U.S. Immigration Policy

Changes Sought by President Obama and Congress

Immigration Policy

President Obama came to office promising that immigration would be a top priority during his first year in office – second only to health care and energy. Generally stated, the President’s focus is on setting up ways to allow illegal aliens to become legal and to make the immigration process more orderly.

Presidential Preferences

Officials in the Obama Administration have said that any plan to grant legal status to illegal immigrants must also take a no-nonsense stance on law enforcement.

  • The administration has indicated to Congress (where any reforms must start) that it favors proposals seeking to:
  • Bring illegal immigrants into the legal system but only if they admit to breaking the law
  • Strengthen border enforcement
  • Get tough with employers who hire illegal immigrants
  • Create a way to verify the legal immigration status of new workers

Who Wants What

Republicans in recent history have supported immigration reform that focuses on bringing skilled workers into the U.S. workforce rather than on reuniting families (a top priority for immigrant advocacy groups).

Republican leaders like John McCain, Republican of Arizona, say they will support only those proposals that include an expansion of guest worker programs.

Worried that escalating drug-related violence in Mexico will intensify immigration problems, lawmakers in Washington have put forth a litany of proposals, including audits of employee documentation and paperwork at businesses across America.

Immigrants and their supporters – who voted for President Obama – are against many of the proposed reforms. They also accuse President Obama of failing to live up to his campaign promises and of adding insult to injury by setting a new record for deporting illegal immigrants.

A Likely Candidate

In March 2010, a blueprint for immigration reform was floated by Senators Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, and Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, and was immediately recognized by President Obama as being a starting point for reform. On March 18, the two Senators published an editorial in The Washington Post offering a peek at their plan.

  • They propose to:
  • Make it easier for highly skilled and educated immigrants to enter the country
  • Increase the number of immigration agents dedicated to workplace enforcement
  • Require that job applicants have a Social Security card containing biometric identification data
  • Give green cards to immigrants who get advanced degrees in science and technology from universities in the U.S.
  • Grant legal status only to those illegal immigrants who admit to breaking the law and who pay penalties and back taxes

Mr. Schumer and Mr. Graham have stated that they need at least one more Republican sponsor to move their proposal forward. But Republicans are rankled by health care reform and may not play along. Many immigrants support the Graham-Schumer proposal and are working with the Obama administration to garner Republican support for it.