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Where the Presidential Candidates Stand on Immigration Policy

Oct 29, 2012

A look at Obama’s and Romney’s positions on I-9 audits, visas, enforcement and more.

Erich Straub   CopyBy Erich Straub, attorney

Election Day is a week away and, if the polls are reliable, most people have already made up their minds about whom they are voting for in the presidential race. Understanding this, I am going to summarize the candidates’ positions on immigration policy, particularly as they relate to dairy. While it is unlikely to change your vote, it is my hope that it will prepare you for what to expect when the polls close, and we finally have a winner.

Employer Sanctions

Obama - Employers can expect continued increases in the number of businesses subject to I-9 audits by the federal government. These audits are known as “silent raids,” because workers whose documents are under suspicion very often simply leave their jobs rather than face further scrutiny. The number of I-9 audits and fines has increased in each year of the Obama administration.

Romney – The candidate has made no statement regarding the I-9 audit program, but it is hard to imagine that it would be curtailed under his administration given the tough language he has used regarding employer sanctions. Romney has stated all employers should be required to use E-Verify, the federal government’s electronic employment verification system. He has stated that tough employer sanctions must be a part of a “self-deportation” system that would make it harder for undocumented workers to find a job.

Visas for Agricultural Workers

Obama - He has endorsed AgJOBS and similar legislation that would allow for undocumented agricultural workers first to apply for a temporary visa, and then have the option of pursuing permanent residence and citizenship. The H-2A visa for “seasonal” agricultural workers also would be streamlined and made available to dairy for the first time. Obama has again promised to pursue comprehensive immigration reform, and some version of AgJOBS has been included in every comprehensive package that has been proposed in Congress.

Romney - He has proposed a guest worker program for agriculture, but the visa would be temporary or seasonal and would not offer a path to citizenship. He has not delineated whether such a program would be new or simply on overhaul of H-2A. He also has not addressed whether it would fulfill the needs of dairy, which is not seasonal. Romney has been clear that he will not grant any visa that is “amnesty,” which probably means that current undocumented workers would not be eligible for the visa.

Congress and Reform

Obama – He campaigned on the promise of comprehensive immigration reform in the first year of his presidency, yet failed to deliver. He has repeated that promise for a second term, but he has not stated what he will do differently to pass reform in a divided Congress. Given the legislative stalemate, he has recently used his administrative powers to make some changes, but only a legislative solution will truly fix the many problems in the immigration system.

Romney – He too has promised significant immigration reform, although he has avoided describing it as comprehensive. He frequently touts his success in reaching bipartisan solutions as governor of Massachusetts, but achieving immigration reform in Congress is likely to be a much more daunting task. Just ask George W. Bush, who also had a successful record of bipartisanship as governor, yet was routinely thwarted in his attempts at reform, primarily by members of his own party. Even if Romney is able to gain the support of Congressional Democrats, there are now fewer pro-reform Republicans than during Bush’s failed attempts at reform in 2006 and 2007.

The Bottom Line

Under either an Obama or Romney administration, employers should expect I-9 audits to continue and likely increase. If Romney makes good on his promise of tougher, Arizona-style employer sanctions, then the enforcement environment could get even more challenging.

Both candidates promise visas that will help agriculture. Obama’s version would offer visas to the current undocumented workforce with the future possibility of permanent residence and citizenship. Romney’s version would establish a guest worker program that probably would not allow the current workforce to legalize.

Both promise to reform the larger system, albeit with different visions. Neither offers any new ideas about how to actually accomplish this before Congress.

Erich C. Straub is an immigration lawyer who practices in Wisconsin and is listed in The Best Lawyers in America, SuperLawyers, and U.S. News and World Report’s Best Law Firms. Straub has spoken to audiences throughout the U.S. on immigration, and frequently advises Wisconsin Dairy Farmers on the topic. He has traveled Washington, D.C., to meet with elected officials regarding immigration reform. In 2008, the Milwaukee Business Journal described him as a “national leader on the federal immigration issue.” Contact him at (414) 224-8472 or

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