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Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Discussing The Status Of Immigration Reform

Coming back to the discussion of Immigration Reform, let's policy geek out the issues on the table. In the last couple of days, pundits have suggested which way to go on the issue. Chuck Todd of Meet The Press says, Obama 'has to act.' The Wall Street Journal reports that any executive order attempting to tackle the problem would make durable reform harder to pass. Let's get into this.

What Can The President Do On His Own?
We begin with this, POTUS has broad legal authority to take executive action on immigration. While only Congress can act to permanently fix the nation’s broken immigration system, the president has wide legal latitude to begin the process. Through what is known as prosecutorial discretion, the president can focus resources and time to pursue serious criminal offenders, instead of low-priority immigrants. These low-priority immigrants could be granted deferred action, a process by which they could register, pass background checks, receive a work permit, and a reprieve from deportation.

Why Hasn't Obama Already Done Something?
June 2012, the Obama administration announced that it would use its inherent executive authority to explicitly protect a group of DREAM Act-eligible undocumented youth from deportation. The program allows this population to apply for temporary protection from deportation and for work authorization. As of March 2014, more than 553,000 applicants were granted deferred action, and just more than 20,000 were denied protection.

December 2012, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced it would limit its detainer policy. The agency will no longer issue a detainer request to local police directing them to hold someone identified as a potentially undocumented immigrant unless that person has been charged with a serious crime or has been convicted of multiple misdemeanors. This announcement aligns with the agency’s evolving effort to apply so-called prosecutorial discretion to immigration cases: prioritizing criminals—rather than long-settled and hardworking immigrants—for detention and deportation.

March 2013, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services changed its policy to better observe its principle of family unification. Effective March 2013, the U.S. government reduced the amount of time that spouses and minor children of U.S. citizens are separated from their families when applying for legal permanent resident status. The new rule allows qualified applicants to apply for a hardship waiver while still in the United States. In the waiver, the applicant must establish that if the family were to be separated, the applicant’s spouse or parent with citizenship or legal permanent resident status would suffer extreme hardship.

August 2013, the Obama administration issued a directive that advised immigration authorities to exercise prosecutorial discretion when they detain undocumented immigrant parents. While the directive does not prevent the deportation of undocumented parents, it does allow detained parents to make some caregiving decisions that were formerly difficult to guarantee, such as ensuring their family members are aware of their detention and are able to care for their children.

November 2013, the Obama administration acted to allow undocumented family members of individuals serving in the U.S. military to be paroled in place. Parole in place allows certain family members of U.S. military personnel who entered the country without inspection—but who are otherwise entitled to legal status based on their family relationships—to file for adjustment of status and remain in the United States during the process. Without parole, as we mentioned earlier, they would be required to leave the country and to endure a potentially lengthy separation from their family.

The mystical, magical green card.

Did you know?
In June 2013, the Senate passed a bipartisan immigration reform bill with a vote of 68 to 32. The Senate bill remains viable for reconciliation with a House bill until the 113th Congress ends on December 31, 2014. It could be done. All that has to happen is for the lame duck House to take it up. Now what are the chances of that?

The Senate-passed immigration reform bill, S. 744, provides a tough but achievable pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. The bill would put the majority of the 11 million undocumented immigrants on a 13-year pathway to citizenship. In the meantime, registered provisional immigrants—the first step on the pathway—who have met certain requirements, passed background checks, and paid fees and fines will be able to live in the United States, work, and travel abroad without fear of deportation. In response, House Republican leaders have not brought any immigration bills to the floor. What DID they do instead? House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) announced his party would not move forward on immigration until members of the House regained their trust that President Obama would enforce immigration laws. Has this been a problem?
House Democrats have tried their best, introducing a version of the Senate-passed immigration reform bill, H.R. 15. The bill includes almost all parts of the Senate bill, substituting the border provisions with House Committee on Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul (R-TX)’s border security bill. In September 2014, the bill had 199 co-sponsors, but House Republican leadership refuses to even bring it to the floor for debate, let alone call for a vote on it.

