Debate Club

Senate Immigration Plan Meets Several Important Objectives

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The Senate plan represents a balanced approach that meets several important objectives. It helps with border security by providing adequate funding for the U.S. Border Patrol. This is important because as long as hundreds of thousands of foreigners are crossing the border unlawfully, native Americans are going to have serious problems with immigration policy.

Handling the 11.9 million immigrants who are here without proper credentials represents one of the most emotion-laden aspects of immigration policy. These are individuals migrated to America through clandestine means and did not go through proper entry channels. They lack legal work permits and generate considerable resentment among the general public. In looking at public opinion data, it is clear that two thirds of Americans favor a path to citizenship as long as undocumented immigrants pay fines, make up back taxes, pass background checks, and learn English.

[See a collection of political cartoons on immigration.]

Workplace verification is another area that the Senate legislation addresses. We need an E-Verify system with an appeals process built into it. Under this plan, prospective employers would check an electronic data base maintained by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in cooperation with the Social Security Administration. This Internet-based system would compare the validity of Social Security numbers to existing data bases, and certify whether someone has a legal employment status. A way to protect against unfair readings is to build an appeals process into the system. Anyone who is identified as being illegal should have 30 to 60 days to appeal the decision.

We need high- and low-skilled workers who will fill jobs where our economy needs help. This includes science, technology, engineering, and math areas at the high end, and agriculture, hotels, and restaurants at the lower end. Right now, only 15 percent of annual visas are set aside for employment purposes. Of these, some go to seasonal agricultural workers, while a small number of H-1B visas (65,000) are reserved for "specialty occupations" such as scientists, engineers, and technological experts. We need to expand the number back to the 195,000 H-1B visas the federal government allowed between 1999 and 2004. Raising the number of visas would help our economy get back on its feet by bringing in individuals who could add immediate value to the economy.

Darrell West

About Darrell West Director Governance Studies at Brookings Institution

immigration reform

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