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January 05, 2007

Comprehensive Immigration Reform Update and Forecast

12.26.06 by Gerry Chapman, Immigration Lawyer;

"The following comments are intended as a short history of guest worker immigration to the US, the mistakes made by Congress over the last 65 years in addressing illegal immigration by workers who are essential to our economy, and what we can do now to energize Congress to enact comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) in 2007.

The Bracero Program: Why it workerd

For nearly 10 years advocates have worked on ways to get Congress to pass legislation that would restore a temporary guest worker visa to our immigration system. That visa category existed from 1942 to 1964 under what was called the Bracero Program. That program institutionalized an informal system of circular migration that had existed for decades and probably longer. Workers from Mexico and Latin America traveled to the US to work in the fields and in non-agricultural jobs, and then returned to their homes after several months, and in some cases for longer periods of time. By and large, however, this informal system just reflected the need for seasonal agricultural workers. That informal system also reflected the elementary economic law of supply and demand, as most of our employment based visas do.

The post-Bracero Years: Congress at its worst

The formal Bracero Program ended after the political support for it dissolved and the national economy apparently had enough low-skilled workers to cover most of the jobs in that part of the economy. During the ensuing years, however, it became clear that the US economy was expanding, and by the mid-1980's, we had a large undocumented population, estimated at some 3 million people. In what may ultimately become one of the greatest ironies of all time, the Republican administration took dramatic action, but the amnesty program it championed, and that Congress passed, ignored the basic law of supply and demand. For an administration that championed market economic theory, this was a supreme irony. The 1986 laws that provided amnesty did not revive the Bracero Program or put in its place anything similar; instead, the program handed out green cards to people who could prove certain days worked in the US. This response to our broken system predictably had no effect on stemming illegal immigration.

The Clinton administration did more or less the same thing. Section 245i (a part of the immigration laws that expired on April 30, 2001) was a means of granting amnesty to people who were in the US on or before a specific date. Like the 1986 laws, it had little relationship to the law of supply and demand, and it did nothing to address the needs of employers who needed low skilled workers to fill jobs that Americans would not or could not fill.

Capping off this series of legislative blunders were the 1996 laws that provide: if you are in the US without permission for more than one year, and then leave the US, you are barred from returning legally for 10 years. Congress somehow thought that this law would create an incentive for poor and many times desperate people to stop coming to the US, despite the overpowering pull of the US economy. In fact, it did the reverse: it created an incentive to stay. We see the direct result of this policy blunder today: millions of US citizen children with undocumented parents.

The 2006 Elections: Voters Finally Get Fed Up with a Do Nothing Congress

In 2007, some 65 years after Congress established the Bracero Program, we have come full circle. The 2006 voters sent 35 members of the House home with a clear message: quit talking about the problem of illegal immigration and come up with a solution. The Senate passed several versions of a comprehensive solution in both 2005 and 2006. The House, where the political blood bath took place, passed an enforcement only provision in December of 2005, followed by a spring and summer of ill-advised "field hearings" on illegal immigration that were little more than cheerleading sessions designed to avoid dealing with the problem. The voters knew it; the media (liberal and conservative) recognized it; the only ones who pretended not to know it were the House members who went down in flames.

2007: The year for CIR

By all accounts, the time to act is now. This applies to members of Congress and to each person interested in comprehensive immigration reform (CIR).

Most commentators see three or four major issues with which Congress will deal in the first months of the new year: Iraq, the minimum wage, and CIR. Another time consuming issue (or series of issues) could take the form of hearings on the alleged graft and corruption that has been ignored or fostered by the Bush Administration (e.g., in the Katrina recovery). The easiest of these is the minimum wage. It is a popular issue for most members of both parties, and it should pass in some form fairly easily. The other three issues are much more difficult.

This update is not meant to deal with the situation in Iraq, but only to recognize that it will consume a large amount of time and energy from all members of Congress. Depending on what comes out of any hearings on waste and corruption, that also could consume substantial amounts of Congressional time.

Despite the need to address the Iraq crisis and the likely hearings on Katrina and other such areas of alleged mismanagement, the pressure to enact CIR in 2007 will be intense. The following year is an election year for all House members, for many Senate members, and for the presidency. The chance for worthwhile CIR in 2008 is very low, just as it was in 2006. The chance for a decent CIR bill in 2007 is much, much higher.

Who is responsible for enacting CIR? You and I are
Whether we see true reform in 2007 depends more on you than it does on members of Congress. No matter how logical or obvious it seems that CIR is necessary, most members of Congress simply do not possess the political courage to speak out in favor of it. There are several reasons for this, but the primary reason is that the constituents, the voters, who support CIC have remained largely silent.

The time for silence is over. The coming year is our best chance for Congress to pass, and the President to sign, a good CIR bill. But this will not happen without repeated contacts from the business community, the faith community, and the general public. It is time to make your voice heard, so that Congress will have the will and the courage to do the right thing. The Christmas season is one where we are reminded that "what you do to the least of these, you do to me". The "least of these" includes millions of people living in fear in a shadow economy, supporting us and our truly wealthy lifestyles.

Amidst all of the new Christmas presents and the genuine feelings of gratitude for all our blessings, it is not too much to ask that we take a few minutes and ask our representatives to do what is necessary to ensure that our immigration system regains its balance. It is time to say to those who complain about illegal immigration: if you want everyone to respect our immigration laws, then make the necessary changes so that our immigration laws respect the law of supply and demand. It is time to say that by failing to replace the Bracero Program with some other kind of temporary work visa for the unskilled but essential workers, we as a nation made a mistake, just as we did when Congress passed the 1996 laws creating the 10 year bar. And when we make mistakes of that magnitude, we need to take responsibility for finding a workable solution, no matter how hard or unpleasant it may be.

So now, as we reflect on our blessings, our future and the future of our community and country, take a few moments every week or two to send your members of Congress a note, and tell them that we need CIR and we need it NOW.

The simplest way to send emails to your members of Congress is to go to the website of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (www.aila.org) and click on to the link called "Contact Congress". That link will give you a quick connection to your members, and will give you a stock letter to send. I suggest that you use AILA's Contact Congress link, but use your own words when you send your message.

And keep sending that message until we get CIR and get it THIS YEAR. We need it so badly, and your message may just be the one that will make the difference.

I thank you, and so do millions of hard working, law-abiding, loyal, trustworthy and grateful workers who are indeed essential to our economy.

Best regards,

Gerry Chapman

Posted by VisaLawyer at January 5, 2007 01:49 PM


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