Advocacy

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Immigration Reform

The purpose of this page is to provide background and resources about the debate over immigration reform. Everyone agrees that our current immigration laws are broken. However, there doesn’t seem to be consensus in the U.S. Congress about how to fix the laws. Therefore, they don’t get fixed. Immigration lawyers are uniquely suited to address the flaws (and attributes) of U.S. immigration law because we work daily “in the trenches” dealing with the application of current laws to the various factual patterns our clients present to us. Everyday we see the shortcomings in the current system. Obviously, there are employers and others who benefit from the status quo as vulnerable people continue to be exploited because of Congressional refusal to fix our broken laws.

The U.S. Congress has primary authority to determine who can be let into the U.S. and who must go. Congress also allocates resources in the form of government appropriations to the agencies in the Executive Branch of government under the President, charged with carrying out the immigration laws enacted by Congress. Meanwhile, the Executive Branch agencies have discretionary authority to determine priorities for spending the money allocated to them through Congress. This happens throughout government. Finally, the Federal Courts interpret the laws. Unfortunately, Congressional failure to even bring bills up for debate and a vote, particularly in the House of Representatives, has resulted in the status quo. The Senate passed a comprehensive bill in June 2013, S. 744. The Democrats in the House introduced a similar bill, H.R. 15, that was never voted on as of this writing (March 2014). The House G.O.P. has introduced several bills, but none of them have been voted upon.

Most people don’t really understand how the existing U.S. immigration system actually works or doesn’t work today. The public narrative tends to focus more on the debate about illegal immigration and what to do with the millions of undocumented people in the U.S. In fact, our immigration laws are an intricate web or an ecosystem, made up of the intertwined components below. Any sensible immigration reform proposal, in this firm’s opinion, should address each of these main areas, whether in one “comprehensive immigration reform” (CIR) bill, or enacted as a package of individual immigration bills, so long as the other moving parts are timely addressed so they all work together:

  • Enforcement and border protection: What metrics should be used to determine when the borders are “secure”? What does “secure” mean? A metric that is undefinable, that can never be reached, and/or is required to be met as a trigger before dealing with the current undocumented population should not be meaningless and subject to shifting political winds in the long run. Both elements need to work together as part of the ecosystem. A common sense enforcement bill should have consistent officer training and insure due process and humane treatment of people caught up in enforcement and enhance safety of immigrants and border officers alike. It should restore the exercise of discretion in compelling cases and improve detention center conditions standards. It should make employers more accountable for their hiring practices and avoid wasting taxpayer funds on border technologies that just don’t work. Enforcement should not harm the relationships and economies of border communities and should promote trade and the orderly flow of cross-border legal goods and services. Our enforcement needs are directly related to what is happening around the world and our foreign policies abroad (see below), as well as the number and types of choices available for legal immigration to the U.S. Lack of legal immigration choices impacts the flow of illegal immigration. Enforcement legislation should not be enacted in a vacuum because of the interrelationship with the components below
  • Legal Immigration: We have a system of legal immigration made up of temporary visas, permanent residence, and a route to citizenship. We need to modernize the legal categories for today’s economy, family relationships, and immigration trends so there is a “line” to get into, i.e., so that people are encouraged and able to come to the U.S. legally instead of illegally. We need sufficient numbers of visas allocated per category so that there is a meaningful line to get into (referring to caps and quotas). We need to ensure future flows of legal immigrants in a way that does not promote illegal immigration. (No lines or categories to get into or not enough visa numbers cause people to “jump the line.”) Notably, the current system is from 1965 with a few tweaks in 1990. A sensible legal immigration system balances the realities of today’s economy, the jobs to be filled and skills needed, with the need for family unification as well as other societal demographic needs and protection of refugees.
  • The Undocumented: What do we do with the millions of undocumented individuals currently in the USA? Deport them all? Some of them? If Congress devises a route to a legal status, it needs to be meaningful, not endless years of limbo status. What we do with this population will reflect our morals, humanity, economic and demographic needs, and the cost or income to the individual taxpayers and economy as a whole.
  • Due Process and Fairness: Restoring due process to the system is vital, including access to courts, access to counsel, and humane treatment of immigrants in the enforcement and detention system, and with the least amount of splitting of families. We need a level of review and accountability for consular and border officer decisions. What we do here will impact whether we follow constitutional mandates, provide review of low level decision makers who currently have unfettered power, and whether we have a civil immigration system that is humane versus a civil system that treats immigrants as criminals.
  • Foreign Policy: We need a review of how U.S. foreign policy impacts immigration to the U.S. Our economic, environmental, foreign, political, and human rights policies abroad affect migration patterns around the world.

To get a well-rounded perspective on the complexity of immigration policy and a variety of viewpoints, see the resources below listing various nonpartisan and partisan organizations. (This is not meant to be an exhaustive list.) Some organizations are legal groups familiar with the range of technical immigration issues; others are academic or think tank institutes and research organizations; others are advocacy groups across the political spectrum, ranging from causes related to human rights, just/humane immigration, restrictive immigration, population control, economic development, and other issues of concern. For a very, very interesting report about the different values, messaging or narratives by some of the most vocal players on immigration policy, see: O’Neil, M.,  Haydon,  A.,  &  Simon,  A.  (2014).  Stories  Matter:  Field  frame  analysis on  immigration  reform. Washington,  DC:  FrameWorks  Institute.
(For organizations that assist immigrants or are involved with other aspects of immigration law or advocacy, see our links page.)

American Immigration Lawyers Association
Immigration Policy Center
National Immigration Forum
National Immigration Law Center
Immigrant Legal Resource Center
Immigration Equality
America’s Voice
ACLU
OneAmerica
Coalition of Humane Immigrants Rights of Los Angeles
National Immigration Law Project of the National Lawyers Guild
Rand Corporation
Pew Charitable Trusts/Pew Research Center
Brookings Institution
Migration Policy Institute
Urban Institute
NAFSA: Association of International Educators
U.S. Chamber of Commerce
National Council de La Raza
Southern Poverty Law Center
UCI Center for Research on Immigration, Population and Public Policy
Center for Immigration Studies
Federation for American Immigration Reform
Heritage Foundation
Numbers USA
American Enterprise Institute
Cato Institute