Immigration Reform and Its Impact on Ethiopians in America
By Allan Ebert

On January 21, 2004, Senators Tom Daschle, Senate Minority Leader and 3rdterm Democrat from South Dakota, and Chuck Hagel, a Republican from Nebraska, introduced legislation which may lead to permanent residence (“green cards”) for hundreds of thousands of people residing illegally in the United States.

The Senators’ legislative proposal, Senate Bill 2010, is an alternative to immigration reform initiatives laid out earlier in the year by the Bush administration. Some estimates are that 8 million people are working and living illegally in the United States.

The Daschle-Hagel proposal would pave the way to “green cards” for employees whose employers are willing to “sponsor” them. Under the proposal another 350,000 people from abroad will also be eligible to enter the U.S. and obtain residence status.

As proposed, S2010 would require the following:

-Living in the U.S. for five years and having worked for at least four years, including one year after the law passed
-Not have a criminal record and pass a national security background check
-Have a basic knowledge of English and American civics, similar to a naturalization application
-Pay a $1000 penalty for residing illegally

The application procedures and length of time to complete the process has not been discussed in any detail as yet. The bill remains in the Judiciary Committee and is not scheduled for debate or mark-up any time soon.

The Daschle-Hagel proposal would also provide for additional funds to tackle the enormous backlog of cases that result in delays of many years. Many of Tadias’s readers have likely experienced these delays in applying for family members or know someone who has. For example, application for permanent residence for “asylees” or for the children over 21 of “green card” holders can take four to eight years to process, respectively.

In December 2003, President George Bush proposed a “guest worker” program, which would provide for temporary status for employees whose employers can verify their employment. According to the Bush administration spokesperson, the President’s program will “match willing foreign workers with willing U.S. employers when no American can be found to fill those jobs.” However, the administration has made it clear that the program is only temporary, perhaps two year renewable intervals, and is not meant to be general “amnesty”. There are other aspects of the Bush proposal, which would increase, according to the Bush administration, the number of “green cards” available each year to different categories of applicants.

Since this is an election year it is not certain that any sweeping immigration reform will occur at all. Immigration continues to be a hot issue, with the majority of lawmakers unwilling to get too close to the flame. However, there was also a third proposal introduced last summer by Arizona politicians Senator John McCain and Congressmen Jim Kolbe and Jeff Flake. The Arizona proposal (Bill No. S1461) is similar in many respects to the Bush plan and would be a temporary reform.

Although no law may be enacted before the November 2004 elections, it is likely, nonetheless, that some type of immigration reform will occur within a year, particularly since both Republicans and Democrats agree at least on one thing: that it’s in our best national interest to match available employers with willing employees in areas of work not usually taken by Americans.

Allan Ebert has practiced law in the District of Columbia since 1988. He has also had offices in New York City and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Although he presently resides in Silver Spring, Maryland, Mr. Ebert has resided for brief periods of time in Ethiopia. His wife Martha is a native of Ethiopia and they have one child together. Mr. Ebert has written about Ethiopia for various news magazines as well as appearing on radio stations in Washington, D.C., and Addis Ababa.

Attorney Allan Ebert