When members of Congress return to Capitol Hill from their August recess, they will be met with an agenda comprised of high profile items – including comprehensive immigration reform.
Our current legal immigration system is a broken relic of the past. As a nation of immigrants and a nation predicated on the Rule of Law, it is imperative that the American public and our policymakers tackle this issue in a serious and thoughtful fashion. Although viewed by some through the prism of politics, the need for sound immigration reform is more so an economic and national security issue.
Any fix to the immigration system should focus on the key issues of enforcement, worker verification, a temporary worker program, an overhaul of the visa system, and earned legal status.
This past June the United States Senate passed a comprehensive immigration reform that includes new visa programs for foreign works, additional employer verification requirements for verification of a workers legal status, funding for additional border security, and a 10-year path to United States citizenship for undocumented workers. But much work remains.
The next act in fixing our broken immigration system will play out in the United States House of Representatives, where Republicans are expected to advance a series of bills that would address the issue. I remain hopeful that a methodical and logical debate in the House will produce legislation that can be reconciled with the Senate legislation and help lead us to a bipartisan long-term solution.
Effective immigration reform must begin with securing our borders, including increased efforts to prevent the entry of illegal non-residents. The implementation and utilization of viable technology is critically important so that Customs and Boarder Protection (CBP) facilitating legitimate trade and travel without sacrificing the critical need for true border security.
Next, we must be able to clearly and definitively identify who is in our country and for what purpose. Determining the legal status of prospective employees can be extremely difficult – if not impossible. Employers are strictly limited in what they may ask prospective employees in determining their authorization to work and could be subject to a Justice Department investigation or lawsuit for unlawful discrimination if they request more or different documents than those allowed by law.
Another key component of substantive immigration reform is the need to encourage the flow of labor in and out of the country, especially in sectors where there is no domestic labor force and we explore options that will allow for the recruitment and hiring of workers when there is a demonstrated need.
Fourth is the need for an overhaul of our visa system. Current immigration system is slow to respond to requests, fails to follow visa holders through expiration, and turns away both high and low skilled workers. We cannot afford to continue losing brilliant students educated at our universities to other countries, which will reap the benefits of their innovations.
For example, agricultural employers may recruit and hire temporary foreign workers when no domestic workers can be found to work on farms. They can do so under the H-2A temporary agricultural worker program but the process is bureaucratic, expensive and does not cover all parts of agriculture. Case-in-point: the dairy sector is not included in the program – a glaring omission that must be rectified.
The program also requires employers to provide free housing and transportation from the worker’s home country, as well as pay a base wage rate that has historically been well above market levels. We must reform and update the H-2A and H2-B visa programs so that they reflect the realities of today’s economy.
We must also address issues related to E-Verify – a computer system operated by the federal government to determine job applicants’ authorization to work in the United States. Requiring agricultural employers to utilize E-Verify must be coupled with a workable guest worker program so as to mitigate significant and negative impacts on agricultural and business sectors.
Improvements need to be made to the current E-Verify system to eliminate error rates and protect against identity fraud. A “safe harbor” should be provided for employers for good faith reliance on the system.
Last, but not least, for those workers that are here contributing to our society we must explore avenues to help them so that they can continue contributing to America’s economy. It is not feasible to deport the 11 million undocumented immigrants who are currently in our country and earned legal status must be coupled with requirements that undocumented immigrants come forward, pass a background check, pay a fine, and learn English and civics.
Earned legalization must also be contingent upon border security and enforcement provisions being in place first and there must be strict anti-fraud provisions every step of the way, including the verification of each applicant’s presence in the country prior to a certain date.
Policymakers and stakeholders must be committed to finding practical solutions to the issue at-hand. Doing nothing is a vote for the status quo, which is broken and is not in the best interests of our national security and our economy.
Dave Ladd, President of RDL & Associates, is a frequent guest commentator regarding public policy and the political environment and is a co-author of the book, “LIKE: Seven Rules and 10 Simple Steps for Social Media in Your Campaign”. His company, RDL & Associates, assists clients in achieving their legislative and policy objectives via strategic communications, message development and interaction with elected officials and their staff.
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