Feb. 8, 2013 – President Obama recently outlined his proposal for overhauling the nation's immigration laws and for the first time providing a pathway to earned citizenship for more than 11 million undocumented persons. A bipartisan group of senators also unveiled a similar immigration plan. The proposals have sparked a fierce debate on how immigration reform should be handled. Geoffrey A. Hoffman, clinical associate professor and faculty supervisor of the University of Houston Law Center Immigration Clinic, weighs in on the issue.
Q.) What does President Obama's immigration reform proposal entail?
President Obama's plan has a little bit for everyone. There are four parts to his proposal. First, the proposal provides undocumented immigrants a legal way to earn citizenship. Immigrants living in the United States without documentation will be able to earn provisional legal status if they come forward and register, pass criminal background and national security checks, pay a filing fee and penalty, and get up-to-date on their taxes. Undocumented immigrants will also have to "go to the back of the line" before beginning the process of applying for permanent residency. The second part of the president's proposal is increased border security. Third, crack down on employers that hire undocumented workers. Fourth, streamline the legal immigration system for families, workers, and employers.
Q.) How long will it take for undocumented immigrants to get permanent residency under the new proposal?
There is a huge backlog right now. Individuals must wait until the existing legal immigration backlogs are cleared before getting in line to apply for lawful permanent residency. This could take five, ten, or even 15 years for some people. Some have criticized the plan because those in provisional status would not be entitled to welfare or federal benefits.
Q.) What is the biggest sticking point between the two sides on reaching a deal?
The most striking difference between the two plans relates to the timing of when undocumented immigrants would be able apply for provisional status which would be their pathway to earned citizenship. Obama's plan stresses that the pathway to citizenship should begin as quickly as possible and should not be contingent on the completion of further stringent border security measures. On the other hand, the Senate plan, presented by eight U.S. Senators, creates a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants that would begin only after border security measures are increased.
Q.) Will this help the economy?
Yes. According to a 2012 report, immigration reform could create 1.4 million new jobs. It is also estimated that it will generate over $300 billion in taxable income by allowing undocumented immigrants to come out of the shadows to work lawfully.
Q.) Some believe that President Obama has not done enough to secure the border, what do you think?
That President Obama is an "enforcement-President" will perhaps come as a shock to some. Obama deported 1.06 million well before the end of his first term, as of September 2012, in contrast to the 1.57 million in President Bush's two full presidential terms. In fact, a new report has just predicted that the Obama administration will have deported a new record of 2 million by 2014. It has also been reported that the Obama administration spent almost $18 billion on immigration enforcement last year, significantly more than the spending on all other major federal law enforcement agencies combined.
Q.) Do you believe this will pass or fail?
This has a good chance of passing because it affects so many people and will be a boon to the economy. The fact that Democrats and Republicans are coming together with a bipartisan proposal is a good indication that elected officials understand this is an immensely important issue. If it fails, it would be a missed opportunity to allow undocumented immigrants to come out of the shadows, to help people, and to strengthen the economy as a whole. Both political parties would face substantial repercussions if reform efforts fail.
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