Friday, June 7, 2013

Politics for the Potential Immigrant

You might not believe it considering all the controversy surrounding immigration in the U.S., but we have one of the most—if not the most—wide open and liberal immigration policies in the world. Every year, more than 400,000 foreign nationals legally move to the United States.

The United States as a society (not necessarily politicians, mind you) seems to have realized the potential immigrants bring to this country. Numerous studies have shown that immigrants are more likely than U.S. citizens to start businesses, earn advanced degrees and fill needed positions in the workforce that many citizens refuse to take themselves.

But it’s clearly not liberal enough because every year, just as many people enter the country illegally. Consequently, immigration has become a major political rallying point, dividing popular opinion and resulting in drastic measures by lawmakers nationwide. One great example was the passage of a law called SB-1070 in Arizona in 2010 that gave local police the power to stop and question anyone they might think is in the country illegally. However, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled much of the law unconstitutional before it took effect.

On the other side of the aisle, lawmakers have tried to find ways to deal fairly with the millions of undocumented immigrants already living in the U.S., working, raising families and contributing to society. One such example is the DREAM Act, which would offer a pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants, allowing them to live their lives in the light of day. The implications would be far-reaching. It is estimated that just in Los Angeles, The DREAM Act would benefit over 32,000 undocumented youths between the ages of 13 and 19.

The DREAM Act has been introduced to Congress a handful of times in the last few years and has failed every time. Efforts to reform the legal immigration system have been equally frustrated, though well-intentioned lawmakers and citizen activists continue to speak out in hopes that these reforms will come. But, for the time being, hopeful U.S. immigrants are stuck with the current laws and have no choice but to navigate the current maze of rules and regulations which make up our broken immigration system.

There are quite a few options available to someone wanting to immigrate to the U.S. Most people have heard of Lawful Permanent Residency (“green card”). And of course, marrying a U.S. citizen will get you into the country or keep you here, at least most of the time. But there are numerous lesser-known visas available for immigrants who want to come work temporarily in the U.S.H-2A visas are available for individuals seeking work in the agricultural industry or other seasonal occupations. Highly-skilled immigrants who can fill needed positions  can obtain H-1B visas (although there has been a shortage of H-1B visas for the past several years. E visas are available for immigrant entrepreneurs who want to invest in the U.S. economy, students can come on F or M visas and more.

The DREAM Act is before Congress again, this time as part of S. 744, the Immigration Reform Bill currently wending its way through Congress. Although not perfect, most immigration advocates agree it is a very good Bill that will solve many of the problems created by the current, broken system.

Unfortunately, nobody knows when, or if S. 744 will become law, and until then we need to work within the current maze of hard to understand and often conflicting rules and regulations of the current system. We can only hope that relief comes soon. We have already waited too long.

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