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Our Immigration System Must Work For All

On May 15, 2012, the Hamilton Project held a forum that revealed a policy brief that provides a blueprint for our legislators to move forward on to reform our broken immigration system. The brief, Rationalizing U.S. Immigration Policy: Reforms for Simplicity, Fairness and Economic Growth, was authored by Giovanni Peri, Professor of Economics at the University of California. It outlines three key phases needed for immigration reform. These phases, according to Peri, would expand our economy while addressing the desperately needed humanitarian relief for the 11.5 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States.

The pressing need for a working immigration system was exemplified by the a diverse roundtable that included former Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE), Janet Murguia, President and CEO of the National Council of La Raza, and self-proclaimed Tea Party member Marschall Smith, Senior Vice President Legal Affairs and General Counsel of 3M, a multinational conglomerate corporation.

Immigration has contributed greatly to our economy throughout our history. Forty-two percent of Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants. America must have a working immigrant system that embodies this value in order to bring our country into the twenty-first century. Our current system is undoubtedly flawed and dehumanizes undocumented immigrants, while also restricting our market’s ability to meet the labor needs of our economy. The public conversation has also become dominated by an irrational fear that regards immigrants as villains in our society.

In order to address immigration reform as an economic imperative that can no longer be ignored, we must engage in dialogue that respects immigrants in an ethical way that is consistent with our values. This report is part of that dialogue that could bring both sides together.

The three incremental phases include:

  • Phase one: Introduce a market system for temporary work visas (specifically H-1B and H2). Employers would be required to purchase permits to obtain employment-based visas based on their needs, determined by the needs of the market.
  • Phase two: Simplify the temporary visa categories and allow provisional visas to be converted into permanent resident visas. This would entail consolidating the various current categories into three visa categories based on skills. The number of visas would be determined using the same program as piloted in phase one. Immigrants with provisional visas would also have the ability to obtain permanent resident status after five years through an auction-based system.
  • Phase three: Expand the scope of market-based reform. By reforming the family-based visa program, numerical quotas for each country would phase out, along with the diversity visa lottery and adult extended visas. This phase is based on the conclusion that families of U.S. residents would be able to obtain employment visas implemented in the first two phases. Additionally, foreign students would automatically be eligible for provisional visas.

Concurrent with these phases would be a demanding but clear path to earned legal residence for undocumented immigrants where they would pay a fee, pay back taxes, and provide proof of a three-year working history in the U.S. In addition, the brief includes increased enforcement efforts through programs like E-Verify. For more information on these phases, see the full brief.

While we at NETWORK have concerns about these phases, we are encouraged that his indicates a shift in the demoralizing rhetoric that has polarized our political climate. We cannot continue state policies of self-deportation that seek to make the lives of immigrants as miserable as possible. Because we have not passed immigration reform we have lost jobs, we have lost talent, and we have lost sight of the inherent dignity of all people.

Forcing undocumented immigrants to “go back in line” would have detrimental effects on the economy and our neighborhoods. These people are members of our communities, our neighbors, and our friends. For many, there is no path they can take to “get in line.” We can no longer create excuses to avoid this issue.

We shortchange ourselves if we continue to perpetuate a broken immigration system. The challenge now is finding common ground between both parties to move our country forward for the sake of immigrants and our economy. We cannot afford more excuses. It’s time to move forward with immigration reform.