Gotham Gazette

The Place for New York Policy and politics

Immigration Reform

Teddy Lim, an immigrant from China, is about to enter a limbo. After graduating from business school last year, he was given a practical training card – a piece of identification that allows international students to work in the United States for a year. But his time is running out.

The card will soon expire leaving him with three choices: one, he will have to leave the country, two, find a sponsor to support him to work here, or, three stay here illegally.

“I’d rather be here waiting tables and make more money than going home,” he said.

Stories of students turned undocumented immigrants are common. Soon Lim will be one of the estimated 500,000 undocumented immigrants in the city and more than 10 million across the country.

But that may change because the federal government now has two pending bills to reform immigration policy and another one will be introduced later in July.

Last year President George W. Bush proposed a “temporary worker" programthat would allow undocumented immigrants to obtain a three-year work permit, and enjoy other rights, such as minimum wage and union benefits.

Immigrant advocates were initially delighted but argued that the President’s plan didn’t go far enough because it didn’t give a path to a permanent residency, commonly known as a green card.

“President Bush’s proposal is a dead-end, not an opportunity,” said Moises Perez, executive director of Allianza Dominicana, the largest organization serving New York’s Dominican community.

In May 2005, U.S. Senators John McCain and Edward Kennedy and US Representatives Jeff Flake, Luis Guitierrez and Jim Kolbe introduced legislation that is similar to that of the president but provides current undocumented workers with a path toward green cards. Under The Secure America and Orderly Immigration Act, illegal immigrants would have to register, pay a $2,000 fine, clear a background check, pass an English exam and possibly also pay back taxes.

“This bill has win-win provisions that allow employers to get the workers they legitimately need,” said Margie McHugh, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition. “At the same time, it gives immigrants a chance to gain permanent residency and eventually citizenship.”

The legislation is expected to face tough opposition in Congress. “Even if the bill is passed into law,” wrote Cyrus Mehta in the India Post, “ it is likely to look very different from the current proposal.”

Meanwhile, two Republican senators, John Cornyn of Texas and Jon Kyl of Arizona, are scheduled to introduce another immigration reform that will allow undocumented immigrants to temporarily fill jobs shunned by U.S. workers but require them to return home at the end of three years.

The plan is dubbed by supporters as "work and return," as opposed to called "work and stay."

Despite all differences, both supporters and critics believed that immigration reform is much needed and that all the pending legislation means that some kind of reform is imminent.

“The decisions that Congress makes this year will affect every meaningful aspect of life in America for generations to come,“ said Dan Stein, president of FAIR, a group favoring immigration control.

For Lim, it doesn’t matter which bills will pass eventually. “ I just want to be able to work and stay here legally,” he said.

An immigrant from Bangkok, Thailand, Chaleampon Ritthichai is the editor of The Citizen. 

















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