Transcript

Legal Implications of the Immigration Compromise

Liz Stern and Carl Hampe
Immigration Group, Baker and McKenzie D.C. Office
Thursday, May 24, 2007; 12:00 PM

The McCain-Kennedy immigration compromise, supported by the president but under attack from both the left and the right, would be the biggest change to American immigration laws in decades. Liz Stern and Carl Hampe with the immigration group in the D.C. office of law firm Baker & McKenzie, were online Thursday, May 24 at noon ET to explain the legislation, how it would change current law, and its potential impacts on businesses and immigrants.

The transcript follows.

Stern is a partner in the Washington, D.C. Office of Baker & McKenzie LLP and heads the Global Migration practice group. Her team of lawyers handles immigration related issues from executive transfer matters to undocumented/low-skilled labor cases.

Hampe's focus has been on corporations and employers that rely in unskilled or low-skilled workers where turnover rates are high. Carl is currently representing companies being targeted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for civil and criminal enforcement actions for hiring unauthorized workers.

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Washington, D.C.: Legal Immigrants: Would the new rules reduce the number of visas available to legal immigrants from 140,000 to 90,000? How many more would be added by the points-based system? Overall, wouldn't skilled legal immigrants be losers in this?

Liz Stern: Welcome to this discussion -- Carl and I are delighted to join The Washington Post and you to discuss such an important issue. The new legislation represents a historical overhaul of the nation's laws.

The volume of legal immigration is actually quite large, including initially a volume of 247,000 green cards for "merit-based" immigration and a family backlog elimination volume that is substantial. However, the actual availability for new candidates may be very limited, as the merit-based green cards would include set-asides for the employment backlog, the unskilled, and, ultimately, the beneficiaries of the new Z visa for undocumented workers in the U.S. since January 2007.

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Carl Hampe: Hello everyone. I am Carl Hampe, a lawyer with the firm of Baker & McKenzie LLP in Washington DC. From 1983 to 1991, I was Counsel to the Senate Immigration Subcommittee. We passed legislation addressing illegal and legal immigration reform. Happy to join the conversation.

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Relief for Legal Immigrants: What provision are being made for legal immigrants to deal with ridiculous processing times, other avenues of gaining Green Cards, H-1B quotas etc? It seems to me that illegal immigrants get preferential treatment above those immigrants who have followed the rules but find it next to impossible to become legal residents and eventually American citizens

Liz Stern: This is frankly one of our greatest concerns. At Baker & McKenzie, we work with the global business community, and the most significant worry our clients have is that the queues -- both because of agency backlogs and actual quota restrictions -- will become intolerable with the new volume of visa processing for guest workers. This is an issue we are encouraging the business sector to be very vocal about.

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Fairfax, Va.: Three comments: First, the focus of the debate is morphing into more of a national security one. This seems to be the buzz word/idea now. Second, is there discussion anywhere of "fixing" the source countries so that their citizens won't feel the desperate need to come here in droves? Third, I am distressed by the under current of intolerance and hatred I hear in the more rabid comments. Racist to say the least.

Carl Hampe: I think that since 9/11 national security and immigration inextricably have been linked. They will be linked for the foreseeable future. The question is how do we continue to be a nation of immigrants while taking the national security issues into account.

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West Orange, N.J.: Exactly what change in employer sanctions would the new law enact? If enforced as meagerly as present laws, wouldn't this entail no real change at all? If employers can spare expense, hire new illegals, and skirt any rules or programs "on paper," don't we merely promote both demand and supply?

Carl Hampe: The problem with employer sanctions in the 1986 Act is that it relied on current documents, which very easily are defeated. The Senate bill relies on an electronic database of information to confirm an individual's identity and work authorization. It won't take effect immediately, so that is why the drafters are "triggering" some of the benefits to the time when all employers have enrolled in the new electronic system.

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Germantown, Md.: In your opinion, what are the potential benefits to this country, if any, to pass an immigration reform bill? Do you think that if aliens are asked to leave the country, will they do it? I do not think so. Thanks.

