America’s immigration system is broken. Too many employers game the system by hiring undocumented workers and there are 11 million people living in the shadows. Neither is good for the economy or the country.

Together we can build a fair, effective and common sense immigration system that lives up to our heritage as a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants.

The President’s plan builds a smart, effective immigration system that continues efforts to secure our borders and cracks down on employers who hire undocumented immigrants. It’s a plan that requires anyone who’s undocumented to get right with the law by paying their taxes and a penalty, learning English, and undergoing background checks before they can be eligible to earn citizenship. It requires every business and every worker to play by the same set of rules.

Continuing to Strengthen Border Security

“We strengthened security at the borders so that we could finally stem the tide of illegal immigrants. We put more boots on the ground on the southern border than at any time
in our history. And today, illegal crossings are down nearly 80 percent from their peak in 2000.”

President Obama, January 29, 2013

The President’s Proposal

President Obama has doubled the number of Border Patrol agents and today border security is stronger than it has ever been. But there is more work to do. The President’s proposal gives law enforcement the tools they need to make our communities safer from crime. And by enhancing our infrastructure and technology, the President’s proposal continues to strengthen our ability to remove criminals and apprehend and prosecute threats to our national security.

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Strengthen border security and infrastructure.

The President’s proposal strengthens and improves infrastructure at ports of entry, facilitates public-private partnerships aimed at increasing investment in foreign visitor processing, and continues supporting the use of technologies that help to secure the land and maritime borders of the United States.

Combat transnational crime.

The President’s proposal creates new criminal penalties dedicated to combating transnational criminal organizations that traffic in drugs, weapons, and money, and that smuggle people across the borders. It also expands the scope of current law to allow for the forfeiture of these organizations’ criminal tools and proceeds. Through this approach, we will bolster our efforts to deprive criminal enterprises, including those operating along the Southwest border, of their infrastructure and profits.

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Improve partnerships with border communities and law enforcement.

The President’s proposal expands our ability to work with our cross-border law enforcement partners. Community trust and cooperation are key to effective law enforcement. To this end, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will establish border community liaisons along the Southern and Northern borders to improve communication and collaboration with border communities, boost funding to tribal government partners to reduce illegal activity on tribal lands, and strengthen training on civil rights and civil liberties for DHS immigration officers.

Crack down on criminal networks engaging in passport and visa fraud and human smuggling.

The President’s proposal creates tough criminal penalties for trafficking in passports and immigration documents and schemes to defraud, including those who prey on vulnerable immigrants through notario fraud. It also strengthens penalties to combat human smuggling rings.

Progress Strengthening Border Security

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Doubling boots on the ground.

Today, the Border Patrol is better staffed than ever before, having doubled the number of agents from approximately 10,000 in 2004 to more than 21,000 in 2011. More than 2,200 Border Patrol agents man the Northern border, a 700 percent increase since 9/11. More than 21,000 Customs and Border Protection Officers, including 3,800 along Northern Border, manage the flow of people and goods at our ports of entry and crossings.

Stepping up surveillance.

For the first time, DHS unmanned aerial capabilities now cover the entire Southwest border, from California to Texas, providing critical aerial surveillance assistance to personnel on the ground. DHS has also completed 649 miles of fencing out of nearly 652 miles planned.

Enhancing investigative resources.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the investigative arm of DHS, has increased the number of Federal agents deployed on the Southwest border. These additional personnel are working alongside the Department of Justice (DOJ) to identify, disrupt, and dismantle criminal organizations, to facilitate cooperation between U.S. and Mexican law enforcement authorities on investigations and enforcement operations, and to track and prevent cartel violence.

Fewer people attempting to illegally cross our borders.

Apprehensions decreased from nearly 724,000 in FY 2008 to approximately 340,000 in FY 2011, a 53 percent reduction, indicating that fewer people are attempting to illegally cross the border.

Fighting transnational criminal organizations.

The Administration is working with the Government of Mexico and others to disrupt the transnational criminal organizations that traffic illicit drugs, weapons, and bulk cash, and the interdiction of illicit weapons. These unparalleled efforts have yielded real results. Over the past two and a half years, DHS seized 75 percent more currency, 31 percent more drugs, and 64 percent more weapons along the Southwest border compared to two and a half years of the previous administration.

Making border cities among the safest in the country.

