A bipartisan group of senators recently announced a Framework for Comprehensive Immigration Reform that would create a “Path to Citizenship” for the 11 million illegal immigrants now living in the U.S.

That four Democratic senators and four Republican senators would endorse a common set of legislative principles on this controversial issue significantly improves its chances of enactment this year or next. Read more.

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Immigration Reform: An Idea Whose Time Has Come?

Mon Feb 11, 2013

A bipartisan group of senators recently announced a Framework for Comprehensive Immigration Reform that would create a “Path to Citizenship” for the 11 million illegal immigrants now living in the U.S.

That four Democratic senators and four Republican senators would endorse a common set of legislative principles on this controversial issue significantly improves its chances of enactment this year or next.

The Path to Citizenship plan envisions three stages for individuals presently in the country illegally:

First, undocumented aliens would be able to qualify for “probationary legal status” that will allow them to live and work legally in the U.S. after they have registered with the government, submitted to a criminal background screening and paid a fine and any back taxes.

Second, once border enforcement and security measures are improved and certified, immigrants who have attained probationary status could apply for a “green card,” granting them legal permanent residence in the U.S., although the senators’ principles framework would require these individuals to “go to the back of the line of prospective immigrants.” Only after “every individual who is already waiting in line for a green card” has received theirs could those with probationary status receive legal permanent residence.

Third, individuals who achieve green card status would be eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship, including eligibility for access to government benefits..

Three categories of immigrants would be excepted from the process outlined above and receive accelerated consideration for permanent legal resident status: young people brought into the U.S. illegally as minors; for food safety reasons, certain agricultural workers who are in great demand for seasonal work in the U.S.; and high-skilled individuals who earn graduate degrees from American universities in engineering, mathematics and the sciences.

To be sure, the senators’ framework document leaves many unanswered questions, including whether the legislation will expressly provide for a “guest worker” program that would allow immigrants legally to enter the country and work for specific periods of time before returning to their home countries. The framework does contemplate “admitting new workers” but provides few details.

Another important unspecified aspect is exactly what new compliance responsibilities will be imposed on America’s employers. The senators recognize that employment opportunity is the magnet that attracts most immigrants to the U.S. But the framework statement calls for a “tough, fair, effective and mandatory employment verification system” that “must hold employers accountable.”

The senators pledge that “Our proposal will create an effective employment verification system,” which, of course, the vast majority of employers would welcome, assuming the government can create and implement such a system in practice.

In light of some of the questions that have arisen with the government’s E-Verify system, America’s employers will be paying strict attention to Congressional deliberations on this mandatory employment verification system.

The last time Congress gave serious consideration to comprehensive immigration reform legislation, in 2007, senators and representatives were unable to reach agreement on a final bill. Hopes are high that this time President Obama and Capitol Hill Republicans and Democrats will find a way to improve America’s immigration system and create a win-win-win for the U.S. economy, employers and millions of immigrants.