Liz Stern: The legislation is clearly an attempt to address the realities of a system that has not worked, and to refine our approaches to combine border security with options for legal routes to immigration such that we avoid the entry of foreign nationals without appropriate screening. These are laudable goals, but the reality of the bill is that its compromise aspects -- an attempt to obtain support on both sides of the political aisle -- have created a strain. Control of decisions to bring workers into the U.S. has moved from employers, who are in the best position to understand true needs, to a government agency that is widely known to be strained already.

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Indianapolis: I am a H-1B holder, and my priority date to file for adjustment of status just became current. My husband (dependent on H-4 visa) performed unauthorized employment for several years until March of this year, when we left the country and returned after a vacation. How will the new legislation help with cases like these to allow a clean adjustment of status? Is this being addressed? Will this help us? Thanks for your time and consideration.

Liz Stern: The previous forgiveness provisions to allow adjustment despite lapses in status or unauthorized work is not yet a part of the bill. If your husband did not overstay the date on his I-94 card, however (which, as you have traveled abroad and returned already, he seems not to have done) you always can consider him filing for his residency via consular processing abroad.

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Potomac, Md.: What should corporations that use both skilled and unskilled immigrant labor -- even executive level positions -- be doing right now to prevent problems with the DHS, SEC and Congress?

Carl Hampe: Good question. Companies with unskilled workforces are most at risk of work site enforcement from ICE, the immigration enforcement agency. There are pilot programs and voluntary compliance initiatives that can minimize the risk of a raid from ICE, and we have helped companies put these programs together. But frankly, it is expensive and complex.

Companies hiring mostly skilled workers should ensure that they have a strong compliance program that will keep workers in status and avoid repercussions from DHS and its service agency, USCIS.

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Johnson City, Tenn.: Good Afternoon. I have two questions regarding the Senate immigration bill. First, how is this bill not amnesty? The penalty for the misuse or "making up" of a SSN is $250,000 and up to five years imprisonment, which is considerably more than the $5,000 that the Senate bill is proposing. The penalties for stealing a SSN or ID theft are justifiably harsher. Secondly, if the U.S. cannot effectively enforce the present immigration laws, how will they enforce these new immigration laws and avoid the endless cycle of illegal immigration then amnesty? Thank you.

Carl Hampe: This is the toughest policy issue to resolve. You observe correctly that amnesty rewards lawbreakers. And the 1986 Act, which contained an amnesty, did not stop illegal immigration because the employer sanctions provisions were defeated by document fraud. Congress was not comfortable creating secure worker verification systems in 1986, but they appear willing to do so now. They also plan to "trigger" the benefits only when there is additional enforcement in place. The approach today is much more sound than it was in 1986. Whether it will work, of course, remains to be seen.

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Dunn Loring, Va.: In your experience with the INS and now the ICE, would you say that those agencies have carried out their then-current responsibilities in an efficient and timely manner? What evidence have you seen that they will be able to carry out the massive new responsibilities in a timely and efficient manner?

Liz Stern: The new benefits agency -- since the INS was disbanded in 2003 -- is USCIS. There is no question that USCIS is already strained, and has had difficulty succeeding in clearing its current processing backlogs, managing ongoing needs, and aligning decisions with policy. While the agency has made strides to improve its adjudication record and timetable since its restructuring in 2003, it continues to suffer from many management and consistency lapses. The ability to carry out this mission will not be feasible in the agency's current state. At a minimum, very strong leadership from DHS for the benefits processing -- not just for the border security (which is CBP and ICE, not USCIS) -- and the establishment of separate application processing centers for Y and Z visas, will be essential. Congress has not addressed this in the bill, and it's critical. Under IRCA, where only 3 million aliens were ultimately offered amnesty, the agency was able to process the cases only because of the establishment of such separate processing facilities.

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West Orange, N.J.: Is it fair to say that the legal profession, as a whole, earns far more by sponsoring visa applicants, or job discrimination plaintiffs, than as counsel in deportation or illegal hiring litigation? Consequently, don't attorneys (who also include a lot of lawmakers) represent a rather potent lobby in favor of greater immigration?

