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New year, new hopes for immigration reform

In last week’s post, we wrote about how aggressive federal officials are at enforcing immigration law. That includes many deportations a year in Minnesota and other states around the country.

Looking to the future, however, many people are hopeful that President Obama and the new Congress will work together on a major reform of the immigration system. Such a reform would almost surely include a path to citizenship for undocumented people who are not in the U.S. legally.

The number of people who are undocumented is of course quite large. One estimate, by the New York Times, puts the number at 11 million.

A major reform of the current system would not necessarily be done in one, comprehensive piece of legislation. It may be more likely that Congress and the president will tackle parts of it at a time.

For example, one part of the challenge is how to formalize the status that has been conferred on young people who are participating in the Deferred Action program. As it stands, the program opens up the possibility of work permits or the pursuit of a college education. But the protection against deportation that it confers only lasts for two years under current law.

There are many other parts to the immigration jigsaw puzzle as well. What kind of guest workers or other visas should be available for migrant workers? How about highly skilled professionals in areas like engineering or computer technology? How many H-1B visas or other temporary work visas should be available for them?

The upcoming State of the Union speech may offer clues to President Obama’s plans for proposals in these areas. There will be many issues to be addressed as political leaders seek to create a path to citizenship for undocumented people. Some critics cringe at the word “amnesty.” Others wonder about practical questions, such as whether illegal immigrants would be required to make payments of back taxes before being allowed on a citizenship track.

It is by no means clear how these issues will play out. But at least they are in play.

Source: “Obama plans major push on immigration,” Star Tribune / New York Times, Julia Preston, 1-12-13

Our firm handles situations like those discussed in this post. To learn more about our practice, please visit our Minnesota immigration page.

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