One of the greatest challenges in immigration reform is the need to realistically assess our future employment-based immigration needs. This includes permanent and temporary visas, high-skilled and low-skilled workers. Many people agree that our current legal immigration flow is drastically out of sync with America’s labor needs and the global realities of the 21st century. Meanwhile, some employers have been able to misuse the broken system to the detriment of U.S. and foreign workers. Policymakers must recognize that if we create a legal immigration system that functions well, there will be less pressure on immigrants to come to the U.S. illegally and for employers to hire unauthorized workers. Given the current weakened economy and high unemployment rates, it is difficult to estimate the U.S.’s future labor needs. However, the economy will eventually improve, and a reasonable, flexible legal immigration system must be put into place to fill our future labor needs. If the U.S. is to thrive in the globalized 21st century economy, employment-based immigration must be seen as a strategic resource that can both meet labor market needs and foster economic growth and competition while still protecting U.S. workers and improving wages and working conditions.
Following the devastating earthquake which struck Haiti on January 12, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano on January 15 announced “the designation of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Haitian nationals who were in the United States as of January 12, 2010.” The “designation will allow eligible Haitian nationals in the United States to continue living and working in our country for the next 18 months.” This means that the 100,000-200,000 Haitian immigrants whom the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) estimates are now in the United States on a temporary basis or without authorization will not be subject to removal as long as there is no functioning country to which they can return, and provided that they do not have criminal records. However, Haitian nationals who qualify for TPS are not receiving permanent residence in the United States or an “amnesty” if they were unauthorized. There are currently 535,000 Haitian immigrants in the United States, with most living in Miami and New York, as well as Boston, Orlando, and Atlanta.
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.
A new report, “Raising the Floor for American Workers: The Economic Benefits of Comprehensive Immigration Reform,” by Dr. Raul Hinojosa-Ojeda, finds that comprehensive immigration reform that includes a legalization program for unauthorized immigrants and enables a future flow of legal workers would result in a large economic benefit—a cumulative $1.5 trillion in added U.S. gross domestic product over 10 years. In stark contrast, a deportation-only policy would result in a loss of $2.6 trillion in GDP over 10 years.
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 lack of a comprehensive federal solution has created a slew of lopsided, enforcement-only initiatives that have cost the country billions of dollars while failing to end unauthorized immigration. The first step, however, in devising solutions to our problems is understanding the scope of them. IPC’s latest report addresses several key areas, including how our current immigration system functions, the structural failure of our system, issues stemming from an inadequate federal response and long-delayed immigration reform.
For years the U.S. government has addressed unauthorized immigration primarily through the lens of deportation and removal, pursuing enforcement-only policies that have not effectively curbed unauthorized immigration. An increase of personnel and technology along the U.S.-Mexico border has been accompanied by increased worksite enforcement in the interior of the United States. In addition, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has partnered with state and local police agencies and jails to identify and apprehend immigrants and to remove them from the country. None of these efforts has resulted in a significant decline in the size of the unauthorized population, but these enforcement policies and priorities have had devastating impacts on U.S. families and communities.
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.
The Fiscal Policy Institute (FPI) recently released a report highlighting the contributions of immigrant workers in the 25 largest metropolitan areas in the U.S. FPI’s report broadens a growing understanding that immigrant workers make important economic contributions to the U.S. and to their local economies. Immigrants are likely to be of prime working age, work in occupations across the economic spectrum, and contribute robustly to economic growth in each of the 25 metropolitan areas studied and in the United States as a whole.