I am sure it does not surprise you when I say Hispanics were feeling differently about the Cinco de Mayo celebrations that just passed, for it is hard to see a positive outcome for immigration reform between the building of a border wall and the new threats about withholding funds for “sanctuary cities”.
Like it or not, we must accept the fact that illegal immigration is of great concern among many American citizens. The 2016 presidential election demonstrated this fact. Unfortunatelly, the proposal to build a wall on our southern border, that Mexico would pay for, became so popular that it watered down the complexity of fixing our outdated immigration system.
One only has to stop and think about the fact that over 45% of people living illegally in the USA entered this country legally to realize that a wall solution alone will not come close to fixing the problem. In my continuing series of blogs about immigration reform, I wanted to present a tangible solution. Today we are in a battle between the federal government and cities over immigration enforcement. Piecemeal strategies will end up doing more harm than good, so why not try to implement a comprehensive solution that will work?
The good news is that a solution to this problem already exists. In 2013, eight senators, known as “the gang of eight” authored a comprehensive immigration reform bill (S. 744) and was later passed by the US Senate. The eight senators to work on this were, Sen. Michael Bennet, D-CO, Sen. Richard J. Durbin, D-IL, Sen. Jeff Flake, R-AZ, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-SC, Sen. John McCain, R-AZ, Sen. Bob Menendez, D-NJ, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-FL and Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-NY. Unfortunately, Speaker of the House John Boehner killed the bill by refusing to schedule it for a vote.
This is what S. 744 tried to accomplish.
- Created a workable guest worker programs that would allow employers to hire high-skilled immigrants for jobs in the U.S. in accordance with the demands of the economy if U.S. workers are unavailable. The Senate legislation increased the number of H-1B visas from 65,000 and then established a cap of no more than 180,000 visas depending upon economic market conditions. In addition, the bill, made needed reforms to the H-1B program such as allowing a visa holder’s spouse to work in the U.S., which will make the U.S. more attractive to highly skilled workers without burdening American companies with unworkable requirements.
- For Lesser-skilled workers it created a workable construct for a new “W” visa for lesser-skilled occupations that reflected an agreement negotiated by the U.S. Chamber with the AFL-CIO. This new employer-led visa program would be administered by USCIS within the Department of Homeland Security. The W-visa have a long phase-in, beginning at 20,000 visas the first year and rising to 35,000, 55,000, and 75,000 the next three years before being determined by a formula with an overall cap of 200,000 visas per year.
- The legislation would also ensure the H-2B program for seasonal work would continue as a vital source for employers unable to find American workers.
- The Senate bill established a new temporary worker program for Agriculture that included a portable, at-will, employment-based visa (W-4) and a contract-based visa program (W-3) administered by the USDA (and not DOL). These Visas would be good for three years with a compounding cap beginning at 112,333 in year one and not exceeding 337,000 in a five-year period.
- 744 would increase and re-balance the number of green cards available for both high- and lesser-skilled workers sponsored by employers to fill jobs where qualified Americans are not available and eliminates the per country caps that have discouraged talented immigrants from staying here because of long wait lines for nationals of certain countries. It also expanded numbers for employer sponsorship categories and ensured no quotas for the spouses and minor children of green card holders to better balance employment and family immigration categories.
- The legislation created a new merit-based classification facilitating the ability of both high- and lesser-skilled workers to immigrate from outside the country, without prior relationship with an employer here in the U.S. The new merit-based program would go into effect five years after enactment and will fluctuate between 120,000 and 250,000 annually based upon economic indicators.
- 744 created clear and consistent employment verification standards for employers to follow. Most importantly, the bill included strong preemption language of state and local laws that mandate the use of E-Verify or establish state or local investigation or enforcement schemes. It also created a clear safe harbor for good faith efforts by employers and requires private employers to only verify new hires and not re-verify their entire workforce.
- The bill established a way to deal with those immigrants already living illegally in the USA by creating permits to undocumented immigrants to apply to earn “Registered Provision Immigrant” (RPI) status that would allow them to work and travel freely. This status would be good for six years and could be renewed. RPI status required an undocumented immigrant to come forward, be subjected to—and pass—a background check, be fingerprinted, pay fines and taxes (totaling $2000), prove gainful employment, and prove he or she has been physically in the U.S. since at least the end of 2011. Upon meeting more border security and employment verification conditions, a person with RPI status could petition—after a minimum of 10 years–for a lawful permanent resident (“green card”) status. S.744 provides an expedited path for “Dreamers” (undocumented youth) and certain Ag workers committed to remaining in the industry.
- Last but not least, this bipartisan Senate dealt with border security by building upon past improvements at the border by allocating more resources for fencing, surveillance, technology, and customs officers. S. 744 also required completion of additional fencing, surveillance of 100 percent of the border, apprehension of 90 percent of undocumented border crossers in high traffic sectors, the creation of an exit system at air and sea ports, and mandatory E- Verify before the 11 million undocumented could apply for legal permanent residence.
This is how you fix our immigration system, with a comprehensive proposal that addresses our country’s needs yet maintains human respect for those affected. I urge you to contact your federal elected representatives to revive this senate bill, amend it to fit current conditions and pass it into law. These solutions are long overdue.