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House GOP Stresses Enforcement in Immigration Reform Plan

By Roy Maurer  1/31/2014
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House Republican leadership has laid out a vision for a step-by-step approach to comprehensive immigration reform that stresses security at the border, worksite enforcement and employment verification before other aspects of reform can take effect.

The House GOP document, titled “Standards for Immigration Reform,” unveiled Jan. 30, 2014, also calls for a “fully functioning” entry-exit visa-tracking system, reforms to temporary visa programs for foreign workers and a path to legal status—but not citizenship—for many of the undocumented immigrants in the country.

The outline states: “Finally, none of this can happen before specific enforcement triggers have been implemented to fulfill our promise to the American people that from here on, our immigration laws will indeed be enforced.”

“This is the most progress I have seen in my decade of work on the issue,” remarked Rebecca Peters, director and counsel for legislative affairs at the Council for Global Immigration. “But we are still on a long, difficult road to final reform.”

The document reiterated Republicans’ determination not to conference with the Senate’s comprehensive immigration reform bill, which passed that chamber in June 2013.

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., who co-sponsored the Senate bill, responded to the GOP’s plan: “While these standards are certainly not everything we would agree with, they leave a real possibility that Democrats and Republicans . . . can in some way come together and pass immigration reform. It is a long, hard road but the door is open.”

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and the Council for Global Immigration, a SHRM affiliate, are “encouraged” by the standards, according to a statement.

“The economic case for reform remains strong,” the organizations said. “Specific reforms we support include helping our companies and organizations compete for global talent and improving the systems we use to process visa applications and confirm the identity and work authorization of job applicants.”

Interior Enforcement Must Come First

The House Republican principles called for a “workable electronic employment verification system,” and an entry-exit visa tracking system to be installed at the nation’s ports of entry.

“We must ensure now that when immigration reform is enacted, there will be a zero tolerance policy for those who cross the border illegally or overstay their visas in the future,” the document read. “In the 21st century it is unacceptable that the majority of employees have their work eligibility verified through a paper-based system wrought with fraud.”

SHRM is advocating for a reliable and secure federal electronic employment verification system that pre-empts state laws and uses identity authentication tools, such as knowledge-based authentication, to protect against identity theft.

“The current E-Verify program can be defeated by identity theft,” said Mike Aitken, SHRM vice president for government affairs. “While E-Verify can confirm that the documents presented by a job applicant are real, it cannot confirm that the prospective employee is the person who owns that identity. This leaves the door open for unauthorized individuals to use imposter identities to gain verification of work authorization.”

Shift Toward Employment-Based Immigration

The Republican principles state that visa and green card allocations “need to reflect the needs of employers” and help grow the economy instead of the current immigration policy which has “emphasized extended family members and pure luck,” calling that approach inconsistent with nearly every other developed country.

“We appreciate the commitment to making more green cards available to meet employer needs, but we still want to make the system more efficient so employers can use the green cards to put workers on the job quickly,” said Peters. “Backlogs have to end—and employers and families that are complying with the law need enough green cards for their future use.”

The plan calls for more visas to be made available to international students studying at U.S. colleges and universities—particularly in high-skilled fields—who want to work in the U.S. but can’t. “When visas aren’t available, we end up exporting this labor and ingenuity to other countries,” the document said.

This is the most important section, according to Tamar Jacoby, president and chief executive officer of ImmigrationWorks USA, a business-oriented immigration advocacy group.

“This commitment to create new, better, streamlined programs to admit foreign workers—high-skilled and low-skilled—who will grow U.S. businesses and contribute to the economy, creating jobs for American workers by filling gaps that would otherwise go unfilled at the top and bottom of the jobs pyramid,” she said.

“There appears to be bipartisan consensus on the importance of employment-based immigration, but the principle as written, including the last phrase, ‘do not displace or disadvantage American workers,’ needs to be fleshed out,” said Angelo Paparelli, a partner in the business immigration practice group at Seyfarth Shaw LLP.  “The current system of testing the labor market or of visa quota limits that are exhausted within days has not worked. Republicans need to recognize that American workers’ jobs and economic prospects are enhanced by expanded employment-based immigration without regard to labor market testing and restrictive quotas,” he added.

In addition, the Republican principles propose to tie lower-skilled guest worker programs to the country’s economic needs and allow for “realistic, enforceable, usable, legal paths for entry into the United States. Of particular concern are the needs of the agricultural industry, among others. It is imperative that these temporary workers are able to meet the economic needs of the country and do not displace or disadvantage American workers.”

A revamped H-2 visa program could also be the key to better law enforcement, said Jacoby. “The best antidote to illegal immigration is a legal immigration system that works, and an effective guest worker program, along with enhanced border security and worksite enforcement, is necessary to prevent future illegal immigration,” she said.

Not everyone was pleased however. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka slammed the plan, calling it a “flimsy document that only serves to underscore the callous attitude Republicans have toward our nation’s immigrants. Until we create a functioning immigration system with a pathway to citizenship, ruthless employers will continue to exploit low-wage workers, pulling down wages for all,” he said.

Conversely, Thomas Donohue, president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce called the GOP outline an “encouraging sign,” and restated the Chamber’s position that immigration reform is essential to economic growth and job creation.

“The President’s State of the Union comments were helpful because he made it clear that reform remains one of his top priorities,” said Peters. “The House Republicans’ standards document provides a road map to getting it done. Now we need both sides to turn their words into action.”

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Follow him at @SHRMRoy

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