Tuesday, February 19, 2013

A Bridge to Immigration Reform

Guest Blogger: Mark Griffin, Third-year law student at the University of San Francisco:
Currently in Washington, each side of the isle is urging for legislative immigration reform. Whether or not it will be accomplished has yet to be seen, but both sides are optimistic that a deal may be reached soon. Assuming a deal is reached, the question that will arise is what to do with the current undocumented immigrants that reside in the United States? The current U.S. law forces undocumented immigrants who entered without inspection that wish to apply for lawful status to do so in their originating country of origin. This is and has been an unrealistic policy. Undocumented immigrants that are currently where they want to end up would not go back to their country of origin for the potential chance to return to their current residence and lifestyle.  Alternatively, granting all current undocumented immigrants residing in the United States some type of citizenship would not be fair or just. Such action would reward those who undermined the former laws and would be unfair to the immigrants that are respecting the current law and applying legally to enter. The dilemma America would then face is how to fairly treat the current undocumented immigrants that arrived before the new immigration laws take place.
Former Homeland Security Secretary under President George W. Bush, Michael Chertoff, has suggested that the answer might reside in granting temporary work visas to employed undocumented immigrants. Undocumented immigrants that could show proof of employment would be allowed to gain a temporary visa that would allow them to live openly in public and continue contributing to the American economy while applying for citizenship. Although the number of undocumented immigrants that apply for this temporary visa would far outnumber the 400,000 or so temporary work visas the United State typically offers, the number issued would be necessary to bridge the gap from the old policy to the new policy. Benefits of a program that provides temporary work visa issued to employed undocumented workers would be documentation of previously undocumented immigrants; that would result in the United States gaining an accurate count and registry of those who are working and residing in the country, and acknowledgement and reward for undocumented immigrants that have been contributing to our economy.
Proponents will argue that a program that grants visas for employed undocumented immigrants and fast tracks them to citizenship would reward people who broke the law. Although proponents have a valid point, when one considers the comprehensive objective of national immigration reform it is a minor point. Yes, at one point undocumented immigrants did break the law. But many Americans have also broken the law to enable them to stay and to reap benefits of their labor. There have been employers employing them, home owners renting to them and schools teaching their children. The issue is no longer punishing them for breaking the law, but fairly resolving what to do with this group of people who have integrated into our society. From the shadow of darkness faces will emerge of employed undocumented immigrant workers who share our values, contribute to the economy and are parts of our communities.
Furthermore, granting temporary work visas to employed undocumented immigrants and fast tracking their application to citizenship is actually a compromise. While agreeing to let the employed undocumented immigrants stay in our communities that benefit them, opponents will still be able to negotiate how to treat unemployed undocumented immigrant workers. 
While hardliner opponents of programs that result in citizenship for undocumented immigrants will want to deport these people, this would likely lead to the exact problem currently faced by undocumented workers living in the shadows of America. A more viable solution would be to extend a period of transition. Unemployed undocumented immigrant workers should be allowed to have six to nine months to gain employment. If during the period of transition employment were to be gained, the employed undocumented worker would be allowed to apply for a temporary work visa. Alternatively if an undocumented immigrant were unable to gain employment during the transition period, they would be eligible for deportation. Once eligible for deportation there would be a deportation hearing, where valid circumstances that prevented an undocumented immigrant from gaining gainful employment during the transition period, such as age, could be voiced. If there was not a compelling reason, then the undocumented immigrant would be deported to his or her national country of origin.
Some might view the program as appeasing to people that broke the law, and the truth is they are correct. The program does appease  people that broke the law. It appeases the employers that employed undocumented cheap labor, the businesses that accepted money that was earned illegally, and the immigrants that surreptitiously crossed the border to work and contribute to our economy. The issue of undocumented immigrants did not solely occur in our country via the feet of undocumented immigrants, it occurred due to the desire of the employer, the blind eye of the citizen and the policy of our government, and thus the solutions should be borne on the shoulders of all of the parties.



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