Category: Immigration reform


Immigration and Congress

December 19th, 2011 — 11:20am

Fairness for High-Skilled Immigration Act

Ironically, of the three branches of government, the one specifically charged with enacting laws has been just about silent on the immigration front. The 112th Congress has neither passed nor significantly moved forward any important immigration proposal this year except, most recently, the now-stalled Fairness for High-Skilled Immigration Act, HR 3012. On November 29, the House of Representatives passed HR 3012, the first significant piece of immigration legislation passed by either the House or Senate all year. Passed with overwhelming bi-partisan support, the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigration Act eliminates entirely by fiscal year 2015 the current per-country cap on the employment-based visas and is designed to eliminate long wait times for workers from high-demand countries such as India and China. It also increases the family-based per-country cap from 7 percent to 15 percent. Before the bill can become law, the Senate must take up the legislation and President Obama would have to sign it into law. Meanwhile, Senator Grassley (R-IA), a long-time, staunch opponent of pro-immigration reform, placed a “hold” on the legislation in order to delay its consideration, citing his concerns about the impact of the bill on future immigration flows, among other things.  It is unclear how long he intends to hold the legislation hostage. In any event, some are hedging their support for the bill by noting that backlogs will not be truly eliminated but instead merely passes the buck down the line, inevitably creating backlogs somewhere else in the immigration visa quota system. The bill does not make any change in the overall number of green card visas available each year for skilled and professional workers and their dependents – 140,000 – a number enacted into law more than 20 years ago.

Tinkering at the margins, congressional committees recently have conducted a number of recent hearings on important immigration issues.  A round up includes the following:

Secure Communities

A House of Representatives hearing led by Representative Steve King (R-IA) was the first-ever congressional review of Secure Communities, the three-year-old program where the FBI shares the fingerprint data of arrestees from local (and state) law enforcement agencies with DHS. For several years now the program has been criticized for leading to racial profiling and interfering with community policing. Despite these claims, the Administration has directed ICE to expand the program, and an ICE official testified at the congressional hearing that DHS has safeguards in place to alert them of possible abuse. It is doubtful that any substantive changes will come from the hearing.

Visa Waiver Program

The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) is also subject of scrutiny as many call for its expansion. The program allows nationals from 36 countries to visit the United States for 90 days or less without securing a visa in advance. Many, especially the tourism industry, advocate for expanding opportunities to other nationals as good for the American economy, citing the VWP as the single largest program of inbound U.S. travel in 2010. It is unclear from the hearings whether any substantive changes will be made, though some countries, including Taiwan, are hopeful to be included if the program expands. The House hearing follows a recent State Department announcement that the U.S. is falling far short of meeting a growing worldwide demand for visas, undermining U.S. competitiveness now and into the future.

EB-5 Investor Program

The EB-5 Entrepreneur Investor Visa Program is up for review. Created in early 1990s and lauded as a job creator and a vehicle to drive the economy, the program has been perennially underutilized, issuing fewer than 2,500 visas in 2010 out of a possible 10,000. A Senate reauthorization hearing on December 7 was to review the Regional Center program, a component of the EB-5 program that permits a $500,000 investment in targeted employment areas in approved pooled investment programs instead of a $1 million, and is set to sunset in 2012.  Most observers agree that the program will be reauthorized, perhaps permanently.

Foreign Students Educated in STEM Fields

Continuing the emphasis on economic competitiveness, hearings also have been held to examine options for reforms that do a better job of retaining foreign students who graduate in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Currently, foreign students must leave the United States upon graduation unless they are eligible for one of the few and limited ways to stay in the country. Many politicians are upset that we provide stellar education but don’t reap the benefits. On the presidential trail, hopefuls have also stepped up the rhetoric: Newt Gingrich said during the CNN debate in November that foreign students graduating with STEM degrees should automatically receive work visas.

Combined with the approaching 2012 election cycle and candidates staking out positions, we can expect continued hearings on Capitol Hill on immigration but no comprehensive reform, even though a new nationwide poll shows a large majority of Americans favor a path to citizenship for most undocumented immigrants.

http://www.nationaljournal.com/daily/public-wants-immigrants-to-be-able-to-stay-20111206

Comment » | Immigration reform, Lawful permanent resident

Immigration and the Executive

December 19th, 2011 — 11:16am

While the Justice Department efforts to protect individual rights and to preserve the right of the federal government to enforce immigration law have been laudatory, a number of other significant policies of the current Administration have angered pro-immigration supporters, not the least of which has been the record number of deportations that have transpired in the last three years. Some 1.2 million undocumented foreign nationals have been deported since President Obama took up office, compared to almost 1.6 million deported during the eight-year Presidency of George Bush. In FY2011 alone, an unprecedented 400,000 people were deported. However, just last month the Administration took real action to provide relief for the undocumented who pose no threat to the country and who commit no crime.

