Archive for the ‘Legislative Reform’ Category.

How One Life Was Changed at NDA

AILA_Keychain_FrontNational Day of Action (what used to be called “Lobby Day”) is an AILA tradition that goes back a number of years. I’ve participated many times, and each time it is different. Each time I come out heartened by some Congressional visits, disheartened by others, but always feeling a part of something greater and ready to keep fighting for my clients.

One of my clients was directly impacted by my NDA participation a few years ago and I wanted to share that story.

It was back in 2010 when our group met with Rep. Velasquez. It’s unusual to get an appointment with your actual legislator, so most often we meet with one of the legislative aides. But this time it was with the Congressional Member herself.

It was just after the terrible Haiti earthquake.  I had a client, a United States Citizen dad, here in New York who was trying to get his newborn child to the US.  The child was born and she and mom were released from the hospital one day before the quake hit; the hospital collapsed in the quake the next day.

We had been trying for months to get the birth certificate or some other proof to the US Embassy in Haiti so that we could get the visa issued. Obviously, the embassy was swamped with requests and work related to the quake, which we understood, but there were some incredibly frustrating delays and run around with the Post that lasted for months.

While we were talking to Rep. Velasquez at our meeting, educating her about immigration reform and how important it is to fix the broken system, I happened to mention this case as an example.  Suddenly her eyes lit up. She jumped out of her chair and called her aide into our meeting and told him to get my name and number and that she would see what she could do. As soon as I got back to the office the next day I gave the aide the details and file number.

The child was in New York a month later.

This sort of result is the exception, not the rule. These meetings are not to ask for help for individual cases, but to educate and advocate on immigration issues. But I used a concrete example in this meeting to illustrate a point, and got this amazing and exceptional result. No one should come to NDA solely for this purpose, but what a story!

So despite the deadlock in Congress, I will be at NDA this year again, as usual. Because you never know when a comment you make in a meeting can inform a congressional hearing question, even months later. You never know how sharing your card with a legislative assistant can lead to being asked for information when a bill is being drafted. And you never know how an offhand comment can reunite a family.

Written by George Akst, NDA Attendee and AILA Member

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To register for NDA 2015, go to Agora and sign upit’s free!

Could Negotiated Rulemaking Save H-2B?

shutterstock_191505380Businesses that rely on seasonal, nonagricultural labor have had a hard time recruiting US workers as the economy has improved and overall unemployment and underemployment have fallen. These businesses — from seafood producers in Louisiana, Alaska and Maryland to resorts in Colorado and Maine to landscaping companies all over the U.S. — have relied on the H-2B visa program to supplement their US workforce during their seasonal peak loads. These businesses are trying to use a program that promotes legal workers coming from Mexico and other countries where a season working in the US can provide meaningful support to families, which also reduces pressure to immigrate illegally.

Unfortunately, a court fight about the program’s regulations has shut it down completely as of earlier this month. The H-2B program operated for decades without a formal regulatory framework, relying on informal guidance and practices in place since the program was first created. In 2008, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and the Department of Labor (DOL) issued regulations to codify some aspects of the program and change others to make it more user-friendly.  By making it easier to hire legal workers from abroad if US workers were unavailable, DOL and USCIS hoped to reduce the pressure on businesses to hire illegal workers to meet their labor needs.

These regulations were challenged in court by worker’s rights groups, objecting to parts of the regulation dealing with how the minimum wages for workers in the program were set. New regulations were proposed by DOL in 2010 to address the wage issue and were to have gone into effect in 2012, but appropriations riders have prevented it from doing so and litigation continues, incorporating additional challenges to this rule.

The present impasse has resulted in a complete shutdown of the H-2B program, an unprecedented situation that has businesses and the workers they were planning to bring to the US in a bind. Since one appeals court held that DOL could not allow employers to use private wage surveys to determine the minimum wage to be offered, and another appeals court went further to hold that DOL had no authority to make rules about the program at all, DOL and USCIS both said they were unable to operate the program and ceased taking new applications, just as employers were gearing up for the summer season.

