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On September 6, 2014, the White House announced that President Obama would not entertain executive action on immigration reform until after the 2014 midterm elections, a fact subsequently supported by the President’s appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press. This comes just over two months after the President’s initial June 30th promise to utilize executive action to enact certain reforms by the end of summer. With this decision to delay action, it is important to ask what is next for immigration reform?

The 113th Congress has not been particularly productive in enacting reforms, due in part to the fact that both Republicans and Democrats differentiate in their beliefs of the necessary size and scope of changes to the immigration system. The Senate has produced a comprehensive immigration reform bill, S.744 The Border Security Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, which passed with a vote of 68-32 in late June 2013. The bill was at the time seen as a monumental compromise that saw 13 Republican senators vote alongside Senate Democrats to fund greater border security, amend certain restrictions on immigrant and nonimmigrant visas, and provide a pathway to citizenship for upwards of 11 million undocumented immigrants currently believed to be residing in the United States. However, the likelihood of a comprehensive reform package has since been downplayed, and the focus has shifted to a piecemeal approach in which issues are tackled individually.

The 113th House of Representatives for its part recently passed its first two pieces of legislation concerning immigration reform, specifically related to the recent humanitarian crisis on the U.S.-Mexico border. On August 1, 2014, the House passed H.R. 5230, which provides $694 million dollars to enhance border security, well short of the Obama administration’s call for $3.7 billion. It also amends the Immigration and Nationality Act and William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Authorization Act of 2008, removing special treatment of children from non-border nations. Additionally, the House passed H.R. 5272, which would suspend the President’s ability to extend deportation relief to any new young, undocumented immigrants after June 30, 2014. These bills served as a mostly symbolic gesture, with no likelihood of debate in the Senate.

However, like the 113th Congress, all of these bills will soon be swept away in preparation for a new Congress. On January 3, 2015, bills not considered by Congress or signed into law by the President are considered expired. This means that all bills, including Senate’s comprehensive immigration bill, will cease to be held over the 114th Congress’s head, and the reform process will start anew with a brand new Congress.

There are limited options by which immigration reform can still occur in 2014:

As previously mentioned, President Obama is preparing to take executive action to enact certain reforms. The President is expected by many to enhance border security and simultaneously expand deferred action for individuals with significant ties to the United States or citizens of the United States. Slightly less controversial, but equally important acts such as expanding non-immigrant visas to more entrepreneurs and highly skilled individuals, alleviating restrictions on non-immigrants and their spouses, expanding or eliminating quotas, or simply halting the inclusion of derivative family members towards the annual quota, could also be enacted and positively alter the immigration system as well. However the time and extent of these actions has yet to be determined. All that is known is that the administration has promised action before the end of the year.

Additionally, a lame duck Congress could choose to enact reform. However, the complexity necessary to make any substantive comprehensive reform would most likely not lend itself to a lame duck session. According to the Congressional Research Service, since 1994 lame duck sessions have lasted on average fewer than 12 days in each house, giving Congress little time to pass a comprehensive package. With this small window of time, it would be difficult for members of Congress to find common ground on controversial topics such as legal status for undocumented immigrants and border security. Although anything is possible, it may be more reasonable to expect a lame duck Congress to bring reforms with considerable bipartisan support to the floor such as extending immigrant and non-immigrant visas to high skilled foreigners and affluent investors in order to spur job and overall economic growth.

A last option could see both the Obama administration and U.S. Congress both let reforms die until next year. The Obama administration has made consistent promises to utilize executive actions to bring reform, but has yet to enact anything substantial. Likewise, Speaker of the House John Boehner has already mentioned in a September 2, 2014, interview that 2015 could be a good year to enact reforms, thereby possibly insinuating that reforms are not on the table for 2014. Only time will tell what reforms, if any, are made at the end of the year. But, with preparation for the 2016 general election on the horizon, the future of any substantive reform is far from definite.


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Photo of Laura Foote Reiff ‡ Laura Foote Reiff ‡

Laura Foote Reiff has more than 32 years of experience representing businesses and organizations in the business immigration and compliance field. She is also a business immigration advocate and has long chaired prominent business immigration coalitions. Laura is Co-Founder of GT’s Business and

Laura Foote Reiff has more than 32 years of experience representing businesses and organizations in the business immigration and compliance field. She is also a business immigration advocate and has long chaired prominent business immigration coalitions. Laura is Co-Founder of GT’s Business and Immigration and Compliance Group which she co-led since 1999. She currently chairs the Northern Virginia/Washington D.C. Immigration and Compliance Practice. Laura is also Co-Managing Shareholder of the Northern Virginia Office of GT, a position she has held since 2010. As a global leader in the business immigration community, Laura has served on the Boards of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, the American Immigration Council, the National Immigration Forum and is currently the Chair of the America is Better Board.

Laura advises corporations on a variety of compliance-related issues, particularly related to Form I-9 eligibility employment verification matters. Laura has been involved in audits and internal investigations and has successfully minimized monetary exposure as well as civil and criminal liabilities on behalf of her clients. She develops immigration compliance strategies and programs for both small and large companies. Laura performs I-9, H-1B and H-2B compliance inspections during routine internal reviews, while performing due diligence (in the context of a merger, acquisition or sale) or while defending a company against a government investigation.

Laura represents many businesses in creating, managing and using “Regional Centers” that can create indirect jobs toward the 10 new U.S. jobs whose creation can give rise to EB-5 permanent residence for investment. She coordinates this work with attorneys practicing in securities law compliance, with economists identifying “targeted employment areas” and projecting indirect job creation, and with licensed securities brokers coordinating offerings. She also represents individual investors in obtaining conditional permanent residence and in removing conditions from permanent residence.

Laura’s practice also consists of managing business immigration matters and providing immigration counsel to address the visa and work authorization needs of U.S. and global personnel including professionals, managers and executives, treaty investors/ traders, essential workers, persons of extraordinary ability, corporate trainees, and students. She is an immigration policy advocacy expert and works on immigration reform policies.

 Admitted in the District of Columbia and Maryland. Not admitted in Virginia. Practice limited to federal immigration practice.