Prospective Immigration Reform to Ease Naturalization Process

Rachel Weinstein

Last week, Oberlin students made the trek to Ashland, OH to participate in a procession and prayer vigil that called for immigration reform. Joined by more than 40 other local activists, a dozen students marched the perimeter of Ohio Republican Representative Bob Gibbs’s office on Friday afternoon to show support for prospective immigration reform that would have a major impact on both state and national levels. Joined by leaders of various local faith groups, Oberlin students composed the Immigrant Worker Project procession, an Ohio non-profit devoted to mitigate the hurdles of rural immigrant workers from Latin America. College senior Claire Molholm, an intern for IWP and organizer of last Friday’s vigil, said that, “It’s about making a demonstration and having a space for migrants and people of different affiliations to speak about why it is so pressing and important to have immigration reform.”

Participants in last week’s vigil sought to encourage Rep. Gibbs to vote in favor of New York Senator Charles Schumer’s 2013 legislation, which would enable many undocumented immigrants to gain legal status, and eventually citizenship. Passing through the Senate in June 2013, the bipartisan bill aims to provide nationwide immigration reform and will endure a House vote as early as this coming fall. If enacted, the bill will address a multitude of concerns ­­–– including border security, immigrant visas, interior enforcement, reforms to non-immigrant visa programs and jobs for migrant youth.

“It was empowering to stand with other activists and leaders of the community for this pressing cause,” said Molholm.

Although not in absolute alignment with the mission of IWP, the bill holds great promise for the many individuals and families that the organization aids on a day-to-day basis. Under the proposed legislation, undocumented immigrants will be eligible to apply for the new Registered Provisional Immigrant program almost immediately, offering a stepping stone to permanent resident status. Other visa benefits endorsed by the legislation include a new W-visa for non-citizens seeking legal means of employment in the states, and a $1.5 billion budget for a youth jobs program for prospective legal citizens who have already settled in the U.S. The act also addresses the vices of current immigrant removal, detention and court processes, the shortage of legal resources available to undocumented immigrants and the lack of discretion allotted to immigration judges in decisions of removal and asylum.

“Coming from Border Studies,” Molholm explained, where I learned the legal roots of immigration in terms of US foreign and economic policy, I feel like the roots currently in place do not really address the larger issues. Working around this system to help these people did not feel effective enough but instead like a band-aid solution.”

Support from activists aside, the bill has many unresolved issues. Undocumented immigrants must jump through bureaucratic hoops and spend large amounts of time and money for legal resources and necessary documentation.

“The reform while although seems promising to a lot of people, the 11 million people who arrived before 2011 have to fulfill a lot of requirements that make many of these people ineligible for citizenship. Obtaining citizenship can be up to a fourteen-year process. Many of these people do not have the time or financial resources to go through these bureaucratic processes,” said Molholm.

Last week’s vigil also served as a venue for the voices of undocumented adults, children and families who rose in support of the legislation. Both Molholm and College senior Truman Braslaw recalled the powerful story told by a top Ohio public school student without documentation and who shared her experiences of having to adjust to the U.S. public school system as a non-English speaker.

“It’s people like these who can add a new perspective to our own campus,” said Braslaw. IWP interns on campus are beginning to work with the administration in endorsing increased admission for students like these, making the administration more cognizant of their inclusion.

Activists and undocumented immigrants are keeping their fingers crossed. According to Civic Impulse, LLC, one of the world’s most visited government transparency websites, the legislation has a 43% chance of enactment. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office projects that the passage of the bill could yield a $158 billion reduction in the U.S. fiscal deficit within the next ten years and as much as $700 billion by 2033. Many members of Congress have commented that if this reform does not pass through Congress and the House and Senate refuse to seek a compromised solution, the fate of the U.S. legal immigration system will remain uncertain.