Over the weekend, it came out that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and DOL are rushing through the process of a new rulemaking that will be issued jointly, likely in response to the appeals court order that DOL has no independent rulemaking authority over the H-2B program. An Interim Final Rule would allow processing of applications to be restarted. No matter what the rulemaking says, however, chances are good that either the business or worker groups or both will be unhappy with parts of it, so litigation will continue.

Is there a better way? The H-2B program only applies to nonagricultural employment, and similar strife between growers and worker advocates made rulemaking for the H-2A program for temporary agricultural workers difficult. Because of the strong demand for immigrant labor in the agricultural industry, however, the need for an updated statutory framework for H-2A was recognized in the early 2000’s, when discussion of the bills that eventually became the Senate’s 2005 comprehensive immigration reform bill began. At that time, recognizing that both business and worker groups would have to support the statutory framework in order for it to have any hope of passing, they joined together to work with a bipartisan group of legislators to craft what became known as the “AGJOBS Bill.” By working together growers and worker groups were able to craft a statutory framework that both sides were comfortable supporting, though neither side got everything it wanted.

Given the current tension between seasonal businesses and the worker groups, perhaps the time has come to step out of the courtroom and come to the negotiating table. Coming up with a compromise framework will not be easy – but then many said the growers and workers would never be able to agree on AGJOBS. Indeed, at this point the result need not even be a statutory framework (which is fortunate given that AGJOBS has not been able to pass separately from broader immigration reform). Because an interim Final Rule will have to be open for notice and comment by the public, a negotiated rulemaking between the agencies and a unified, compromise regulatory framework supported by both businesses and worker groups will put an end to the litigation and provide a sound framework for a temporary worker program that protects job opportunities and wages for US workers seeking seasonal work, while giving access to legal temporary workers to businesses who have been unable to find such US workers.

A functioning H-2B program is in America’s interest. Such a program promotes a legal workforce, supports jobs in the US, and grows the economy. While comprehensively reforming the immigration statute will be difficult, coming together to support regulatory reform for the H-2B program should be something businesses and worker groups can join in together.

By William Stock, AILA First Vice President

Updated 3/18/2015

It’s Our Security, Stupid

shutterstock_126785846I find myself in the unusual position today of agreeing with Rep. Peter King (R-NY) in his NY Daily News Op-Ed Wednesday (Guest column: Brooklyn terror suspects show it’s insane to not approve money for Homeland Security ) where he argues that security of the United States is too important and that funding the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is essential to protect our country.  He is right.  As we sit back and watch the latest drama unfold on Capitol Hill, one cannot but wonder why funding our national security would ever become a political issue.  Clearly it is in our nation’s best interest to fund the agency which is responsible for protecting the homeland from terrorist attack.   Now more than ever Congress should recognize that terrorism can happen in the West and is being called upon by radical leaders abroad.  All they need to do is look at our friends in France, Holland and Canada to see recent examples of attacks on innocent civilians and local police.  Moreover, recently the terrorist group Al Shabaab called for an attack on American civilians in shopping malls such as the Mall of America.  Rep. King points out the need to fund DHS based on the three individuals who were arrested recently in New York City who planned to travel to Syria to fight with ISIL or attack American civilians in New York if they could not reach Syria.  Rep. King is properly putting the people of New York and America ahead of a political agenda.

Regardless of one’s position on the legality of President Obama’s Executive Action memos or immigration in general, we should all be able to agree as Americans that the safety and protection of the people of the United States is a priority regardless of political party.  As I write this, Congress is on a path to fund DHS for only three weeks.  It is unfortunate that members of Congress continue to gamble with national security and our lives to advance individual political gain.  We can only sit back and grit our teeth as the critical votes start to line up before a dysfunctional Congress that is putting party politics before American lives and wellbeing.

