Statement for the Record
U.S. Senate Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs Committee
“Securing the Border: Defining the Current Population Living in the Shadows and Addressing Future Flows”
March 26, 2015
Founded in 1982, the National Immigration Forum (Forum) works to uphold America’s tradition as a nation of immigrants. The Forum advocates for the value of immigrants and immigration to the nation, building support for public policies that reunite families, recognize the importance of immigration to our economy and our communities, protect refugees, encourage newcomers to become new Americans and promote equal protection under the law.
The National Immigration Forum (the Forum) thanks the Committee for the opportunity to provide its views on this hearing to discuss the matter of American border security and the importance of addressing the future flow of workers and family members who are essential to American prosperity going forward.
Heads of border agencies under both Republican and Democratic Administrations have stated that the best way to improve border security is to fix the immigration system by providing legal avenues for workers to enter the United States when needed and allow families to reunify. We urge the members of the Committee not to lose focus on the on-going need to fix our broken immigration system through broad reform that includes a path to eventual citizenship and properly addresses future flow.
In late 2012, the Forum launched the initiative now called New American Workforce (NAW), which works with businesses to assist their eligible immigrant employees with the citizenship process so they become full participants in the workplace, community and economy. Through NAW, the Forum has partnered with more than 100 businesses across the United States to help their workforces navigate the naturalization process.
The National Immigration Forum also works with business leaders through our work with the Bibles, Badges and Business for Immigration Reform (BBB). BBB is a network of conservative faith, law enforcement and business leadership that has come together to achieve the goal of broad immigration reform. Targeting key states through a combination of field events, media coverage and direct advocacy, BBB and its partners have had more than 700 meetings with Members of Congress and their staffs and held more than 500 events in key congressional districts across 40 states in the past two years.
Our business partners in both BBB and NAW are clear that they need a better immigration system to help meet their labor needs. Filling these needs is critical to ensuring that America’s economy thrives and is globally competitive. The Forum’s relationships with businesses and individuals outside of the Beltway helps inform our views on the future flow of immigrants, demonstrating that our country needs an immigration system that accounts for the future labor needs of employers.
Immigration Reform Must Include Provisions for Future Immigration
In reforming our existing broken immigration system and addressing the security of our borders, Congress should ensure that future labor needs are fulfilled by our legal immigration system, including increasing the number of visas when the economy requires it.
With the number of permanent worker visas unchanged since 1990 and the number of temporary visas relatively static, the nation needs immigration reform that both addresses the failures of our legal immigration system and provides sufficient and efficient means for future immigrants to come to the United States legally. Failure to address future flows of immigration will only continue to incentivize going around the legal immigration system and lead to unauthorized border crossings.
Congress must avoid repeating the mistakes of the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA), which resolved the status of most undocumented immigrants but failed to provide for adequate future flows of legal immigrant labor. While IRCA represented a step forward in dis-incentivizing employers from hiring unauthorized workers, the authors failed to realize unauthorized immigration is primarily driven by employment – if there is demand for immigrant labor, but an inadequate legal supply of immigrant visas, undocumented immigration will fill the unmet demand. As a result, IRCA did not address future flow – failing to properly account for the demand for immigrant labor after 1986 – and the demand for immigrant workers has continued to outstrip the supply of visas.
In order to fix our immigration system in an enduring manner and minimize the chances that additional changes will be needed in the near future, Congress should address the future flow of immigrants and meet the following principles:
Improve the work visa system to respond to our workforce needs. Our current immigration system’s failure to provide a sufficient number of visas to fill employers’ demand for immigrant labor is a drag on the economy, starving companies of necessary talent and creating persistent labor shortages in fields ranging from engineering to computer programming to agriculture. The system’s failure to meet our workforce needs is also a prime reason millions of undocumented immigrant workers currently live and work in the U.S. Creating a legal immigration system in which the number of visas better reflects our country’s labor demands will undercut incentives for unscrupulous employers to unlawfully hire undocumented workers, which in turn lead immigrants seeking work to come to the U.S. unlawfully. Because visa quotas for immigrant workers are woefully out of date, many workers face the choice of waiting years to immigrate or accepting unauthorized work. A reformed employment-based visa system would address this reality, providing employers with a reliable supply of labor.
Create a new visa program for workers in the agricultural, service and other industries. Employers and workers are unable to sponsor workers for non-temporary jobs in agriculture, service and other industries under the current system. A new visa program would be efficient for workers and employers, would ensure that U.S. workers would have the first chance to obtain available jobs and would protect the rights and wages of all workers in affected occupations. Such a system should include a temporary worker component that addresses persistent labor shortages in agricultural, service and other industries. If Congress continues to ignore this need, however, the inadequacies of the current employment visa system will continue to fuel the market for underground and undocumented labor.
Reform the visa system to allow foreign students educated at U.S. colleges and universities to stay. With its top-notch higher education system, the U.S. attracts and educates some of the best students in the world only to deny those students work visas after graduation and requires them to leave. Simply put, the current immigration system puts up too many barriers for the world’s top talent to work for us, especially in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). The rules must be adjusted to make it easier for foreign students who attend U.S. colleges and universities to stay, work and contribute to our economic growth. Reform should ensure that foreign-born STEM graduates of American institutions of higher education are able to obtain visas to stay and work in the U.S. upon receiving a job offer.
Ensure the visa system honors family unity. The family is at the core of our immigration system, yet American families with loved ones abroad face a growing wait for the same number of annual family-related visas allotted a generation ago. Unreasonable bottlenecks and barriers to family reunification can keep families separated for years, if not decades. A functional system would promote family unity and reunification. Family members who have been waiting in line should have their admission expedited, and those admitted on work visas should be able to keep their families intact.
Additionally, Congress should reject proposals that would reduce family-based immigration in order to increase employment-based immigration. We need not choose between the economic needs of our country and our values that call for keeping families together. Both streams can and should continue to serve our nation’s economic needs and support our national values.
To truly fix our broken immigration system and decrease unauthorized border crossings, Congress must account for the labor needs of employers and address the future flow of immigrants in a realistic and productive manner. The future flow of immigrants is an often-overlooked, but crucial aspect to securing our borders and must be part of a package of broad reforms to our broken immigration laws. The American people want better immigration policy. Multiple national polls over the last month show solid support for solutions that include, in addition to reasonable enforcement, creating improved and new legal channels for future immigrants and establishing tough but fair rules to allow undocumented immigrants to stay and continue to work in the U.S. and eventually earn U.S. citizenship. We cannot simply spend or enforce our way to a solution on illegal immigration. Border security, while important, is only part of the picture. Immigration reforms that account for the future flow of workers and family members who will be needed to meet the needs of businesses and help strengthen our economy are critical.
Our immigration problem is a national problem deserving of broad solutions. Addressing the future flow of immigrants that 1) improves the work visa system to respond to our workforce needs, 2) creates a new visa program for non-temporary jobs in certain sectors, 3) addresses foreign students, and 4) honors family unity, must be part of that solution.