In the wake of Janet Napolitano’s September departure from the top spot at the Department of Homeland Security, who President Obama would nominate as her replacement has been the subject of much anticipation.  With immigration reform legislation discussions somewhat sidelined in Congress due to the government shutdown and debt ceiling debates, the President’s tapping of Jeh C. Johnson, a former top Pentagon attorney who focused mainly on military and anti-terrorism issues, may come as something of a disappointment to immigration reform advocates.

With passage of the bi-partisan S. 744 Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act in June, many employers, advocacy groups and professional organizations, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the American Immigration Lawyers Association expressed optimism that at long last the country’s immigration system may receive the full scale overhaul that it clearly needs.  Designed to appeal to both Republican and Democrat agendas, including border security, a significant increase in specialized work visas for foreign nationals so critical to maintaining American innovation and competitiveness in the global market (see H-1B Visas and the STEM Shortage), a guest worker program, and the reintroduction of a penalty-based mechanism for undocumented aliens to legalize in the U.S. as prominent components of the legislation, many felt immigration reform to some degree will be realized.  While House Representatives quickly doused hopes for passage of the senate bill in its comprehensive form with calls for a more compartmentalized approach (see Comprehensive Immigration Reform Bill under Fire), proponents of reform held out hope for continued debate and movement towards reform this year.

Based on his expertise and deep experience overseeing military and anti-terrorism initiatives prior to leaving the government for private practice last year, should nominee Johnson succeed Napolitano, his strengths likely could lead to the elevation of issues of national security on DHS’s agenda over reform considerations.  Employers are encouraged to continue dialoguing with elected representatives on the importance of hammering out much needed changes to our immigration system.