Rep. King correctly notes that “you don’t have to be a genius to carry out a terrorist attack.”  You also don’t have to be a genius to understand that national security and the safety of America is more important than petty partisan politics.  Rep. King gets it. Unfortunately, it seems there are not enough members of Congress who want to stand up and represent the American people rather than their individual parties and anti-immigration politics.  We can only hope their selfish gamble doesn’t cost American lives.

Written by Matthew Maiona, Member, AILA Media Advocacy Committee

Who Are We Turning Away?

Helping handA pregnant woman, separated from her husband in a time of regional conflict and instability, flees the central region of her country with a single suitcase and her 2 year old daughter and 1 year old son. The goal is to travel by train to the closest major southern land border in the hopes of reuniting soon with her husband who is fighting far away from home. Every day, people gather around the border crossing waiting for the gates to open and the glimmer of opportunity to cross into another sovereign land. If you miss the timing and fail to cross, the consequences may be worse than death. With her suitcase in one hand and her 1 year old son holding her other, her two year old daughter grabs onto her mother’s dress as the crowd pushes forward trying to get through. Immovable by the throngs of bodies pushing, the pregnant woman lets the crowd sway her and her children through to the protection promised by the neighboring country.

Once on the other side, she reevaluates her surroundings acknowledging the luggage in one hand, her son in the other and only then is aware that her daughter no longer clings to her dress. She screams amongst the shouting crowd, “Where is my daughter? Where is she?” On the other side of the crossing is the two year old daughter with her eyes only able to see the back of people’s legs unaware of where her family went. With a quick motion, she finds herself atop the shoulders of a man she does not know, a man wearing a business suit walking past the crossing. Disoriented, she is still unaware of where she is or how she lost her mother and brother. This little girl cannot tell time and does not know how long it took before she could her hear her mother’s cries and reunited with her. Without even realizing, this little girl is forever labeled by her mother as “lucky” in their native language. And the identity of the nice gentleman in the business suit is never discovered.

The tale told is not a unique story. Although it happened in 1949, it continues to be a story relatable in our present day. As a young child, I remember my grandmother recounting the horrors of a civil war that destroyed her comfortable life. I never understood what my grandmother meant when she said repeatedly that my mother was so very “lucky.” She rarely talked about everything that happened during that time that pitted Chinese against Chinese. I would only hear snippets growing up. But as I got older, I heard more from other family members, even as my mother told me she had a difficult time remembering much of anything during her younger years in Hong Kong.

When she passed away unexpectedly in 2011, I was in charge of taking care of all the family matters with her death. I vividly recall going through her unorganized stacks of important papers kept all over the house and finding a photocopy of a document titled “Refugee Resettlement Land Allocation” something or another. And in this document was a blurry photo of my mother and her family; her as a preteen and my youngest auntie in my grandmother’s arms.

My mother and her side of the family never lamented how they lost everything in the fighting. Instead, they talked about how grateful they were to be alive and the chances they took to ensure the family’s survival. Despite living in a shanty on a hill in Hong Kong, they were grateful for the British Colonial government’s generosity in allowing them to have a place to call their own, to be safe from harm.

I have spent almost 7 of my 8 years of practice as an immigration attorney hearing stories no different from my family’s own history. What my clients seek under the U.S. asylum law is no different than what my family sought when they asked for refuge in Hong Kong. My clients just want to be able to live their lives in safety, to give their children of the opportunities they didn’t have, to move on from a limbo state of violence and begin anew.

But things have gotten much harder. For instance, in 2008, my asylum clients could reasonably expect to have an interview and receive a decision within 4 months. Now, a current client finds themselves in a U.S. asylum system where the wait may be well over two years just for an interview to present their case before an asylum officer. In the meantime, they are ineligible to apply for work authorization until their case has been pending 150 days. And even once that deadline has passed, many face further delays and cryptic reasons for the inability of the U.S. immigration service to process their request.

