What Is Immigration Reform?
What You Need to Know?
Many citizens and politicians in the United States have been calling for immigration reform for decades, but they aren’t all discussing the same ideas. While a significant number of Americans would like to see major changes to the current immigration process in the United States, the changes they have in mind can be different.
Immigration reform is a complex issue, and it’s too nuanced to solve in a single meeting or with a single change in the law. Here’s what immigration reform means and how it can affect the future.
The Concept of Immigration Reform
The concept of comprehensive immigration reform has been floated in the United States political sphere since 2001 when debates first emerged about the efficiency of the immigration system.
Both political parties in the United States have conflicting ideas about public safety, national security, and how to best assist people who want to live in the United States or would benefit from the safety of living in the country.
Although comprehensive immigration reform has been discussed, no broad measures have passed. Each administration has enacted its own policy changes. The Republican Trump administration had a different take on immigration law from Democrats in the Obama or Biden administrations, for example. The next administration may differ even more.
Most administrations will eliminate or modify the policies put into place by the previous administration. These changes happen piece by piece. There has been no measurable effort to reform immigration law at once.
What Is the Annual Immigration Law and Policy Conference?
Every year, United States lawmakers meet with groups of immigration attorneys and immigration advocacy groups to discuss the future of immigration law and policy. Laws aren’t created or passed at this conference. These conferences are held for the purposes of understanding and accountability.
Lawmakers and representatives for United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) engage in panel discussions with representatives for immigrant rights groups, attorneys, activists, and representatives for human rights groups.
The conference will hold several panel discussions where representatives from different groups or members of the government will discuss immigration-related topics. Representatives from government agencies discuss the current state of immigration and the implementation of new policies. Activists have an opportunity to ask them questions or criticize the laws.
The policy conference encourages everyone to consider each other’s positions and hold government agencies accountable. It’s an excellent place to raise questions and concerns about the state of the U.S. immigration system, although these questions and concerns seldom evolve into new laws or policies.
What Does Immigration Reform Entail?
Immigration reform entails any major changes to immigration policy. Many human rights groups and immigrant advocacy groups feel that the current policies aren’t effective (or, even worse, encourage profiling) and need to be reviewed.
There are many issues immigration reform advocates will debate with policymakers in both the state and federal governments. Some are case-by-case issues, while others can be broadly applied to the current state of immigration law in America.
Policies on Immigrant Detention and Deportation
Immigrant detention centers became a serious topic of conversation under former President Donald Trump.
Under the Trump administration, law enforcement was housing immigrants in conditions many considered inhumane. Civil rights activists loudly protested the mass warehousing of undocumented immigrants, who did not have adequate access to food, water, medical care, or legal assistance.
Conditions have changed, but the issue still remains. Although the Biden administration isn’t using the same measures, there’s nothing to prevent another administration from reverting to those inhumane conditions.
Reform advocates would like to see safe, well-supplied detention centers that value unauthorized immigrants as human beings.
Refugees, Asylum, and Human Rights
Some immigrants are granted Temporary Protected Status (TPS) in the United States. Immigrants from countries affected by a disaster or humanitarian crisis may be allowed to extend their stay in the United States if it’s deemed unsafe to return home.
Only immigrants who are citizens of countries on the official TPS list can be granted this special protection under immigration law. Many advocacy groups want to see more situations covered under TPS laws.
TPS status doesn’t apply to all refugees or people seeking asylum in the United States. Asylum seekers must apply from inside the U.S. or at the border and run the risk of being denied an interview, which leads many of them to attempt to reside in the country without proper documentation. The conditions are dangerous, and some immigrants don’t make it to the border alive.
Advocates for reform want to see better paths for refugees, migrants, and asylum seekers to find help in the United States and possibly achieve permanent resident status or U.S. citizenship.
Immigration Enforcement Measures
Laws and policies are just as important as the way they’re enforced. If they’re enforced too harshly, it becomes a human rights issue. If they aren’t enforced at all, then laws are completely ineffective. Justice needs to be proportionate to the situation.
Immigration reform advocates want to ensure that an undocumented immigrant who entered the United States to escape an abusive situation isn’t treated the same way an undocumented immigrant who entered the United States to sell illegal drugs across the border. They both entered the country without proper documentation, but the circumstances paint a completely different picture.
Solutions for Undocumented Immigrants
The United States offers legalization programs for some undocumented immigrants that allow them to remain in the United States. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program is designed to help foreign-born children who have essentially grown-up in the United States.
Recipients of DACA (sometimes called Dreamers) are allowed to continue to live and work in the United States if they’re actively registered in the program.
Former President Trump paused the DACA program and alienated many eligible people before they were able to apply. USCIS is no longer processing DACA cases for new applicants. Immigration reform advocates want to know why.
The biggest question is this: What do we do for undocumented immigrants when the United States is the only home they’ve ever known? Is it ethical to deport them to a country they haven’t been to since they were too young to remember? Where will they go? How will it be possible for them to build a life in an unknown land?
Reform advocates want efficient, reasonable, and humane plans to assist undocumented immigrants who may not have a home where they can return.
Fixing the Backlogs
USCIS has a significant backlog of cases to process. Some people wait several years for family reunification visas. Requests for Employment Authorization Documents, which act as official permission for immigrants to work in the United States, were extremely backed up in 2020 through 2022. USCIS had to issue automatic extensions to prevent people from losing their jobs.
Immigration reform advocates have been calling for more efficient document processing and approval from USCIS for years. Immigration lawyers have advocated for clients who waited a disproportionately long period of time for responses from USCIS.
USCIS is implementing new systems that they claim will allow them to complete backlogs faster, but most are several years away from full implementation. USCIS also intends to offer premium processing for more documents, allowing people to have their paperwork processed faster for a substantial fee.
What’s Next for Immigration Reform?
President Joe Biden has proposed policies that will create a slow path to citizenship for certain undocumented immigrants, allowing them to become green card holders provided they meet specific criteria and remain in good standing.
The Biden administration has also expressed interest in optimizing the family-based visa system, increasing the number of available diversity visas, and improving border security with technology. Time will tell how much of its agenda the administration will be able to accomplish.
The Wrap-Up on Immigration Reform
Immigration reform is a complicated issue, mostly because it’s dozens of separate issues that all fall under the same umbrella. It’s very unlikely that the current United States immigration system will be completely overhauled and transformed.
Change is likely to happen in small stages, and immigration reform advocates will continue to verbalize their concerns until they’re sure the government gets the message. The voices of powerful activists have the power to make a difference. They simply need to remain persistent to see meaningful changes.
The Cohen, Tucker, + Ades law team has always been passionate advocates for immigration reform. As a team of knowledgeable immigration attorneys, we see the issues many immigrants face when attempting to reside in the country, receive approval to work, or apply to bring their immediate family members to the United States.