Carl Hampe: When I was a Senate staffer many years ago, most of the Senators were lawyers. But I honestly can say that they did not consider the benefits to their prior profession when setting national immigration policy. The current immigration bill would curtail judicial review of denied immigration benefits severely, which is where the biggest money can be made for lawyers, so that theory really doesn't hold together.

The Senate tends to be more generous on immigration benefits. The House is less so -- perhaps because House members represent smaller districts and are more conscious of the local impacts of immigration. When the House takes up the issue, I imagine the generosity of the some of the Senate's proposals might be curtailed.

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Rockville, Md.: Thank you for your time and information. How do you see the ongoing political debates regarding immigration affecting corporate reaction? Will delays in passing these new measures help or hurt businesses?

Liz Stern: The corporate sector has faced a great deal of adversity from our immigration laws, in particular our dated quota system (dates back to 1990) in the past several years. Many businesses have slowed down or eliminated campus recruitment for international workers -- including top scientific and tech talent -- because of the shutdown of the H-1B visa category. This new law offers some hope that there will be a more realistic nexus between the quota amounts for nonimmigrant and immigrant visas for the highly-skilled, but also includes the concerns we've been discussing today:

One, how will the agency respond to the exponential volume placed before it as a result of the new laws. Two, how will the agency administer a residency system that exclusively is tied to the candidate's credentials and ties to the US -- and not at all wedded to the demands of the employer. Three, to what extent will legitimate workers in the executive and professional corps be ill-affected in recruiting because of employer's concerns about what easily could become an unduly-aggressive employment verification approach? The business world is very adaptable, but we don't want our leading economic strength -- corporate America -- to adapt by shifting base operations abroad.

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Washington, D.C.: If I were an undocumented person in this country and examined the Senate proposal so as to proceed to my best advantage, I believe I would immediately try to find a part-time farm or agricultural job (or keep the one I have). Just a $100 fine, other small fees and a criminal records check, and, presto, I am in the U.S. legally for years to come. That's a very attractive route to take, correct?

Carl Hampe: It is inevitable that the analysis you describe will be made by many foreign nationals. The fine is more like $3,000, but still certainly worth it in return for legal access to the U.S. labor market. The dilemma for U.S. lawmakers is that these people will try to be here whether they are legal or not. So on balance, is it better for the country to have them here legally or illegally? There is honest disagreement on this question.

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Chicago: The Selective Service Law requires all U.S. Male Citizens to register within 30 days of turning 18 years old. It also requires all males between the ages of 18-25 (with the exception of foreign students and members of a foreign diplomatic core) to register as well. If an illegal alien has been here between the ages of 18-25 and never registered (which is a responsibility of citizenship) are they still eligible for the Z visa? I don't feel they should be, because their commitment to this country wasn't demonstrated by their lack of registration.

Carl Hampe: In order to qualify for a Z visa, I believe a draft-age alien must register with Selective Service before being issued the visa.

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College Park, Md.: How will legal students who recently have graduated (with a non-science BA) and who are authorized to work for a year thereafter, benefit from such an overhaul?

Liz Stern: The clear advantage in the new law as currently proposed, and as seen in a number of competing bills that both the Senate and House introduced prior to this May compromise legislation, is an augmentation of the H-1B quota. With an enhanced amount more closely tied to the realities of the pool of new H-1B workers that businesses recruit -- including recent graduates of our universities -- candidates would face a much more realistic chance of obtaining a longer-term option to work in the U.S. The compromise legislation would raise H-1Bs from 65,000 to 115,000 for Fiscal Year 2008, and in Fiscal Year 2009 going forward a market escalator would be available each year with a ceiling of 180,000.

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Anonymous: As a U.S. citizen my children have to pay full tuition to an out-of-state school. Why should illegal aliens get to pay in-state tuition? Adding insult to injury, my federal taxes/state taxes are being used to subsidize the schools. Can you explain to me why illegal aliens' are forgiven when U.S. citizens' are not? Do you believe some of the Senators are being paid off by the immigrant lobbies? I ask this question because bribery appears to have reached the House already(Cunningham)?