S. 744 also significantly increases border security, so the nutcases on the border with their own guns, and their own rules, should be thrilled. The bill mandates significant increases in technology, personnel, fencing, and funding to ramp up border security to an unprecedented level. The bill mandates that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, or DHS, complete 700 miles of pedestrian fencing, increase the number of full-time U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents from today’s 21,391 to 38,405 by 2021, and deploy a litany of technology on the southern border.

S. 744 mandates that all employers in the country use E-Verify—the government’s Internet-based work-authorization system—within five years of the bill’s enactment as a means of ensuring that unauthorized immigrants are not granted employment.

S. 744 clears the long backlog of people who have been approved for a green card. The bill ensures that the 4.3 million people who have been approved for a green card but have been waiting for years, even decades, to come to the United States because of the long backlogs in the system can finally reunite with their family members. Even with this passed, S. 744 would take a decade to clear the backlog we currently have. Yes, it's that bad.

S. 744 expands the number of green cards for highly skilled, advanced-degree professionals; significantly increases the annual cap for H-1B visas; creates a new lesser-skilled “W” visa category; and establishes a bureau tasked with analyzing economic, labor, and demographic data to help set annual limits on each type of visa.

The first wave of baby boomer retirees are leaving the jobs market.

Baby Boomer Problems
There are lots of humane reasons why we should process these immigrants completely and now. But there are pragmatic financial reasons for doing it too. Citizenship would allow millions of undocumented immigrants to work on the books and contribute to Social Security. If undocumented immigrants gained legal status and citizenship, they would provide a net $606.4 billion contribution to Social Security over the next 36 years—the same time period when retiring Baby Boomers will place the greatest strain on the system. These contributions to the Social Security system would support 2.4 million American retirees. Everything about S. 744, legislation passed by the Senate, yet kept off the table in The House, makes sense.

The solvency of the Medicare trust fund would be extended if the undocumented population were able to gain legal status and citizenship. Immigrants, who are currently living in the United States without proper paperwork, could start to pay in to Medicare, and over the next 30 years, make a net contribution of $155 billion to Medicare.

As Baby Boomers retire en masse over the next 20 years, immigrants will be crucial to fill these job openings and promote growth in the labor market. More than two-thirds of new entrants into the labor market will replace retiring workers. However, while 58.6 million new workers will be needed to fill these retirements, only 51.3 million native-born people are projected to enter the workforce, meaning that immigrants and their children will be crucial to filling the additional 7.3 million job openings while also furthering growth in the labor market.

But The Border...
Border agents: 21,391 Border Patrol agents patrolled the borders in 2013—1,391 more than the goal set in 2007.

Fencing: 651 total miles of fencing have been built along the southwest border as of 2012, just one mile shy of what the Secure Fence Act of 2006 mandates. This includes 352 miles of pedestrian fencing and 299 miles of vehicle barriers.

Surveillance: 179 mobile and video surveillance systems and 168 radar and camera towers have been installed along the border—more than what the 2007 benchmarks required. The increase in unmanned aircraft systems and mobile surveillance systems surpassed the 2007 goals by 2 and 47, respectively.

Increased consequences: The Department of Homeland Security has the resources available to detain 1,300 more people per day than the 2007 goal set out to meet. The Border Patrol ended the process of catch and release, a practice where two out of every three border crossers apprehended from outside of Mexico were released into the United States pending removal hearings. The department instead expanded the consequence delivery system to the entire border. This system steps up criminal penalties for people caught illegally crossing the border and often returns immigrants to unfamiliar and far-away border cities in an effort to cut the migrant off from the smuggler who helped with his or her previous border-crossing attempt.