In my practice, I find myself telling clients that they may wait years before an interview is scheduled. I find myself having to give them cold hard numbers to understand the uphill journey they will set themselves on if they decide to apply for asylum. I tell them that in our jurisdiction, the asylum office has over 10,000 backlogged cases waiting for an interview. I tell them that an average 900 new cases are submitted monthly with only 300-600 cases interviewed that same month.

During this time, they find themselves physically safe but still in a state of panic thinking of their families that stayed behind. The only way for them to bring their children or spouses away from the dangers in their country is for them to win their case. Unlike what my mother and her family went through, my clients find themselves living in limbo never knowing how long or when they may be able to tell their stories. They spend each day wondering when and if they can ever reunite with their family members in safety.

How did my family story end up? Well, at the age of 17, my mother was recruited to train as a nurse in England. She eventually immigrated to the United States in the late 1960’s and brought my grandmother, two aunts and two uncles to the U.S. My mother’s family was small. They only had each other. If my mother tried to bring over her family in the present day, it would most likely only be my grandmother that would be allowed to immigrate. The decades long wait times for brothers and sisters would eliminate any possibility of a timely reunification. What would be lost would be an entire generation of people. Every child from my mother and her siblings (we were all born in the U.S.) went on to graduate from colleges such as Notre Dame, University of Chicago, Vanderbilt, University of Southern California and University of Texas. This is what the U.S. loses out on when delays in adjudications go on for years.

As the immigration debate intensifies into politics, what often gets forgotten are the individuals, the living beings, affected by the current broken system. As rhetoric takes aim at increasing funding for enforcement and a growing police state near the borders, people lose sight of the lack of resources and funding needed to help people who are waiting in limbo.

Politics has gotten in the way of what truly matters in this debate: fixing the laws to reduce wait times, reinforcing existing infrastructure to allow the immigration agency and its employees to adjudicate cases, giving people the opportunity to have their cases heard and allowing people to begin their lives. Immigration is about people, not politics, and President Obama should do all he can to make our system work.

Written by Tammy Lin, AILA Media Advocacy Committee Member 

Administrative Action Wish List, Part 2

AdminReform_300x200During the past several presidential election cycles, politicians of all stripes have acknowledged that our immigration laws are antiquated and need reform. Unfortunately, for all of their bluster, nothing has been accomplished through Congress. Lacking Congressional action, the President announced earlier this year that he will be issuing executive orders to address some of the problems in the current immigration system.

There are a number of actions the president can take through the Department of Homeland Security that would provide relief for many immigrants already in the U.S. while supporting family unity, promoting economic growth, and ensuring national security through documenting masses of people who are currently undocumented and unknown to our government agencies. One such action is through expanding parole in place (PIP) – a process that is familiar to DHS and the public and is already available to a small number of foreign nationals.

PIP is currently a form of relief available to immigrants who entered the country without authorization but have an immediate relative who has either served or is currently serving in the U.S. armed forces. The process currently involves the immediate relative service member or veteran applying for a parole document on behalf of the foreign national. Once granted, the foreign national receives a parole document that serves as an inspection document without having to leave the country and re-enter. With this parole document – and with an approved or concurrently filed I-130 – the foreign national might be eligible to adjust his/her status by using the parole document as proof of authorized inspection for the purposes of an adjustment of status. Of course, the foreign national still needs to be otherwise qualified to get a green card.

The authority for parole in place comes from INA § 212(d)(5)(A), which allows for the Secretary of Homeland Security to parole in foreign nationals who are seeking admission to the U.S. or who are already unlawfully present in the U.S.

President Obama should expand this system to include all immediate family of U.S. citizens. This would allow foreign nationals who have an immediate U.S. citizen family member who’s only bar of adjustment being their unlawful entry to the U.S. to be eligible for permanent residency. This, like the current PIP process, would not cure any other inadmissibility issues such as criminal activity, but would allow for otherwise law abiding residents of this country to gain legal, documented status.