Carl Hampe: The recent congressional bribery scandals are truly unfortunate, because they make the public wonder whether improper behavior is the source of many policy decisions. No, I don't believe senators are being paid off by immigrant lobbies, any more than they might be taking political contributions from PACs that support reduced immigration. I think public education is where the impacts of immigration are the most profound and can be the most troubling. The 1986 immigration act granted federal dollars to state and local governments to offset the increased burdens of, for example, public education expenses. I imagine the current bill will do the same.

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Princeton, N.J.: I am a highly-educated working professional and a Canadian citizen living in central New Jersey. I work under an employer-sponsored H-1B visa. My employer, who wants to keep me for the long-haul, is sponsoring my application for a green card. This application was made more than two years ago and still is bogged down in the "labor certification" phase. My file is somewhere in a euphemistically-named "backlog reduction center" in Philadelphia. How will this bill, as currently written, affect me if it becomes law?

Liz Stern: The bill would not impact cases already filed and pending. Your case has been subjected to Department of Labor queues that became absurd precisely because a forgiveness program in 2001, which was much more limited than the challenges we now face with a pool of some 12 million people who are integrated in our society, created a complete bottleneck for Department of Labor. That pool in 2001 was about 300,000. The good news for you is that the Backlog Elimination Centers are expected to complete processing by the fall -- a deadline that is tied to funding and could of course change. The reality is, however, that we at Baker & McKenzie are seeing much greater movement on labor certification cases filed as early as 2001, and have moved literally dozens of our clients' employees to the next stages of residency because of the BECs' acceleration.

You also would of course have options to file a new residency case under the new points system -- assuming it remains part of the compromise -- but most likely, you'll have the answer from DOL by the time the points system would be activated.

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Boca Raton, Fla.: I'm currently on my seventh year H1 visa and I've been waiting for more than two years for my Labor Certification to be approved. How does this law being discussed affect me?

Liz Stern: Please see the answer we just posted to the viewer in a similar situation, waiting for the Backlog Elimination Center of the Department of Labor to progress through the lingering cases.

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Virginia: Would the Z visa apply to all illegal aliens that meet the requirements, even if they have an order of deportation from the Department of Homeland Security?

Carl Hampe: The current draft would say "no," but I can assure you the issue hasn't been decided yet. This consumed much time when we drafted the 1986 law. If the order of deportation were for illegal residence only, I could see maintaining Z visa eligibility. If the deportation order were for, for example, a criminal offense, then a Z visa would likely not be available.

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Annandale, Va.: What is going to happen to those who came in this country with legal visa and filed for green card under employment base. I-40 has been approved and I'm waiting for I-485 to apply. Are they considered undocumented illegals, or a different category?

Liz Stern: Legal candidates -- who have maintained their status throughout their tenure in the U.S. -- will remain eligible to conclude their process under their previously-filed applications. They will not be required to file new cases under the new system. If you are already in the adjustment of status stage, you are very protected, as you maintain your eligibility for ongoing work (EAD) and travel (Advance Parole) authorizations as an adjustment applicant. So stay in your job occupation, and you should be fine.

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Northwest Washington: If the bill is passed as currently written, will it require undocumented immigrants eligible for the proposed Z visa to then meet the eligibility requirements for family- or employer-based permanent residency? Many, many undocumented immigrants are here illegally precisely because they have no hope of obtaining a green card through the current system. It seems that unless a new category of eligibility is created for Z visa applicants, we won't solve the problem.

Carl Hampe: The Z visa would allow currently illegal residents who entered prior to Jan. 1, 2007 to remain in legal but temporary status. After the current legal immigrant backlog is cleared, then Z visa holders could apply for a "merit-based" permanent visa under the point system. The point system tries to take into account the variety of skills that different immigrants have, so that they have a chance at permanent residence. This is a tricky question, and I'm not sure the current draft has perfected the answer, but Congress clearly understands this to be a problem.

