What Should Not be in an Immigration Reform Bill


There will be a major push beginning in a matter of weeks for a broad reform of immigration laws. The effort will be led by President Obama and Senator Schumer will play a major role. More than a half-dozen Republican senators will have to sign-on for reform, as will House Speaker Boehner. This means that any immigration reform will be the product of a compromise.

Over the next two weeks, I want to look at past conservative proposals that might be put forward to tamp down immigration reform’s effectiveness. These proposals have the potential to dramatically alter the way reform works and limit the number of people helped.

To be workable, immigration reform should cover the vast majority of the undocumented living in the United States. It should be simple enough to apply for that most people eligible for it can meet the requirements to apply. It should not have cut-off dates that are far in the past, making documentation difficult to assemble. It must not contain burdensome requirements that discourage people from applying.

While it is legitimate to create a temporary probationary period before applicants become permanent residents and citizens, there must be a clear pathway from temporary status to citizenship. Temporary status is not a substitute for citizenship.

Fees, fines and the cost of getting help to apply must be affordable. Complexity adds cost. Higher cost means fewer people apply. Keeping the process simple will keep prices down.
Application deadlines should be generous. In addition, applications must be adjudicated quickly to spur the undocumented to come forward. Conservative proposals contrary to these principles will cut many immigrants off from the protections reform could offer.

After I sketch out what should not be in an immigration reform proposal, I’ll write next month about what needs to be in a plan to make it workable.

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Patrick Young blogs daily for Long Island Wins. He is the Downstate Advocacy Director of the New York Immigration Coalition and Special Professor of Immigration Law at Hofstra School of Law. He served as the Director of Legal Services and Program at Central American Refugee Center (CARECEN) for three decades before retiring in 2019. Pat is also a student of immigration history and the author of The Immigrants' Civil War.

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