The plan is meant to cure a broken system – according to the Senators, the United States Government is currently unable to track millions of immigrants, and employers are hurt by complicated procedures for immigration status verification.
“Our plan has four pillars: requiring biometric Social Security cards to ensure that illegal workers cannot get jobs; fulfilling and strengthening our commitments on border security and interior enforcement; creating a process for admitting temporary workers; and implementing a tough but fair path to legalization for those already here.”
The first pillar – biometric Social Security cards – would decrease illegal immigration and would increase government revenues as more workers would pay taxes. Employers who do not play ball with the new regulations would face heavy fines and prison sentences.
The second pillar – stricter border security – would increase Border Patrol staffing and funding for “infrastructure and technology”, as well as increased personnel. Furthermore, there would be a “zero-tolerance” policy deployed for all convicted felons that come to America illegally.
The third pillar – a functional temporary worker system – would help to ensure a prosperous economy. Immigrants with a PhD or a master’s degree (science, technology, engineering, and math) would be awarded green cards, allowing them to stay in America and “contribute to our economy”. Lower-skilled workers would be permitted to work only if employers first demonstrate that they could not find a qualified U.S. worker for the job. Consequently, we would have a rational, market-driven system in which there would be more immigration when the economy is robust and expanding, and less immigration during an economic recession.
The fourth pillar – a tough but fair path to legalization for those undocumented immigrants already in the United States – would require undocumented immigrants to perform community service and pay fines and back taxes. From there, immigrants would be required to pass a rigorous background check and demonstrate proficiency in English. Then, they would have to go to “the back of the line of prospective immigrants to earn the opportunity to work toward lawful permanent residence”.
Senator Schumer, in a speech in June, summarized his position on immigrant labor in stating the following: “We must encourage the world’s best and brightest individuals to come to the United States and create new technologies and business that will employ countless American workers, but must discourage businesses from using our immigration laws as a means to obtain temporary and less-expensive foreign labor to replace capable American workers.”
Only time will tell what, if anything, the bi-partisan bill will do to reform our broken immigration system.
In 2004, Harvard economist George Borjas argued that “reducing the supply of labor by strict immigration enforcement and reduced legal immigration would increase the earnings of native workers.”
In a volatile economic climate that has seen unemployment skyrocket and mass wage declines, such claims have supported, and perhaps fueled, a public willingness to make a scapegoat out of immigration.
The latest analysis on the economic impact of immigration, however, suggests that Borjas may have been off base. A recent report by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), released this past February, found that “immigration has a small but positive impact on the wages of native-born workers overall.”
Furthermore, the EPI report dispelled the notion that foreign-born and native-born workers are interchangeable parts competing over the same jobs. Instead, foreign-born workers bring diverse backgrounds and new skill-sets to the table that complement native-born workers. As a result, native-born workers experience increased productivity and a subsequent rise in wages.
The report also argues against the increasing tendency to view labor supply as a zero-sum game in which new entrants ‘win’ at the expense of current workers. In reality, “while new workers add to the supply of labor, they also consume goods and services, creating more jobs.”
Heidi Shierholz, EPI economist and report author, claims that the real villains behind job loss and wage declines are “aggressive-union tactics, the declining purchasing power of minimum wage, and unbalanced foreign trade.”
Immigration, then, appears to be part of the solution to our economic woes, not the culprit. According to Shierholz, “we have little to fear, and much to gain, from developing a fairer, more rational immigration system.”
And it is becoming more and more evident that a new system is needed. According to a report (Beyond “Fortress America”) released by the National Research Council last year, our visa policies, which were crafted with a Cold War mentality, undermine America’s economic prosperity. “Our visa controls have made it more difficult or less attractive for talented foreign professionals to come and learn what is great about this country, or to stay and help grow the American Economy.”
In short, restrictive and scapegoat-minded immigration policies will not help American workers; indeed, they could worsen our nation’s economic troubles instead.
Under current law, there is an annual cap of 140,000 employment‐based green cards available (subject to per country limits) to qualified immigrants and their dependents. This antiquated quota was arbitrarily set by Congress several years ago, and has not been updated to meet current employment needs.
When there are more qualified applicants for a category than there are available numbers, the category is considered oversubscribed, which thus creates the multi-year employment-based backlogs that we have today. Due to such backlogs, immigrant visas are issued in the chronological order in which the applications were filed. As such, the filing date of an application becomes the applicant’s priority date and green cards cannot be issued until an applicant’s priority date is reached.
The number of workers needed to satisfy our labor supply demand is certainly driven by the state of the economy. Indeed, once our economy recovers from its current malaise, employers will need to hire more workers. Unfortunately, our current system of immigrant visa allocation is ill-equipped to handle the needs of U.S. employers in sustaining a meaningful economic recovery.
Not only is there an utter lack of temporary visa categories for available for full-time semi-skilled or unskilled workers, but our current quota system leaves few options for such workers seeking permanent residence. The number of green cards available for such lesser‐skilled workers—such as workers in the hospitality and restaurant industries, landscapers, and domestic workers—is limited to only 5,000 visas annually. Employers in such service‐oriented jobs who would otherwise sponsor workers for green cards are currently faced with visa backlogs of approximately 10 years. Moreover, even if they were inclined to go forward with such an unrealistic process, current law provides no means for such sponsored workers to work legally in the interim.
As a result of such rigid quotas, our immigration system provides scarce means for people abroad who wish to come to the United States to work legally in industries that have an expressed need. And until Congress creates more legal avenues for employers to hire foreign national workers to meet their needs, undocumented workers will continue to fill the void.