Immigration Deform

Since 2000, India has been the second largest source of immigrants to the United States, after only Mexico. You would not know that from the debate in the Senate as the most dramatic change in immigration law in 20 years is railroaded through Congress.

In fact, the immigration discussion is shaped almost entirely around the “crisis” of illegal immigration and the “solution” of the guest worker program, both of which principally center around agricultural, construction and unskilled laborers from Mexico. But issues for immigrants of virtually all countries other than Mexico are markedly different. Mexico accounts for a sixth of all legal migration to the United States and to shake up the infrastructure of legal immigration for 85 percent of the rest of the world by focusing solely on 15 percent would be naïve, however urgent and politically sensitive the issues.

Tragically those impacted most by the policies – immigrants, including Mexican – are peripheral to the debate. We will all be impacted by the resulting policies, but we have no role in shaping the discussion. Come to think of it, even the American public is pretty much excluded as the comprehensive immigration reform bill is bamboozled through Congress without full public disclosure, much less debate. Many of the terms of the bill are still unknown or unclear. It continues to be amended, so there is no knowing its final shape – if it doesn’t self-destruct along the way.

The broad contours of the bill are known: a path to legalization for the estimated 12 million illegal aliens in the country, although the onerous conditions and costs might make it impractical for most of them; a guest worker program for seasonal laborers, already halved by an amendment from 400,000 to 200,000 annually; and a major overhaul of immigration laws currently favoring family reunification to one deferential to professional skills. As currently drafted, the law would also double the number of H1B visas, almost half of which are snapped up by Indians every year, from 65,000 to 115,000.

But the devil is not just in the details of these provisions, but equally in the hundreds of lesser-known revisions to immigration laws in the 1,000-page bill. By far the most dramatic shift will occur in family based immigration, which currently enables immigrants and naturalized Americans to sponsor family members, such as parents and siblings. In its place, the new law will create a point-based system, similar to one in Canada, favoring skilled workers and professionals. Last year, only a sixth of all immigrant visas were employment based. Almost three-quarters were for family reunification. The point system will overturn the country’s immigration ethos on its head and while that may well prove meritorious, there has been no debate or serious research on its implications.

The American public, as well as the immigrants impacted by it, deserve thorough public disclosure and substantive deliberations. Anything less will be disastrous both for the country and for immigrants. 

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