OPPORTUNITIES FOR BIPARTISAN ACTION

June 11, 2021 – By Rick Taft

These Opportunities for Bipartisan Action present 10 valuable and politically attainable reforms for the U.S. immigration system. Many of the Opportunities work together systemically – in order for one Opportunity to be effective, one or more of the others must also be implemented. Our immediate goal is to work with opinion leaders and the general public to make this document more insightful and realistic. Our ultimate goal is to participate in a national debate that leads to improvement of our immigration system.

BORDER AND ASYLUM ISSUES (Opportunities 1-5): 

1. Develop a bipartisan common sense plan for modern border security, especially along our entire southern border and at major ports of entry; such a plan must include a workable system and specified resources for dealing with all categories of people seeking entry. – Both parties know there is an intense need for such a border management plan. The congressional Democrats, as the party in control of the Presidency and, to a limited degree, Congress, should initiate the effort to create such a bipartisan plan. Development of a holistic border plan is too important to stay a congressional foundling. The task is large; the time to start is now.

2. Improve the immigration court system. – The immigration court system is overwhelmed with cases (the backlog exceeds 1 million) and desperately needs more resources as well as some significant pruning of minor cases. Equally desperate is the need to move these courts (they are more like administrative tribunals than traditional courts) out of the Department of Justice and into independent status. Such a move would eliminate the structural conflict between managerial and participant roles for the DOJ and cut down the temptation to politicize this quasi-judicial system. A repositioning would also trigger an opportunity to optimize the court’s governance and procedures. The immigration court system is a natural candidate for balanced analysis by a commission and eventual congressional action.  

3. Rationalize the temporary worker visa system to manage seasonal ebb and flow over our borders, especially for farmworkers. – The agricultural workers bill now before Congress reflects the intense need for this rationalization felt by both business and the seasonal workforce. A stable seasonal visa system would assure business that the workers would arrive when needed and could go home when the job was done, secure in the knowledge they could return for the next season. The State-Sponsored Visa proposal now taking shape in the House also reflects this need to make sense of the temporary visa picture. That proposal would give states and localities a chance to participate in allocating visas and drawing immigrants to areas where they are needed and will be warmly welcomed.   

4. Alleviate distress in Central America (and other parts of Latin America) and evaluate regional asylum and refugee processing centers. – This is fundamental to systemic diminution of asylum-seeking pressure on our southern border.  There are some indications (El Salvador provides an example) that a well-conceived U.S. AID program can help address root causes of national turmoil and tamp down the resulting exodus driven by fear, privation, and rising peril from drought and hurricanes. With American resources and interests at stake, the root causes driving asylum-seekers and refugees to press for entry into the U.S. deserve a fundamental analysis and response rather than just first aid for symptoms.  

5. Enlarge the informational mandate of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (a part of the Department of Homeland Security and the leading federal channel for immigration data distribution) beyond its current focus on retrospective performance reporting. Additional reporting by U.S. CIS and publicly-supported private sector work should include predictive models and longitudinal studies that enrich debate and decision-making about U.S. immigration policy. – Funding and a visionary directive is needed to support, in the public and private sector, ongoing research and analysis essential to improving immigration system design, developing predictive models for competing policy alternatives and assisting in legislative and administrative choices.

COMMENT: These first five Opportunities are tightly interdependent. Some of these interdependencies are obvious: the border management plan envisioned in Opportunity 1 manifestly needs a complementary effort, as envisioned in Opportunity 4, to diminish the troubles that are driving so many to leave their homes in Central America and other distressed Latin American countries. Less obvious but equally potent over the long term is the necessity to build, as urged in Opportunity 5, an accurate foundation of facts and predictive models to support honest, clear communication with the American public and sound decision-making on southern border issues. 

OUR UNDOCUMENTED POPULATION (Opportunities 6-8):

6. Make progress toward a permanent and fair solution for the DACA population. – Presenting a pathway to legal participation in our society for people who were brought here illegally when they were young is broadly popular, but success in creating such a pathway is unlikely to garner 60 votes in the U.S. Senate without meaningful progress in dealing with the border and asylum issues discussed in Opportunities 1-5.  

7. Make progress toward a durable and fair solution for dealing with the undocumented population; such a solution must protect the rule of law while recognizing that if the U.S. needs more workers than the native population can readily supply, those who have supplied such labor for a long period with good behavior deserve a pathway at least to legalization and (this is an intensely political subject) perhaps eventually a more selective pathway to citizenship. – The durable and fair solution envisioned here has eluded our country for decades. For the benefit of our country and in fairness to all those impacted in any way by our immigration system (including those who dutifully wait for years for national-quota visas), we need to devote adequate resources to this quest to keep this crippling condition from becoming permanent. The long-term solution must reckon with the reality that there will be new members of the undocumented population every year because barriers to entry and the real threat of deportation (which is a necessary tool for control of a national border) will never be enough to drive to zero the number of people who are willing to take severe risks to become U.S. residents.  

8. Improve the E-Verify system for employers to make it more technically sophisticated and resistant to fraudulent documentation, and enhance enforcement of labor laws for the ultimate benefit of all workers. – Key drivers of unauthorized immigration to the U.S. are the willingness of some businesses to hire and exploit the vulnerabilities of undocumented workers and the willingness of many of the undocumented to work for cash or as pseudo-independent contractors. Combining a stronger E-Verify system with more insightful labor law enforcement should push more businesses and workers away from the shadow economy, a huge phenomenon which hides in plain sight and which tends to depress wages and working conditions for foreign and native born workers alike.  

COMMENT: This Opportunity 8 will have little appeal to those who sympathize with the undocumented population unless paired with success in addressing Opportunities 6 and 7.  

LEGAL IMMIGRATION (Opportunities 9-10):

9. Develop a point system for rating the key skills and personal attributes of visa applicants in sectors where such factors already do or should in the future have an impact on visa decisions. – This is a way to foster comparative analysis of visa candidates in sectors where they are now or should be evaluated for their potential contribution to national economic and societal objectives. A point system can make it more practical to analyze and optimize the immigration system as a whole. Canada, Australia and New Zealand have used point systems to good effect.

10. Conduct a deep inquiry into possible diminution of the right of immigrants to bring in as additional immigrants specified relatives beyond spouses and children, such as siblings and parents. – The United States is more generous than most countries in allowing extended familial “follow-on” immigration. Most family-fairness objectives could be served by generous family visa rights without an automatically accompanying pathway to a green card or citizenship, thereby permitting redirection of visas for economic impact. Considering reduction in the number of permitted “follow-on family immigrants” as envisioned in this Opportunity 10 would have the political benefit of responding to long-held concerns of immigration reductionists that the U.S. system brings in too many immigrants every year.

COMMENT:  If the reduction proposed in this Opportunity 10 were to stand alone without being linked to other improvements to the immigration system, such as those detailed in this document, it would have little to no appeal to immigration advocates who are comfortable with the generosity of the current follow-on immigration rules.