Featured Issue: Earned Legalization

Across America, millions of immigrants and their families, businesses, and communities-indeed our entire nation-are calling for immigration reform. Currently, an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants live and work in the United States. Most of them already have deep roots in this country, including strong family ties such as spouses, children, parents, or extended family. Poll after poll shows that two out of three American voters support legalizing the undocumented and providing a way for them to become citizens.

In today's debate, there is widespread agreement that deporting 11 million people makes no sense. Consensus is building that America must find a way to legalize the status of those who are undocumented and give them a real opportunity to apply for permanent residence, and ultimately citizenship if they choose. In fact, at least 30 Republicans and nearly all Democrats have taken the explicit position that any legalization plan must include citizenship. Denying a viable path to citizenship to people who legalize and make America their home would create an unacceptable second class and foster social division. As Rep. Jeff Denham, Republican from California puts it: that would be "un-American."

Government Action

The Senate: S.744 - "The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act" (AILA Doc. No. 13041760.)

S. 744 sets forward a road to legalization and eventual citizenship for undocumented immigration living in the United States. S. 744 includes the following measures: confidentiality, legal review of denials, oversight, ability to travel outside the U.S., flexible application requirements, affordability and discretion. (AILA Doc. No. 13041760.)

The House of Representatives

The House Republican caucus' "Standards for Immigration Reform" issued in January 2014 says: "There will be no special path to citizenship for those who broke our nation's immigration laws-that would be unfair to those immigrants who have played by the rules and harmful to promoting the rule of law." (AILA Doc. No. 14013053.)

For those who are opposed to creating a "special path to citizenship," one solution would be to add more slots in the business and family visas categories for those who legalize, rather than create a new visa or path. This would be a workable option but only if the existing categories are expanded and defined sufficiently to ensure that everyone legalizing has the opportunity to apply for permanent status, and later citizenship. This approach would address concerns about creating a second class of people that never can obtain citizenship and also ensure fairness for those already waiting for a visa slot. To be successful, the changes to the system would need to clear the lengthy "backlogs" that already keep employment and family visas applicants waiting for years, and would need to address the various legal "bars" preventing undocumented immigrants from being able to legalize. This approach would necessarily include background checks, registration with the government, payment of any back taxes, and payment of fees.