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What Does Immigration Reform Look Like in 2013?

Now that Republicans have come to the immigration reform table, we have to ask ourselves, what will immigration reform look like five years after it was last addressed.  One thing is certain, the leverage has changed, and there are new players are at the table. Not the least of which are "Dreamers."  What would pass for immigration reform in 2007 under a weakened President Bush will NOT be enough to satisfy all of the constituencies demanding immigration reform in 2013.

What We Almost Had In 2007

There has been some talk of reviving the bill written in 2007 under President Bush.  This would be a monumentally bad idea and would be terrible for the future of immigration to America.   Let's take a look at what was on the table from a handful of Republicans, some anti-immigrant, (Graham, Kyl, Sessions, DeMint, Vitter, and some McCain), and more pro-immigrant Democrats (Feinstein, Martinez, Specter, and Salazar).  The Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007 was primarily an anti-immigration bill and included the following provisions, as outlined in Wikipedia:
  • Legalization and Future Flow
    • a new class of visa, the "Z visa", that would be given to everyone who was living without a valid visa in the United States on Jan. 1, 2008; this visa would give its holder the legal right to remain in the United States for the rest of their lives, and access to a Social Security number. After eight years, the holder of a Z visa would be eligible for a United States Permanent Resident Card (a "green card") if they wanted to have one; they would first have to pay a $2000 fine, and back taxes for some of the period in which they worked. By the normal rules of green cards, five years after that the illegal immigrant could begin the process of becoming a U.S. citizen.
    • would have required such an illegal immigrant to be in his or her home country when he or she applies for a green card.
    • would have also ended family reunification, in which an immigrant who becomes a U.S. citizen can ease the process by which their relatives from outside the country can get green cards. Under the bill, only the spouse and children of a new citizen would be made eligible for green cards.
    • would eliminate the employer-sponsored component of the immigration system and replace it with a point-based "merit" system. Points would be awarded by the USCIS adjudicating officers for a combination of education, job skills, family connections and English proficiency. Sponsorship of a U.S. employer would not be required although additional points would be awarded if a U.S. job offer was available. The labor certification process would also be eliminated. Several family-based immigration categories would also be folded into the point system. Points-based systems are already used for admitting skilled immigrants in the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and other developed countries.
  • Guest worker program
    • Another new category of visa, the "Y visa", would have been created, that would let temporary guest workers stay in the country for two years, after which they would have to return home. The original bill set this program at 400,000 people a year. 
  • Increased enforcement
    • The bill would have increased enforcement of the United States-Mexico border, including increasing the number of border patrol agents by 20,000 (not to 20,000!) and adding another 370 miles (600 km) of fencing, among others.
    • The bill would have also created a new program, the "Employment Eligibility Verification System", that would be a central database meant to hold immigrant-status information on all workers living in the United States. Eventually all employers, regardless of size of the company, would have been required to assemble this information and keep the system updated on all their employees.
    • Under the terms of the bill, no further part of the bill would have gone forward until these measures had been implemented.
  • DREAM Act provisions
    • The bill contained within it the entirety of the DREAM Act, a bill that has been introduced unsuccessfully several times in the House and Senate, that would provide a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants brought into the country as minors who either go to college or serve in the U.S. military; it would also restore states rights in determining eligibility for in-state tuition.
    • The DREAM Act has four basic requirements, which are:
      • Must have entered the country before the age of 16;
      • Must graduate high school or obtain a GED;
      • Must have good moral character (no criminal record); and
      • Must have at least five years of continuous presence in the US.
The problems with this bill are multiple, most importantly the provisions that essentially stop further family based immigration to America, that make our employment based system one of points instead of process (ask Canada how many Ph.D. taxi cab drivers they have), and those that would delay the entire bill until the "borders are secure" and draconian enforcement provisions are in place.  Frankly, it was a bad bill that virtually everyone in the immigration advocacy community opposed.

What We Need In 2012

What we need now is an Immigration Reform Plan that looks likes the America of the future, NOT the America of the past.  We need changes to our immigration system that BRING the right people, at the right place, at the right time.   We need a 21st century immigration system that KEEPS America at the top of the world's economic, social, and political leadership.  We need an immigration system that keeps America Strong and growing for the future.    

