“It’s a big transition and it’s exciting,” said moderator Jonathan A. Grode, a Providence, R.I., attorney who directs the immigration law practice at the U.S. offices of Green and Spiegel LLC.
The proposed legislation was formally unveiled on April 17 by a bipartisan group of senators, called the “Gang of Eight.” The bill represents one of the most serious efforts to change U.S. immigration law since the 1986 passage of the Immigration Reform and Control Act, which provided amnesty for several million immigrants living illegally in the United States and imposed sanctions for the first time on employers hiring undocumented workers.
The future of the latest proposal is difficult to predict. Ana Avendaño, associate general counsel and director of the Immigrant Worker Program of the AFL-CIO, called it a “really complicated piece of legislation … [that] is really going to be pulled apart and put back together several times before the Senate votes on it.”
If the bill survives a Senate battle, for now its fate is uncertain in the House.
The panelists agreed that the Senate bill would be a significant step toward a much-needed overhaul of U.S. immigration law. The proposal provides for a path to citizenship for some of the estimated 11 million immigrants living illegally in this country, creates a “guest worker” visa program and makes numerous other changes to current law.
“The momentum is there, so I am cautiously optimistic we will see some reform,” said Sean G. Hanagan, a partner at Jackson Lewis LLP in White Plains, N.Y., who co-leads the firm’s immigration practice group.
Rachel Micah-Jones, director of Centro de los Derechos del Migrante (Center for Migrant Rights) in Baltimore, said improved technology strengthens the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s ability to police immigration. While not perfect, for instance, she pointed to the e-verification system that would become mandatory under the bill.
The Internet-based system, called E-Verify, allows businesses to determine the eligibility of their employees to work in the United States. It incorporates biometics, biographic and other information.
Avendaño, who served as the point person for the AFL-CIO, worked with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to develop the proposed W Visa provision. This program would allow foreign nationals to enter the United States temporarily to work for a registered employer in a registered position and greatly expands the workforce visa program now primarily operated through H-2B and H-2A visas.
Avendaño explained that the W Visa program was “written at the very last minute” and represented a compromise between key labor and business interests. She said the provision assured that those affected would not be in temporary immigration status indefinitely and would not be tied to a single employer, which could lead to exploitation.
The panelists noted there are still a number of issues related to the guest worker and other provisions that need to be worked out, such as how an employer treats an employee who previously provided false documentation in violation of the employer’s honesty policy.
Hanagan, who represents employers in his law practice, said the enhanced enforcement provisions of the legislation are a “critical counterpoint to the liberation” of the visa system. He said they will allow for more legal employment as well as “make it more risky for employers who hire workers illegally.”
The webinar, “Immigration Reform: The Employment Perspective,” was a Continuing Legal Education program co-sponsored by the ABA Section of Labor and Employment Law, ABA Commission on Immigration and the ABA Center for Professional Development.