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Summary – House Hearing on Immigration Policy (February 05, 2013)

February 6, 2013

Yesterday, the House Judiciary Committee held its first hearing on the issue of Comprehensive Immigration Reform. The committee took testimony from two panels. There was broad consensus on the “broken immigration system,” by members of Congress and those testifying before the committee.

The first panel focused heavily on the issue of high-skill immigration reform, with key testimony on that issue being provided by Vivek Wadhwa and Dr. Puneet Arora. Several members of the committee, on both sides of the aisle, expressed support for addressing the issue of high-skilled immigration reform.

A key question, posed to the panelists by Rep. Lamar Smith, (Rep. Texas) was, “How do we admit skilled immigrants without hurting American workers?”

According to Dr. Wadhwa, “First of all, if you look at all the data, every single study which has been done, it shows that when you bring skilled immigrants in, they create jobs.”

On the issue of temporary high-skilled labor, Dr. Arora explained that, because wait times for green cards have become so long (many years and, sometimes, decades) for workers, they are trapped in their jobs without the ability to move to another job or obtain a promotion. Further, many workers in H-1B status have spouses who are in H-4 status, which does not provide work authorization, creating additional pressure for families in which the H-4 spouse may also be highly-educated and skilled but is unable to work in the U.S.

Another panelist, Michael Teitelbaum, argued that many U.S. employers have become dependent on their ability to bring in temporary workers, either to perform high-skill or lower-skill labor, and that if that dependency were eliminated, employers would make different business choices. The example he provided involved agricultural employers choosing to grow different crops, rather than crops which require a large amount of labor to harvest. This contention was challenged on both sides of the aisle.

Some Republican members of the panel expressed concern with granting a pathway to citizenship for individuals living in the U.S. without lawful immigration status (approximated at 11 million individuals). One proposal discussed was to legalize the status of undocumented individuals by allowing them to become lawful permanent residents (green card holders) but not allowing them to become citizens. One of the panelists, San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, expressed great concern with this approach, describing it as unprecedented to create a permanent “underclass” of individuals living in America.

Another theme in many of the questions directed at panelists was how to prevent periodic legalizations or amnesty provisions for individuals who have violated immigration laws. The Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) of 1986 was the last time in which amnesty was granted to individuals living and working in the U.S. without authorization. Many Republican members expressed concerns that the enforcement provisions of IRCA were never adequately implemented and questioned whether another amnesty provision would create problems for another, future Congress.

The second panel focused heavily on the issue of enforcement. Panelists and members of Congress made a distinction between border enforcement and enforcement in the interior of the country. It was estimated that perhaps as many as 40% of the individuals present in the U.S. without status entered legally and overstayed their authorized period of stay. Increased border enforcement would not address this issue–it could only be addressed by enforcement inside the U.S.

Those testifying on the second panel made suggestions on ways to implement interior enforcement, including a revamped E-Verify system which included biometrics and relieved the burden on the employers to verify work authorization (placing this responsibility on the federal goverment). A more robust exit-entry system was also discussed as a means to identify so-called “visa overstays.”


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