Crime rates in border communities including Nogales, Douglas, Yuma and other Arizona border towns have either remained flat or fallen in the past decade, even as drug-related violence has dramatically increased in Mexico. According to FBI Crime Index Statistics, the top four big cities in America with the lowest rates of violent crime are all in border states—San Diego, Phoenix, El Paso, and Austin.

Working with Mexico.

Through the Twenty-First Century Border Initiative, the United States is partnering with the Government of Mexico to improve coordination in planning, financing, building, and operating bi-national infrastructure; to enhance cross-border commerce and ties while managing our common threats; and to augment law enforcement cooperation to disrupt “criminal flows” and enhance public safety.

Working with Canada.

The Administration is working with Canada to enhance joint law enforcement efforts and bolster cross-border security operations. Through the United States – Canada Beyond the Border Action Plan, Canadian and U.S. law enforcement are forging new ways of sharing resources, personnel, and information to uncover and disrupt threats that endanger the security of both the United States and Canada.

Making improvements to the northern border infrastructure.

We are modernizing more than 35 land ports of entry to meet our security and operational needs. We have also deployed new technology, including thermal camera systems, mobile surveillance systems, and remote video surveillance systems.

Promoting economic prosperity along the border.

In 2011, two-way trade in goods and services between the U.S. and Mexico exceeded a staggering half trillion dollars. U.S. exports to Mexico totaled close to $200 billion, exceeding our exports to Brazil, Russia, India, and China combined. The Obama Administration is working to ensure that legal trade and travel flows across our borders as quickly as possible by updating infrastructure, reducing wait times, and increasing security. In 2011, the Obama Administration launched the Border Export Strategy to highlight the significance of the U.S.-Mexico trade relationship and, more specifically, the vibrant, diverse, and talented communities that make up the border region.

Increasing community outreach.

Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has created the Office of the Non-Governmental Organization Liaison in the Commissioner’s Office, which works closely with CBP to educate the traveling public and stakeholders. Additionally, CBP implemented a national Border Community Liaison Program in each of the 20 Border Patrol Sectors and the Border Patrol Academy for community members to learn more about the Border Patrol. These liaisons focus primarily on outreach with community groups and help law enforcement under¬stand the views and concerns of individuals living in border towns.

Streamlining Legal Immigration

“[W]e’ve got to bring our legal immigration system into the 21st century… if you are a citizen, you shouldn’t have to wait years before your family is able to join you in America… If you’re a foreign student who wants to pursue a career in science or technology, or a foreign entrepreneur who wants to start a business with the backing of American investors, we should help you do that here. Because if you succeed, you’ll create American businesses and American jobs. You’ll help us grow our economy. You’ll help us strengthen our middle class.”

President Barack Obama, January 29, 2013

Our immigration system should reward anyone who is willing to work hard and play by the rules. For the sake of our economy and our security, legal immigration should be simple and efficient. The President’s proposal attracts the best minds to America by providing visas to foreign entrepreneurs looking to start businesses here and helping the most promising foreign graduate students in science and math stay in this country after graduation, rather than take their skills to other countries. The President’s proposal will also reunite families in a timely and humane manner.

The President’s Proposal

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Keep families together.

The proposal seeks to eliminate existing backlogs in the family-sponsored immigration system by recapturing unused visas and temporarily increasing annual visa numbers. The proposal also raises existing annual country caps from 7 percent to 15 percent for the family-sponsored immigration system. It also treats same-sex families as families by giving U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents the ability to seek a visa on the basis of a permanent relationship with a same-sex partner. The proposal also revises current unlawful presence bars and provides broader discretion to waive bars in cases of hardship.

Cut red tape for employers.

The proposal also eliminates the backlog for employment-sponsored immigration by eliminating annual country caps and adding additional visas to the system. Outdated legal immigration programs are reformed to meet current and future demands by exempting certain categories from annual visa limitations.

Job Creating

Create a “startup visa” for job-creating entrepreneurs.

The proposal allows foreign entrepreneurs who attract financing from U.S. investors or revenue from U.S. customers to start and grow their businesses in the United States, and to remain permanently if their companies grow further, create jobs for American workers, and strengthen our economy.

“Staple” green cards to advanced STEM diplomas.

The proposal encourages foreign graduate students educated in the United States to stay here and contribute to our economy by “stapling” a green card to the diplomas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) PhD and Master’s Degree graduates from qualified U.S. universities who have found employment in the United States. It also requires employers to pay a fee that will support education and training to grow the next generation of American workers in
STEM careers.

