What Should Comprehensive Immigration Reform Look Like?

Before one can aptly answer the article’s title question, one has to take a step back and research the history of immigration reform. In 2007 (May 9 to be exact), a bill was introduced by then Senator Harry Reid called “The Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007 (full name: Secure Borders, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Reform Act of 2007 (S. 1348)).”

The bill proposed legal status and a path to citizenship for the approximately 12 million undocumented immigrants residing in the United States.  The bill was portrayed as a compromise between providing a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and increased border enforcement. It included funding for 300 miles (480 km) of vehicle barriers, 105 camera and radar towers, and 20,000 more border patrol agents, while simultaneously restructuring visa criteria around high-skilled workers. The bill also received heated criticism from both sides of the immigration debate.

The legislative history of this bill continues. It was a bill that was never voted on, but received heated criticism from both sides of the immigration debate.

Here we are 11 years later and the hot topic in the current events of today is Comprehensive Immigration Reform. What should it look like is the question of the day? I will attempt to answer that question in five parts.

Comprehensive Immigration Reform should include a solution to a group known as Temporary Protected Status (TPS). In 1990, Congress established a procedure by which the attorney general may provide temporary protected status to immigrants in the United States who are temporarily unable to safely return to their home country due to armed conflict, environmental disaster or other extraordinary and temporary conditions. Today, the current administration is seeking to end this protected status for many eligible immigrants currently living in the U.S.  Comprehensive Immigration Reform ought to include continued protection for people affected negatively in their home countries.

Comprehensive Immigration Reform should include a solution to DACA. I discussed DACA in a previous article (See DACA, DACA in the 2017 article). DACA is the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. This is a program that is ending on March 5, 2018. This program was created by the Obama Administration to help eligible young people and give them a chance to stay in the United States without the fear of deportation, and also give the opportunity to work legally in the United States by granting them two-year work permits. Approximately 700,000 young people are currently in limbo awaiting a resolution before the March 2018 deadline. Comprehensive Immigration Reform should include a solution to DACA.

Comprehensive Immigration Reform should include a solution to immigration enforcement, detention and deportation proceedings. The backlog on court proceedings dealing with deportation is vast. Per the PBS NewsHour in September 2017, there were 600,000 cases pending and only 334 judges to hear them. The average wait time for a hearing is 672 days. That’s nearly  two years!  Comprehensive Immigration Reform has to include a solution to this dire problem of backlog, because backlogs become extremely problematic for many people – evidence becomes stale, witnesses cannot be found, or relatives who file petitions of behalf of immigrants become ill or die.

Comprehensive Immigration Reform should include a solution to border security. The current administration is insistent that building “a wall” on the southern border is the main way to achieve such security, but the southern border is not the only border in the United States. Overall, border security is critically important to the national security of the United States. Aliens who illegally enter the United States without inspection or admission, present a significant threat to national security and public safety. Such aliens have not been identified or inspected by federal immigration officers to determine their admissibility to the United States. It’s crucial that border security (all borders) be addressed in any plans for Comprehensive Immigration Reform.

Comprehensive Immigration Reform should include a solution for the approximately (12) million undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States. Whether it be a pathway to citizenship, or some other mechanism that ensures that these undocumented persons become documented, a solution to the people living in the shadows is paramount when it comes to Comprehensive Immigration Reform.

There are no easy answers to this issue. Immigration reform has been hotly debated for years, and will continue to be hotly debated in years to come. Throughout the years though, immigration policies in the United States have matched the ideals of American life. These ideals include, liberty, equality, democracy, individualism, unity and diversity. It is my hope that in the midst of our debates and discussions on this issue and others, that we never forget to uphold the ideals that make us truly American. We should have a Comprehensive Immigration Reform law that truly reflects the ideals of American life.

Iana Darlington Jordan Benjamin is a primary shareholder of Darlington Jordan Law P.A. Prior to forming Darlington Jordan Law P.A., Ms. Benjamin clerked for U.S. Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, senior member of the House judiciary committee. Ms. Benjamin also interned for Former President Bill Clinton. Ms. Benjamin now handles a full range of civil cases. Her primary practice areas are immigration law, family law, and wills and trusts. Ms. Benjamin is a member of The Jacksonville Bar Association, Daniel Webster Perkins Bar Association, the Orange County Bar Association, and is a member of the Florida Coastal School of Law Alumni board of directors.

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