Category: Immigration Policy Center

DHS/DOL Regulatory Agendas Hint at Obama’s Executive Action on Business Immigration

May 30th, 2015 — 10:05am

The Departments of Homeland Security (DHS) and Labor (DOL) are planning to issue regulations that implement aspects of President Barack Obama’s executive action on business immigration, including additional immigration avenues for foreign entrepreneurs, an overhaul of the permanent labor certification program (PERM), and expanded job mobility for certain I-140 beneficiaries waiting for their green cards.

According to DHS’s spring regulatory agenda, released May 21, the department is planning to issue a proposed rule in August that would allow foreign entrepreneurs to enter the U.S. via parole. The parole authority, contained in Section 212(d)(5) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, allows for the admission of certain immigrants through other-than-normal channels if it would promote a “significant public benefit.”

DHS said the proposed rule would allow such admission, on a case-by-case basis, of “certain inventors, researchers, and entrepreneurs who will establish a U.S. start-up entity, and who have been awarded substantial U.S. investor financing or otherwise hold the promise of innovation and job creation through the development of new technologies or the pursuit of cutting edge research.”

Under the proposed rule, the entrepreneur could be eligible for temporary parole into the U.S. based on “investment, job-creation, and other factors,” DHS said.

The proposed rule is one of several elements contained in the president’s executive action on immigration, announced in November. The action also suggested bringing in immigrant entrepreneurs through the national interest waiver process—which allows such immigrants to be awarded green cards without going through the labor certification process—but that doesn’t appear in the current regulatory agenda.

Job Mobility for I-140 Beneficiaries

Another aspect of the executive action that is contained in the regulatory agenda is the planned October release of a proposed rule that would provide certain benefits to the beneficiaries of approved I-140 immigrant petitions for an alien worker.

DHS said the proposed rule would allow certain I-140 beneficiaries to obtain work authorization while awaiting their green cards and “remove unnecessary restrictions on the ability to change jobs or progress in careers, as well as provide relief to workers facing lengthy adjustment delays.” It also would clarify the meaning of “portable work authorization,” the department said.

The DHS regulatory agenda also includes a proposed rule, planned for August, that would expand optional practical training for foreign graduates with science, technology, engineering and mathematics degrees.

DHS did not describe what that expansion would entail, but a memorandum from DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson issued as part of the president’s executive action called for an expansion of the degree programs eligible for OPT as well as the length of time foreign graduates can work in the U.S. in OPT status. Johnson’s memo also stated that the OPT program should require stronger ties to degree-granting institutions and should include labor market protections to prevent the displacement of U.S. workers.  The DHS regulatory agenda also would allow the 17-month OPT extension for STEM degrees to apply to prior or most recent degrees.

PERM Overhaul in the Works

New to the Department of Labor’s regulatory agenda is a proposed rule, slated for release in December, that would overhaul the permanent labor certification program. The action also was announced as part of the president’s executive action.

DOL said the department hasn’t “comprehensively examined and modified” PERM in 10 years, and “much has changed in our country’s economy, affecting employers’ demand for workers and the availability of a qualified domestic labor force.” Furthermore, the DOL said, technological advancements “have dramatically altered common industry recruitment practices, and the Department has received ongoing feedback that the existing regulatory requirements governing the PERM process frequently do not align with worker or industry needs and practices.”

The proposed rule therefore is intended to “consider options to modernize the PERM program” to make it “more responsive to changes in the national workforce, to further align the program design with the objectives of the U.S. immigration system and needs of workers and employers, and to enhance the integrity of the labor certification process,” DOL said.



Comment » | Immigration Policy Center

Immigration Inaction: What Congressional Gridlock Means for Immigration Reform

March 26th, 2015 — 5:00pm

Last November, Obama exercised executive action to create substantial changes to the immigration system and enforcement, extending protection from deportation to over four million undocumented immigrants, expanding legal immigration of skilled workers, and providing temporary deportation relief to immigrants meeting certain criteria.

While the Obama Administration and other Democrats are attempting to give undocumented immigrants a pathway to citizenship, beginning with deferred action, ultimately, only Congress can decide who should qualify for legal status.

Congressional Republicans set the stage for a massive showdown over the President’s immigration action last December. When striking a deal to authorize federal spending, Congress extended the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) funding through March of 2015, despite extending funding for most other departments through September of 2015. By cutting off the DHS’ funding in March, it provided Republicans with the opportunity to use the nation’s border and homeland security as a political tool to prevent the implementation of the President’s executive actions on immigration.

Ultimately, the Republican-controlled Congress sent legislation to Obama funding DHS without the immigration-related concessions they had demanded, avoiding the potential, partial shutdown of DHS. This decision was, in part, due to the Homeland Security Department’s anti-terrorism responsibilities. It would be hypocritical of the Republican party to support the fight against terrorism abroad, while not funding our homeland security efforts just to make a political point.