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Alexandria, Va.: Under this proposed legislation, will there be an opportunity for homeowners who have hired the undocumented to clear their record and legalize the same employees so that work can continue?

Carl Hampe: A homeowner always can clear their record by executing the proper immigration forms (I-9) and paying any back taxes (plus penalties and interest) to the IRS. Under the new system, the employer would not sponsor the household employee, but the employee him or herself could apply for a Z visa, which provides temporary legal status, and after a period of years perhaps could qualify under the points system for a green card.

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Dunn Loring, Va.: So readers can understand any potential bias you may have, will the new legislation increase or decrease your billings?

Liz Stern: That's a good question, as the corporate community will need to assess how to manage their U.S.-based international workers, to determine how much of a role to play in residency proceedings. If a merit-based points system goes forward, the employer is no longer the driver to "sponsor" workers for immigration. Yet the employer's interests in retaining top talent remain essential. Will this mean more or less work for the lawyers who represent corporate America? Hard to say, but it certainly will require a revisiting of corporate policies and some problem-solving to respond to the unpredictability of a system that is not employer-driven.

On other fronts, the increased aggressiveness of work site management, the types of compliance raids that ICE has engaged in, certainly add this area of corporate compliance to the ongoing diligence list that General Counsel and C-suite compliance officers in corporate American need help with. There is no question that a white-collar component is now part of work site management, and will only be enhanced with the stricter focus of this bill.

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Des Plaines, Ill.: What impact does this law have on those individuals who live abroad and have been found inadmissible under Section I-212(a)(9)(c) (prior immigration violation)?

Carl Hampe: If the individual currently resides abroad and is subject to a ground of inadmissibility, this bill probably will not help them.

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Harrisburg, Pa.: This is more of a national security question than a business question. What is the point of requiring people to return to their home country before they may become a legal citizen? Doesn't this make such people a greater potential security risk, as any criminal interests back in their home country would know which people were applying for American citizenship? They would know know which people to contact while they were back in their home country in hopes of recruiting them to engage in criminal activity when they return to America. Wouldn't it make more sense not to require people to return to their home countries?

Liz Stern: The home country return allows for security checks to occur in full before return to the U.S., hence that's part of the current political compromise. Remember this is only for folks who have not been in legal status, or are in the pool of guest workers that now is being created and which, in a sense, have to earn the ability to return. The professional corps will still have the ability to adjust status in the US, provided they have maintained their status throughout their tenure in the U.S.

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New York: Is the provision that current illegal immigrants (Z visas) must return to their countries to apply for a green card likely to survive?

Liz Stern: It's much too early to tell, but that aspect has been a pivotal source of negotiation, and is unlikely to die easily.

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Seattle: It seems to me that one of the main assumptions of the immigration bill is clearing the backlog of cases and applications. I haven't read the actual bill; does it address this issue of not having enough immigration judges and administration workers to handle the current backlog?

Carl Hampe: Seattle: Backlogs are created by both: excess demand for visas (which is a problem only Congress can address by allocating more visas or reducing the number of visa categories) and insufficient resources to process the number of applications received.

The current bill addresses all three scenarios: it allocates more visas, particularly in the temporary visa categories; it reduces the number of family-based categories, to avoid continued high demand in the more distant family-connection categories (such as siblings of U.S. citizens); and finally, it allocates more money to the immigration service and the immigration judges to clear the backlogs of pending cases. The fear some have, however, is that the additional money for agency resources is not sufficient to handle the Z visa program, which alone could be available to millions of aliens without status.

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Rockville, Md.: With the Z visa, will they still require applicants to pay back taxes? Because of the Earned Income Tax Credit, wouldn't new immigrants earning low wages essentially owe nothing in taxes? Could they even earn refunds?

Carl Hampe: Z visa holders would have to report income and file taxes. If they owe back taxes, they would have to pay them. If they are eligible for tax benefits going forward, they would be eligible for those as well.

