The Bitter Political Ironies Of Comprehensive Immigration Reform

After the votes were tabulated from the 2012 Presidential election, the prospects for Congress and the President to reach an agreement on comprehensive immigration reform appeared much brighter than before. The conventional wisdom stated that Republicans would look at the poor showing their presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, had with Hispanic voters (who overwhelmingly view passage of a suitable reform package an absolute necessity at this juncture) as a wake-up call. It seemed manifestly clear after Governor Romney lost the Hispanic vote by a 44% margin to President Obama that they can no longer claim that strengthened border security and increased deportations (not to mention the curiously referenced “self-deportation) would suffice as a viable long-term political strategy for the party.

In 2013 it appeared for a while that many of the leaders of the party took this concern very seriously. One notable party leader, Marco Rubio, the junior senator from Florida whose parents fled Cuba decades ago, led an effort in the Senate to reach agreement with Democrats on a comprehensive bill. The result was Senate Bill 744 which eventually passed the Senate. The bill makes changes to the family and employment-based visa categories for immigrants, provides critical due-process protections, increases the availability of nonimmigrant workers to supplement all sectors of the workforce, and provides legal status to 11 million undocumented immigrants within the United States.  It commits additional resources to the growing infrastructure of border security on our country’s southern border with Mexico and applies some vague test for determining if the border is secure before the Department of Homeland Security can begin accepting applications for residence and citizenship for those undocumented aliens who would qualify for relief under the new law.

But to become a law, S.B. 744 must either be approved as well by the House of Representatives or the House must pass its own bill. If the House does the latter, the two bills could both be sent to a conference committee composed of both Senators and House members who would be tasked with reconciling the two bills. There are two problems that render this outcome unlikely over the next year. The current members of the House prefer to see additional border security measures taken and a further increase beyond the record level of deportations executed by the Obama administration before taking up measures to provide for work residency status not to mention the path to citizenship established by S.B. 744. Furthermore, with many House members likely to be challenged in primaries by candidates who oppose any reform that remotely smells of “amnesty, it is unlikely the House will take up any measures until after the primary season ends in July of this year.

Perhaps the political pressure from pro-reform groups on the two parties’ candidates in midterm elections will then force another shift in favor of reform. Even if this is the case, it is unlikely that the resulting legislation will contain a genuine path to citizenship as included in the Senate bill. And it may contain burdens on undocumented aliens which exceed the lengthy and costly process established in that bill.

In the meantime, it is critical, in the event that reform does become law that the immigration attorneys in this country be prepared for the new category of cases any new law is likely to generate.  Edward Shulman, the founder of The Shulman Law Group, LLC is the former NJ Chapter Chair and a national speaker for the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA).  AILA is the national association of immigration lawyers established to promote justice, advocate for fair and reasonable immigration law and policy, and to advance the quality of immigration and nationality law and practice.  In the course of Mr. Shulman’s involvement with AILA, he has been dedicated to educating other immigration attorneys about the import of helping intending immigrants to navigate a new cultural system. He meticulously follows all of the developments occurring in the battle over immigration reform so that he will be prepared to effectively assist his clients obtain either citizenship or residency if a new system is enacted.