In his State of the Union address President Obama made a clear call for immigration reform and said that 2014 needs to be a “year of action.”  The President also insisted that it’s an issue which needs bicameral support and that Congress must work with him.  However, many are wary because the President has discussed fixing the United States’ broken immigration system in the past without success.  For example, last year’s State of the Union address discussed his plan in greater detail than this year but legislative differences between the House of Representatives and the Senate have stalled any progress.

 

This time however, there seems to be bicameral support because Republican Party leaders have understood the growing Latino electoral clout (it is expected that by 2050 1 in every 3 voters will be Latino).  Speaker Boehner recently hired an immigration policy expert to join his leadership staff, causing many to believe that he will pursue legislation at some point before this congress ends.  Recent rumors say that GOP leaders could propose a path to citizenship for people brought to the U.S. as young children in the coming days.

 In his State of the Union address President Obama made a clear call for immigration reform and said that 2014 needs to be a “year of action.”  The President also insisted that it’s an issue which needs bicameral support and that Congress must work with him.  However, many are wary because the President has discussed fixing the United States’ broken immigration system in the past without success.  For example, last year’s State of the Union address discussed his plan in greater detail than this year but legislative differences between the House of Representatives and the Senate have stalled any progress.

 

This time however, there seems to be bicameral support because Republican Party leaders have understood the growing Latino electoral clout (it is expected that by 2050 1 in every 3 voters will be Latino).  Speaker Boehner recently hired an immigration policy expert to join his leadership staff, causing many to believe that he will pursue legislation at some point before this congress ends.  Recent rumors say that GOP leaders could propose a path to citizenship for people brought to the U.S. as young children in the coming days.

 

President Obama’s plan has four main pillars: strengthening border security, penalizing employers who hire undocumented workers, creating a path to earned citizenship and streamlining the legal immigration system. 

 

In the first pillar, strengthening border security, the reform proposes building on pre-existing programs, such as the dramatic twofold increase in CBP agents, and enhancing infrastructure and technology.  Clearly defending one’s borders is a nation’s priority as is defending it from persons who may wish it harm.  However, the U.S.-Mexico border is already one of the most militarized in the world (and costs taxpayers $18 billion a year according to the Migration Policy Institute) to the degree that border crossing wait times are often extremely long. 

 

The GAO recently published a report saying that the wait times were too long and that this can “negatively affect the US economy,” because of the importance of U.S.-Mexico trade.  Many conservatives argue that these measures are necessary to keep drug trafficking and terrorists out.  Neither of these arguments have teeth since the U.S. has overwhelmingly failed at keeping illicit narcotics out of the country and less than .001% of migrants apprehended along the U.S.-Mexico border between 2010 and 2012 hailed from countries on the State Department’s terrorism watch list.

 

The second pillar, penalizing employers who hire undocumented workers, has been in effect for a long time.  Employers are asked to use E-Verify to ensure that employees are documented throughout the United States.  These penalties; however, are extremely difficult to enforce and can have negative consequences. For example, in states such as Georgia and California, produce rotted on the trees in 2012 and 2013 because of a lack of migrant workers, negatively impacting both the local and U.S. economy. 

 

The third pillar, creating a path to earned citizenship, is aimed at giving the 11 million undocumented migrants who live and work in the United States the ability to live without fear of being separated from their families and the ability to contribute economically to the United States in a legal manner. The reform says that to become citizens they will have to: pass background and national security checks, pay taxes and a penalty, go to the back of the waiting list and learn English. 

 

Many of these are already requirements for becoming U.S. citizens, namely the checks, paying taxes and learning English.  “Going to the back of the line,” is also expected since US Citizenship and Immigration Services already has a heavy case load and operates on a first come first serve basis depending on when applications are received. 

 

The last pillar is streamlining the legal immigration system.  President Obama’s reform directly addresses the visa backlogs by raising the country caps and the amount of visas for certain employment categories, creates a green card for graduates with advanced degrees in math and science who find jobs, enables foreign entrepreneurs to invest in the U.S., and creates visas for investors.  All of these are important reforms and tackle many issues which have plagued immigrants and could help grow the U.S. economy. 

 

The third and fourth pillars are generally sound reforms and could enable immigrants to live and work in the United States and contribute to both the economy and the nation’s diversity, which should be prized since the United States is a “nation of immigrants.” The first and second pillars are politically necessary at this time.  Overall, it does seem that this time there is cause for hope that maybe the warring political parties will come together to benefit millions of people individually and the nation as a whole with a substantive reform package.