In her February 21 ID article, What Undocumented People Will Have To Do To Get Citizenship Through Comprehensive Immigration Reform, Immigration Attorney Tahmina Watson points out that there are important similarities between the requirements for green card status and US citizenship, respectively, under the president's latest immigration reform proposal and those already in existence under current law.
However, as her article also shows, there is at least one major difference: under current law, learning English and American history and government is only required for US citizenship. This is not a requirement for green card status. However, under the president's legalization proposal, as described by Ms. Watson, knowledge of English as well as American history and government would be a requirement for permanent resident status for unauthorized immigrants.
For many people, especially those who have been living in the US for many years, these requirements may not be particularly onerous. The same is true of the requirement to pay back taxes. Many unauthorized immigrants are already paying taxes. But the above proposals by the president are still stricter than those in effect for obtaining permanent residence now.
It is also important to point out that there may be some quite serious obstacles to the president's latest proposals' ever becoming law. By providing for the possibility of applying for permanent residence by currently unauthorized immigrants after only eight years of provisional or temporary legal status, whatever one wants to call it, President Obama's proposal refuses to make green card status conditional upon additional enforcement measures, as demanded by Republicans.
His latest proposal also seems to contradict his previous insistence, as also demanded by Republicans, that unauthorized immigrants must go to the "back of the line" in order to become permanent residents (and eventual US citizens). While his proposal is commendable and realistic for refusing to include these Republican poison pills, the big question is whether the president is really willing to fight for this proposal, or whether it is just a negotiating ploy to try to force the Republlcans to agree to at least some kind of reform, even a more onerous one.*
It may be a bit too early for unauthorized immigrants to think about getting their pens ready to fill out green card applications, or indeed any legalization applications at all. There are still serious issues to be resolved before we will know if comprehensive immigration reform can become a reality.
Roger Algase is a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School. He has been practicing business immigration law in New York City for more than 20 years.