One of the themes that emerged from the Senate Judiciary Committee mark up of the 2013 Senate immigration bill was the necessity of avoiding the mistakes of the past. In the context of legalization for the 11 million unauthorized immigrants now in the United States, the argument is often made that the 1986 law wasn’t tough enough, and any new legalization program should have more requirements and restrictions. However, in my 39-year career with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and former Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), and after years of studying implementation of the 1986 law, I’ve reached a different conclusion. A successful legalization program depends on simplicity and common sense. There are many lessons to be learned from the 1986 law about how to design a better legalization program. Fortunately, many of those lessons have been absorbed by the drafters of S. 744, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act. Nonetheless, as the debate continues on this bill, it is important to reiterate the importance of good design and thoughtful implementation. That is what will ensure success and provide the country with a working immigration system. Read more...
Contrary to the claims of critics, the immigration bill now winding its way through the Senate would not add to the ranks of the unemployed. In fact, both the legalization and “future flow” provisions of the bill would empower immigrant workers to spend more, invest more, and pay more in taxes—all of which would create new jobs. Put differently, employment is not a “zero sum” game in which workers compete for some fixed number of jobs. All workers are also consumers, taxpayers, and—in many cases—entrepreneurs who engage in job-creating economic activity every day.
Nevertheless, one of the most persistent myths about the economics of immigration is that every immigrant added to the U.S. labor force amounts to a job lost by a native-born worker, or that every job loss for a native-born worker is evidence that there is need for one less immigrant worker. However, this is not how labor-force dynamics work in the real world. The notion that unemployed natives could simply be “swapped” for employed immigrants is not economically valid. In reality, native workers and immigrant workers are not easily interchangeable. Even if unemployed native workers were willing to travel across the country or take jobs for which they are overqualified, that is hardly a long-term strategy for economic recovery.
There is no direct correlation between immigration and unemployment.Read more...
A comprehensive analysis of Census data from hundreds of U.S. metropolitan areas indicate that immigration from Latin America improves wages and job opportunities for African Americans. This analysis serves to dispel the common myth that African Americans are negatively impacted by the immigration of less-skilled workers from Mexico and elsewhere in Latin America. It is often assumed that Latino immigrants and African Americans are locked in ruinous competition for the same jobs, resulting in lower wages and higher unemployment rates for African Americans. In fact, Latino immigrants and African Americans fill complementary roles in the labor market—they are not simply substitutes for one another. In addition, cities which have suffered the effects of declining population are rejuvenated by an inflow of Latino immigrants who increase the labor force, tax base, consumer base, etc. To the extent that there really is a “black-brown” divide, it is rooted in politics and perception—not economics.Read more...
This special report by Cecilia Menjívar and Olivia Salcido for the Immigration Policy Center looks at immigration law, which on its face appears gender neutral, but actually contains gender biases that create barriers for many women trying to gain legalization within the current immigration system. These inequalities appear across immigration law, and even as new laws are put into place, stereotypes and assumptions remain unchallenged. Ironically, even laws written specifically to protect women, such as the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), continue to play out in practice along gender-biased lines.
As immigration reform is being debated, our findings point to the need that any pathway to citizenship and integration be open, affordable, and accessible to all immigrant women, including those whose work is unpaid, and those employed in the informal economy. In order for this to occur, there should be more and stronger open channels for women to access the legalization process without having to rely on a principal visa holder to petition on their behalf.
One of the explicit goals of the “Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act’’ (S.744) is to curtail future flows of unauthorized immigration by correcting some of the flaws of the current legal immigration system. To that end, it establishes an updated system of legal immigration that, in principle, seeks to match the country’s economic and labor needs while respecting principles of family unification.
The regulation of future flows is key to the success of immigration reform because the economy is one of the primary drivers of illegal immigration. Critics of reform, including those challenging S.744, argue that immigration reform which legalizes the current undocumented population or that does not mandate a biometric entry/exit system for new workers will fail because it will lead to increased flows of illegal immigration in the future. The argument usually used is that this happened after the Immigration Control and Reform Act (IRCA) was implemented in 1986, and that this would happen again were a new reform that includes a comprehensive legalization package to be passed.
These arguments, however, are flawed. In fact, they fail to address IRCA’s shortcomings by proposing a limited interpretation that points to the presumed association between legalization and the increase of future illegal entry of migrants. But the problem with IRCA, as shown by several studies, did not reside in its legalization component. The issue, on the contrary, was largely based on IRCA’s failure to realistically regulate future immigrant flows based on an accurate and pragmatic assessment of the country’s needs.Read more...
Under S. 744, “The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act,” a merit-based point system is proposed as a tool to allocate a portion of new immigrant visas each year. After this new system becomes effective, a minimum of 120,000 foreign-born people would be able to obtain immigrant visas each year by accumulating points mainly based on their skills, employment history, and education credentials. At the same time, visa slots currently allocated to siblings and adult married children of U.S. citizens, as well as the diversity visa program, would be absorbed into this new system.
