On June 11, the Senate voted 82-15 to permit a debate about the proposed immigration reform bill. The Senate bill would provide a pathway to citizenship for almost 11 million undocumented immigrants currently residing in the country. While many Senators hailed the vote as a critical step in passing comprehensive immigration reform, others argued for some amendments like limiting welfare benefits, securing national borders, and raising back taxes.
Although there is considerable work to be completed on immigration reform, as an immigration attorney in Texas, I am encouraged that the Senate bill includes some key proposals. The current immigration system is outdated, confusing and, at times, inequitable. My hope is that the Senate’s immigration package will help remedy these flaws.
The Senate bill has inspired support from many major groups including the President. President Obama hailed the bill as one of the best chances to modernize the current immigration system and provide a way to include undocumented immigrants in American society. The business community has also lent their support to the bill which would allow more H-1B visas to be awarded to worthy immigrants who possess skills in science and technology.
The pathway to citizenship outlined in the bill would permit undocumented aliens to obtain temporary legal status for ten years. If these immigrants pass a background check; pay back taxes, fees and fines; and learn English then they can qualify for citizenship at the end of the ten year period.
Some Senators have voiced concerns about the bill and submitted amendments addressing serious issues. One of the biggest issues is that of immigrants who would be a drain on state or national resources. At least one Senator has proposed blocking naturalization for immigrants who would receive welfare or health care benefits, although these amendments have been voted down so far.
Other Senators are more concerned with ensuring that only legal immigration is permitted in the future, which would entail securing U.S. land borders. There is a bloc of Congressional leaders who refuse to confer citizenship on undocumented immigrants unless more funding is provided to strengthen border protection. Many of these Senators recall the amnesty granted in 1986 to almost three million immigrants, which inspired more unauthorized immigration. This issue is expected to generate considerable debate in the weeks ahead.
There is also a conflict between the business community and the major labor union groups. The current Senate bill increases the number of H-1B visas for high skilled workers, but does not grant any preference for American workers. Groups like the AFL-CIO have decried this and promised to fight for American worker preference.
As an immigration attorney in Austin, I am excited to observe these events. It has been almost three decades since the immigration system has undergone a major overhaul, and the efforts of Congress promise to reshape my profession. I hope that these changes will improve the lives of Americans and those many immigrants who seek to join our great society. If you or someone you know has any questions about proposed immigration changes, please contact Lyttle Law Firm PLLC at (512) 215-5225 to schedule a private consultation.