Reforming our broken immigration system will require us to transform our family-based immigration system, clear out the backlogs, recapture unclaimed family-based visas, reset numerical caps and allow law-abiding families to reunite with loved ones in a humane and reasonable timeline. This paper lays out the key principles for family immigration within the context of comprehensive immigration reform.
According to a new study by UCLA’s Dr. Raúl Hinojosa-Ojeda, Raising the Floor for American Workers: The Economic Benefits of Comprehensive Immigration Reform, legalizing undocumented workers through comprehensive immigration reform would yield $1.5 trillion to the U.S. GDP over a ten year period, generate billions in additional tax revenue and consumer spending and support hundreds of thousands of jobs. The report, which runs several different economic scenarios, finds that enacting a comprehensive immigration reform plan which creates a legalization process for undocumented workers and sets a flexible visa program dependent on U.S. labor demands not only raises the floor for all American workers, but is an economic necessity.
Most Americans want immigrants to fully integrate in the U.S., and most immigrants want to be Americans and fully participate in social and civic life. We can expect naturalization and integration programs to be an important part of comprehensive immigration reform. Immigrant integration benefits everyone because it enables immigrants to realize their full potential, contribute more to the U.S. economy, and develop deeper community ties. While the United States encourages legal permanent residents to become citizens, there is no national strategy for facilitating integration and insufficient infrastructure to facilitate a smooth transition from immigrant to citizen. Failure to address this problem in the context of comprehensive immigration reform could lead to endless delays for the millions who currently seek services from USCIS and the millions more who will become part of the applicant pool following legalization.
We can expect comprehensive reform legislation to mandate that all employers use some sort of system that verifies the work authorization of all workers. Since this will affect every single worker in the United States - 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 workable. This report lays out the must-haves for any broad employment verification system and lays out why a system like this can only work if it is within the context of a broader reform package.
We can expect every major piece of comprehensive reform legislation to tackle the issue of creating a legal status for the 11- 12 million undocumented immigrants residing in the United States. Ultimately, most politicians and policy makers agree that practically, the U.S. cannot deport this population, and some kind of process for legalizing status is necessary. However, there remains a temptation to create high penalties in exchange for a green card because many politicians want to ensure that people have paid the price for coming to the country illegally. An overly punitive process, however, ultimately defeats the purpose of a legalization program because it will deter people from participating and potentially drive people further underground. A successful legalization program combines measured penalties with clear and achievable goals that will get the maximum number of people into the system, identify the relatively few who do not belong here based on criminal activity, and integrate those who can contribute their talents as quickly as possible.
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. Meanwhile, the United States continues to spend billions of dollars on enforcing these broken laws.
While some characterize our immigration crisis as solely an issue of the 11 to 12 million unauthorized immigrants living in this country, our problems extend beyond the number of undocumented people to a broader range of issues.
The public debate over immigration reform, which all too often devolves into emotional rhetoric, could use a healthy dose of economic realism. As Congress and the White House fulfill their recent pledges to craft immigration-reform legislation in the months ahead, they must ask themselves a fundamental question: can we afford any longer to pursue a deportation-only policy that ignores economic reality?
The current immigration system is outdated and broken. Americans are justifiably frustrated and angry. The U.S. needs a fair, practical solution that addresses the underlying causes of undocumented immigration and creates a new, national legal immigration system for the 21st century.