Congress last week recognized the nation’s need for more highly skilled high-tech workers when it raised the number of H-1B visas that will be offered to applicants over the next three years. This is to be welcomed. But what was disappointing about the bill passed by both the House and Senate was the absence of an amnesty for those caught in the undocumented trap since at least the mid-1980s and, too, the failure of Congress to restore Section 245i, a onetime fixture in the U.S. immigration code. Section 245i allowed undocumented immigrants to legalize their status in America while remaining in America.
As matters stand, the undocumented are caught between a rock and a hard place. They cannot become legal while remaining here, and most face a long ban if they attempt to secure legal status by first returning to their country of origin.
The absence of 245i, therefore, all but ensures a permanent population of undocumented immigrants, many of whom could end up living their entire lives in the shadow of illegality. Section 245i and the extended amnesty still have a chance, if Sen. Edward Kennedy and others manage to successfully attach it to the Senate’s Commerce, Justice and State appropriations bill. But time is not a friend in this case. Congress is close to adjourning for the elections. We hope Kennedy and his allies can move faster than the clock on this matter.