In the last ten years, there has not been a stalemate or lack of action on immigration reform bills, but rather a focus of passing enforcement-only bills without the much-needed gentler side of legalization and visa reform. During the Clinton period, four immigration laws were passed between 1997-2000. This led to major immigration reform being the emphasis of President Bush in the months preceding 9-11. As a result, five post 9-11 sweeping anti-terrorism measures were passed and implemented in the next four years.
Perhaps most controversial of the Bush Administration’s immigration measures after September 11 was the Penttbom Investigation in which Muslim immigrants living in this country were targeted and detained by the FBI. This led to NSEERS which targeted 25 countries and forced male immigrants to submit to personal interviews and biometrics with registration requirements. The Office of the Inspector General of the Department of Defense noted serious problems in housing conditions, strip searches, and other aggressive tactics such as lights being illuminated in their cells for 24 hours a day.
Both of our last two Presidents Bush and Obama have stated that immigration reform was a priority and yet in the last three Congresses 109-111th no immigration reform has been forth coming.
For the nine months prior to 9-11-2001, President Bush met with President Vincente Fox of Mexico five times to come up with proposals for temporary workers program and other plans that would benefit the Hispanic community in the U.S. Instead, subsequently the creative proposals for immigration shifted to enforcement-only by tightening the border, data collection and sharing information and broadening the powers to detain and deport illegals present in the U.S. Congress took over comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) bills in 2006 and 2007 only to limit it to a legalization proposal for unauthorized youth ( DREAM Act) which was defeated in the Senate.
With pro and anti-immigration groups promoting their own agendas, immigration reform under Obama has remained at loggerheads. Yet, according to various studies it has been shown that the majority of Americans favor some form of earned legalization that would promote the opportunity for those who deserve it to obtain legal status. Nonetheless, policy makers continue to show strong bias for enforcement. Marc Rosenblum in his Migration and Immigration Policy article of August 2011 on this issue has a detailed, well-analyzed report of the history of the past ten years.
In response to September 11, 2001, five anti-terrorism measures were passed. These included the USA Patriot Act of 2001 that expanded enforcement powers and organizational changes that amalgamated 22 federal agencies into a single new Cabinet agency of Department of Homeland Security ( DHS). This was the largest restructuring of any executive branch since the establishment of the Department of Defense (DOD) in World War II. Closely following this law came the Homeland Security Act of 2002 and the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act (EBSVERA) of 2002. Then came the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act (IRTPA) of 2004. Lastly, in February 2005 the Real ID Act was passed by attaching the bill to an emergency war funding measure so that no separate hearings even occurred in the Senate.
All this has resulted in tougher rules for political asylum, denying of driver’s licenses to unauthorized persons, increasing detention beds, increased surveillance and border enforcement among other things that remain with us today.
Senators Bob Menendez ( D-NY), Patrick Leahy ( D-VT) and Arlen Specter ( D-PA) offered the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act (CIR)of 2010. The House with the aid of Representatives Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) and Solomon Ortiz (D-TX) worked with the Hispanic caucus to propose Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act for American Security and Prosperity Act (CIR-ASAP) to improve employment based visa system but only the DREAM Act for unauthorized students proceeded to pass the House only to be defeated by the Senate. Many Hispanics would have been aided by this program.
According to the National Institute for Latino Policy and U.S. Census Reports for 2010 this asymmetry has made the Hispanics, who only have 41% eligible to vote in 2009, the lowest rate of voters per person of any ethnic group. This stands sharply in contrast to 74% of voters for non-Latino population.
So what changes can be made in a bi-partisan manner that would enhance this country by promoting cost effective reform to integrate the nearly 12 million people currently in the US illegally, many of which may be deserving of earned legalization rather than punishment?
Here are a few suggestions that I propose and that others have proposed in some form or another in our past and that from a practical point of view would integrate our nation and decrease costs of enforcement to promote a more balanced approach.
· Approval of extension of INA 245(i) to allow unauthorized immigrants who are otherwise eligible to adjust to lawful permanent residency without leaving the country by paying a penalty fee
· Development of relief for minors and others who have resided here for a certain amount of years (10) who would otherwise be eligible for permanent residency provided they paid taxes and were contributing members of society
· Creation of temporary work visas for agricultural jobs
· Creation of more employment based visas possibly using a point system from the family based visas
· Removal of the ten year and three year bars for unlawful presence that would encourage others to return to get a visa
These measures alone would enhance immigration as not a problem to be solved but as an opportunity to build a successful society.