Immigration Reform in 2017

There is no question that the United States immigration system is a disaster.

Millions of people in the U.S. lack legal immigration status and have no means with which to obtain it.  Those attempting to immigrate legally face backlogs that stretch on for decades in some cases.  Work visas are limited in number and often are completely spoken for even before the year begins.  Immigration courts are backlogged.

And, to make things worse, xenophobic politicians use the issue to score political points.

Schumer Signals Reform in 2017

There might be hope for a fix in the not-too-distant future.  The New York Daily News reports that Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) promises immigration reform next year – in 2017.  Schumer, a longtime advocate for comprehensive immigration reform, delivered remarks in New York at the end of April.

Despite support from some senate Republicans, immigration reform is largely seen as a Democratic priority.  The current Democratic leader, Harry Reid, is set to retire at the end of this congressional session.  As such, Schumer is all but certain to become the Democratic leader in the next session.  If the Democrats pick up five seats (a proposition that looks increasingly likely), Schumer would be elevated to majority leader.  That would allow him to set the legislative agenda.

“[Immigration reform] will pass next year,” Schumer said.  “If I’m majority leader, we’re going to pass this very fast.”

Schumer’s statement, along with his history of sponsoring immigration reform legislation, likely makes him an even more effective leader on the issue than Reid.  Schumer may very well be able to push an immigration bill through Congress, an achievement that has eluded Reid.  That has advocates for immigration reform encouraged.

Schumer’s statement was unequivocal.  According to him, unauthorized immigrants should be given “a path to citizenship, no matter who they are.”

The politics of immigration are dicey.  Even if the Democrats manage to regain control of the Senate, there is virtually no chance they will retake the House of Representatives.  That means Democrats and Republicans will have to work together to change the broken immigration system.  As of now, considering the harsh political climate, that seems unlikely.

Much depends, of course, on the election and any perceived mandate it sends.

Trump Continues to Polarize

Donald Trump, has positioned himself as the presumptive Republican nominee for president using an anti-immigrant, isolationist platform.  Those views show no signs of moderating.

While campaigning in California, Trump defended his proposal to build a tall wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.  He also pledged to deport millions of immigrants who lack legal immigration status.  Shamefully, Trump compared crossing a line of pro-immigrant protesters to “crossing the border.”

Regardless of whether he wins the nomination, Trump’s rhetoric might spell disaster for the Republican party if it affects down-ballot races.  Many see parallels to 1994.  That year, California’s Republican governor, Pete Wilson, supported a proposition that denied public services to unauthorized immigrants.  That position alienated Latino voters.  As a result, California, which had routinely voted for Republican presidential candidates, has become a reliably Democratic state in presidential elections.  Further, California has not elected a Republican U.S. senator since then.

Trump’s anti-immigrant position has likely contributed to a surge in applications for citizenship.  Records show that applications for naturalization, a requirement for being able to vote in the upcoming election, have increased since June 2015 when Trump announced his candidacy for president.  Those who have permanent residency are choosing now to become citizens, possibly because they intend to vote against Trump in the election.

Last year, almost 800,000 people became U.S. citizens.  That was an 11 percent increase over 2014.  More than eight million immigrants are eligible to apply for naturalization.  Of those, nearly three million are Mexican and likely not thrilled with the Trump campaign’s views.  It remains to be seen how many of those eligible to apply for citizenship will do so prior to the election.

Still if new citizens vote in November and do so for Democratic candidates, the election might result in a mandate for immigration reform.  In that way, inadvertently, Trump might actually end up being a force for common-sense change.

Are You an LPR but Want to Vote?  Citizenship Through Naturalization

The American political system is the envy of the world because it allows people to participate.  But, only those who are U.S. citizens are allowed to vote in elections.  If you are a legal permanent resident and wish to vote in the upcoming election, there may still be time to become a U.S. citizen, register to vote, and participate in the November election.  Time is passing quickly, though, so you should take action immediately.

To qualify for citizenship, you must meet the following meet all of the following qualifications:

  • Must have been a legal permanent resident for 5 years (If you are the spouse of a U.S. citizen, you must have been a legal permanent resident for 3 years);
  • Must have not left the U.S. for trips lasting longer than 6 months in the last 5 years;
  • Must not owe back taxes; and
  • You were not convicted of a disqualifying crime.

Applicants must successfully pass an English language and U.S. civics examination prior to naturalization.  These tests are administered at an in-person interview.  Also, those seeking to become citizens must take an oath of allegiance to the United States during a swearing-in ceremony.  The filing fee to immigration for naturalization is $680, and applicants must appear for biometrics.

Once you are a U.S. citizen, if you wish to vote in the election, you must register to vote with the secretary of state in the state in which you live.  Many states have registration deadlines that must be met to participate in the election.  Check with the secretary of state in your state to ensure you meet these deadlines and comply with any voter registration requirements.

Applying for citizenship can be a complicated process.  Anyone seeking to naturalize should first consult with an experienced immigration attorney.  In doing so, make sure you disclose any criminal issues you have had since becoming a legal permanent resident.  Also be sure to tell your lawyer about any trips you have taken outside of the United States.  These occurrences may affect your ability to become a U.S. citizen.