This action would provide several benefits: providing for a permanent status for people who would be living in the country anyway, ensuring that residing foreign nationals are not separated from their immediate U.S. citizen family member, documenting previously undocumented people, and thus providing information and security for the rest of the populace.

There will be little or no expense to the government for doing this – since most immigration applications have a processing fee that DHS will use for their adjudication.

This action would also have the added benefit of unclogging much of the current immigration system by allowing for a quick and easy process for non-dangerous foreign nationals to gain lawful status and allow for DHS and ICE to spend their limited and currently stretched resources on detaining and removing violent and dangerous persons.

With so many benefits available in expanding PIP, President Obama should direct the Secretary to use his authority under the Immigration and Nationality Act to grant parole to unlawfully present aliens to all foreign nationals with immediate U.S. relatives.

Written by Ally Bolour, Member, AILA Media Advocacy Committee

What It Boils Down To

shutterstock_170940386Well, pundits are hashing over what happened on Tuesday but here’s what it boils down to: Republicans will have control of the Senate in the next Congress (at least 52-43), as well as strengthening their majority in the House (at least 243-175).

A new Congress offers possibilities, offers the hope of action to revamp our immigration laws. We had quite the time over the last Congress with the Senate passing bipartisan, comprehensive immigration reform. We were full of hope. And then…crickets chirped while we stood waiting for the House to act.

No such luck. But here’s the thing, AILA worked with both Republicans and Democrats as we always do and will continue to do so, offering expertise about what parts of our immigration system are broken and solutions for how to create a new system that actually works for business, families, and our country as a whole.

One thing that hasn’t changed is the fact that the majority of Americans want action on immigration reform, and that the possibility of legalizing the undocumented still wins out over “deport them all.” That’s heartening as we head into the holidays and the last few weeks of this lame duck Congressional period.

We have some time left before 2015 and President Obama must keep his promise to deliver major administrative reforms by the end of the year. Delay has only meant more broken families and frustrated businesses. These are folks I hear from every single day. What we want, in the absence of our real need for legislative reform, is for President Obama to do what is within his legal authority to fix the immigration system.

I know some are worried about executive action not helping matters, but here’s the thing: We can’t afford to wait any longer. Businesses can’t afford to be left hanging, trying to hire the best person to stand up a factory, or create new products. Entrepreneurs from all over the world who have big ideas and want to start their companies here shouldn’t have roadblocks thrown in their way. Families can’t wait any longer for the chance to be reunited with a loved one when the only thing bogging down the process is our convoluted bureaucracy. And we can’t continue to deport people with close family in, and long-term ties to, the U.S.

So, let’s turn from this election with renewed energy. Push for administrative action while strengthening relationships with Hill offices from both sides of the aisle. Offer information and expertise to the newly elected coming to D.C. And greet this next chapter in the fight for immigration reform with strength and determination.

Written by Leslie A.  Holman, AILA President

Latinos: History Proves Your Votes Can Make a Difference

shutterstock_37571284Elections are just around the corner and given the likelihood that Republicans will take control of the Senate the Latino vote is more crucial than ever.

But why would Latinos pass on voting this year?  The answer: most are dissatisfied with President Obama’s broken promises on immigration reform.

In 2012, Latinos played a major role in awarding President Obama a second term. They gave him 71% of their vote, relying on Mr. Obama’s promise to enact immigration reform.  A few months after the election, and with the support of the White House, the Senate passed a bipartisan immigration reform package.  But the House GOP leadership refused to act—finally admitting in June of this year that they had no intention of considering immigration reform legislation.

President Obama responded by promising to use his executive authority to make the immigration system work as best it could—and he said he would act by Labor Day.  Yet once the summer heat subsided, and the green leaves faded to beautiful fall colors, Mr. Obama’s promise gave way to a delay in the use of his executive authority until after the midterm elections.  Once again, it seemed, party politics trumped unjustified deportations.

Is it any surprise then that Latinos feel used and abused by the politicians in Washington?

