Immigration lawyers from around the U.S. are in Washington, D.C. today to visit their legislators asking them to vote on immigration reform proposals. Regardless of political persuasion, most people agree the current immigration system is dysfunctional and the laws need to be brought into the 21st century to meet the needs of families, businesses and the country as a whole. Immigration advocates argue that a common sense, balanced reform proposal should include:
- Safeguarding the borders while also respecting the U.S. Constitution and fundamental values; ensuring that enforcement is done in a humane and balanced way that complies with due process, including protection of detainees, families and children, and the right to fair hearings and counsel in immigration court. Any enforcement program should have achievable and measurable objectives, plus better and consistent training of border agents.
- A family based legal immigration system that unites loved ones, including adult sons and daughters without regard to age, the siblings of U.S. citizens, and LGBT family members. Reforms should also reduce or eliminate the backlogs, thereby making “getting in line” more meaningful and realistic.
- A business based legal immigration system that allows all types and sizes of employers to have access to workers through an updated and efficient work visa system for the 21st century. This would accommodate the workforce and modern ways of doing business, with built in protections for immigrant and U.S. workers. This should include adding new visa categories and numbers, fixing existing visa and green card options, and reducing the backlogs so there is “a line to get into.” Further, employers need an employment verification system that they can understand, using a reliable government database, and involving simple ways to document work authorization status.
- A legalization program for the undocumented population that is wide, inclusive, and provides an opportunity for citizenship after a reasonable period of time rather than endless years of a meaningless status.
Immigration advocates argue that reform of the nation’s immigration laws on all of the issues above must be done at or near the same time, whether in a comprehensive bill or in several piecemeal bills. Each of the components above is intertwined with the others. Further, immigration reform would benefit the economy, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). The CBO previously estimated that the Senate’s reform package, S. 744 passed last June, would reduce the federal deficit by $158 billion over the next 10 years and $686 billion over the following decade.
For those who argue the Administration has not done enough to deport people, the statistics just do not bear that out. The U.S. has deported 400,000 on average per year in this Administration, soon to be two million individuals since President Obama, known by some as the “Deporter in Chief,” took office. This has cost the taxpayers $2 billion annually. Removals without due process, in other words, without a hearing before an Immigration Judge, now account for 70% of all annual removals. And of those, most do not meet ICE’s stated priorities. For more information on the details of these statistics as they relate to ICE’s enforcement priorities, see Misplaced Priorities: Most Immigrants Deported by ICE in 2013 Were A Threat to No One. Just how the deportation numbers shake out is a matter of controversy, but for a good discussion of the reality, see The Challenge of Measuring Immigration Enforcement in the United States.
However, no matter how one perceives their own deportation reality, it is the job of Congress to determine whether we as a nation want to be a nation of mass deportations or a country that can create a humane immigration system while also protecting our borders from those who would do us harm. Fundamentally, that is the job of Congress, and it is Congress that must act on new immigration legislation. The Senate already passed a bill. We still need the House of Representatives to vote on bills already introduced into the House, such as H.R. 15, or to introduce and vote on new bills. The cost of doing nothing has been billions of taxpayer dollars spent, millions of lives ruined, and lost opportunities to fix the immigration system. Doing nothing means, at least to this writer, that there are those who must be benefiting from exploiting the status quo. Members of Congress need to have courage to be bold and leave a legacy on this important issue.
The old and tiresome argument of “leave it to the next Congress” has been going on for decades. People and companies are hurting NOW. Try telling an employer to “wait for the next Congress” to fix a broken H-1B visa system where employers get only one week a year (such as this past week) to file for H-1B professional workers, and even that turns into a game of chance in a lottery. Or, tell a U.S. citizen mother of a U.S. citizen child who cannot be united with her foreign born spouse and father of her child to “wait for the next Congress.” Or, tell an immigrant who fled persecution, only to be treated like a criminal while locked up for months in a detention center awaiting to hear about an asylum application, that she should “wait for the next Congress.” Or, tell that to a sibling of a U.S. citizen living abroad that he must wait 20 years to immigrate due to quota backlogs. Or, tell that to a young person, brought here while an infant, who wants to go to college or join the military and become a leader in his or her community, that we should “leave it to the next Congress” before we allow that person to benefit the people of the U.S. “Leave it to the next Congress” or “I’m up for reelection and can’t vote on such a controversial issue” demonstrates a lack of courage and more. It boggles the mind why certain legislators will not do something bold and historic to fix a nationwide system that everyone agrees is broken. The time for Congress to act is NOW.