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Piquant Bouquets, Ala.: Well, I wonder ... why is it that the people who are already living here are being ignored? The citizens. Outsourcing, which followed downsizing and internationalization, has decimated the middle class, both in manufacturing and white-collar work. Those people are working retail, odd jobs, construction or trade -- if they can. Why do you want to invite in a group of people that are undercutting them for the only jobs left in-country? Wiring money out of the United States is what they are doing.

If you really want to solve the illegal alien problem, why aren't you addressing it using the laws that already exist and arrest the employers? Jose and Maria will be in Juarez by the weekend when you put a lid on the dolleros ... do that. In additional to regulating outsourcing, bring customer service back in-country, and start addressing economic and infrastructure needs as national security issues that are magnitudes more important than Iraq or Iraq's oil.

Liz Stern: These are the viewpoints that the Hill is looking at -- and part of the basis for compromise. The House has been very reluctant to allow for any "regularization" of undocumenteds. So speak your mind to your congressman.

The sourcing issue you raise is a different one. From a business standpoint, regulating immigration -- including legal immigration -- in a way that is not conducive to economic growth won't stop outsourcing. That phenomenon is one that is attractive to the commercial world, and is reflective of our much more borderless commercial globe -- so our experience is that facilitating fluid movement across borders -- of people, goods, technology and money -- helps to build our economy. The greater success we create for U.S. businesses, the more they expand operations here, even if they source certain aspects of their business overseas. If we make it unattractive to conduct business here, they'll just build more plants offshore.

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Virginia Beach, Va.: My sister has an order of deportation dating back to 2000. She is still in the U.S. illegally. My U.S. Citizen parents have an approved I-130 petition for her with a current priority date. Because of the order of deportation, she cannot adjust her status without first reopening her deportation case. Will the new laws make it easier for her to adjust her status and obtain the I-130 visa?

Carl Hampe: This case is complicated enough that you really would need immigration counsel to advise your sister.

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Confused in Maryland: There is so much back-and-forth talk surrounding the possible immigration legislation that I am totally confused. What does this mean for illegal immigrants currently in the country? Specifically, what does this mean for those immigrants who already have filed for permanent status and are awaiting decision?

Liz Stern: The new law won't change current applications. Folks who are already in the process can stay in it, and if their (your) cases are sound, they'll be processed under the current rules, not the new bill's rules. But the rules going forward will be dramatically different. We'll be publishing an analysis of the full bill soon, and will share with the editor of this segment so viewers can get a bit more detail on the actual provisions.

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Fayetteville, Ark.: I have read nothing in this proposal that relates to mixed-status families (i.e. U.S. citizens with undocumented spouses). Heads of undocumented households have to return to their country of origin to petition for residency for the entire family, but what if the spouse is already a U.S. citizen? How do they determine who is the "head of the household?" Can I (the U.S. citizen wife) be the head of the household, and if so, does my husband not have to leave? Can he adjust status here?

Carl Hampe: The drafters probably haven't thought through all of the possible scenarios, such as yours. Because your husband has a U.S. citizen spouse there should be better treatment available to him, but that probably won't be clarified until after the law gets passed and the agency comes up with implementing regulations.

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Wheaton, Md.: This may seem to be a stupid question, but why not just enforce the current immigration laws instead of creating new legislation?

Liz Stern: I think your question is quite an astute one. Enforcement of the current laws frankly has failed -- in that we have not secured the border or stemmed the entry of workers without any legal status. The bill is an admission that the old system is not working, and needs more realism in both the border security measures and in the provision of viable avenues for incoming foreigners to obtain lawful status.

At the end of the day, reform of some sort is essential, both to know who enters the country and what they do once they arrive, and to provide options to incentivize the entry for the top talent other countries now are luring away from the U.S. In our world at Baker & McKenzie, we see the global circulation of top talent, and we find the U.S. has been outpaced in recent years by the UK, Canada, Australia, and now parts of Asia and the Pacific, in attracting premier contributors to commerce.

