On the heels of the immigration reform plan outlined by a bipartisan Senate group earlier this week, President Obama presented his own proposal for immigration reform in Las Vegas on January 29.   Although he promised reform in his first term, he believes that “now is the time.”   The bipartisan support is a good sign, the President said, expressing general agreement with the principles announced by the Senate group.

In his speech, the President discussed the moral and economic impacts of immigration reform.  The United States is a nation of laws and of immigrants, he said, and that once “we” were “them.”  His plan focuses on enforcement, legalization and family unity.

The proposal contains on four major themes, which will be fleshed out over the coming weeks:

Border Security:  The proposal will increase security at all ports of entry, fight trans-national crime, and attempt to eliminate visa and passport fraud.  Part of this will be done by creating liaisons with border communities.  Addressing the immigration court system to ensure there are enough judges will be a priority as will be providing help to those who cannot afford legal representation.

Employment Enforcement: Targeting employers who are “gaming the system” by hiring undocumented workers will be a key element of the program.  There would be mandatory E-Verify for all employers (with some exceptions) over the next 5 years and increased penalties for employers who violate the laws. (This may presage an increase in the number of I-9 audits nationwide.)  Employees will be given protection related to confidentially, due process and workers rights.

Earned Citizenship: The 11 million or so undocumented immigrants must be brought “out of the shadows” and put on a pathway to contributing to the economy and our nation, according to the President.  The individuals who qualify as DREAMers and certain agricultural workers would have an expedited path under his proposal.  All other qualified individuals would have to follow a procedure requiring background checks, English proficiency, and payment of fees and penalties.  Additionally, the backlogs for legal immigration must be eliminated before any of these individuals can begin the process to legalization.

Legal Immigration:  The proposal would work to eliminate the family and employment based visa backlogs by recapturing unused visas and temporarily increasing the annual visa allotment.  On an ongoing basis, the annual visa numbers allotted for family based categories would be increased by 15-20% and per country caps would be eliminated for employment based categories.  Also, STEM masters and PhD graduates would have a direct path to permanent residence so long as they have employment.  Finally, the President’s proposal would allow individuals to petitioner for same sex partners.

A more complete breakout of the president’s proposed plan can be found at: http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2013/01/29/fact-sheet-fixing-our-broken-immigration-system-so-everyone-plays-rules.

The President promised to send a bill to the House for an up or down vote if the house cannot deliver its own bill in the near future.  He does not want this issue to be delayed by political paralysis, the White House said.  If passed, the proposed legislation would significantly impact employers’ ability to attract and retain the best and brightest for the benefit of the country.  Jackson Lewis will continue to keep readers informed on these developments.