"Controversial Immigration Reform Bill in the Works":As appeared in the Employment Law Post blogsite "Human Resources News," on April 8, 2010.

Senate Immigration Subcommittee Chair Charles Schumer (D-New York) and Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) are working together on a comprehensive immigration reform bill that they plan to introduce this year. In a recent Washington Post article, the senators laid out their plan's "four pillars":

  • requiring biometric Social Security cards to ensure that illegal workers cannot get jobs;
  • strengthening border security and interior enforcement;
  • creating a process for admitting temporary workers; and
  • implementing a "tough but fair path" to legalization for workers already in the United States.

One of the bill's most controversial features is the national identification card—i.e., a Social Security card with biometrics and other antifraud and tamper-proof features. The card would be used to verify individuals' employment eligibility via an enhanced (or "supercharged") E-Verify type of program.

Schumer and Graham, however, have stated that each card's unique biometric identifier would be stored only on the card. In other words, "no government database would house everyone's information. The cards would not contain any private information, medical information or tracking devices. The card would be a high-tech version of the Social Security card that citizens already have."

The bill would require prospective employers to swipe the cards through a machine to confirm a person's identity and immigration status. Employers that refuse to swipe the card or otherwise knowingly hire unauthorized workers would face stiff fines and, for repeat offenders, prison sentences.

Another important feature of the immigration reform proposal is that the path to legalization would include "community service" as a penalty. Foreign nationals receiving advanced degrees from U.S. universities also would be exempt from green card caps.

Guest worker program, too

As mentioned above, the bill introduces a guest worker program, although from the scanty description provided it is hard to determine how it would work. In reference to the guest worker program, the senators have said their blueprint creates a "rational system" for admitting lower-skilled workers.

"Our current system prohibits lower-skilled immigrants from coming here to earn money and then returning home," Schumer and Graham write. "Our framework would facilitate this desired circular migration by allowing employers to hire immigrants if they can show they were unsuccessful in recruiting an American to fill an open position; allowing more lower-skilled immigrants to come here when our economy is creating jobs and fewer in a recession; and permitting workers who have succeeded in the workplace, and contributed to their communities over many years, the chance to earn a green card."

Dim prospects for passage

Although not perfect, this bill contains important features that could be deemed crucial to fix many ailments of our immigration system. President Obama and Senate Democrats have clearly signaled they support this bill and will continue to push for passage this year. However, the crucially needed second Republican to co-sponsor it is nowhere to be found. Rumors abound that most of Republicans thought to be the most likely to join in this effort are no longer willing to support the bill or still undecided. Because this bill is not only comprehensive, but also controversial at least from a political perspective, as of today it does not seem to have the consensus necessary to ensure its passage.