“Immigration reform” in the United States of America is widely used to describe proposals to increase legal immigration while decreasing illegal immigration, such as the guest worker proposal supported by George W. Bush. Illegal immigration is a controversial issue in the United States. Proponents of greater immigration enforcement argue that illegal tarnished immigrants cost taxpayers an estimated $338.3 billion dollars and jeopardize the safety of law enforcement officials and citizens, especially along the Mexican border.[2]

Vicente Fox, former Mexican president, writes that in 2001, President George W. Bush, and the leadership of both parties of Congress were about to pass significant immigration reform legislation benefiting Mexican emigration to the U.S.[3]

The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 made it illegal to hire or recruit illegal immigrants, but left the immigration system without a key component – a workable non-immigrant visa system program for lesser-skilled workers to enter the United States. Following the 1986 amnesty, almost 12 million undocumented workers came across the U.S. border. It was estimated that this undocumented workforce made up about five percent of the U.S. workforce. It was also estimated that about 70 percent of those undocumented workers were from the country of Mexico.[4]

In 2006, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Border Protection, Anti-terrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005, and in 2006 the U.S. Senate passed the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006. Neither bill became law because their differences could not be reconciled in conference committee.[5] The legislative negotiations and national activism behind immigration reform from 2001-2007 is the subject of 12-part documentary film series How Democracy Works Now.

In 2009 the immigration reform became a hot topic, since the Barack Obama administration recently signaled interest in beginning a discussion on comprehensive immigration reform before year’s end.[6][7] The proposed comprehensive immigration reform plan had as its goal bipartisan support and includes six sections designed to have “something for everyone.” These six sections are: (1) to fix border enforcement, (2) “interior enforcement,” such as preventing visa overstays, (3) preventing people from working without a work permit, (4) creating a committee to adapt the number of visas available to changing economic times, (5) an ‘amnesty’ type of program to legalize undocumented immigrants, and (6) programs to help immigrants adjust to life in the United States.[8]

A 2010 academic study[citation needed] has shown that when immigration issues receive national media attention, established residents living in places that have seen influx of new immigrants suddenly become much more politicized against immigration. This suggests that it is not the influx of new residents or new proximity to established residents that stir anti-immigrant sentiments; rather, resentment is spurred by the heated and prominent nature of the debate itself[dubious ]. The study, done by Georgetown University and published in the American Political Science Review, “Politicized Places: Explaining Where and When Immigrants Provoke Local Opposition,” examined more than twelve different surveys relating to immigration and local anti-immigration ordinances, spanning the years 1992 to 2009. During a period of high national attention to immigration, anti-immigration attitudes among established residents in fast-changing counties increase by 9.9%. The study’s author states that ethnic and racial surroundings appear to affect Americans’ political attitudes far less than previously thought: “Those who live near larger proportions of immigrants do not consistently exhibit more negative attitudes.” Rather, the author concludes, “day-to-day encounters can be shaped by salient national issues.”[9]

On January 28, 2013, a bi-partisan group of eight Senators announced principles for comprehensive immigration reform (CIR). The Senators involved include: Chuck Schumer of New York, Dick Durbin of Illinois, Bob Menendez of New Jersey, and Michael Bennet of Colorado, and Republicans John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Marco Rubio of Florida, and Jeff Flake of Arizona.[10]

The policies envisioned by the Senators include the following provisions:

  • citizenship path for undocumented immigrants already in the United States contingent on certain border security and visa tracking improvements. The plan provides for permanent residence for undocumentedimmigrants only after legal immigrants waiting for a current priority date receive their permanent residence status and a different citizenship path for agricultural workers through an agricultural worker program.
  • Business immigration system reforms, focusing on reducing current visa backlogs and fast tracking permanent residence for U.S. university immigrant graduates with advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering or math also known as the STEM fields.
  • An expanded and improved employment verification system for all employers to confirm employee work authorization.
  • Improved work visa options for low-skill workers including an agricultural worker program. [11]

[edit]Arizona SB 1070

In 2009, services provided to illegal immigrants, including incarceration, cost the state of Arizona an estimated $2.7 billion.[12]

Citing Congress’ failure to enforce U.S. immigration laws, the state of Arizona confronted reform and on April, 23, 2010 Republican Governor Jan Brewer signed the Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act (Arizona SB 1070), the broadest and strictest immigration reform imposed in the United States.[13]

The SB1070 Arizona immigration law directs law enforcement officials to ask for immigration papers on a “reasonable suspicion” that a person might be an illegal immigrant and make arrests for not carrying ID papers.[14]Previously, police could not stop and check identification papers on a mere suspicion that someone might be an illegal immigrant. Police could only ask about an individual’s immigration status if they are suspected of involvement in another crime.[15]

On July 6, 2010, the US Department of Justice filed suit against Arizona. The intent of the suit is to prevent Arizona from enforcing the law and asks the court to find certain sections of the legislation null and void.[16] The United States Congress has left this issue untouched as many feared such a vote could threaten their chances at reelection

Being the first state to pass such legislation, Arizona has set a precedent for other states, but this legislation has also caused Arizona to carry a large burden. Arizonans have faced boycotts and protests from their commercial businesses to sporting events and concert. Although the response has cost the state between $7 million and $52 million, some in the state still feel that this outcome will outweigh the initial cost.[17]

Due to conflict and protest, the week after she signed SB 1070, Governor Brewer signed the Arizona legislature passed House Bill 2162 (HB 2162) amending text in the original document. HB 2162 includes that race, color, and national origin would not play a role in prosecution; in order to investigate an individual’s immigration status, he or she must be “lawfully stopped, arrested or detained.”[18]

Opponents of the law say that it will ultimately cost the state “$26.4 billion in economic activity, $11.7 billion in gross state product and approximately 140,024 jobs” if all illegal immigrants are removed from the state.[19]

[edit]Immigration Court Reform

In the absence of comprehensive immigration reform at the federal level, many advocacy groups have focused on improving the fairness and efficiency of the immigration court system.[20][21][22] They propose incremental steps the executive branch can take to stop an “assembly line approach”[23] to deportation proceedings. These groups have identified several issues that threaten the due process rights of immigrants, including reliance on low quality videoconferencing to conduct hearings, inadequate language interpretation services for non-English speakers, and limited access to court records.[24] They also focus on problems arising out of the recent increase in immigration law enforcement without a commensurate boost in resources for adjudication.[25] Immigration Judges and DHS Trial Attorneys are overworked,[26] and the pro bono community has been unable to meet the demand for representation: 49% of individuals facing removal proceedings in 2011 were unrepresented.[27] Other calls for reform include increased transparency at the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA)[28] and more diversity of experience among Immigration Judges, the majority of whom previously held positions adversarial to immigrants.[29]

The deferred action process President Obama announced on June 15, 2012 is one example of the incremental reform these groups seek. Under the program, undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. before age fifteen can apply for a work permit and a two-year deferment from deportation proceedings.[30] The policy expands the Department of Homeland Security’s prosecutorial discretion policy, focusing finite resources on criminals and other threats to public safety.[31]

[edit]Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013

On April 17, 2013, the “Gang of Eight” in the United States Senate introduced S.744, the long-awaited Senate version of the immigration reform bill proposed in congress.[32] See the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013 article for more information. Text of the proposed legislation was promptly released on the website of Senator Charles Schumer.