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Enhance travel and tourism.

The Administration is committed to increasing U.S. travel and tourism by facilitating legitimate travel while maintaining our nation’s security. Consistent with the President’s Executive Order on travel and tourism, the President’s proposal securely streamlines visa and foreign visitor processing. It also strengthens law enforcement cooperation while maintaining the program’s robust counterterrorism and criminal information sharing initiatives. It facilitates more efficient travel by allowing greater flexibility to designate countries for participation in the Visa Waiver Program, which allows citizens of designated countries to visit the United States without obtaining a visa. And finally it permits the State Department to waive interview requirements for certain very low-risk visa applicants, permitting resources to be focused on higher risk applicants and creates a pilot for premium visa processing.

Expand opportunities for investor visas and U.S. economic development.

The proposal permanently authorizes immigrant visa opportunities for regional center (pooled investment) programs; provides incentives for visa requestors to invest in programs that support national priorities, including economic development in rural and economically depressed regions ; adds new measures to combat fraud and national security threats; includes data collection on economic impact; and creates a pilot program for state and local government officials to promote economic development.

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Create a new visa category for employees of federal national security science and technology laboratories.

The proposal creates a new visa category for a limited number of highly-skilled and specialized immigrants to work in federal science and technology laboratories on critical national security needs after being in the United States. for two years and passing rigorous national security and criminal background checks.

Better addresses humanitarian concerns.

The proposal streamlines immigration law to better protect vulnerable immigrants, including those who are victims of crime and domestic violence. It also better protects those fleeing persecution by eliminating the existing limitations that prevent qualified individuals from applying for asylum.

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Encourage integration.

The proposal promotes earned citizenship and efforts to integrate immigrants into their new American communities linguistically, civically, and economically.

Progress Streamlining Legal Immigration

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Reducing time U.S. citizens are separated from immediate family members.

The President understands the challenges facing immigrant families. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has established a new process to reduce the time U.S. citizens are separated from certain immediate relatives while those family members go through the process of becoming legal immigrants to the United States. Under the process, spouses and children of U.S. citizens would be able to apply for a provisional waiver of unlawful presence while still in the United States if they meet certain criteria. For more information, click here.

Reducing barriers for immigrant entrepreneurs and innovators.

We must continue to attract immigrant entrepreneurs who will start new businesses and create new jobs here in America. Taking action on this front, USCIS established an innovative “Entrepreneurs in Residence” initiative, harnessing industry expertise to ensure that existing immigration pathways are clear and consistent, and reflect the business realities of entrepreneurs interested in coming to the U.S. to create jobs. Recently, the Administration launched Entrepreneur Pathways, an online resource center that provides entrepreneurs who seek to start a business in the United States an intuitive way to navigate the immigration process. The Administration has also taken action to keep more talented science and math graduates in the country longer and to attract highly skilled immigrants, all under existing authority.

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Streamlining visa and foreign visitor processing.

Tourism is America’s number one service export and a source of millions of jobs. This is why the Administration is also focused on securely streamlining and facilitating the flow of legitimate non-immigrant visitors to our country. In January 2012, President Obama signed an Executive Orderdirecting the Departments of State and Homeland Security to increase the capacity to process visas in the growing economies of China and Brazil, shorten the time it takes to get a tourist visa, expand the pool of individuals who can travel without a visa, and get people into trusted traveler programs so they don’t have to wait in line when they arrive. In August 2012, the Administration released a report showing the progress the Departments have made not only in meeting, but exceeding these goals, while enhancing our ability to protect Americans from national security threats.

Aiding refugees.

The President is committed to maintaining a robust refugee admissions program—a longstanding and important component of America’s overall effort to support vulnerable people around the world. The Administration has moved to address the unique challenges and barriers that refugees face by:

  • Meeting regularly with stakeholders and service providers to understand refugee needs and supporting federal grant programs that help local organizations serve refugee communities;
  • Improving refugee health by increasing medical screening, providing new mental health resources, updating the manual for refugees with disabilities, and ensuring that refugees are eligible for coverage under the Affordable Care Act; and
  • Conducting comprehensive on-going reviews of the United States Refugee Admissions, Refugee Social Service, and Targeted Assistance Formula Grant Programs in order to better serve refugees and the communities in which they resettle.

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Providing greater protections for farm workers and their families.

