Commentators and immigration legislation advocates differ regarding what will happen with immigration reform under the Obama administration. So far, three schools of thought have emerged: (1) there will be comprehensive immigration reform in this administration’s the first year; (2) current economic conditions will detract from the focus on immigration in the near-term; and (3) piecemeal immigration legislation will emerge in the first year followed by comprehensive reform in 2010.

The 110th Congress was marked by the failure of several important legislation proposals, including the DREAM Act, the H-1B numerical cap increase, AgJOBS, and the recapture of immigrant visas that were unused (wasted) over many years. Most commentators agree that refraining from addressing immigration issues is not an option for the Obama administration. While the economy will be at center stage, the President is expected to follow through on his promise to achieve comprehensive immigration reform. The President’s selection of Janet Napolitano for Secretary of Homeland Security has signaled to many reform supporters that the President is committed to immigration reform. The questions are when and how extensive immigration reform will be.

Given the economic challenges the United States faces, the President’s primary focus will be on reviving the U.S. economy. However, having pledged to seek comprehensive immigration reform, the President is unlikely to abandon his pledge. What is likely to occur is piecemeal legislation in the short term, with a comprehensive measure possibly to be introduced later this year and debated in 2010. Predicted to be considered in the nearer term due to their relatively mild impact on the economy include the DREAM Act or a similar legislation providing legalization opportunities for undocumented, now college-age students who came to the U.S. as children, and AgJOBS, a measure to provide legalization options for agricultural workers to address the recognized shortage of seasonal farm labor.

Thus far in Congress, a select few law-makers have focused on expanding the controversial E-Verify program and on opposing the Immigrant Children's Health Improvement Act (ICHIA) that repeals the 5-year bar on medical benefits for legal permanent resident children and pregnant women. The latter effort did not succeed as President Obama recently signed a bill reauthorizing the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) which includes the ICHIA provisions. Comprehensive immigration reform bills have already been introduced in the Senate and in the House of Representatives but have not advanced to the committee hearing stage.