For them, immigration isn’t simply a political issue.  It’s personal.  It’s about loved ones who have been detained and deported without reprieve since Mr. Obama took office in 2009.  His decision to delay using his authority to provide temporary relief to millions of undocumented immigrants has, understandably, angered Latinos and led them to seriously question the President’s commitment to issues that affect their community.

Some immigration reform advocates, arguing that Democrats should be held accountable for inaction on immigration, have gone so far as to call for a boycott of the November midterm elections.

But I disagree.  The enormous power of the Latino vote should not be wasted on a boycott. To the contrary, Latinos should stand proud at the polls next Tuesday as part of an historic movement of change and progress for our nation.

Neither Democrats nor Republicans can take the Latino vote for granted.  Historically they have been a swing constituency and it is only in recent years that Latinos have voted in far greater numbers for Democrats.  Ours is a vote to be fought for–and big elections will be won or lost depending on which way we vote.

History has proved the power of the Latino vote in state elections too. One clear example of such power is the 2010 California gubernatorial race.  Back then, California Governor Jerry Brown was struggling with Latinos. His campaign seemed indifferent to the concerns of Latino voters until his Republican opponent, Meg Whitman, started making gains. In 2010, anti-immigrant legislation was trending across conservative-led states, including Arizona, Georgia and Alabama.  Latino advocates showed the negative economic effects of the states’ racial profiling policies and Governor Brown then understood the power of the Latino community.  Now, Governor Brown has a record of signing laws that have truly set the national standard for pragmatic, well-reasoned policies regarding immigrants.  These include pushing back against detainers, allowing undocumented immigrants the right to practice law and qualify for driver’s licenses and, more recently, codifies the jurisdiction of state courts to issue orders regarding protecting unaccompanied immigrant minors.

Two decades after California voters backed Proposition 187—which was later declared unconstitutional—Governor Brown gets it.

Like they did in California, Latino voters nationwide have an opportunity—indeed a responsibility—to show America that real change happens when citizens vote.  What matters more than who they vote for is the fact that they vote and show their power. The Republicans, Democrats and Independents may continue with their political gamesmanship, but Latino voters need to get to the polls and show the politicians that immigration reform is not only the right thing to do, it’s smart politics.

Written by Annaluisa Padilla, immigration attorney and Second Vice President, American Immigration Lawyers Association

Welcoming Brilliance to Our Shores

Image of the Nobel Prize Medal. Source: http://www.nobelprize.org

Image of the Nobel Prize Medal. Source: http://www.nobelprize.org

Birds do it, bees do it, even educated PhDs do it…

In this case, I’m not referring to falling in love as in the popular song from the 1930s, but migrating.  There are many aspects to what drives people to leave their country of birth and make a new country home.  When people rail against immigrants, I have to assume they don’t understand the economic and cultural benefits that our country has gained from so many over the years. Do they think that you can determine at birth what someone will accomplish? High skilled immigration is vitally important but if one focuses solely on those we know have reached a certain pinnacle, we are leaving out many more that could achieve great things if given the opportunities that so many of our residents take for granted.

One of the pinnacles of intellectual success has been awarded over the last several weeks: the Nobel Prize. The Nobel Prize Committee just completed announcing the winners of its prestigious awards for chemists, physicists, doctors, economists, writers, and those interdisciplinarians whose work overlaps into one of the fields.

What fascinates me, as an immigration attorney with feet in both the U.S. and U.K. for my practice, is that so many are immigrants.  For the U.S. alone, the Institute for Immigrant Research at George Mason University in Virginia, notes that from 1901-2013, “30.7% of these U.S. awarded Nobel Prizes are garnered by persons who immigrated to the United States.” That percentage far exceeds the proportion of the U.S. population which is foreign-born, which in 2010 the U.S. Census Bureau estimated at 12.9%.  Again and again we see that immigrants contribute to a nation’s wealth and this is no exception.