An evaluation of the point system requires an understanding of several different assumptions made by the drafters. First, in reallocating visas, does the new point system provide access to individuals currently eligible to enter the U.S. under the eliminated sibling and visa diversity lottery categories? If not, what does that say about the assumptions behind the proposal? Second, within the allocation of points awarded to individual applicants, what characteristics are favored and how does that affect the likelihood that different groups will be able to make use of the point system to enter the United States? At its core, the allocation of points is not a neutral act, but instead reflects a political view regarding the “desired immigrant.” While the bill overall continues to privilege family and employment-based immigration, the effort to create a “merit” system may actually be at odds with core values that the United States has traditionally embraced (in particular, the defense of equality of opportunity, the fight against discrimination of all sorts, the protection of minorities and traditionally disadvantaged groups, and the preservation of families).Read more...
Our legal system rests upon the principle that everyone is entitled to due process of law and a meaningful opportunity to be heard. But for far too long, immigration courts have failed to provide noncitizens with a system of justice that lives up to this standard. A noncitizen has not truly had his day in court if he is removed without ever seeing a judge, if he does not have access to counsel and necessary evidence, or if the decision in his case receives only perfunctory review. The 2013 Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act (“S. 744”) would take significant steps toward ensuring noncitizens have a fair hearing. This fact sheet explains some of the critical policy proposals found in S. 744 and the basis for them.
A system without sufficient protections
Deportation without a judge
In the current system, many immigrants who are removed never see the inside of a courtroom. In fact, the majority of noncitizens are returned to their home countries through accelerated processes that do not include a hearing before a judge. Even immigrants who are entitled to hearings may not make it to court if an immigration agent convinces them to agree to be deported before their first hearing. More than 160,000 immigrants agreed to these “stipulated removal” orders between 2004 and 2010; the vast majority were unrepresented and in immigration detention. Those whose cases reach immigration court appear before overburdened judges with insufficient time and resources for the cases in front of them.
How High-Skilled Immigrants Create Jobs and Help Build the U.S. Economy
With the U.S. economy still recovering, it may seem counterintuitive to believe that any industry would benefit from having more workers. But that is precisely the case when it comes to those industries which depend upon highly skilled workers. The United States has long faced a dilemma in this respect: the U.S. economy is, in general, absorbing more high-skilled professionals than the U.S. educational system produces or that are available in our workforce. That is one reason so many highly skilled workers in the United States are immigrants. For instance, in “STEM” occupations (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), the foreign-born account for 26.1 percent of workers with PhDs and 17.7 percent of those with master’s degrees. However, arbitrary limits imposed by the U.S. immigration system, particularly the inadequate supply of green cards and H-1B visas, have restricted the ability of the U.S. to compete in the global battle for talent and ideas. Given that highly skilled professionals tend to create jobs through their innovative work, such limits are economically self-defeating.
Innovation, Skilled Immigration, and H-1B Visas in U.S. Metropolitan Areas
Although immigration policy is debated at the national level, its impact is most often felt in local and regional communities. This is certainly true for the H-1B program, which is routinely studied at the national level, but cannot be fully understood without driving down to examine the role of H-1B workers at the metropolitan and local levels. New research at this more specific level of analysis suggests that current H-1B policies must be made both flexible and nuanced. There is no “one size fits all” approach to the recruitment, hiring, and retention of high-skilled foreign workers. As lawmakers consider changes to the H-1B program, including the creation of a High Skilled Jobs Demand Index, it is essential to remember that demand for H-1B workers in many metropolitan areas is high, varies by industry, and has ripple effects throughout a regional economy. Thus, predicting and calculating the need for H-1B workers requires an understanding of the dynamics at the metropolitan level.
Metropolitan Area Demand for High-Skilled Workers is High, Especially in Innovation Industries
Innovation-intensive metropolitan areas tend to have higher rates of patenting, lower unemployment rates, and higher demand for high-skilled workers since patenting growth is correlated with job growth, population growth, and increases in educational attainment.Read more...
Immigration Enforcement Without Immigration Reform Has Been Failing for Decades
Opponents of a new legalization program for unauthorized immigrants living and working in the United States frequently claim that we must try “enforcement first.” That is to say, we must adequately enforce the laws on the books before we can contemplate the formulation of more reasonable laws. This stance is nonsensical for two reasons. First of all, it ignores the fact that the unworkable nature of our immigration laws is itself facilitating unauthorized immigration; so it is illogical to hope that stronger enforcement of those unworkable laws will somehow lessen unauthorized immigration. Secondly, the “enforcement first” perspective conveniently overlooks the fact that the United States has been pursuing an “enforcement first” approach to immigration control for more than two-and-a-half decades—and it has yet to work.Read more...