 million or so undocumented individuals. Absorb? Deport? Some stay, some go?

Whatever the solution, for sure, by doing nothing our country ignores the issue and pretty much establishes a de facto amnesty, where the status quo is maintained and the undocumented population continues to be allowed to live and work in the U.S., albeit in the shadows. Based on the underlying premise of most undocumented workers’ embarking for the U.S. in the first place (“better to be in the U.S. illegally and make a living and get ahead than be in my home country legally”), this population will not be packing their bags for a trip home anytime soon, no matter the level of immigration enforcement.

CIR ASAP includes a broad range of initiatives, including enhanced border security and immigration law enforcement, improved verification systems for employers and otherwise establishing some integrity in our broken immigration system. The truly potent, provocative goodies in the legislative proposal involve the legalization of the undocumented population.

The most notable provision allows for the out of status/no status foreign national to establish an interim legal status by, among other requirements,

a) documenting their unlawful status in the U.S as of December 15, 2009,
b) paying an application fee, along with a $500 fine, and
c) attesting to having made societal contributions through employment, education, military service, or social service volunteering.

The applicant would also need to demonstrate a relatively clean criminal record, where a felony or three (3) misdemeanors will prompt ineligibility.

Other highlights of the CIR ASAP:

  • Allows for adjustment to permanent status after a six (6) year interim, conditional status. In conditional status, while awaiting permanent status, an applicant will have the right to work in the U.S. and travel internationally; individuals in removal proceedings will be among the pool of eligible applicants.
  • DREAM ACT: similar to above provision, except that students brought to the U.S. before 16 years of age would have an accelerated path to permanent residence upon high school graduation, completion of two (2) years of college study or several other milestones,
  • Expands opportunities for U.S. employers to hire and keep foreign workers by liberalizing rules for facilitating temporary and permanent (immigrant) visas for foreign workers and
  • Provides greater discretionary authority for Immigration Judges presiding over a long time U.S. resident’s removal (deportation) hearing.

There are at least another 100 interesting provisions included in this legislative proposal. Most likely, though, if and when any of these measures get signed into law, the details and language will probably only faintly resemble this proposed language. To many in Congress, a measure like CIR ASAP is toxic territory, where any type of support for this cause will open up the floodgates for criticism and accusations of “rewarding the lawbreaker.”

Certainly, for any sort of immigration reform to pass, courage and brutal honesty will have to find a way into the discussion — particularly to get past the argument that, in the end, the lawbreaker may very well be rewarded. But, looking at the potential benefits such reform may yield for our society, including a substantial economic shot in the arm (think of all the billions of dollars the 15 million undocumented will start spending knowing that their stay here is secure), as well as the cost of doing nothing, comprehensive immigration reform, in some form or another, is inevitable. Here’s hoping that the introduction of CIR ASAP at least gets an honest and courageous conversation started.

Copyright © 2009, By Law Offices of Richard Hanus, Chicago, Illinois