Three of this year’s winners are particularly interesting examples.  Shuji Nakamura, originally from Japan was awarded for his work in Physics with the University of California, Santa Barbara (USCB).   As UCSB reports, Dr. Nakamura was born and educated in Japan, coming to the US as a visiting research associate; he has since made his career in the U.S. and his research has led to the development of a lamp that might help the estimated 1.5 billion people worldwide without access to a power grid.

John O’Keefe, a native New Yorker, who was this year awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine for his work with University College London, is quoted as saying immigration rules are “a very, very large obstacle” to hiring the best scientists.  While he was referring to the U.K. immigration rules, this statement could easily be projected to the U.S. where immigration laws drafted decades ago have not kept up with business, technology or the reality of the global economy.  And finally, another winner from the U.K., Malala Yousafzai, is also an immigrant.  Originally from Pakistan, Ms. Yousafzai is the youngest Nobel Laureate in history and is in the process of receiving honorary citizenship from Canada.

What these Nobel Laureates show us is that the best and the brightest are mobile and the U.S. must be able to compete for talent on a global stage.  The U.S. needs an immigration system that works at every level, high to low skill and everywhere in between, a system that takes into account the market needs and the importance of family reunification. We don’t have that now, and it is incredibly disappointing that Congress has yet to do its duty and pass good legislation that will make a real difference for all.  Who knows, should Congress act, they may find themselves recipients of the Nobel Prize for conferring  “the greatest benefit on mankind.” – common sense immigration reform.

Written by Anastasia Tonello, AILA Treasurer

Action on Immigration is Long Overdue

shutterstock_106049372Over the past week I spent some time considering the pros and cons of President Obama taking executive action on immigration. Is this really the right approach to handling our mounting immigration problem? Should we wait on Congress to finally get a bill passed? If we wait on Congress will our current batch of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients be at retirement age when that happens? I finally came to the conclusion that executive action is the appropriate step and it should not wait until after the November elections. A couple of interactions finally convinced me that unilateral action is the right move from the President:

Last Monday morning I received a call from a man who was frantically trying to stop the removal of his wife, Maria, by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). This is not an isolated occurrence, by the way. The call came in at around 11:00 a.m. and ICE already was in the process of executing the removal. They said she would be on her way to Mexico at 2 p.m. The removal was being expedited because the women had been previously deported by the border patrol without a judicial hearing over a decade ago. Therefore, she was subject to reinstatement of removal.

I rushed down to the ICE Enforcement and Removal Office in south Tucson. There I met her husband where he provided me with a small file folder filled with random documents. He explained to me that she suffered from seizures since the age of 3 years old and needs to consistently take an anti-seizure drug and receive medical care. He also explained that he himself suffers from numerous ailments including diabetes, hypertension and a chronic shoulder problem. Maria cares for him and he could not envision her being sent to Mexico with a high probability of not getting back to the United States. Maria has a U.S. citizen child, a child with DACA and she also is the primary caregiver to her 72-year-old mother.

ICE accepted the form but only gave Maria a temporary Order of Supervision requiring her to report again in 30 days while they review the request. Will they grant the stay of removal? It is difficult to say, but ICE denies a significant number of these requests.  Maria and her husband asked, “What else we can do?” What could I say? I responded with, “Pray that the President will announce something soon.” It is the same line I have told hundreds of people looking for options to fix their immigration dilemma: “Hopefully reforms will come soon.”

The next day I consulted with a surgeon from India. After several years of being on both J-1 and H-1B visas, he was hoping to become a permanent resident of the United States. I explained to him that there is currently a backlog for most highly skilled immigrants from India that could cause the process to take between 5-15 years. He was perplexed by the wait time and told me that he was already considering a move to either Canada or some other developed country that may appreciate his skills more.

