Immigration: A First Step

The bipartisan Gang of Eight Senators working to craft comprehensive immigration reform appeared to reach tentative agreement this weekend on a new visa program for less skilled immigrants. IW president Tamar Jacoby made the following statement:

“This is an important moment – a first step down a historic path.

Under current law, theUnited Stateshas no visa program – and we’ve never had one – for less-skilled immigrants working in year-round, nonfarm jobs. Our economy couldn’t function without them: the hospitality, construction, cleaning and maintenance, food processing and food-service industries would all be severely hobbled and in some regions come close to collapse. So it’s long past time we created a way for these workers to enter the country and work legally.

The deal announced this weekend by members of the Gang of Eight is a critical breakthrough. It’s a thoughtful, innovative package – vital bipartisan recognition that we need a visa program for less-skilled foreign workers to fill jobs when there are no willing and able Americans.

But there’s still work to be done. It’s no secret: the negotiations were difficult. Labor unions skeptical that theU.S.needs a less-skilled worker visa program had an outsized influence on the process. The Republican Senators in the Gang of Eight did the best they could under the circumstances. But the deal is skewed by union demands – and several of its most ingenious, most thoughtful elements may not work as intended on the ground, primarily because the program is too small.

The stakes could hardly be higher: without a workable temporary visa program, the nation can have no hope of ending illegal immigration.

An overwhelming majority of the 11 million unauthorized immigrants living in would rather be here legally. They came and stayed illegally only because, when work beckoned, there was no lawful way for them to enter theU.S.And if we fail to create a legal way in today, in 10 or 20 years we’re going to find ourselves in exactly the same predicament – wondering what to do about a new 11 or 12 or who knows how many million unauthorized immigrants.

The new blueprint has much to recommend it. It bears little resemblance to conventional temporary worker programs. Willing employers and willing workers will interact freely as in a normal marketplace: workers can quit and move from job to job within the program. And although the number of visas available will be capped by an annual quota, employers who still cannot fill empty positions can pay extra to hire workers to keep their businesses running and contributing to the economy.

But the proposed visa program is much too small to meetU.S.labor needs – now or in years ahead.

Recent history makes the point. In the early 2000s, when the economy was booming, more than 350,000 unauthorized immigrants entered theU.S.every year to work. Even in 2011, with the economy still sluggish and uncertain, the number was 150,000. But the new program will start by admitting only 20,000 workers a year and will never, no matter how robust the economy, issue more than 200,000 visas annually.

That won’t be nearly enough to replace illegal immigration.

In theory, the program will automatically adjust in size in response to economic circumstances, growing in good times when more workers are needed and shrinking in down times, when more Americans are seeking work. But the formula that’s supposed to drive this rise and fall is poorly designed – so dependent on national economic data andWashingtonbureaucrats that it’s unlikely to be responsive to the reality of changing needs in the myriad, diverse local labor markets that make up theU.S.economy.

Also troubling, the program proposes to pick economic winners and losers, singling out the construction industry for special quotas within quotas and barring access to medium-skilled labor. Together, these restrictions could severely limit construction growth in the years ahead – just as the industry is poised to take off and drive the rest of the economy to full recovery.

The Gang of Eight blueprint is a solid beginning, but there is more work to be done. ImmigrationWorks looks forward to working with the Gang of Eight and with other members of Congress, in the House and the Senate, to enact a workable visa program that incorporates the many good ideas in this first draft”.

Rubio: “No final agreement”

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) issued the following statement regarding the status of immigration reform legislation being developed in the Senate:

“I’m encouraged by reports of an agreement between business groups and unions on the issue of guest workers. However, reports that the bipartisan group of eight senators have agreed on a legislative proposal are premature.

“We have made substantial progress, and I believe we will be able to agree on a legislative proposal that modernizes our legal immigration system, improves border security and enforcement and allows those here illegally to earn the chance to one day apply for permanent residency contingent upon certain triggers being met. However, that legislation will only be a starting point.

“We will need a healthy public debate that includes committee hearings and the opportunity for other senators to improve our legislation with their own amendments. Eight senators from seven states have worked on this bill to serve as a starting point for discussion about fixing our broken immigration system. But arriving at a final product will require it to be properly submitted for the American people’s consideration, through the other 92 senators from 43 states that weren’t part of this initial drafting process. In order to succeed, this process cannot be rushed or done in secret.”

Immigration Advocates Mobilizing During Easter Recess

Over the course of the Easter Congressional recess and leading up to the massive rally in DC on April 10th, SEIU Local Unions and allies are hosting more than 50 events across the country pounding the drumbeat for commonsense immigration reform. SEIU, Mi Familia Vota and allies with theAlliance for Citizenship are also mobilizing to turnout activists to Member of Congress hosted town hall meetings in their home districts. Advocates for reform are turning out in large numbers, asking questions and showing support for Members of Congress to continue the momentum toward making commonsense immigration reform a reality.

Below is a snapshot of events that have taken place since Friday March 22:

  • At a town hall meeting in Arizona hosted by Senator McCain, 75% of the room was comprised of attendees in support of reform. Media coverage can be found on AZ Central and AZ Family.  At one point supporters held up signs that said “Thank you,” to Senator McCain, after which he posed for a photo with the advocates.
  • SEIU Local 105 and Mi Familia Vota in Colorado participated in the Center for Community Change’s “Keeping Families Together” bus tour launch. It kicked off with a rally as it started its tour across the state. Coverage of the event can be found in the Denver Post,Univision and the Longmont Times. SEIU Local 105 member, Claudia Esquivel was interviewed for the story on Univision.
  • SEIU members from the mid-Atlantic region attended a rally in DC on March 20 highlighting support among the African American community for commonsense immigration reform. Coverage of the rally can be read on the Washington Post. Following the rally, SEIU EVP Gerry Hudson authored a blog post for the Huffington Post.
  • SEIU Local 1 and allies in Chicago delivered over 300 petitions in support of reform to Representative Lipinski, Mi Familia Vota, SEIU and allies hosted a press conference in Phoenix in support of reform and Michigan SEIU Locals participated in a statewide immigration convention in support of commonsense reform. In Ohio, SEIU Locals joined partners in the faith community for an event inColumbus.
  • Last week, SEIU 32BJ participated in an economic panel on the benefits of immigrants in Long Island, New York. News coverage can be found here.
  • SEIU Locals in Texas participated in delivering over 11,000 petitions in support of reform to Senator Cornyn.

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