Immigration Reform Act 2013: Is this the best time?

© 2013 Stephen H. Davis

An officer at the headquarters of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) was quoted by The Washington Post as stating that “immigration is a mystery and a mastery of obfuscation, and the lawyers who can figure it out are worth their weight in gold.” The “Ask Mr. Liberty” column, which has appeared in various ethnic newspapers since the 1980s, is written with the hope of untangling this obfuscation and enlightening the public on common immigration questions or concerns. A major development in immigration law occurred recently:

Immigration Reform 2013: Is this the best time?

If you are one of the millions waiting for U.S. immigration laws to change, then here’s the good news.

As a full time practicing immigration lawyer for 30 plus years, I firmly believe that this is the perfect time to amend and fix our immigration system. I was a witness to two U.S. immigration reforms in years 1986 and 2001 during the time of Presidents Reagan and Clinton. I experienced the major changes, complexities, and setbacks of the whole reform process. As we enter the 21st century, I strongly believe that U.S. immigration laws at this time need a complete overhaul. We have gone through numerous postponements, and I hope that immigration reform will finally be passed this time.

At the onset of 2013, two major versions of immigration reform acts have been proposed. First is from a bi-partisan group of senators dubbed as the “gang of 8” that backs up a comprehensive reform plan. Spearheaded by Sen. Marco Rubio, this group has come up with a proposal that has the following provisions: 1 – Creating stronger border protection. 2 – Registering with the government. To get “probationary” status, undocumented immigrants will have to pass a background check, pay fines and back taxes, and will get no access to federal public benefits until granted full citizenship; 3 – Moving to the back of the line. Applicants would not receive their green card until everyone ahead in line gets theirs; and 4 – Leading to a path to a lawful permanent residence (“LPR”) or “Green Card”.

Other provisions of the proposed law are: children and agricultural workers would be subject to different rules to gain LPR status; getting Green Cards would be made easier for immigrants who receive a Ph.D. or master’s degree in the U.S. in science, technology, engineering, or math; it would create a “tough” system to verify hiring of legal immigrant workers; and it would make it easier for employers to hire employees for low-skilled jobs that can’t be filled by Americans.

Meanwhile, President Obama and Senate Democrats have offered their version of immigration reform which the President plans to lay out in his State of the Union address soon. This version has the following provisions: 1 – Payment of fines and back taxes; 2 – Verification of legal status for all newly hired workers; 3 – Addition of new visas to relieve backlogs and allow highly skilled immigrants to stay; and 4 – Creation of a guest-worker program to bring in low-wage immigrants.

President Obama’s plan emphasizes a path to citizenship, whereas the Senate version emphasizes permanent residence.

Once a law is passed by Congress and signed by the President, it is my opinion that undocumented immigrants or applicants should apply only after consultation with a trained immigration lawyer. Filing properly in accordance with the rules (not yet adopted) is critical. Pitfalls and problems may result without proper legal counsel.

I was practicing when “Amnesty” became law. The proposed immigration reform is different from the previous Amnesty law in the 1980s and the requirements will be more difficult. I suggest scheduling an appointment with our office now so I can assist you to determine your eligibility . . . and to help you avoid the rush of applications when the new law is passed by Congress and USCIS opens the application period.