Sunday, November 11, 2007

Immigration reform bill tests House committee waters

Congressional Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee has filed a bill in Congress that among other really good things, "would double the annual number of family-based immigrant visas would actually help reduce the number
of undocumented workers, supporters told a House committee Thursday. " Read on.

Dra. Valenzuela

Friday, November 09, 2007

Immigration reform bill tests House committee waters
by Mrinalini Reddy

November 08, 2007

WASHINGTON - A broad immigration reform bill that would double the annual
number of family-based immigrant visas would actually help reduce the number
of undocumented workers, supporters told a House committee Thursday. But
foes quickly responded that it is another attempt to provide amnesty to
illegal immigrants.

Introduced in January by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, the Save American
Comprehensive Immigration Act covers a broad range of issues, including
adding border patrol agents in areas of crisis, creating a detention program
to protect children of detainees and other vulnerable populations and
increased vigilance of American sex offenders who sponsor a spouse or child
for a family-based visa.

But one provision that drew particular attention was a proposal to set
clearer, less stringent guidelines for waivers that allow family members who
had been in the U.S. illegally to avoid long waits to get green cards.

Charles Kuck, president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association,
supported the bill, saying the current waiver program actually serves to
increase the number of undocumented workers.

Current law requires immigrants applying for permanent residency to complete
the application process at a consular office outside the U.S. If it is
determined that the applicant had been in the U.S. illegally, a wait time is
imposed. People who have been unlawfully present in the country for more
than 180 days are barred from re-entry for three years, while those in the
U.S. illegally for more than a year must wait 10 years in their home
countries, Kuck explained.

"This law has created the perfect catch-22 for immigrants for unlawful
presence," said Kuck. "The three- and 10-year bans encourage people to
remain in the U.S. unlawfully notwithstanding that immigrant visas have been
approved for them and visa numbers are available."

Waivers that would ignore the wait times are available, but decisions on
waiver applications are made arbitrarily, he said. Jackson Lee's bill would
expand and clarify the considerations to grant waivers to assure family
unity, he added.

The bill also aims to ensure that detention facilities are adequately
maintained by requiring the Office of Civil Rights and Liberties to monitor
all facilities used to hold undocumented detainees for more than 72 hours.
This is a much-needed change, said Christopher Nugent, an immigration
attorney at the Washington law firm Holland and Knight, following recent
findings that attested to poor conditions for immigration detainees.

Nugent also argued in favor of another provision that would create a
detention program in conjunction with reputable nonprofit groups to
prioritize the release of the most vulnerable populations in custody such as
undocumented parents with children who are willing to comply with removal

But Julie Kirchner, executive director at the Federation for American
Immigration Reform, said that the bill's provisions essentially amount to
amnesty, making it easy to legalize millions of undocumented workers.

FAIR supports the reunification of nuclear families through family-based
visas that allow U.S. citizens to sponsor only immediate family members, but
not extended family members, Kirchner said.

She urged committee members to reject the bill, saying it would send a
message that the U.S. does not care about its enforcement of immigration
laws. It also would increase "chain migration" where extended family
members enter the country and then petition for the entry of their extended
family members, she said.

"As our population grows, our ability to accommodate it becomes increasingly
stretched," Kirchner said. "Rapid increases in population make it hard for
urban centers to keep up with growth by adding infrastructure. One of the
largest contributors to urban growth is immigration."

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