President-elect Donald Trump made immigration policy a centerpiece of his campaign, and as he takes office in the coming weeks the issue will undoubtedly remain a top priority for him and for many Americans. With his political party holding both chambers of Congress, as well as a clear interest in immigration reform from the American public, there is the opportunity for the Trump administration to achieve substantive reform of U.S. immigration policy.

During his campaign, the president-elect focused on securing the southern border of the United States by constructing a physical wall. He also advocated for a more aggressive deportation policy for illegal immigrants. Since the election, though, he has suggested that the deportation efforts would focus on individuals with a criminal background, similar to the current policy under President Obama.

There is another option for reducing the population of “illegal aliens”: Make them legal.

This is a bolder, more comprehensive, approach, which has been undertaken in the past. It is worth remembering that in 1986, President Ronald Reagan implemented a sweeping legalization program that resulted in nearly 3 million people becoming legal residents of the United States. He’d said during his 1984 re-election campaign: “I believe in the idea of amnesty for those who have put down roots and lived here, even though some time back they may have entered illegally.” It is time again to make a bold move like the one President Reagan made three decades ago.

If President-elect Trump chooses not to deport all of those who are here illegally – just as successive Republican and Democratic administrations have chosen not to do – then our immigration policy should be reformed to allow them to stay with the full protection of the law and the obligation to pay taxes.

A path to citizenship should be provided, allowing those who came here illegally to fully contribute to our society without fear of deportation or unjust treatment. This remedy is especially important for those children who were brought here by their families and are now adults or nearing adulthood.


Deporting them to a country that has never been their home would be cruel. Instead, these “dreamers” should be made full citizens of the United States and be allowed to realize their full potential as human beings.

In addition to providing a path to citizenship for immigrants who are already living in the United States, the Trump administration and the new Congress should also make reforms to encourage talented science, technology, engineering and mathematics professionals to come to our country. STEM professionals are in demand throughout the world, and the United States is no exception.

There is a false notion underlying legal immigration that any job that goes to a foreign-born worker is a job lost by a U.S. citizen. In reality, hospitals, universities and technology businesses hire foreign workers because they are in desperate need of their skills.

As an immigration lawyer who works with such institutions across the country, I see this happening every day. While the United States is competing on a global stage for these talented professionals, our government is hamstringing the STEM sector by cutting off the number of H-1B visas granted each year at 85,000. Over the past few years, 200,000 to 300,000 of these work visas have been requested annually by U.S. companies, so two-thirds of requested visas are not granted. That means that talented doctors, computer scientists, drug researchers and engineers are contributing to the economies and scientific gains of other countries – not the United States.

The United States simply cannot afford to lose STEM professionals to other countries, as the global economy will continue to be driven by innovations in science and technology. We need to shift our immigration policy to welcome more STEM workers, and lifting the cap on H-1B visas would be a major step in the right direction.

The new administration has a mandate to fix our immigration system. It can be done – but only if the solutions are smart and compassionate and address the real needs of our communities and businesses.

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