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Maryland: I have a hard time believing that any change in law will change the immigration picture in America for one simple reason: many, many employers are making record-breaking profits because they have access to workers willing to be paid low wages under the table. They will not begin hiring workers that have to be documented. Can you address what in this legislation will make it "impossible" for employers to continue this practice?

Carl Hampe: The requirement that all employers within three years enroll in the electronic employment verification program is a real sea-change. At that point it will be very difficult for employers to avoid their immigration-law responsibilities. Yes, some employers will continue to work "off the books," but this group will provide a very small portion of the total number of available U.S. jobs. The whole theory of employer sanctions -- if it works -- is to turn off the magnet that draws illegal aliens to the U.S. A secure worker verification system actually could achieve that.

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Washington, D.C.: A follow-up on the agriculture "blue cards" -- that section of the bill specifies only the $100 fine, but there would be other fees charged? Are you saying the other fees would total about $3,000? I expect that even $100 is a lot of dough for people who work for $9-$10/hour -- and then only seasonally, after which they get laid off. I am just trying to learn more about it.

Carl Hampe: The $3,000 fee is for the Z visa. The Y and H-2A visa programs have lower, different fees, but the number of eligible users is much smaller for the latter two programs.

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Indianapolis: If the immigration compromise goes through, why should 12 million people who chose to come to this country be considered for any minority set-asides, seeing that this country doesn't really owe them anything?

Liz Stern: The issues on resolving the benefits offered to 12 million people who ducked the law in coming here are very complex. But once you have 12 million here, integrated into the very fabric of our society, recognizing that many are working two or three jobs to survive, how do we handle it? No matter how much we balk at potentially rewarding folks who ignored our laws, we need to recognize that we failed to provide the right means to secure the border (and perhaps keep them out) or to provide legal avenues for them to enter in better circumstances (minimum wage, possible temporary periods of entry rather than an indefinite). Does that mean we consider them for minority set-asides or other benefits? Not necessarily, but we also have some need to make sure that if we create vehicles for them to stay, we help them be successful contributors. My personal feeling is immigrants add value at all levels -- but a "hidden" class raises many more problems than a more open system with the right screens and regulations.

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Torrance, Calif.: Why can't a worker in U.S. bring his spouse to live with him after he or she obtains a Z visa?

Carl Hampe: The spouse has to be physically present in the U.S. to qualify for a derivative Z visa. I believe Congress chose this because the flood of consular appointments for out-of-country spouses could overwhelm the system.

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Manhattan, N.Y.: I don't understand what they said about the head of the household having to go back home to apply for green card. I came into the country legally and then I went out of status (illegal) and I only have a social security number and a driver's license for identification. I've been in this country for 10 years,working hard and paying taxes every year. I support my daughter (American) who turned two this past March, and my wife is a green card holder. I am the head of the household, and they gonna tell me to go back home after 10 years in this country? I think they need to review that part of the bill, because I'd rather die here than going back.

Liz Stern: There is no question that your thoughts are a significant part of the debate. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has taken a leading role in raising these types of issues. But again, the return abroad of the head of household is part of the delicate compromise that led to bipartisan support in the Senate. Keep an eye on the ongoing amendments to the bill and you'll see this issue hit the debate.

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Liz Stern: We have enjoyed our session greatly and thank you for your interesting comments and questions. Baker & McKenzie thanks The Post for this opportunity.

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Laurel, Md.: If the head of the household has to return to his/her home country, who is going to provide for the rest of the family staying here? I know he/she is guaranteed back in, but can the head of the household apply and come back, or does he/she have to wait outside the U.S. until the process is over? Are there any changes to the current visa system in this new legislation? What about those people who are here legally for years but with no luck on getting a sponsor? Are they going to be allowed to apply for residency? They talk comprehensive, but they only look at the illegal immigrants ... thank you!

Carl Hampe: I believe the head of household must return to the home country to file the adjustment of status application, but then may re-enter the United States. This is a controversial requirement, so I imagine it will change many times before we see the final version. Keep watching for it.

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Carl Hampe: I am signing off now. Thanks everyone for this very interesting exchange.

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