At the same time, presidential hopefuls aren’t offering many ideas, choosing to focus on enforcement and border security rather than real reform. At the recent Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), the general consensus among candidates, often contradicting past views, was that an enforcement-first approach must be taken on immigration policy: no comprehensive reform makes sense without first securing the border. Yet none have defined what a secure border looks like.

Most Americans understand the importance of an improved immigration system, and our economy only benefits from creating employment opportunities for highly skilled immigrants and other immigrant workers. Sadly, Congress lags far behind public opinion in the importance of moving forward on immigration reform.


Comment » | Immigration Policy Center

The Benefits of Obama’s Executive Action

December 5th, 2014 — 5:43pm

What’s the Plan?

On November 20th, 2014, President Obama finally announced his plans for executive action on immigration reform. While it’s only a temporary solution to a long-term problem, it will help almost half of all undocumented immigrants gain official status — nearly five million people.

President Obama’s plan extends the temporary relief from deportation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) to undocumented parents of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents. In order to temporarily stay in the U.S. for 3 years, qualified individuals will have pass a background test and pay any back taxes. The plan also moves the window to include even more DREAMERs.

Who Benefits

The most obvious benefit will be improved quality of life for many undocumented immigrants. Moving from the shadows and into a fully recognized status can mean more opportunities, more work, and greater stability for their families. Also, many currently working in the gray economy will see an increase in wages.

That will also result in increased tax revenue for the U.S. Previously, only a third of undocumented workers and the people that employed them paid payroll taxes. Now, with official status, we can expect to see an increase in the gross domestic product up to .9% (nearly $210 billion over 10 years). The first year alone will net the federal government $3 billion.

But what about the “increased competition” for low-wage work? Many experts believe that the plan will lead to an increased average wage of about .3%. While not much, it’s certainly not the fall in wages that most opponents of immigration reform expect. And now that nearly one half of undocumented immigrants will compete on an even playing field with citizens, there won’t be such a large potential source of below-minimum-wage labor. Many companies have been asking for reform like this for quite a while.

Who Doesn’t Benefit

President Obama’s plan leaves some immigrants undocumented and negatively impacts at least one industry.

First, undocumented immigrants who arrived within the last five years don’t qualify. This means that over 10,000 Central Americans who have fled the violence in their countries since 2010 will remain undocumented for the time being.

Second, the private prison industry will lose out on the massive amounts of detainees awaiting deportation. While it’s unfortunate that an industry will take a hit as a result of the president’s actions, fewer detainees is generally a good thing.

Why It’s Good For Us

The President’s plan is certainly the temporary help that many both citizens and undocumented immigrants need — it’s just not the overarching reform that the U.S. desperately needs. While critics have found way to admonish the President, notes that every president since Eisenhower has executed similar executive actions for certain groups on immigrants. With nearly 39 examples, executive action for immigrants is essentially a Presidential precedent at this point.

Hopefully this plan will push Congress to finally bring meaningful reform when they see how much it helps immigrants, citizens and businesses all over the U.S.


Comment » | Immigration Policy Center, Immigration reform

Unaccompanied Minors from Central America: What is Happening on the Ground and Why This is Not a Border Security Crisis But a Crisis Demanding Humanitarian Relief

August 26th, 2014 — 2:39pm

For much of the summer, the immigration news has been dominated by the recent surge of some 60,000 unaccompanied minors and young children with their mothers fleeing the violence and lawlessness in Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. The Central American humanitarian crisis has resulted in a national debate about how to treat this vulnerable population: send them back to their home countries or grant them humanitarian relief in the United States.  Below is a very brief overview of what the federal government’s response has been thus far, a depiction of conditions on the ground, and a historical perspective on the numbers.

Shortly after the crisis emerged, the Obama Administration marshaled the resources of the numerous federal agencies involved in the apprehension, processing, housing, and repatriation of unaccompanied minor children, and sought emergency funding from Congress. Unfortunately, the Senate and the House of Representatives could not agree before their August 4 recess, and will have to resume negotiations and deliberations when Congress returns after Labor Day. In the meantime, the immigration courts have been instructed to expedite the hearings these immigrants are afforded to determine if their fears are credible, if they are eligible for asylum status, or if they should be deported.

While many of the children have been reunited with other family members who already live in the United States or have been released to sponsors, many others are being detained in detention centers awaiting hearings. One such center is the federal detention center at Artesia, a tiny town in Southeastern New Mexico. Artesia has been thrown into the national spotlight because the federal training center located there was turned into a make-shift detention center for women and children fleeing violence in Central America.