By reforming the H-2A temporary agricultural program, the Department of Labor (DOL) has strengthened worker protections and requirements for employers who are seeking to bring non-immigrant foreign workers to the U.S. to perform agricultural labor or services of a temporary or seasonal nature. Through this effort, DOL is ensuring that the H-2A temporary agricultural program is only available to employers with a legitimate temporary need for non-immigrant workers and protecting foreign farm workers and domestic workers from exploitation. As part of DOL’s continuing commitment to customer service, DOL has also published an H-2A Employer Handbook which provides additional guidance to employers and established an H-2A Ombudsman Program whose primary purpose is to facilitate resolution of concerns among both agricultural employers and workers.

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Providing New Tools to Prepare Applicants for Citizenship.

Throughout our history, the United States has been enriched by a steady stream of hardworking and talented people from all over the world. These generations of immigrants with unique and important skills have helped make America the engine of the global economy. The Administration is committed to promoting citizenship and fully integrating newcomers to their new communities. Doing so will not only allow them to thrive, it will also ensure that America remains the envy of the world. As a part of these efforts, the Administration has:

Earned Citizenship

“We have to deal with the 11 million individuals who are here illegally. We all agree that these men and women should have to earn their way to citizenship. But for comprehensive immigration reform to work, it must be clear from the outset that there is a pathway to citizenship. We’ve got to lay out a path — a process that includes passing a background check, paying taxes, paying a penalty, learning English, and then going to the back of the line, behind all the folks who are trying to come here legally. That’s only fair.”

President Barack Obama, January 29, 2013

It is just not practical to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants living within our borders. The President’s proposal provides undocumented immigrants a legal way to earn citizenship that will encourage them to come out of the shadows so they can pay their taxes and play by the same rules as everyone else. Immigrants living here illegally must be held responsible for their actions by passing national security and criminal background checks, paying taxes and a penalty, going to the back of the line, and learning English before they can earn their citizenship. There will be no uncertainty about their ability to become U.S. citizens if they meet these eligibility criteria. The proposal will also stop punishing innocent young people brought to the country through no fault of their own by their parents and give them a chance to earn their citizenship more quickly if they serve in the military or pursue higher education.

The President’s Proposal

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Create a provisional legal status.

Undocumented immigrants must come forward and register, submit biometric data, pass criminal background and national security checks, and pay fees and penalties before they will be eligible for a provisional legal status. Agricultural workers and those who entered the United States as children would be eligible for the same program. Individuals must wait until the existing legal immigration backlogs are cleared before getting in line to apply for lawful permanent residency (i.e. a “green card”), and ultimately United States citizenship. Consistent with current law, people with provisional legal status will not be eligible for welfare or other federal benefits, including subsidies or tax credits under the new health care law.

Create strict requirements to qualify for lawful permanent resident status.

Those applying for green cards must pay their taxes, pass additional criminal background and national security checks, register for Selective Service (where applicable), pay additional fees and penalties, and learn English and U.S. civics. As under current law, five years after receiving a green card, individuals will be eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship like every other legal permanent resident.

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Earned citizenship for DREAMers.

Children brought here illegally through no fault of their own by their parent will be eligible for earned citizenship. By going to college or serving honorably in the Armed Forces for at least two years, these children should be given an expedited opportunity to earn their citizenship. The President’s proposal brings these undocumented immigrants out of the shadows.

Create administrative and judicial review.

An individual whose provisional lawful status has been revoked or denied, or whose application for adjustment has been denied, will have the opportunity to seek administrative and judicial review of those decisions.

Provide new resources to combat fraud.

The President’s proposal authorizes funding to enable DHS, the Department of State, and other relevant federal agencies to establish fraud prevention programs that will provide training for adjudicators, allow regular audits of applications to identify patterns of fraud and abuse, and incorporate other proven fraud prevention measures.

Cracking Down on Employers Hiring Undocumented Workers

“It means cracking down more forcefully on businesses that knowingly hire undocumented workers…most businesses want to do the right thing… So we need to implement a national system that allows businesses to quickly and accurately verify someone’s employment status. And if they still knowingly hire undocumented workers, then we need to ramp up the penalties.”

President Barack Obama, January 29, 2013

Our businesses should only employ people legally authorized to work in the United States. Businesses that knowingly employ undocumented workers are exploiting the system to gain an advantage over businesses that play by the rules. The President’s proposal is designed to stop these unfair hiring practices and hold these companies accountable. At the same time, this proposal gives employers who want to play by the rules a reliable way to verify that their employees are
here legally.