“Operational control”: In 2006, when only 23 percent of the U.S.-Mexico border was deemed to be under “operational control.” Today, 81 percent of the U.S.-Mexico border meets one of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s three highest standards of security: controlled, managed, and monitored. The remaining sections of the border are in its most inaccessible and inhospitable areas. Total control of the border is impossible, but Customs and Border Protection continues to make great strides toward gaining control of important sectors.

Border agents now patrol every mile of the U.S. border daily, and in many places, they can view nearly all attempts to cross the border in real time. Although elevated, today’s apprehension levels remain well below those seen since the 1970s. Even with the influx of child refugees at the southern border, net undocumented immigration is still at historic lows. Including the 66,127 unaccompanied minors and 66,142 families—mostly mothers with young children—who have arrived at the border in FY 2014, overall unauthorized immigration is still low. Tell that to your uncle on Thanksgiving.

Net undocumented migration from Mexico is now at or below zero. ZERO.

Americans want immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship
A majority of Americans support a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. A June 2014 poll conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute and the Brookings Institution found that 62 percent of Americans support an immigration bill that provides a way for undocumented immigrants to become citizens. An additional 17 percent said that they should be allowed to become legal residents.

A majority of Americans believe it is imperative that Congress passes immigration reform by the end of 2014. A July 2014 poll conducted by CBS News found that 59 percent of Americans believe passing legislation that addresses unauthorized immigration is important, while only 6 percent of Americans thought it was not important at all.

Tea Party Republicans support a pathway to citizenship or legal status. A May 2014 poll by the Partnership for a New American Economy, Americans for Tax Reform, and the Tea Party Express revealed that 70 percent of Republican primary voters who identify with the Tea Party support a way for the undocumented to attain citizenship or legal status.

Voters in key Republican congressional districts support immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship. July 2013 Public Policy Polling surveys conducted in seven key congressional districts across California, Colorado, Minnesota, Nevada, and New York unequivocally show that Republican and independent voters want Congress to fix the country’s broken immigration system. Americans support executive action on immigration. An ABC News poll conducted in August 2014 found that 52 percent of Americans support President Obama taking unilateral action on immigration reform if Congress does not act.

CBS News: The majority of Americans favor the pathway to citizenship and soundly reject legal-status-only approaches (January 2014)

In a CBS News poll, a majority of Americans—54 percent—felt that unauthorized immigrants should be allowed to become citizens. Importantly, while most Americans are in favor of the pathway to citizenship, they strongly reject approaches that would leave unauthorized immigrants with second-class status: Only 12 percent of respondents believed that unauthorized immigrants should receive legal status but not be able to become citizens. Two-thirds of Democrats supported the pathway to citizenship, while only 43 percent of Republicans did. However, a smaller percentage of Republicans—9 percent—than any other group supported a legal-status-only approach to immigration reform. This final result should give pause to congressional leadership as they propose, as Republicans did with their immigration principles, legalization without citizenship for unauthorized immigrants.

Fox News: More than two-thirds of Americans support the pathway to citizenship and reject mass deportation (January 2014)

When asked, “Which of the following comes closest to your view about what government policy should be toward undocumented immigrants currently in the United States?”, 68 percent of Americans favored a pathway to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants in the country if they meet requirements such as paying back taxes and passing background checks. Support for requiring all unauthorized immigrants to be sent back to their home countries stood at only 15 percent. Support for the pathway to citizenship has increased slightly, by 2 percent, since May 2013, while support for sending unauthorized immigrants home has dropped 5 percent.

As Greg Sargent of The Washington Post points out, “GOP stalling on immigration is not about ‘distrust of Obama.’” From the polling above, it is clear that it is not about public opinion either. Americans support immigration reform, including the pathway to citizenship, and will be disappointed if Congress fails to pass legislation this year. The window for acting on immigration reform is open through 2014, the public supports it, and now is the time for the House to step up and pass it.

Are you talking about this with your friends? It may come a time, and soon, where we all have to write, call, fax, and visit our representatives to help push this through. Where do you sit on these policy decisions? What do you think?

The Policy Geek

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