HR Management & Compliance

Delay on immigration reform sparks questions, complaints

by Tammy Binford

President Barack Obama’s announcement that he will delay taking executive action on immigration reform means employers won’t get quick answers on when or if changes to the country’s immigration system will come.

On June 30, Obama promised he would use his executive power to make changes since Congress wasn’t making progress on passing an immigration reform bill. Speaking in the Rose Garden, he said then, “I’m beginning a new effort to fix as much of our immigration system as I can on my own, without Congress.”

But on September 6, the White House announced a delay in executive action until after the fall elections. In The New York Times, a White House official was quoted as saying:

Because of the Republicans’ extreme politicization of this issue, the president believes it would be harmful to the policy itself and to the long-term prospects for comprehensive immigration reform to announce administrative action before the elections. Because he wants to do this in a way that’s sustainable, the president will take action on immigration before the end of the year.

The delay has prompted an outcry from immigrant and labor advocates. In a joint statement, Service Employees International Union president Mary Kay Henry and executive vice president Rocio Saenz said:

We are deeply disappointed but not paralyzed. By far, this isn’t the end game. Immigration reform has and always will be our future. While the president will continue to hear from us, Congress will feel the pressure of a growing electorate.

Cristina Jimenez, managing director for United We Dream, called Obama’s delay a “broken promise” and “another slap to the face of the Latino and immigrant community.”

Christine D. Mehfoud, a director with the Spotts Fain law firm in Richmond, Virginia, follows immigration reform efforts and was encouraged by the Senate’s action in June 2013 before that effort stalled.

“Unfortunately, the immigration reform that a year ago many of us thought was within reach is fading off into the distance, and we are left wondering whether immigration reform will ever happen,” Mehfoud said. “For many of our nation’s industries, this isn’t just a political issue; it is a very real business issue.”

Mehfoud pointed to a letter signed by corporations and industry groups from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to House Speaker John Boehner and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. The letter urged reform and said, “We can’t afford to be content and watch a generation-old immigration system work more and more against our overall national interest.”

Mehfoud wrote about immigration reform in the August issue of Federal Employment Law Insider. She reminded employers that immigration enforcement remains high. She said in fiscal year 2012, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) made 520 criminal arrests tied to worksite enforcement. ICE action included the detention of 240 owners, managers, supervisors, and HR employees. Plus, the agency served more than 3,000 notices of inspection.

Eventual immigration reform won’t mean the end of the Form I-9 process, Mehfoud said. The requirement that all employers verify the identity and work authorization of every new employee and reverify the work authorization of certain employees will remain in force.

Elaine Young, an attorney with Kirton McConkie in Salt Lake City, Utah, wrote about immigration in the August issue of Utah Employment Law Letter, including the effect of the surge of unaccompanied minors from Central America that has hit the southern border in recent months.

Young said that even a comprehensive immigration reform bill such as the one that was passed by the Senate (but not the House of Representatives) in 2013 “probably wouldn’t help much with the current border humanitarian crisis.” She said that although the bill included funding to strengthen border security, the children showing up at the border now generally aren’t trying to sneak into the country. Instead, in most cases, they are willfully turning themselves over to border authorities “so they can receive shelter and care.”

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