Structuring and Implementing an Immigrant Legalization Program
By Donald Kerwin and Laureen Laglagaron
While comprehensive immigration reform may have moved to the back burner politically, Congress ultimately will need to reform US immigration policy as immigration enforcement alone will not prove effective in dealing with the nation’s estimated 11.1 million unauthorized immigrants.
This Policy Brief argues that a carefully planned legalization program is an essential component to successful reform. A large-scale legalization program merits a comprehensive planning process beginning even prior to passage of legislation, as the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and other stakeholders build infrastructure, finalize policies and procedures, and prepare for a registration process.
The study makes the case that a broad legalizetion program should begin with an initial registration process that rapidly identifies and vets applicants. Such a process would be the best way and, indeed, the only feasible way to achieve the immigrant integration, public safety, and national security goals of a legalization program. A registration program would screen out public safety and national security threats, and would allow qualified applicants to live and work legally in the United States while they attempted to earn legal permanent status and to integrate into society.
To the extent that the articulated goals of a registration program lead to conflicting programmatic options, the study favors solutions that would encourage the largest number of potentially eligible persons to come forward during the registration process. None of the core goals of a legalization program would be met if large numbers of unauthorized immigrants remained in the shadows of US society.
Many commentators have questioned whether DHS could successfully lead and administer a large-scale legalization program. This Policy Brief concludes that it could, but not without a well-crafted bill, sufficient appropriated funding to build program infrastructure, an unprecedented mobilization of public