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The Three Pillars of Immigration Reform

On Monday, the Senate began an open-ended debate on immigration reform, in an attempt to build a new immigration bill from scratch on the Senate floor.

The Senate debate is a curious and extremely rare way to attempt to create bipartisan legislature on the most hotly debated topics of the year. The fate of many documented and undocumented immigrants rest in the balance - along with the high-profile DACA Dreamers, the nearly 700,000 young immigrants brought to the US without documentation as children by their parents, and with the American economy as a whole.

The open-ended, week long debate certainly has an unsure outcome, but is sure to bring all types of immigration arguments out into the open. Here are the top three contested topics in immigration reform to hit the floor:

DACA Dreamers

The Dreamers, those 700,000 young immigrants brought to the US without documentation as children, have been making headlines since Trump suspended the program which previously shielded them from deportation and gave them the right to work, better known as DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), last September.

When Trump suspended the DACA program, he gave lawmakers the arbitrary deadline of March 5th to come up with a replacement that would protect these young immigrants, known as “Dreamers” after the proposed legislation called the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors, or the DREAM Act.

Currently, nearly every poll shows that the majority of Americans support creating a path to citizenship for these undocumented youths, who had no hand in their own crossings into the United States, and who have been raised as Americans and contribute positively to society.

The snag lies with their family members who brought them over. Many opponents to giving Dreamers a path to citizenship cite the fact that once Dreamers become citizens, they would be allowed under the current system to sponsor their parents - or those who broke the law to bring them into the US - for permanent residency (i.e. green cards).

Legal Immigration Reform

"Any solution on DACA has got to include border security, including a wall. And an end of chain migration," said Republican Senator David Perdue of Georgia in remarks on the Senate floor last month.

The term "chain migration" that Senator Perdue is speaking of refers to the negative-connotative term given to family reunification policies by opponents of the program. Currently, the United States immigration system favors family reunification (aka family members sponsoring family members for green cards) over other types of immigration - you can read more about that here.

The immigration reform policies that have been issued by the White House to date have largely aimed to limit the amount of legal immigration by up to 50 percent, by eliminating almost all family reunification immigration categories as well as completely cutting out the Diversity Visa lottery program.

Trump has claimed that he would like to diminish or eliminate this type of family reunification immigration in favor of highly skilled immigration - although his words and his actions aren't yet lining up. Most of the actions taken by the White House to date have effectively reduced any type of legal immigration, including making it more difficult for skilled workers to enter the country.

According to a review by the National Foundation for American Policy cited by Forbes, "the Trump administration has taken numerous actions to make it more difficult for U.S. employers to hire or retain highly skilled people, and has taken no actions to make it easier."

CEOs and members of investment groups have publicly spoken out against Trump-style immigration reform, stating how the decrease of immigration numbers will have a negative effect on the American economy. Trump and his supporters have yet to address the economic impact of immigration reform, even as they are already increasing deficit spending to address their third goal.

"The Wall" (aka Border Security)

The final piece in the immigration reform puzzle will be allotting a new budget to border security. While, in theory, this piece represents Trump's long-promised border wall; in practice, it might not include much of a physical wall at all.

Either way, funding for border security is aiming to be a huge part of the new federal budget - upwards of $25 billion over ten years if Trump gets his way - and one that has already begun to show its head in some ugly ways. The most alarming has been the aggressive crackdown on immigrants - both documented and undocumented - by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Since Trump took office, he's given ICE free reign to crack down on illegal immigration, which has led to several high profile arrests that undermine the intention of the program. As reported by the Washington Post, many of the arrests cited in the White House's weekly "immigrant crime" tally has included non-immigrants and non-crimes. ICE is making waves by targeting even immigrants who are considered to positively contribute to society - they often have US born children and citizen spouses, have regular work, are loved members of their communities and have been in the country for more than 30 or 40 years. Some have seen their visa status lapse for one reason or another; some saw a protective program end,while others have been arrested even though they were actually legal immigrants all along.

One such example was the arrest of a chemistry professor from Kansas, who had been in the United States for more than thirty years, has three US citizen children and is the sole provider in his household. He was arrested while on a temporary work permit after his PhD ended. He was not a permanent resident due to the long wait time for his Green Card visa application; however, he was not illegally in the country. He was the only member of his extended family who had not yet gained permanent residency or citizenship in the US, had no marks on his record and was considered by his community to be a model citizen, yet he was still arrested by ICE and may face deportation.

This is just one of many examples of ICE taking free reign. According to The Hill, non-criminal immigrant arrests have nearly doubled in the past year, with a striking 37,734 non-criminal immigrant arrests taking place. That equates to nearly 40,000 people being arrested in the United States simply for being immigrants.

If Trump succeeds in extending his budget for border security, it's likely that ICE's arrest policies won't be just a passing trend, and will surely be a hotly-debated point on the Senate floor this week.

If you have any questions about your immigration status during these turbulent times, please don't hesitate to contact us. We can help you understand your unique options and work with you to try to obtain your immigration goals.