The President’s Proposal

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Mandatory, phased-in electronic employment verification.

The President’s proposal provides tools for employers to ensure a legal workforce by using federal government databases to verify that the people they hire are eligible to work in the United States. Penalties for hiring undocumented workers are significantly increased, and new penalties are established for committing fraud and identity theft. The new mandatory program ensures the privacy and confidentiality of all workers’ personal information and includes important procedural protections. Mandatory electronic employment verification would be phased in over five years with exemptions for certain small businesses.

Combat fraud and identity theft.

The proposal also mandates a fraud‐resistant, tamper‐resistant Social Security card and requires workers to use fraud‐and tamper‐resistant documents to prove authorization to work in the United States. The proposal also seeks to establish a voluntary pilot program to evaluate new methods to authenticate identity and combat identity theft.

Protections for All Workers

Protections for all workers.

The President’s proposal protects workers against retaliation for exercising their labor rights. It increases the penalties for employers who hire undocumented workers to skirt the workplace standards that protect all workers. And it creates a “labor law enforcement fund” to help ensure that industries that employ significant numbers of immigrant workers comply with labor laws.

Progress Cracking Down on Employers Hiring Undocumented Workers


Increasing monitoring and accountability of employers.

Since January 2009, ICE has audited more than 8,900 employers suspected of hiring illegal labor, debarred 8,590 companies and individuals, and imposed more than $100.3 million in financial sanctions—more than the total amount of audits and debarments than during the entire previous administration.

Expanding E-Verify.

Employer enrollment in E-Verify, which allows employers to verify electronically that an employee is eligible to work in the U.S., has more than doubled since January 2009, with more than 416,000 participating companies representing more than 1.2 million hiring sites. More than 20 million queries were processed in FY 2012. Thus far in FY 2013, over 4.8 million queries have been run through the system.

Applying Smarter Enforcement Measures

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Deporting criminals.

The President proposal expands smart enforcement efforts that target convicted criminals in federal or state correctional facilities, allowing us to remove them from the United States at the end of their sentences without re-entering our communities. At the same time, it protects those with a credible fear of returning to their home countries.

Streamline removal of nonimmigrant national security and public safety threats.

The President’s proposal creates a streamlined administrative removal process for people who overstay their visas and have been determined to be threats to national security and
public safety.

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Improve our nation’s immigration courts.

The President’s proposal invests in our immigration courts so judges can more efficiently process current and future cases. By increasing the number of immigration judges and their staff, investing in training for court personnel, and improving access to legal information for immigrants, these reforms will improve court efficiency. It also allows DHS to better focus its detention resources on public safety and national security threats by expanding alternatives to detention and reducing overall detention costs. It also provides greater protections for those least able to represent themselves.

Prioritizing convicted criminals and violent offenders for deportation.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has set clear enforcement priorities so that individuals who are a threat to our public safety and national security, such as convicted criminals, are the highest enforcement priority. These efforts are producing real results.

  • In 2012, approximately 55 percent or 225,390 of the people removed were convicted of felonies or misdemeanors — almost double the removal of criminals since 2008.
  • DHS has also issued guidance to law enforcement personnel and attorneys regarding their authority to exercise prosecutorial discretion where appropriate to ensure greater consistency in the treatment of low-priority cases.
  • In addition, DHS worked to better target their resources by reviewing, on a case-by-case basis, deportation cases pending before the immigration courts in order to focus on the highest enforcement priorities by clearing out the backlog of low-priority cases.

Progress Lifting the Shadow of Deportation from Hardworking Young People

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President Obama has repeatedly said it makes no sense to remove hardworking young people who were brought to this country through no fault of their own and have grown up in the United States often with no memory of the countries they came from. In June 2012, DHS announced that certain young people who were brought to the U.S. as young children, do not present a risk to national security or public safety, and meet several key criteria may be considered for temporary relief from deportation from the country or from entering into removal proceedings. This is neither a path to citizenship nor is it a permanent fix—only Congress can provide that through common sense immigration reform. But in the absence of any action from Congress, the Administration will continue to focus its immigration enforcement resources on securing the border, keeping our communities safe, and prosecuting criminals, not young people who are ready to contribute to the country they grew up in. On August 15, 2012, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services formally launched the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) process. To learn more about the DACA process,