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On Jan. 7, President George W. Bush made a bold statement of his vision for immigration reform. A key component of the reform agenda is a temporary worker plan for the estimated 8 million undocumented aliens in this country, according to the latest U.S. census data. If adopted, the plan will impact lawyers whose practices usually are only tangentially affected by immigration policy. Legal practitioners, scholars, politicians and the public — which deals with backlogs at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services — generally agree that the U.S. system of immigration law is cumbersome at best and, at worst, so fundamentally flawed as to pose a danger to society. The multifaceted and conflicting interests of border enforcement, domestic security, immigration benefits, U.S. worker protections, employers needing skilled and manual labor, and our history of personal liberties have resulted in the confusing patchwork of immigration laws. The president’s immigration reform provides an opportunity to bring order to the chaos. Here are the basics of the Bush immigration proposal, which the president sketched out in his Jan. 7 speech at the White House. The president said he opposes “amnesty, placing undocumented workers on the automatic path to citizenship.” Instead, he proposes a temporary worker program that allows undocumented workers in the United States to apply for lawful status and employment authorization. A White House fact sheet outlines the program’s key principles: increased border security; matching willing employers with willing workers; worker protection from exploitation; and incentives to return to the home country. In general, a U.S. employer who makes reasonable efforts to find an American for an open job could fill the position with a temporary worker if the Department of Homeland Security’s Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS) approves. CIS would grant the employee work authorization for three years, renewable for an additional three years, plus permission to travel to his or her home country and return to the United States. The president envisions incentives to assure a return to the home country after the expiration of the lawful status. If the Bush immigration reform works as planned, the number of temporary workers suddenly in lawful status will affect many aspects of society, such as politics, banking, insurance, home ownership, health and safety, bilingual education, travel and hospitality, transportation, small businesses and even sports. Those far-reaching effects, in turn, mean the Bush proposal will affect many areas of the law in addition to immigration. Advocates for expanded immigration and those seeking to limit immigration responded immediately to news of the temporary worker plan. Advocates argue that the reform does not address the real needs of the workers, their families or the U.S. employers that rely on their hard work and skill. Restrictionists’ claim that legitimizing the status of illegal aliens takes jobs from U.S. workers, encourages illegal immigration and threatens our national security. The impact on lawyers also is a topic for debate. Some immigration practitioners say the president’s proposal will result in more immigration cases than the 1986 amnesty program. Others believe relatively few immigrants will actually apply for the program because it offers no permanent residence track and would require even workers with family ties in the United States ultimately to return home. Even using a conservative estimate — assuming only a small percentage of the undocumented workforce seeks temporary worker status — several million workers could apply. AFFECTED AREAS While proponents and opponents focus on the effect of the proposal on immigration law, the plan potentially could impact lawyers in many other practice areas. Many undocumented workers do not use the U.S. legal system for dispute resolution or apply for governmental benefits, even if they qualify for them. Many fear the court system because they lack legal immigration status. Others may feel intimidated, manipulated or coerced by an opposing party and believe they have no recourse. Here are some practice areas that will be affected significantly.

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