In the wake of the crisis, the immigration bar mounted a massive pro bono effort to ensure that detainees are afforded due process. Teams of experienced immigration lawyers, many of whom are members of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, are volunteering their time and experience to help these mothers and children. The following dispatches from lawyers who have spent a week at Artesia sheds some light on the conditions in these detention centers:

“I spent last week at the Artesia ‘family detention’ center, a 4-hour drive from both Albuquerque and El Paso. We had a group of roughly ten volunteers (attorneys, translators, and administrative staff) trying to stop the rapid deportations and see that the women and their children get some modicum of due process. This was the first week there has been a full time volunteer attorney presence on site during the month it has been open. 

“The first impression you get . . . is that all the children are sick, with coughs at minimum. They are dehydrated and listless. They are cold — there were two mornings where the temperature was around 60, and there were no jackets or blankets, so mothers and kids walked around with towels wrapped around their shoulders for warmth. Nearly all of them have valid claims for asylum — the majority based on domestic violence or gang issues. An unfortunate number were already deported without the opportunity to even consult with an attorney. Some mothers are giving up and asking to be deported because their kids are so sick.” [Editor’s Note:  Individuals are giving up even though the conditions in their home countries are dire.  For example, five recent Honduran deportees were murdered by gangs upon their arrival in Honduras. NPR, 8/21/2014.]

One pro bono lawyer from Oregon describes her experience in Artesia in this way:

“The lack of justice, due process, and the gross infringement on basic human rights at Artesia is truly staggering. . . . We need to send our members here to see and experience what is happening firsthand, so that they can shed light on this very dark place. . . . These are the most vulnerable people in the world, and our government is using them to send the message that America’s southern border is closed. As advocates, we can’t sit by and allow this voice of hate to be the loudest.”

A third volunteer lawyer reports:

“Women and children detained at length, being refused a chance for a fair hearing and access to counsel, and ultimately being sent back to the danger from which they fled. That’s what we’re seeing at Artesia . . . .

It shouldn’t be like this. But this is what we’ve come to. We need to help these families, to offer them due process and humane conditions, and ultimately address the root cause of this crisis: the conditions in Central America and the smugglers and traffickers who are making money off the misery of others.”


The New York Times highlighted a recent lawsuit filed by the American Immigration Council and other groups challenging the governments policies denying a fair deportation process to mothers and children who have fled extreme violence, death threats, rape, and persecution in Central America and come to the United States seeking safety.

The August 26, 2014 editorial stated:

“But the treatment of hundreds of these migrants in a makeshift detention center in Artesia, N.M., is appalling evidence that this promise was empty, according a lawsuit filed Friday in Federal District Court by a coalition of civil-rights organizations.

The immigrant detention center was supposed to be a safe haven for mothers and young children as their cases go through court. Though the detainees, as unauthorized immigrants, have no legal right to lawyers, advocates and immigration lawyers have made strenuous efforts to provide representation. The migrants have fled countries racked by gang and drug violence, and many have credible claims to asylum.”



Comment » | Customs and Border Protection, Department of Homeland Security, Immigration Policy Center, Immigration reform

Immigrants bring innovation and revenue, too

August 16th, 2014 — 6:26pm

America, the land of opportunity. Immigrants come because they see a chance to succeed. But, more often than not, US policy restricts their ability to excel.

In the 1986, the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) sought to rectify that by granting many undocumented immigrants legal status. Years later, we can see how much that helped. In 1990, soon after IRCA became a law, only 30% of 16-24 year old IRCA immigrants had high school diplomas. By 2006, that number increased to 58%. Giving legal status nearly doubled the number of educated immigrants, and, in turn, helped them live a better life.

But today, the focus is on money and innovation – especially within H-1B visa program. Each year, 65,000 well-educated foreign professionals are granted H-1B visas so that they can work, innovate and work together with Americans. Many of these professionals go on to contribute to patents, new inventions and much more.

In three states where immigration is a major issue, Arizona, California and Illinois, the average yearly wage of H-1B visa holders is well over $10,000 more than the median household income. But since we cap H-1B visas at 65,000, we’re limiting the success of the program drastically. Every year, the cap is reached within a matter of days, because the program is seen as a path to success in the US. In 2012, it took 71 days to reach the cap. In 2013, it only took 4 days to fill every spot. Well-educated people are very interested in coming to work in the United States, but arbitrary quotas are holding them back.

The lesson here might not be that obvious, but it doesn’t take much to see where American immigration laws need reform.  IRCA allowed more immigrants legal status and over the course of 26 years, similar groups of legal immigrants saw great success and prosperity as a result. And the very successful H-1B visa program has only brought more money, innovation and jobs to the US.

A quick look at the numbers shows how important immigrants are to economic development. In Arizona and Illinois, 1 in 5 business owners are foreign born. And in California, 1 in 3 businesses are owned by immigrants. In each of these states, immigrant-owned businesses account for well over 15% of the state’s net income.

So does limiting innovation and job creators make much sense? Even simple legal status makes the lives of immigrants better – and the lives of US citizens better, as well.


Comment » | Immigration Policy Center

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