Steps to mend broken immigration system

President Barrack Obama has taken a decisive step to repair America’s broken immigration system by proposing to give legal status to about four to five million “illegal’’ immigrants. He has also proposed other measures to liberalise visa norms for foreign students, professionals and entrepreneurs, especially those working in technology sectors. There are over 11 million unregistered residents in the US who have lived and worked there for decades but have no legal claim to stay in the country. Though their presence is ubiquitous and their labour drives the US, the lack of a legal status makes them prone to exploitation, harassment and deportation.

Efforts to give them their due have failed mainly because of opposition from the Republican and other conservative sections. A bipartisan legislative move to reform the immigration system failed in the Congress last year.

The President has used his executive powers to bypass Congress in seeking to implement his plan. The prospect of Republican domination of Congress after the recent elections has dimmed the chances of legislative support for any worthwhile reform and so Obama used his special powers to enforce a solution.

Though there will be strong opposition from Congress and judicial challenges to the plan, it is widely held that he is within the legal limits of his power to propose and implement the proposal. He has actually presented a moderate plan and has left scope for a comprehensive legislation which can solve the entire problem. It still leaves out about half the undocumented population. Many parents will also be excluded and many families separated. There is no assurance of citizenship but millions of immigrants will not have to live with the sword of arrest and deportation hanging over their heads. Obama based his proposal on the idea when he said strangers should not be oppressed because ‘’we were strangers too’’. There is an obvious political angle too because the measure can help the Democratic Party in future.

Even liberal supporters of Obama’s initiative have doubts on how effectively it will be implemented and administered but it is unlikely to be reversed.

Part of the Obama plan may address some concerns of the Indian software industry, with the proposed liberalisation of visa norms for professionals. While it may be disappointed that there is no increase in the number of H-1B visas, many restrictions which were once expected to form part of the reform package are not there. The industry would still wait for more clarity in the plan. High-skilled workers and students who seek to study in the US will, however, welcome the increased opportunities for work in the country.

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