Prosecutorial Discretion

 A new DHS-ICE policy encouraging the exercise of prosecutorial discretion in appropriate cases was launched in mid-November – complete with fairly comprehensive guidelines and procedures – and is being piloted in Baltimore and Denver, December 4 through January 13, 2012. DHS (the Department of Homeland Security) had announced in June its intent to eliminate low priority cases from the immigration court dockets and instead focus its enforcement priorities on the removal of those who have broken criminal laws, threats to national security, recent border crossers, repeat violators of immigration law, and immigration court fugitives. In August, DHS and ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) issued a directive to ICE attorneys to review pending court cases as well as cases where a charging document had not yet been filed to determine if the agency should decide not to prosecute the case. DHS also announced the establishment of a joint DHS-DOJ working group to review the approximately 300,000 pending cases and identify cases for administrative closure. The pilot program just launched was designed to identify cases most clearly eligible and ineligible for a favorable exercise of discretion. During a six-week period, USCIS, ICE, and CBP (Customs and Border Protection) attorneys are to review cases according to the agency’s general prosecutorial discretion guidance as well as by a set of more focused criteria. Ultimately, DHS expects to implement “best practices” on an ongoing basis nationwide.

While it is still too soon to judge the results of the pilot program and the impact of the agency’s new policy, in Baltimore, at least, removal cases normally set in December and January have been scheduled well into the future.  Stay tuned.

Other DHS guidance issued in November on when immigration charging documents should be issued dove-tails with its prosecutorial discretion policy.

Adjudications, Entrepreneurs, Small Business

More informally, the Administration has engaged the public and immigration stakeholders on a variety of issues and has done so more directly that ever before. Recently, the USCIS Ombudsman’s Office held an Annual Conference attended by 300 to discuss improving the delivery of immigration benefits and services. USCIS also has hosted a number of teleconferences with the public. A teleconference was held on USCIS’s then-changed policy on where and to whom I-797 approval notices are sent. (Feedback from the call contributed to USCIS changing its policy.) Another teleconference was held on small and start-up business immigration issues and involved not only immigration officials but those from the Small Business Administration and other federal agencies. On a related note, USCIS just launched an “Entrepreneurs in Residence” initiative and hopes to bring business experts in-house to work alongside USCIS staff to ensure that its policies are reflective of industry realities. This could be a valuable opportunity for business experts and immigrant entrepreneurs, especially those who have engaged in the U.S. immigration system through immigrant visa applications, to join USCIS’s tactical team and affect how the agency adjudicates cases. Business members, however, must be U.S. citizens. To apply for the Entrepreneurs in Residence program, see http://www.dhs.gov/xabout/careers/loaned-executive-business-expert-uscis.shtm

It’s anyone’s guess whether the Administration’s formal policy changes (prosecutorial discretion) or its informal meetings and public engagements will result is administrative fixes that have real teeth. At the end of the day, however, these changes represent only modest remedies to a system that cries out for wholesale reform.

Comment » | Customs and Border Protection, Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Immigration reform, Worksite enforcement policies

States Continue to Carve Out Piecemeal Immigration Law and Policy in Absence of Federal Approach

August 22nd, 2011 — 10:15am

State and local governments continue to be the staging ground for real action on immigration reform while Congress does nothing. Conservative state legislatures have enacted draconian, restrictive immigration laws (Arizona, Alabama, Utah, Georgia, and South Carolina) that, in some cases, are winding their way through the courts, while other states have moved in the direction of enacting more liberal policies toward immigrants. Most recently, the governors of Illinois and California signed into law “DREAM Act” bills that would allow undocumented immigrants to receive private funds to attend state colleges and universities. The same issue will go before the Maryland electorate as part of a referendum in November 2011.  And the courts, state as well as federal, continue to enter the fray. In Texas, a district court recently barred the Texas Department of Public Safety from enforcing rules that denied driver’s licenses to immigrants living and working in Texas with valid work authorization.  In Georgia, a federal district court blocked key provisions of that state’s “Show Me Your Papers” law, granting a preliminary injunction in the suit filed by a coalition of civil rights groups and individual attorneys.

In the absence of a federal approach to immigration reform and continued congressional inaction which is expected until after the next presidential election, we can expect more of the same from state and local governments as they attempt to regulate immigration and address the strain our broken immigration system causes to their communities.

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Comment » | Department of Homeland Security, E-Verify, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Immigration reform, Worksite enforcement policies

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