By William Fisher
As the administration of President Barack Obama and Congressional lawmakers prepare to tackle comprehensive immigration reform, a leading immigration advocate is charging that Government inaction has resulted in “a range of enforcement-only initiatives that have cost the country billions of dollars, while doing little to impede the flow of unauthorized immigrants.”
According to a new report by the Immigration Policy Center of the American Immigration Council, “the current immigration system’s structural failures, and the inadequate or misguided responses to these failures, have led to the largest unauthorized population” in American history.
“Nearly everyone agrees that our immigration system is badly broken and in urgent need of reform. Under the existing system people are dying at the border, immigrants are living and working in abject conditions, families trying to reunite legally are separated for many years, employers are unable to hire the workers that they need, U.S. workers suffer from the unlevel playing field shared with exploited immigrant workers, and law-abiding U.S. employers are in unfair competition with unscrupulous employers who increase profits by hiring cheap and vulnerable labor,” the report says, adding, “Meanwhile, the United States continues to spend billions of dollars on enforcing these broken laws.”
“Focusing on the Solutions: The Key Principles of Comprehensive Immigration Reform” summarizes the key elements that need to be included in a successful legislative package.
Commenting on recent proposals made by Congressional lawmakers, IPC Director Mary Giovagnoli told IPS that statements from Senators Charles Schumer of New York and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina “mark renewed commitment to providing immigration reform that will bolster the economy and provide for America's future.”
She added, "We encourage the President and Senators Schumer and Graham to go beyond words and produce legislation that will finally fix our broken immigration system once and for all." An outline of the lawmakers’ ideas appeared in The Washington Post.
The IPC report identifies ten areas it says lawmakers need to concentrate on.
First, insufficient numbers of visas are made available to bring in either high-skilled or less-skilled workers at the levels needed to meet the changing needs of the U.S. economy and labor market.
Second, family members who are eligible for visas must wait up to 20 years to be reunited with family living in the United States.
Third, wage and workplace violations by unscrupulous employers who exploit immigrant workers are undercutting honest businesses and harming all workers.
Fourth, inadequate government infrastructure is delaying the integration of immigrants who want to become U.S. citizens.
Fifth, Legalization. “Most Americans understand that we cannot deport 10-1 million people or hope that they will choose to ‘self-deport.’ It is clear that current enforcement-only responses have not been effective and are not a realistic solution to the current crisis. The underlying flaws of the legal immigration system must be addressed in order to create a fair, humane, and practical immigration system for the 21st century -- a system that is responsive to the needs of our economy and encourages legal behavior.”
“Requiring the 10-11 million unauthorized immigrants residing in the U.S. to register with the government and meet eligibility criteria in order to gain legal status is a key element of comprehensive immigration reform,” the report says.
Sixth, the report says it’s likely that Congress “will transform the way employers verify the work authorization of their workers. Since this will affect immigrants and citizens alike, and because an error in the system can cost a worker his job and paycheck, it is important to make the system effective.”
Seventh, comprehensive reform of our broken immigration system will “necessarily transform the role of immigration enforcement.” Legalization of unauthorized immigrants already in the United States “will result in a significantly smaller unauthorized population, and the creation of flexible legal channels for those immigrants we need will ensure that future flows of illegal immigration are minimal.” But the report says there will continue to be a need to enforce the nation’s immigration laws.
Eighth, the report notes that family-oriented immigration has always been a pillar of the U.S. immigration system. “However, many close family members of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents are currently waiting years, if not decades, to reunite with their loved ones.”
Ninth, the report says, comprehensive immigration reform must address the future needs of the U.S. economy and create a well-functioning and flexible system of permanent and temporary visas for both high-skilled and low-skilled workers. Policymakers must recognize that if we create a legal immigration system that functions well, there will be less pressure on immigrants come to the U.S. illegally and for employers to hire unauthorized workers.”
Tenth, the report says immigrant integration will benefit everyone because “it enables immigrants to realize their full potential, contribute more to the U.S. economy, and develop deeper community ties.” It notes that the U.S. “has no national strategy for facilitating integration and insufficient infrastructure to facilitate a smooth transition from immigrant to citizen.”