National Immigration Forum

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Why Don’t They Come Legally?

May 02, 2008 - Posted by Douglas Rivlin

Here’s One Reason Why…


On April 30, the U.S. House of Representatives’ Subcommittee on Immigration held a hearing on legislation to recapture visas unused in past years for use in a subsequent year.  Say what?


It turns out the technology is so bad, the red tape so thick, and the waits so long that many of the visas the Congress authorizes for one year go unprocessed and then disappear.  All of this while hundreds of thousands wait more than two decades for a legal visa to come and many others, who are either ineligible to apply to come legally or who have given up waiting, come illegally.


Dena Bunis of the Orange County Register reported on the hearing:


About four million people who are trying to reunite with their families and between 400,000 and 500,000 people whose employers want to get them work-based green cards are caught in increasing backlogs, Rep. Zoe Lofgren, who chairs the House immigration subcommittee, said at a hearing she called on this issue today. And many of them could be taking advantage of what Lofgren called “wasted visas.”


What lawmakers heard was something familiar when it comes to the handling of immigration issues: that a combination of bureaucracy and the lack of the right technology have contributed to the fact that tens of thousands of visas that could be going to the family members of legal permanent residents and to people with temporary work permits have gone unused.


A bill to rectify this situation was recently introduced by Lofgren and a rather unusual ally:


Lofgren, D-San Jose, and Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wisc., have introduced legislation that would allow those unused visas to be carried over from year to year to eliminate the waste. State Department officials said having such a cushion would alleviate many of the concerns about overshooting the yearly limits.


Yes, that Rep. Sensenbrenner, who as Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee in 2005 passed the bill, H.R. 4437, that sparked the first wave of mass immigration rallies in March and April of 2006, because it would have made being in the country illegally or aiding people in the country illegally a felony.  Perhaps the winds of change are blowing on the immigration issue?  Too soon to tell, but an interesting development to watch.

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