Things continue to stay red-hot on the immigration front. On May 26 of this year, the U.S. Senate passed landmark immigration legislation. Senate Bill 2611, the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act, was approved by a 62-to-36 vote. The bill would allow for the following provisions:
- 370 miles of triple-layer fencing along the Mexican border.
- A complicated three-tiered system to determine who can stay and who must leave the country.
- More jail cells to hold those awaiting deportation.
- A declaration of English as the country's official language.
- 1,000 new border patrol agents.
- Thousands of additional national guard units.
- 500 miles of vehicle barriers on the Mexican border.
- 200,000 new temporary guest worker visas annually.
- A separate guest worker program for farm laborers.
- Compulsory English proficiency for those allowed to stay.
Get ready for the real battle, which will not take place on the border, but rather in the halls of Congress.
Three CategoriesThe complex Senate bill divides the roughly 11 to 12 million undocumented immigrants into three groups. They are:
- Group 1 - Those who have lived in the country for five years or more and have no serious criminal record could apply for citizenship as long as they learn English and pay any back taxes. These people would have to prove gainful employment for at least three of these five years to become eligible.
- Group 2 - Those who have lived in the country for two to five years would eventually have to return to their home country and then apply for a green card in order to enter the United States legally. This would then allow their immediate return.
- Group 3 - The roughly two million or so undocumented immigrants who have been here for two years or less would be deported.
Any undocumented people who have been convicted of a felony or three misdemeanors would be deported regardless of their time in the United States.
Critics of the bill have been quick to point out the obvious difficulties it presents. How will the government round up over 2 million newly categorized "illegal" immigrants and deport them? What type of additional government workers or agencies will be necessary to do this? Where is the funding coming from for such an undertaking? Who will test the level of English of these new citizens? What level of English skill is acceptable?
Of course, if we implemented H.R. 4437, which was passed by the House back in December of 2005, we would have to round up everyone without documentation and deport them all. (Let's just make sure we build the wall before they are deported, as this mass deportation might just affect the construction industry labor force.)
President Bush has recently been more front and center on this issue, but this legislative battle will most likely end in a stalemate. It is highly unlikely anything of substance will be done before the November midterm elections, as no one really knows the upsides or downsides of this volatile issue. When an issue is this emotionally charged, people's views can change quickly, and this frightens many vote-conscious politicians.
Looking AheadBased on my analysis of the situation, I submit to you what I believe is the most likely scenario to close the huge gap between the Senate and House bills.
- Border patrol and security will be increased. There is no doubt this will happen.
- If there is evidence that this additional security is working, then provisions will be made to allow certain undocumented people, perhaps the first tier group who has been here for five years, to apply for citizenship.
- The country is likely to begin to deport people based on criminal records.
After these initial procedures, the government can slowly but surely secure the borders and make sure that all people in the country are properly accounted for and have proper documentation. If done correctly, this could be accomplished completely within three to five years.
This is the most workable approach of all because it is chronologically reasonable, and, most importantly, it is manageable. I have no doubt that this industry would be more than happy to cooperate in a reasonable approach like the one I have outlined above.
We cannot pretend to fix a long-term problem that has been escalating for years in one fell swoop by passing legislation that has no chance of being properly enforced due to the lack of financial and human resources. This is both unrealistic, and in my opinion, inhumane.
This brings you up to date on the pending legislation. Don't hold your breath waiting for something significant to pass in the near future; it is doubtful this will happen. Politicians are framing the matter primarily for their constituents at this point in time.
The primary question remains, "What should you do?"
Here's my best answer to you:
- There is no need for any knee-jerk reactions. If you presently employ Latino workers or have Latino supervisors, my advice is to sit tight and not do anything until the government issues some directives.
- There is no way for you to know whether workers are actually legal or not without checking the validity of their social security numbers, and in some cases this is considered discriminatory. The last thing you need is a lawsuit filed against you and your company.
Hiring TipsIf you are presently hiring or preparing to hire Latino people in your organization, I would offer the following three suggestions:
- Hire people who were born in the United States. The vast majority of Latinos in this country are legal citizens. The consensus on this issue is that anywhere from 65 to 70 percent of all Latinos in the United States have legal status to work.
- Consider bringing people into your organization via a work visa. If you have an interest in this procedure, you can contact me directly and I can help you to understand your options in this area.
- Hire people who have some basic English skills. If they do not, this could put them at risk for a permanent deportation when legislation finally does pass both chambers of Congress. You certainly would want employees who have been here at least two years. At the very least, if they are undocumented, most likely they can either receive citizenship or a valid green card when legislation is passed by Congress and then, most likely, signed by President Bush.
A Personal AppealI would personally like to ask our readership for some reasonableness in this area. The real answer is not on either extreme. Sometimes I receive letters from people who, honestly, are so emotional about the issue they have ceased to properly see the realistic solutions.
Let's face it - we can no longer take the security, drug or crime risks of allowing such a free flow of people crossing our borders. I believe this with all my heart.
On the other hand, we are not an inhumane, uncompassionate people who should entertain the thought of uprooting thousands and thousands of people who have raised their families and staked their futures in this great country, whether they came here legally or not. These people have children who were born here, are part of our school systems, and, honestly, are an integral part of the future development and growth of this country. We should not deport this important part of our future.
Let's seek workable and reasonable solutions.
Let all of us accept our due responsibility honestly. We all carry responsibility for what has happened in our country and our communities. We also have a responsibility to ensure a safe and prosperous future for our country. In the United States, we do this through community involvement, political involvement and through the use of free speech.
I trust that our involvement and our speech will be geared towards real solutions, not pious or emotionally charged rhetoric which has no substance or standing in reality and ignores the tradition of this great country as it relates to the immigrant population.