National Immigration Law Center
Sign up for email updates.

Our mission is to defend & advance the rights & opportunities of low-income immigrants and their family members.

NILC's Statement on Immigration Proposal


NILC's Statement on the Senate-White House Immigration Reform Proposal

Secure Borders, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Reform Act of 2007
May 21, 2007

The National Immigration Law Center was one of the first national organizations to support the legalization of undocumented immigrants, and we have consistently encouraged and supported steps toward the goal of comprehensive immigration reform.  Even where we have found serious flaws in legislation, we have praised the members of Congress who have had the courage to put proposals on the table and confront the angry critics of reform.  We continue to admire Senator Kennedy for his willingness to put his legacy on the line on behalf of some of his least powerful constituents.

That said, the deal that Senate negotiators have consummated is a step in the wrong direction.  Although the deal includes the DREAM Act and AgJOBS and promises significant short-term benefits for many undocumented immigrants, the nation's experience suggests that the rest of the provisions would have dire long-term consequences for both immigrants and citizens.

The following are some of the features of the deal that would put immigration reform on the wrong track:

  • A long and expensive legalization process.  The legalization program would be less restrictive on the front end than the one in last year's Senate-passed bill, but on balance the program would be more precarious for those who begin the process.

    • Those granted the new Z nonimmigrant visa would become deportable if they fail to maintain continuous full-time employment or school attendance until able to adjust to lawful permanent residence status, a period that would continue for at least 13 years for some applicants.

    • During this extended period, legalized immigrants would have no ability to petition for their spouses and minor children who live abroad.

    • The requirements to adjust to permanent residence for Z nonimmigrants would include a mandatory departure and return by the head of household, not just across the border, but generally to the immigrant's country of origin.  There would not be any exceptions to the requirement to leave the United States other than disability.

    • The final stage of the legalization process, adjustment to lawful permanent residence status, could not be completed until the current immigration backlog has cleared for applications filed before May 1, 2005, and certain difficult-to-achieve immigration enforcement "triggers" have been met.  This would require all legalized immigrants to wait at least 13 years-and some at least 18 years-before they could apply for citizenship.

  • Sharp cuts in family immigration, a change that would be both inhumane and unsound, and one that would undermine our country's shared belief in family values.  In addition to being the right thing to do, permitting families to stay together provides important social and economic benefits to our nation.

  • A drastic dismantling of our longstanding system of legal immigration and its replacement with an untested "merit-based" points system that devalues the historical contributions and potential of immigrants whose first language is not English and who do not have advanced degrees.  The proposed system would focus almost entirely on immigrants' perceived economic value to determine if they are worthy of being accepted into the U.S.

  • A massive new temporary worker program that fails to meet key bottom-line requirements for such a system:  that temporary workers who establish ties here must have a realistic path to permanent residence and true job portability that allows them to change employers freely if they are mistreated.

  • A mandatory electronic employment eligibility verification system with absurd implementation timelines calibrated to guarantee that the system will be implemented whether or not the necessary improvements are made to ensure its accuracy.  The proposed system is so poorly designed that significant increases in discrimination, privacy lapses, and multitudes of unnecessary firings are inevitable.

  • Wholesale sharing of personal information between government agencies that would undo confidentiality provisions in the tax code and undermine privacy rights.

  • Several provisions that compromise the due process rights of immigrants, which were originally included in last year's infamous Sensenbrenner legislation (HR 4437) and that migrated into last year's Senate-passed bill.  Some of these have been modified from the form they took last year, but troubling provisions remain.

  • Increased militarization of the border without sufficient civil and human rights protections for migrants and members of border communities.

  • A provision that requires immigrants who have worked and paid into the Social Security system for years to forfeit all of the contributions they made before obtaining a newly issued Social Security number, thereby sentencing millions of workers to deep poverty in their retirement years despite the hard-earned taxes they have paid.

  • Undue restrictions on the ability of courts to review Dept. of Homeland Security decisions in individual legalization cases and in the agency's implementation of the legalization program.

In recent days many organizations and individuals have argued that this agreement represents a step forward.  Undoubtedly it is a step towards enactment of legislation.  But if enacted as is, we project that it would lead -- within a few short years -- to a situation that is even worse than the status quo:  a society that is more divided and less free.

We fervently hope that this bill can be improved on the Senate floor.  If not, it should be opposed.