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< Back to current issue of Immigration Daily < Back to current issue of Immigrant's Weekly

Let's Roll: Going On The Offensive In 2003

by Gary Endelman

Gary Endelman At a time when the disturbing news of special registration is so much with us, it is natural and quite easy to think that this is all there is. That would be a very large mistake. It does no disservice to the genuine anguish over the Ashcroft vendetta to realize that the drive for true immigration reform whose momentum on September 10th seemed well-nigh irrestible can still be revived if we keep our eye on the prize. The signs are everywhere if we have the eyes to see them. Let us not walk sightless among miracles that can be ours in 2003.

Just a few examples should make the point. This past week, White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said, in response to a question from the press, that President Bush remained a strong supporter of an extension of Section 245(i) of the Immigration and Nationality Act which allows people with minor immigration problems, such as a temporary lapse in the maintenance of lawful status, to apply for the green card without returning to their home countries. This provision had actually passed the Senate and was before the House of Representatives for a vote on its extension on September 11th, but the vote was cancelled when Congress fled in the wake of the terror attacks. Fleischer noted that President Bush supported bringing back Section 245(i) because it was "an important immigration initiative to help give people opportunities to come to the United States where willing employers want and have positions for immigrants," and that the President hoped the incoming Congress, controlled by his own party, would address the issue. President Vicente Fox of Mexico, who has staked the future of his presidency on winning concessions from the White House to protect undocumented Mexican workers in the United States, has recently served notice on the Bush Administration that he wants to step up the pace of negotiations stalled by Septembe 11th and all that has come since

A guest worker program on a wide scale is coming. Immigration reform was listed as a signature issue for the President's 2003 legislative agenda in an internal White House document whose contents were leaked to the Associated Press by several senior White House officials during the recent holiday sojourn in Crawford, Texas. At the same time, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich identified immigration as a core GOP issue in a recent Wall Street Journal op ed piece. Indeed, in the wake of the Trent Lott disaster, trying harder to bring Hispanic voters into the Republican fold, not only makes good sense as an electoral outreach strategy for 2004 but is an excellent way to burnish the GOP reputation as a party of inclusion among key suburban Anglo voters who are uncomfortable voting for a party identified with intolerance. Even Republican Congressman Tom Tancredo of Colorado, the high priest of nativism not normally known for any pro-immigration views, is considering sponsoring a bill that would amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to establish a one-year guest worker program with a one-year renewal option. The Fortress America crowd accepts the reality that the status quo is untenable and now is aiming to limit the size and scope of the guest worker initiative, most especially with an eye towards stripping it of any long-term benefits.

2003 is the year when a market-driven immigration policy can become institutionalized. The guest worker proposal is but the first installment. The reasons are not hard to find. The baby boomers are going to retire soon and there are not enough workers to replace them. There is neither the political will nor the national consensus to either cut Social Security benefits or raise eligibility thresholds. Immigration is the only viable way to deal with the graying of America. The Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University just completed a study for the National Business Roundtable entitled "Immigrant Workers and the Great American Job Machine: The Contributions of New Foreign Immigration to National and Regional Labor Force Growth in th 1990s." As ably reported by leading immigration attorney Greg Siskind, the Center for Labor Market Studies concludes that "the economic success of the 1990s was greatly dependent on new immigrant workers, particularly male immigrant workers." During the decade of the Nineties, immigration accounted for over 40% of America's population growth; over 50% of the nation's labor growth and almost 79% of the surge in the nation's male civilian work force.

As awful as September 11th was, as profoundly chaotic as its continuing effects are, we owe it to our clients and the nation to take a step back and pause to reflect how many things have not changed. Our demographic destiny is still before us; the business cycle has not been repealed. The reality of the global marketplace still speaks as loudly as ever. We cannot have a free movement of ideas and capital without a controlled but open movement of people and talent across national boundaries.The need to repeal employer sanctions has not gone away. What better way is there to eliminate the underground economy that deprives the national treasury of badly needed revenue and bring those who dwell in the shadowns into the sunlight of public inspection ? Is it possible to have a robust national security without a vibrant economy that can draw upon the talents of all who are here? The answer can come in 2003 when the Congress turns its back on the mistake of 1986 and consigns the I-9 employment verification form to the dustbin of history where it belongs. This can and should happen not to help foreign workers, or harried employers; not to appease ethnic groups, wacky liberals or left-wing media elites. Employer sanctions must go to protect the nation. It repeal is not only justified, but required, in the name of national security.

Next October 1, the H1B temporary worker quota will fall from the current 195,000 to its pre-1998 level of 65,000 unless Congress acts to renew this controversial provision of the American Competitiveness and Workforce Improvement Act. If history is any guide, corporate America and the organized immigration bar will repeat their past mistakes and make the maintenance of the H1B quota their #1 legislative priority for 2003. Don't do it folks. Now is the time to escape from the never-ending cycle of quick-fixes that do not solve our immigration problems but merely postpone the day of reckoning. In 1998, the architects of getting more H1B numbers dismissed the possibility of raising the immigrant visa numbers, replacing the crazy quilt system of labor certification with a labor market control scheme that made economic sense, eliminating the diversity visa lottery, and cutting the gordian knot of chain migration that uses up priceless visa slots that should go to employment-based immigrants who can enrich the nation so generously accepting them. There were those minority voices arguing against making the faustian bargain that sacrificed all of these things to the all-consuming H1B deity, who warned that leaving these unsolved problems to another day was playing high-stakes poker with the future. What was the response from those in the know? Accept political realities, get what we can achieve now and come back to fight bigger battles when the chances were more promising. Well, we waited and the future brought not a more pleasing political landscape but a collapse of dot.com prosperity and hijacked airplanes crashing into the symbols of economic and military power. This time let's do things a bit differently. In 2003, the forces of meaningful immigration change can, and must, go on the offensive. Let's Roll!


About The Author

Gary Endelman practices immigration law at BP America Inc. The opinions expressed in this column are purely personal and do not represent the views or beliefs of BP America Inc. in any way.


The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.


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