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Obama’s State of the Union & US Immigration Reform

After President Barack Obama’s State of the Union Address on Wednesday January 27, 2010 to both Houses of Congress and his reiteration of lofty goals mentioned during his Presidential campaign trail, the questions remains as to what it means for immigration reform in 2010.

Well the fact that he barely mention Immigration in the speech at all suggests that as we mentioned in our US Immigration Reform 2010 expectations post above as well as our US Immigration Predictions for 2010, that not to expect much at all is a safe bet.

After the recent Massachusetts Senate Race long and the fact that Midterm elections are due in November 2010, where all members of the House and about one third of the Senate will be up for re-election, it has become imperative of the Obama administration to more largely focus of populist parts of his agenda. This is so he can continue to appeal to Independents who largely supported him during his Presidential Election Campaign but deserted the Democratic Party in the recent Massachusetts Senate Race.

So it is clear that the Economy and Jobs will take the focus for the large part of the first half of 2010 as well as attempts to salvage some form of Healthcare reform which was very close to passing but now with the new makeup of the US Senate is under threat.

US Immigration reform is not a populist topic as there is not a broad coallition that agrees on most topics of reform. Then due to the general economic conditions and the millions of US citizens who have been laid off and are still unable to find permanent work, the pool of people who could possibly support a pro Immigration agenda is even smaller than in better times.

Therefore even if US Immigration gets debated in any meaningful way and some sort of bill passes, it may have a few benefits for the current US immigrant on a US visa but is sure to have many downsides as well. As it will definitely need a broad coalition of Republican and Democrats from a broad spectrum of the country to successfully navigate both Houses of Congress and land at Obama’s desk for him to sign.

Already Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, worried about the re-election of her party members in the House this year has stated she wants to limit the amount of controversial legislation that is debated and that is all hesitant to do more when so many bills that her chamber has passed is still stuck in the US Senate.

All in all if there is any beneficial US Immigration reform in 2010, it will may be in less controversial areas like improving Green Card Waiting Times for current applicants generally applying to the EB2 visa or EB3 visa status from visas like the H1B visa, L1 visa and E3 visa.

This is a low risk area as it is viewed as highly skilled immigrants, already in the country for a longer period of time and thus both beneficial to the US economy and low risk from a National Security perspective in that they are and have been law abiding residents. These are probably the 2 most polarizing areas of the US Immigration debate within the US as these are the constant arguments brought up any type of US Immigration reform is mentioned. These are the areas opportunistic politicians like Senators Dick Durbin (Il) and Chuck Grassley (IA) and celebrity media pundits play upon on cable news.

However things will be unlikely to improve based on the current environment include;
– any increase to the current main H1B visa quota of 65,000
– any form of amnesty for Illegal Immigrants
– approval for borderline cases of refugee or political asylum
– fairness in the tax and social security laws as it applies to Immigrants
– improvement of waiting times in US visa processing and 221(g) Administrative Processing
– responsiveness to hearing of complaints and grievances filed regarding employer abuses in workplaces of people on non-immigrant visas

Unfortunately this is not a great way to start the year with a pessimistic outlook for positive US Immigration changes and real reform in 2010 after people have been promised so much in the past, and not for the first time either! It is looking increasing like depending on the legislative successes and failures in other areas this year, the overall state of the economy and the unemployment rate and finally the results of the Midterm elections in November will probably have a larger bearing on whether real US Immigration reform may be possible in 2011.

CJ

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What US Immigration Reform Can You Expect in 2010?

This is supposedly going to be a big year for US Immigration Reform with the Healthcare Reform debate almost at a conclusion.

Along with our Top 10 US Immigration Predictions, legislation like the Dream Act and Senators Grassley and Durbin’s H1B Visa and L1 Visa Reform bills are already being debated a little and in the case of the latter bill already introduced into Congress. Suffice it to say this is going to be one crazy year for US Immigration.

Now in terms of specifics now that January has progressed a little things are looking less hopeful in some ways than they did on January 1, 2010. At that point there was a general expectation that the Healthcare reform bill which in 2 different forms had passed the House and Senate in Congress was going to be reconciled relatively speedily given the length of the process thus far.

Then President Obama, at least according to his and the Democrats ideal timetable would have been able to sign the bill into law in advance of his State of the Union address to the US Congress and the country this week.

However with Republican’s Scott Brown win in Massachusetts this Monday to fill the vacant Senate seat of the late Ted Kennedy, everything has hit a major roadblock as this was supposedly a safe a Democratic seat and part of the country as there is. Ted Kennedy had held this seat for 46 years with his brother John F Kennedy before that.

It is also a state that Obama won overwhelmingly in the 2008 Presidential Election by over 20 points and that has very socially liberal policies like Gay Marriage and ironically Universal Healthcare! (always interesting the selfish nature of people when they have something of their own but it will cost more to have others able to have the same benefit they seem to play ignorant)

So given this and the extended and controversial nature of the Healthcare debate, one of two things are probably going to happen. Either the debate is going to continue as Obama indicated he would like this week but will be a more bipartisan bill and thus far more limited in its scope. Or Healthcare rebate in this debate and this current reform is going to cease which of course will mean more of the status quo for all Americans.

Now what does this all mean for US Immigration reform. Well even Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, one of the major driving forces of Healthcare Reform and the Liberal agenda of the Democratic Party has which includes more open Immigration policy, recently made some cautious statements. She said given the nature and nastiness of the fight and the political fallout already following the Massachusetts Senate race, that she does not want the House to debate anything additional controversial in 2010 until the Senate passes many of the bills they have already sent there.

Immigration Reform even in better economic times as it was in 2007 still was a heated and polarizing debate and eventually failed to pass both Houses of Congress and thus was defeated. And that was a bipartisan bill. So the chances of particularly the Democrats going out on a limb with reforms to help;
– legal and application costs
– ease and simplicity of process
– abuse in workplace by unscrupulous employers trying to threaten foreign workers
– green card delays and processing and lack of visa numbers particularly for citizens of China and India who are looking at delays of over 10 years
– increase in arbitrary quotas like the H1B visa quota
– lack of tax/social security benefits even though foreigners are paying all of these in full from their income
– fixing delays and morally unfair process like 221(g) administrative processing
– and others like illegal immigrants amnesty and path to US Citizenship
etc.

to me would seem remote as these are controversial issues that will probably illicit even more demonization in the media and from politicians that was seen in the Healthcare Debate. Republicans would be unlikely to be too involved in any major legislation as with the 2010 midterm elections upcoming they are more like at making bigger gains in the House and Senate ironically by doing nothing and criticizing the opposition that creating anything that could be attacked (you have got to love what the US legislative and political machine has become!!)

Additionally the lobby groups are only going to get stronger given they already played such a strong part in framing the Healthcare bill even though Obama campaigned that he wanted to limit the special interest influence. The lobby for groups like ultra nationalistic organizations that oppose all immigration is strong. As well as for lawyers who will always fight to keep the system geared towards them so they can continue to exploit and charge outrageous fees to foreigners who have little choice and option in the US Immigration system.

This will only be enhanced by the recent US Supreme Court ruling to overturn parts of the 2002 McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance reform bill which limited how much organizations like corporations could spend supporting or attacking candidates in advertisements.

All in at this point in time, it looks largely bleak for any meaningful reform or even US Immigration reform at all in 2010 given the Healthcare issue. Maybe the Obama State of the Union address may shed some light on what may be to come but at this stage if you are a foreigner, I would continue to expect to navigate the US Immigration system as you are largely for a while yet.

CJ

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