So, what does this 21st century immigration system look like?  Lets make a list of the five key parts of my plan (presuming I was a sitting U.S. Senator):
  • Verifiable, Secure Borders and Mandatory E-Verify (post immigration reform implementation) 
    • This means secure borders without militarization.  We have effective control over virtually all our territory but will never be able to wrap a bubble around America.   (can you say "war on drugs.") Let's effectively use our enforcement officers, let's give them the funding and the tools to do their jobs, and then let's trust them to make this happen.  ICE knows how to enforce our immigration laws. Let's let them. 
    • We are going to have mandatory E-Verify. Let's phase it in over the next 3 years, while the immigration system is overhauled, so that no employer is deprived of necessary workers, and let's end this charade of the current system of "don't ask, don't tell."  THEN, you can go after the so-called "bad" employer.
  • Workable Employment and Investor Based Nonimmigrant and Immigrant Visa System (increased visas, simpler process, more accountability from USCIS)
    • Our H-1B quota system unnecessarily ties the hands of employers; get rid of it.  The market will take care of the quota.  
    • There should be much more generous allowances for advanced degree holders to immigrate immediately to the US, with confirmation of employment in their fields.  There also needs to be no line longer than two years for those employers and employees who prove there are no American workers to fill their positions.  Doing otherwise is sheer lunacy, and is actually the system we have now!
    • There needs to be better oversight of rogue and job-killing USCIS examiners who, at times, seem bent on denying an employer's cases, rather than on focusing on the merits of the case before them.  Allow USCIS (and ICE) officials fire bad employees.
    • There needs to be broader and easier processes for immigrating to the US through Startups and other types of investment.  Incorporating the Startup Visa Act of 2011 into the immigration overhaul bill is an excellent "start." 
  • Enhanced Quota Based Family Immigration Program to limit wait times, and ensure that no one in the "line" gets residence before those who apply for legalization.
    • Family immigration is the backbone of the American immigration system, and we have built our country on its foundation for the last 50 years.  There is certainly no need to eliminate the program, but it could use an overhaul.
    • No line should be longer than 7 years.  Waits we see now extending for up to 40 years for some countries are simply insane.  Increase the available numbers for three years, get the "line" to manageable levels, eliminate the brother/sister category, and make this system work.   Its doable, and fair. 
  • Economic/Unemployment Rate based Temporary Worker Program (Agricultural and Non-Ag) for non-degreed positions
    • Clearly we need an agricultural worker program that functions for farmers to use.  Senator Saxby Chambliss has long proposed a workable solution.  Include it in this bill.  
    • For future flow of agricultural worker, the system in place is too hard to use.  Have the USCIS run the program through State labor agencies, have the states set up the guest worker program for that state, serve as the primary recruiter, and ensure that employers comply with working condition and salary requirements.  This makes the system easier to use, not harder.
    • For Non-agricultural workers, the answer is the same. Have the individual states serve as the clearing house and be the source of securing qualified labor. This process ensures that US workers are not overlooked and that temporary foreign workers are paid the correct wage and have approved working conditions.  The states can work effectively with ICE to ensure folks confirm their departure at the appropriate time. 
  • Broad Legalization Program (apart from the DREAM Act) based upon length of residence (3 years), tax and fine payment, with temporary status and applicants placed at the end of the shortened line.  
    • This is the simple (but biggest) part of the immigration reform plan.  The first steps should be:
      • Eliminate the 3/10 year bars, and the permanent bars for unlawful entry presence
      • Provide waivers for fraud, use of fake documents, and false claims  
      • By making these simple changes, there are literally millions of people who can use the current immigration system to finish their immigration process, no special amnesty will be necessary
    • For those who have been here at least 3 years, they will be go the back of the current immigration lines. No one in an immigration queue at the time of bill passage will be made to wait longer for their immigration status than an applicant under legalization
      • There should be a requirement of payment of taxes for a set period
      • There should be a payment of a modest fine, and pass a basic civics test.
      • There should be temporary status given upon filing, that includes work permission, after  security and background check
      • The filing fees should not be so onerous that they would be impossible for a family to pay.
      • There should be a requisite wait period upon filing, say 5-7 years, before the person is given lawful permanent residence, to allow for those in the line to clear through the immigration process
      • There should be no "touch back" requirement, making applicants leave for "show" purposes only. 
      • There is no automatic citizenship. Just legal resident status. If a new LPR wants to become a US Citizen, they wait the five years like all other LPRs, but no one is compelled to be a citizen. 
Obviously, there are many details to work out in this five point plan.  And, not all advocates for reform will agree with me. But, this plan makes legal status the norm, not the exception, is simple, straightforward and could be almost immediately implemented by USCIS.  Let's not settle for the terrible "immigration reform" bill of 2007.  We need the future.  

What does this five point plan mean for Congress?  Besides working out the details, the key component in this plan means that the anti-immigration voices, e.g. those who favor NO immigration to America, including Romney's key immigration adviser Kris Kobach, are simply not welcome at the table. Now, it seems terrible to exclude people from what should be an inclusive process. But, folks like Kobach and his ilk, such as those at the inappropriately named "FAIR" ("moratorium") and "CIS," (enforcement only) have deprived themselves of a seat at the table by failing to offer any solution other than self-deportation to a broken immigration system that is vital for America's future well-being and economic growth.

So there you have it.  The How, the What, and the Why.  Now we need the When.  Let's get busy and starting calling our Senators and Congressman to make this happen this year!  You can reach them by calling the Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121 and asking for your Senator.  Tell the receptionist you are calling to urge the Senator to pass immigration reform this year.  If you don't call,  I promise you the Know-Nothings will be calling and they will be loud and they will be forceful.  Now it is our turn to demand real immigration solutions and real change.  Let's not be shy!


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