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Immigration overhaul framework a start

A man walks along the Mexico side of the old border fence as the newer fence looms in the distance last Tuesday in Tijuana, Mexico. (the associated press)
A man walks along the Mexico side of the old border fence as the newer fence looms in the distance last Tuesday in Tijuana, Mexico. (the associated press)
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Well, it’s a start. That’s the way I feel about the newly proposed framework for immigration overhaul set out by a group of U.S. senators, including Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., Marco Rubio, R-Fla., Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J.

This group’s proposal is based on what are termed “four basic legislative pillars” including:

⋄  Creating a tough but fair path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants currently living in the U.S.

⋄  Reformation of the legal immigration system.

⋄  Creating an effective employment verification system that will prevent identity theft and end the hiring of future unauthorized workers.

⋄  Establishing an improved process for admitting future workers to serve our nation’s workforce needs, while simultaneously protecting all workers.

This framework is being proposed at the same time that President Barack Obama has pledged to make immigration reform a top priority of his second term.

In layman’s terms, the framework, which will be converted into legislation by the end of March, will address undocumented immigrants in the U.S. and their quest for citizenship, and the revamping of the nation’s visa process for foreigners. These two issues became extremely controversial, especially during the recently concluded election cycle. It was expected that after the elections wrapped up, these issues would again be fair game for serious discussion, and this is evidenced in the new immigration reform push.

The framework proposes that undocumented immigrants living in the U.S., without criminal records, can be granted a probationary legal residency after paying back taxes and a fine. They would then be eligible to pursue a path to full citizenship only after measures have been taken to prevent the illegal immigration of undocumented workers to the U.S. This entails more border security and developing measures to prevent employers from hiring undocumented workers in the future. This aspect would also address methods for monitoring and dealing with any foreigner who has overstayed his/her visa.

In order to apply for full citizenship, undocumented workers in the U.S. would have to go to the end of the line, behind other applicants who have legally applied for residence in the U.S. via a green card. This addresses the fairness issue in the debate about not penalizing foreigners who have followed the rules and come legally to the U.S.

In terms of immigration reform, the framework would make it easier for the U.S. to provide visas for high-tech workers from other countries, and for foreign students studying in the U.S. pursuing graduate degrees in specific fields. The visa issue also addresses family and employment visas, with the objective of making the revamped immigration system the only way for legal entry into the U.S.

It’s been more than five years since any real effort has been made to address these related issues. Immigration reform and visas have evolved into a political hot potato between the Democrats, Republicans and the president, even though most Americans would like to see these issues resolved. However logical the approach by the senators, nobody is going to be 100 percent happy with the framework in its current form if it is legislatively adopted.

Undocumented workers who for years have lived peacefully and productively in the U.S. are not going to be happy that they will have to go to the end of the line to apply for legal status. Other foreigners will undoubtedly be unhappy that their particular field of expertise is not given a priority status for the granting of visas.

Even though the framework will not be universally accepted, it is a point at which a real discussion can occur on immigration reform. This makes sense for several reasons. First it is unrealistic that the U.S. will be able to identify and deport an estimated 10 to 12 million undocumented immigrants already living in the U.S. The security and administrative costs would be astronomical. Second, in these times of brutal competition among nations to increase their productivity and thus the quality of life for their citizens, the U.S. needs to be attracting the best and brightest that the world has to offer. All data point to the fact that the overwhelming majority of undocumented workers are productive people eager to better their families’ lives by working hard and backfilling jobs that most Americans no longer want.

Finally, because the U.S. has always been a nation of immigrants and has opened its doors to foreigners throughout its history, putting in place a framework to better manage and monitor immigration is necessary. A lot can happen between now and March when the framework is scheduled to be presented as legislation. However, it is a good sign that immigration reform is back on the table and actively being discussed.

Jerry Pacheco is the executive director of the International Business Accelerator, a nonprofit trade counseling program of the New Mexico Small Business Development Centers Network. He can be reached at 575-589-2200 or at jerry@nmiba.com.<br>

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