Forecast 2014: Momentum Building For Immigration Reform

, The Connecticut Law Tribune


Cynthia Exner
Cynthia Exner

Everyone agrees that our federal immigration system is broken. But finally, it seems, the momentum for dealing with the problem is building in our nation's capital, across the United States and in Connecticut. We have the ability to pass comprehensive immigration reform in 2014.

Senate Bill 744, a broad-based reform proposal, was approved by the U.S. Senate in June 2013 and moved into the House of Representatives. Connecticut Rep. Elizabeth Esty is coauthoring the House version, which would secure our borders, enact reform for immigrant families and businesses that hire immigrant workers, and provide a pathway to citizenship.

Securing our borders is a focal point of the debate. Our border with Mexico is 1,954 miles long, and some want to build a fence along it. Others want national identity cards issued to legal residents and U.S. citizens. The coming year could see Congress approve the ID card, a more secure entry and exit system for foreign nationals coming to the U.S., and the creation of a 19-foot fence along our U.S.-Mexican border.

Equally important are efforts to remove barriers that stop immigrants from gaining meaningful employment and prevent businesses from hiring the workers they need. According to some estimates, widespread immigration reform could reduce the country's budget deficit by $197 billion over a 10-year period.

Skilled Workers

Businesses such as Microsoft and Google need highly skilled workers in order to maintain competition in the global marketplace. U.S. businesses need to be able to hire the best and brightest worldwide. But right now, the ability to hire international workers is severely limited.

The H-1B visa program for highly skilled foreign workers opens up on Oct. 1 each year. But because there are a limited number of new H-1B visas available each fiscal year, those visas were all claimed by Oct. 5, 2013. In effect, if a U.S. business wanted an H-1B visa this fiscal year, it had only a day or two to apply. The program needs to be expanded.

There are two other immigration-oriented measures that face uncertain futures. One is DACA, which is short for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. When it became clear the measure was not going to be approved by Congress, President Barack Obama issued a memorandum in 2012 to the federal Department of Homeland Security, which authorized the program. Now a young person who came to the U.S. before they were 16 years old, and who is in school or has obtained a high school diploma or GED, can receive an employment authorization document. That document allows them to obtain a Social Security card and a state driver's license, and to be legally hired. However, several states are bringing legal challenges against Obama's directive. Whether DACA can survive into the next presidency is questionable.

Also controversial is the DREAM Act, or the Development, Relief & Education for Alien Minors Act, which has come before Congress several times, but has never been passed. The DREAM Act would provide a pathway to permanent U.S. residency to young immigrants who have lived in the U.S. for five or more years, have completed high school, and who serve in the military or attend an accredited college.

Ultimately, the DREAM Act would provide a pathway to citizenship for these children who were brought to our country, through no fault of their own. Passage could help our communities, provide more soldiers in our military, provide more finances for our colleges and universities, and add to the number of taxpayers funding our economy.

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