Prospects ‘Uncertain’ for Immigration Reform in 2014

By Roy Maurer Mar 17, 2014

It’s been eight months since the Democrat-led Senate passed comprehensive immigration reform legislation and Republicans in the House of Representatives responded with the promise of a series of bills that would accomplish much of the same. The summer and fall of 2013 passed with no further movement. Interest sparked once again in January, after President Barack Obama listed immigration reform as a top priority in his State of the Union address and the House Republican leadership released a set of reform “principles” that included border security, worksite enforcement and mandatory electronic employment verification.

“This document gave us hope that the Republicans were going to be able to have a dialogue with the Democrats and work toward an immigration reform bill this year,” said Rebecca Peters, director and counsel for legislative affairs at the Council for Global Immigration, speaking at the Society for Human Resource Management’s (SHRM) 2014 Employment Law & Legislative Conference in Washington, D.C. The Council is a SHRM affiliate.

Since then, the tiptoeing between House Republicans and the Obama administration has stalled as each camp has taken up intractable positions. “We find ourselves in a very uncertain time right now as to the prospects for immigration reform this year,” Peters said. She left a glimmer of hope for movement on the issue—after Republican primaries have finished this summer or after the November midterm elections. “This is actually a window we should take seriously, because historically, 70 percent of immigration laws in the last 50 years have passed during lame-duck sessions.”

Push for Reform

SHRM and the Council for Global Immigration are at the center of discussions on immigration reform proposals that are critical to U.S. employers, said Peters.

The organizations want to ensure that any final legislation includes the following:

  • A reliable and secure federal electronic employment verification system that pre-empts state laws. “We don’t want you subject to 50 different state E-Verify laws,” Peters said. Currently, 20 states require the use of E-Verify for at least some workers. She added that SHRM and the council are advocating that legislators include in their bills identity authentication tools, such as knowledge-based authentication, to protect against identity theft. “If there is a requirement in final legislation to use mandatory electronic verification, the system better work, right? We’ve been asking that E-Verify have a state-of-the-art technology option for employers to use that helps ensure workers are who they say they are.” That’s something E-Verify doesn’t have today, she noted.
  • A Trusted Employer program that would allow businesses with a solid immigration-law compliance record to streamline administrative interaction with government agencies—saving resources for companies and the government. “We’ve been advocating for this with the Department of Homeland Security and on Capitol Hill,” Peters said. A trusted-employer provision is included in the House’s SKILLS Visa Act, she added.
  • Reforms to the employment-based green card and nonimmigrant systems that allow more highly educated and skilled foreign-born professionals to contribute to America’s global competitiveness, economic growth and U.S.-based job creation.

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Follow him at @SHRMRoy

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