Immigration Reform

28 Jan

Today is really the start of the immigration reform debate in Washington. A group of eight senators from both parties issued an outline of the principles that will guide their reform bill. These principles will form the basis for the debate in the coming months. The document is here:

There are a few notable features. First, it creates a provisional status for those here illegally. For a while, we have heard that there would be a “pathway to citizenship” for undocumented immigrants but they would have to go to the “back of the line”. It was never clear how this would work. There are still some questions, but it looks like they want to create a provisional legal status immediately, then grant permanent status once other things, like better border security, have happened. This is similar to what they did for Dreamers last year, creating an immediate provisional status, to take away the threat of deportation and provide work authorization, to be followed later by a permanent change of status. Just like with DACA, applicants would have to pass a criminal background check.

Incidentally, those who got deferred action for childhood arrival (DACA) will be on a faster track to permanent residence under this proposal.

Another interesting claim is that those with this provisional status will only get permanent residence after everybody waiting in line gets their green cards first. Since some people with family-based petitions have priority dates of 20 years ago, this would seem to be a long wait. Perhaps, they will issue a lot of green cards temporarily to clear the decks of everyone waiting in line. If so, people should apply now to get in line, even if it seems like a long wait, like a Mexican sibling of a US citizen. That wait might get a lot shorter. In fact, later in the document, they stress their intention to reduce backlogs for family-based visa petitions.

A lot more information will come out in the coming weeks and months. But, this document is important for setting the terms of the debate over immigration reform this year.