By Attorney Elizabeth Chatham

On Tuesday January 29th, President Obama offered a broad four-point plan for comprehensive immigration reform, which includes:

1) A pathway to citizenship for an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States by establishing a provisional legal status for undocumented immigrants who register, provide biometric data, pay fees and penalties and can pass criminal and national-security background checks. To obtain a Green Card, immigrants would be required to pay taxes, learn English and U.S. civics, and submit to further background scrutiny. President Obama confirmed that there will be no uncertainty about the ability of undocumented immigrants to earn U.S. Citizenship if they meet these criteria, which would also allow for administrative and judicial review. Further, young undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children would be allowed to earn citizenship after two years in college or the U.S. military.

2) Increased border security, such as upgrading infrastructure at ports of entry with state-of-the-art technology, toughening policies against transnational criminal organizations, targeting human smuggling and passport and visa fraud networks, and deporting criminals. President Obama’s proposal increases the number of immigration judges and staff, allowing for improved access to legal immigration for immigrants. He further noted that the number of Border Patrol agents has doubled since 2004.

3) A crackdown on employers who hire illegal immigrants by requiring phased-in electronic employment verification over five years, tamper-resistant work documents such as a Social Security Card, and increasing penalties for hiring undocumented workers or committing fraud/identify theft.

4) A streamlined legal immigration system with an overarching goal of preserving families by clearing current immigration backlogs, adding visas, and reducing red tape for employers. President Obama proposed raising annual country caps from 7% to 15% for the family-sponsored immigration system, revising current unlawful presence bars and providing broader discretion to waive bars in hardship cases, and allowing U.S. Citizens or legal permanent residents to apply for a family-sponsored visa for a same-sex partner. In addition, the proposal “staples” a green card to the diplomas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) PhD and Master’s degree graduates from qualified U.S. universities who have found employment in the United States, and requires employers to pay a fee that will support education and training to grow the next generation of American workers in STEM careers. Further, President Obama proposed creating a new visa category for highly-skilled immigrants to work in federal science and technology laboratories on critical national security needs after being in the United States for two years and passing rigorous national security and criminal background checks.

President Obama also praised the continuing bipartisan efforts a group of eight U.S. Senators presented on Monday January 28th. The Senator’s bipartisan agreement would allow undocumented immigrants already in the country to apply for legal permanent resident status and eventually earn citizenship but only after the border was declared secure by a new commission of border governors, state attorneys general, and other border-community leaders. The immigrants would also have to pass background checks, pay fines and back taxes, learn English and wait in line for Green Cards to prevent them from getting ahead of legal immigrants.

President Obama’s proposal did not tether the U.S. citizenship process to improvements in border security, which the senators did, as the White House fears this could become an endless source of delays for immigrants. No legislation has yet been drafted, however Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) announced that the first hearing is scheduled for February 13th, the day after Obama’s State of the Union address, with the committee to consider legislation in the spring. Previous efforts to enact sweeping immigration reform failed in 2006 and 2007. Both U.S. Senators from Arizona, John McCain and Jeff Flake, are involved in the bipartisan Senate negotiations as reform would be welcomed in Arizona.

Davis Miles McGuire Gardner continues to closely monitor developments in comprehensive immigration reform, noting that prior broad sweeping immigration programs to help immigrants without status provided multiple paths for benefits through self-employment, family members, and employers. Both President Obama’s and the senator’s proposals emphasize employer enforcement not to employ unauthorized workers, an area which will require advanced knowledge of employer compliance issues surrounding immigration.

Davis Miles McGuire Gardner PLLC’s sophisticated immigration practice, led by Elizabeth Chatham, provides expert immigration compliance for employers and a broad array of options for families and individuals. Recently awarded Best Lawyers in America 2013, Ms. Chatham’s practice focuses on both employment-based immigration, specifically nonimmigrant visas for professionals (including H-1B, L1, O, P, TN, E, and R visas), labor certifications and I-140 petitions (EB-1 Outstanding Researcher, Extraordinary Ability, Multi-National Manager, EB-2 National Interest Waivers, and EB3), and also family-based immigration, including naturalization, adjustment of status, nonimmigrant petitions and consular processing. Ms. Chatham is the incoming chair of the Arizona Chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), and former chair of the Arizona State Bar Immigration Section.

Ms. Chatham is a leader in Arizona organizing over 30 pro bono workshops for eligible Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), and filing nearly 10% of the total DACA applications filed in Arizona. Ms. Chatham and Davis Miles McGuire Gardner are pleased to have the opportunity to provide further information on the scope of services we provide. If you have any questions or require further clarification, please contact us at (480) 344-4056.