Immigration reform: Creating an earned path to citizenshipBy Lourdes Santos Tancinco
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Immigration reform has been the central issue of discussion in the United States in recent weeks. It started with the so-called gang-of-eight, a group of bi-partisan senators, introducing their immigration reform plans, followed by President Barack Obama’s announcement on his own plan. The House Judiciary Committee also began its hearings, choosing immigration as their first subject of discussion.
All these indicate that the momentum for immigration reform is building up, drumming up excitement in immigrant communities. Several of those who could benefit from the reform are eagerly seeking clarification on steps to be taken in the event the law is passed.
Very recently, I received the following e-mail from a reader: “I came to the US with a tourist visa in 2008. On the very date of expiration of my stay on April 13, 2009, I married a man with permanent status. But we have conflicts in our relationship and we don’t live together now. He does not want to get his citizenship and he has not filed a petition for me up to this time although he also does not want to divorce me.
“My question is, what should I be doing right now in preparation for the coming immigration laws of President Obama? Secondly, can I possibly file on my own petition without any required signature of my husband? Thirdly, should I be doing something, like filing a divorce in preparation for the possible amnesty as being pushed by Pres. Obama? Please help!”–Marie
Marie presents a typical visitor visa holder who overstayed and fell out of status. For those who are currently undocumented, understanding the basic principles laid down by the bi-partisan Senators and President Obama will provide us with an idea of what Congress might pass as immigration reform.
In his speech, Obama generally mentioned four parts of his proposed immigration reform: (1) continue to strengthen the borders; (2) crack down on companies that hire undocumented worker; (3) hold undocumented immigrants accountable before they can earn their citizenship—this means requiring undocumented workers to pay their taxes and a penalty, move to the back of the line, learn English, and pass background checks; and (4) streamline the legal immigration system for families, workers, and employers.
The bi-partisan Senators laid down four pillars of their own immigration reform plan: (1) create a tough but fair path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants currently living in the US that is contingent upon securing the borders; (2) reform the legal immigration system to better recognize the importance of characteristics that will help build the American economy and strengthen American families; (3) create an effective employment verification system; and (4) establish an improved process for admitting future workers to serve the nation’s workforce needs.
Both President Obama and the senators agreed that the immigration system is broken and that there is a need to fix it through a comprehensive reform. They both agreed that once the undocumented become legal immigrants, there should be a pathway to citizenship. The senators’ proposal, however, will allow the opportunity to become US citizens only when the borders are fully secured.
There is no such contingency on Obama’s plan. Both border security and interior enforcement efforts have been aggressively taken in the last decade. There is a budget of $18 billion annually for enforcement to secure the border and the interiors. More than 409,849 were also deported in 2012 according the figures reported by the Department of Homeland Security. All these indicate aggressive efforts toward securing both the border and the interiors. To make security of the border as a condition precedent to receiving the green card would be unjustifiable.
Waiting in Line
Interesting to note is the proposal that those present in the US and who are undocumented, will have to wait in line behind those who have been waiting for several years to receive their green card. This means that there will be no green cards to undocumented immigrants unless all those who have filed petitions ahead of them received their green cards. Unfortunately, close family members and legal permanent residents wait years or even decades to get a visa.
It is not easy to simply get into the line. The waiting time is long especially for petitions of US citizens for siblings coming from the Philippines. It takes 24 years before these siblings are able to immigrate. For adult children of US citizens, it takes 16 to 19 years before a visa is made available. An undocumented who will have to wait that long before a green card is issued will suffer the effects of a backlog before his status is legalized. Real reform must provide a solution to reducing the backlog. This may be done by adding more visas to both family and employment categories.
To Marie and those who are similarly situated, keeping handy all immigration documents related to their entry to the US may be a step towards preparing to legalize one’s status. Another important note is not to make major plans to travel unless it is authorized.
(Tancinco may be reached at 8877177 or 7211963 or e-mail her at email@example.com or visit her website at www.tancinco.com)