For over a decade, I have been saying the system is broken. The U.S. government has failed on immigration, and in the meantime millions have been deported and families have been torn apart. Businesses have to wait each year for a random lottery to determine whether they will even be eligible to pay, on average, over $2,000 in filing fees just for the government to determine if they can hire a foreign worker with specialized skills. Businesses have been forced to outsource their labor or set up operations outside the United States due to this mounting problem as well as other immigration obstacles.  Aspiring immigrants are stuck waiting for several years and oftentimes decades to become permanent residents.

These are only a couple of examples of the damage our messed up immigration system has had on our economy and our community.  It is time for drastic changes to take place.  Maria, her husband and family need immediate relief.  The President taking action is long overdue. If Congress won’t do their job, I believe the President should do it for them. Go big Mr. President!

Written by Mo Goldman, Chair, AILA Media Advocacy Committee

Ignoring the Economics of Immigration

shutterstock_188334569Jeffrey Dorfman’s recent opinion piece in Forbes purporting to make the economic case against comprehensive immigration reform doesn’t stand up once his underlying data and unstated premise are examined.  With regard to the data, his piece relies almost entirely on a Heritage Foundation report released last year which attempted to assess the possible fiscal costs that might come from legalizing 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States. The report (a retread of a 2007 study by the same authors), was widely rejected by conservatives for shoddy methodology.

Both reports rely on faulty assumptions to inflate apparent costs, including unrealistic projections of how many immigrants could become legalized; double counting categories of immigrants (counting temporary workers as immigrants when they arrive, for example, and then again when they are allowed to stay permanently); and  assuming that nearly all immigrants would bring extended family to the United States.  The study also fails to account for the economic benefits of a growing, legal workforce, highlighted by both the Congressional Budget Office and conservative writers.

The Congressional Budget Office looked at the economic benefits of immigration reform in a comprehensive way and you know what they found?  That the benefits of an increase in legal residents from immigration legislation (S. 744) – which includes a pathway to citizenship – would far outweigh the costs. The findings in their report give proof that implementing smart immigration reform will strengthen the U.S economy. Creating an immigration system that puts immigrants on a path to citizenship will not only boost wages and entrepreneurship, but will also bring more tax contributions and spending in local economies. The report estimates that in the first decade after enactment, the immigration bill’s net effect of adding millions of additional taxpayers would decrease the federal budget deficit by $197 billion, even with higher spending on border security and government benefits. Over the next decade, the report found, the deficit reduction would be even greater – an estimated $700 billion, from 2024 to 2033.

So much for the data.  But what about the unstated premise of Dorfman’s argument?  Assuming the data is correct that anyone in the United States – from illegal immigrant to US citizens—receives more in government transfer payments than in taxes they pay, he argues that immigrants who are already here should not be granted a path to legal status.  If his argument is correct, however, why stop there?  If US citizens are a drain on government coffers if they lack a college degree, should they be removed as well?  And why stop at individuals?  According to a study from the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, Mississippi, West Virginia and North Dakota all receive more per person from the federal government than they pay per person in taxes, so perhaps Dorfman would prefer that those states be removed from the Union?

Dorfman’s argument against legalizing lower-skilled immigrants ignores the important role that those immigrants play by increasing the productivity of the economy as a whole.  These immigrants work in more strenuous occupations than Americans, on average.  The ability of college-educated Americans to subcontract the work of food preparation, domestic chores and child-rearing to Americans and immigrants without a college degree is a win-win: complementing each other’s skills makes both groups more productive.  And finally, as Dorfman himself said in another context, “this win-win idea is not just in terms of income. In a capitalist society, people get rich by making somebody else better off.”  The economy will prosper when we make our currently-illegal workforce better off by legalizing their status, allowing them to raise the price of their labor in the market, thereby increasing the share of taxes they pay and their purchasing power.

Dorfman frames the choice on comprehensive immigration reform as being a “balance of compassion versus cost.”  Legalizing immigrants may be compassionate, but Dorfman ignores the substantial evidence that it will be an economic benefit as well.

Written by Bill Stock, AILA First Vice President