Comprehensive immigration reform is finally underway. With Congress’ first hearing on overhauling the immigration system just last week and the recent introduction of the Immigration Innovation Act of 2013 (or “I-squared”) in late January of this year, it looks like things are finally moving forward. But, how did it get to this point and why is immigration reform such a big issue?
Much of the immigration debate surrounds undocumented immigrants, and recent memory suggest we could start with the DREAM Act of 2009 – a piece of legislation that never quite made it to the books, but sparked the debate on allowing undocumented immigrants, particularly minors, to gain citizenship after time spent in higher education or the military. The DREAM Act allowed certain eligible undocumented immigrants, including those that overstayed their temporary visas, the opportunity to work and live freely like the rest of the American population. It would have also positively impacted a number of young undocumented immigrants who had no choice in coming across the border without inspection.
Although the DREAM Act never made it, President Obama passed a recent stop gap measure called the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in the summer of 2012. It let certain young undocumented immigrants who have completed or are still enrolled in school to be put on the bottom of the deportation priority list. As of January 2013, nearly 400,000 young people have benefited from the program.
Behind the public debate surrounding undocumented immigrants, big businesses have also gotten behind immigration reform. Business employers are restricted by overly high standards and visa caps, making hiring the best and the brightest all that much harder. The biggest buzz surrounding corporate immigration reform is the H-1B visa, which allows foreign nationals with college degrees or higher to work temporarily. The visa quota for H-1B has been 65,000 since the 1990s, with temporary increases in the late 1990s and the early 2000s, but have since dropped back down to 65,000 since 2004. This has frustrated a number of businesses, including high tech bay area companies, saying that it has stifled innovation and that current H-1B visa quotas are not keeping up with the advancing technology demands.
With comprehensive legal reform, it would allow both undocumented immigrants and professional immigrant talent to work legally and contribute to America’s economic growth, as well as encouraging and rewarding them with a path to citizenship.
Stay tuned for more articles on comprehensive immigration reform and other immigration issues. Contact us if you have any questions about this article or about your own immigration situation!