Monday, May 21, 2007

a cautious endorsement

Duke1676 at Migra Matters looks at the merit-based points system proposed under the new immigration bill and sees it is weighted heavily against family connections and low-skill workers. No surprise there. This, along with the guest worker program, is why many immigrant advocates oppose the bill.

However, industry is not too happy about the bill in its current state, either. From the NY Times:

Employers, who helped shape a major immigration bill over the last three months, said on Sunday that they were unhappy with the result because it would not cure the severe labor shortages they foresee in the coming decade.

In addition, employers expressed alarm as they learned that the Senate bill would require them to check a government database to verify that all current and former employees — aliens and citizens alike — were eligible to work in the United States.

. . .

Robert P. Hoffman, a vice president of Oracle, the business software company, endorsed that goal but said the bill would not achieve it.
“A merit-based system for allocating green cards may sound good for business,” said Mr. Hoffman, who is co-chairman of Compete America, a coalition of high-tech companies. “But after reviewing the proposal, we have concluded that it is the wrong approach and will not solve the talent crisis facing many U.S. businesses. In fact, in some ways, it could leave American employers in a worse position.
“Under the current system,” Mr. Hoffman said, “you need an employer to sponsor you for a green card. Under the point system, you would not need an employer as a sponsor. An individual would get points for special skills, but those skills may not match the demand. You can’t hire a chemical engineer to do the work of a software engineer.”

David Isaacs, director of federal affairs at the Hewlett-Packard Company, said in a letter to the Senate that “a ‘merit-based system’ would take the hiring decision out of our hands and place it squarely in the hands of the federal government.”

Employers of lower-skilled workers voiced another concern.
“The point system would be skewed in favor of more highly skilled and educated workers,” said Laura Foote Reiff, co-chairwoman of the Essential Worker Immigration Coalition, whose members employ millions of workers in hotels, restaurants, nursing homes, hospitals and the construction industry.

At least one conservative blogger thinks the bill deserves conservative support because, among other reasons, the current situation is untenable and restrictionists are unlikely to get a better bill anytime soon given the general political environment. I agree with both those points.

The American Immigration Lawyers Association has also come out against the bill in its current form because it eliminates several existing family-based immigration categories, changes the employer-based system without an adequate replacement, will produce future out-of-status immigrants through the temporary worker program, doesn’t include enough green cards to meet demand, and includes too many obstacles to legalization of current immigrants.

The New York Times editorial page also argues against accepting the bill in its current form, raising some of the same concerns as AILA.

However, I generally agree with Publius's recent post at Obsidian Wings that political conditions may not improve in the next few years to permit a more favorable bill to be passed:
That’s why the White House’s strong support for comprehensive support is so important. On the one hand, it gives enormous political cover to the Democrats. Notice, for instance, how much of the conservative base’s relative wrath is being channeled toward the White House rather than Dems. In addition, White House support gives cover to nervous Republicans and frees them to do either what they think is right, or what their corporate patrons want them to do. Substitute Hillary Clinton for Bush, and you’d see a lot more GOP opposition.

The White House then is really the glue holding this compromise together. And the White House support is itself unique (and fleeting). It’s not just that it’s a Republican administration, it’s that this particular administration — for somewhat contingent reasons (roots in Texas; Rove’s demographic faith; etc.) — has made progressive immigration reform a top priority that it will spend capital on. None of the major Republican candidates in 2008 should be expected to do the same if they win. People like Romney are already running against “amnesty,” while McCain’s precarious relationship with the base would limit his freedom of movement.

Bottom line — the stars are truly aligned. The current Republican administration supports immigration reform, and this support provides the political cover necessary for both Congressional Democrats and Republicans to strike a deal. When Bush leaves (or perhaps ascends), immigration reform leaves with him.

Right now, nobody—not restrictionists (a group that largely overlaps with the Republican base), not immigrant advocates, not the business community—is happy with the bill in its current form. (This bill has sent the GOP base into the stratosphere.) But each of these groups is unhappy with the bill for different reasons. Many restrictionists object to any increase in green card levels or any path to legalization for existing out-of-status immigrants. Employers don’t care much about the elimination of family-based categories, which is very important to the immigrant community. There are a couple of overlapping interests, but nothing that all three groups can agree on. For instance, restrictionists and immigrant advocates could agree on stricter enforcement of sanctions on employers who break the law. Employers, understandably, are not so keen on this. Immigrant advocates and employers agree on the need for more green cards for both low-skill and high-skill industries—restrictionists are obviously not on board.

In short, any tweaking of the current bill to make it acceptable to one group will simply inflame another. Waiting another two or three years will not resolve any of these fundamental conflicts of interest. Neither will passing the bill in its current form—however, as a temporary fix, this may be as good a bill as can be expected. I doubt anything radically different from what’s been proposed will make it through the negotiation process. If this bill fails, then 12 million out-of-status immigrants will bear the brunt of increasingly harsh state and local anti-immigrant measures and, at least for the remainder of the Bush administration, harsher federal enforcement of immigration laws. I think now is the time for Democrats to push for as much as they can get in negotiations, then bite the bullet and pass the bill.

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