As Congress delves deeper into the immigration debate,members of both parties agree that an unloved system which gives temporary residence to nearly 300,000 foreigners in the United States is broken.
The program was introduced in 1990 to aid countries facing war or natural disaster,but immigrants who won the temporary status end up staying long after the crisis at home ends by rolling over their visas every 18 months.
Lawmakers and presidents have turned a blind eye to the loophole over the years so as not to lose Latino votes but they can no longer ignore it.
A congressional aide said a bipartisan group of senators is now studying changes to the Temporary Protected Status system,as it draws up legislation for a wider immigration reform sought by President Barack Obama. Working out what to do with the mostly Central American temporary residents illustrates the breadth of the challenge in reshaping U.S. immigration law,a complex web of regulations and exceptions that has not been overhauled since 1986.
“We have people who have been on temporary status for 20 years,” said Zoe Lofgren,the ranking Democrat on the House of Representatives Immigration Sub-Committee.
She favors finding a way for the temporary immigrants to eventually become U.S. citizens. “Their life is here now and better we should regularize that,” she said.
But opponents of heavy immigration,many of them Republicans,want to limit the number of times a foreigner may renew a temporary visa. On a better footing than the 11 million undocumented foreigners,the holders of temporary permits nevertheless struggle to hold down long-term jobs,face travel restrictions and live in fear of deportation. Employers often balk at hiring an immigrant whose status – at least on paper – is temporary.
Victor Martell,a Salvadorean businessman in Chicago,says he lost the chance at a $120,000-a-year job because of his TPS visa,which he has held for 12 years.
Trained in SAP business software,Martell passed rigorous interviews at a well-known company and met with its management twice to explain an inventory management project he developed.
“I already had a start date and I went into HR to sign the documents and presented my TPS,” he said. The next day,the company told him by email that he did not get the job,without an explanation. “It was very obvious to me that after they saw a TPS,they killed it.”
Groups of lawmakers in both the Senate and House are struggling to agree on larger immigration issues including whether to legalize the status of illegal immigrants and how to secure the border with Mexico.
If they get past those hurdles,lawmakers will then have to look at other tough issues including a proposal to set up a national database for companies to check employees’ immigration status and a planned guest workers’ program.
While not a deal breaker,sorting out the temporary visa muddle could delay immigration reform.
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