Democracy

 

Revise the U.S. Immigration System – We Owe This to the Rest of the World

05.16.2018

 

Every nation has to decide what it stands for.  Americans are asking who we are and who do we aspire to be. U.S. immigration policies provide a partial mosaic picture of U.S. ambitions and values as a country.  Consider the following immigration questions. Should the U.S. accept more displaced persons from other countries, especially if they are poor, black, or Muslim? Should we keep out or limit Muslims because many Americans are suspicious of their religion and may contain some terrorists? Should the U.S. put up a Great Wall to prevent more Mexicans from slipping into the country? Should the U.S. intensify its deportation of illegal Mexicans, and should this include deporting the Dreamers, young Mexicans who were born here and became Americanized?

 

These questions are plaguing U.S. immigration policy and preventing Congress from focusing on many other immigration issues.  Congress seems to want to kick these problems down the road instead of resolving them now. 

 

Ironically, at one time, the U.S. stood for a country that welcomed everyone.  The U.S. badly needed people to cultivate its vast lands, to plant seeds and harvest crops, to start and run industries.  The U.S. opened its doors to immigrants from many countries.  In 1883, the poet Emma Lazarus wrote a sonnet that was later engraved on a bronze plaque and mounted inside the new Statue of Liberty’s pedestal’s lower level.  It read:

 

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

 

The country welcomed successive waves of poor immigrants – first from Britain, Holland, Ireland, Germany, Sweden and Finland, followed by a second wave of immigrants from Italy, Spain, and France, and later by a third wave of immigrants from Eastern European countries, including Greeks, Hungarians, Poles, and others speaking Slavic languages, as well as 2.5 to 4 million Jews. Many Chinese came to the U.S. earlier recruited to help build railroads. But subsequent legislation discriminated against letting in more Asians. And before 1865, the southern states relied on slaves to carry on much of its labor. 

 

The need today is for clear thinking on immigrant issues. T  We need to help other countries understand American values and policies.  U.S. values and policies tend to set the international tone for many other countries values and policies.

 

The U.S. needs to address the following questions:

  1. Should the U.S. continue to welcome poor unskilled persons into the U.S?
  2. Should the U.S. give preference to high skilled individuals?
  3. Should the U.S. give preference to wealthy individuals?
  4. Should the U.S. give preference to certain age groups?
  5. Should the U.S. give preference to certain countries over others?
  6. Should the U.S. limit or ban certain countries or groups from coming to the U.S.
  7. What policies should guide admitting family relatives?
  8. What policies guide admitting temporary or permanent workers to the U.S?
  9. What conditions should applicants for U.S. citizenship meet?
  10. How many legal permanent persons should the U.S. admit each year?
  11. What policies should the U.S. adopt toward admitting refugees, asylum seekers, and other vulnerable populations?

 

Let’s start with question 1.

 

 

  1. Should the U.S. continue to welcome poor unskilled persons into the U.S?

 

Most of the people who immigrated to the U.S. in earlier times came either for the promise of religious freedom or the promise of economic improvement.  The U.S. offered more religious freedom and more economic opportunity compared to most other countries.  English was not a required language nor was there any requirement to come with a certain amount of money.  We know that some immigrants even agreed to come as indentured servants who would work off their debts and then become free.  There was so much work to be done in early America that we were happy to receive anyone with a pair of hands and a will to work.

 

Later we began to require would-be immigrants to show that they had one or more relatives in the country who would take some responsibility for their welfare.  This would reduce accepting people who would come with no resources and be a drain on public resources.

 

Today, even if we wanted to admit poor persons without resources or relatives, we would have to say no, partly because there are hundreds of millions of persons around the world who would want to apply for entering the U.S.  There would be no logical way to decide who to let in.  Furthermore, the U.S. is saddled with great debt and far from able to meet many of its current needs to improve health, education, infrastructure, and other problems.  So the policy decision largely is to abandon the old anthem of “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses.” 

 

 

  1. Should the U.S. give preference to high skilled individuals?

 

The answer is a definite Yes.  The U.S. is one of the most advanced industrial and technical nations in the world.  The U.S. needs an increasing number of scientific and technical personnel to manage and to advance its science and technologies.  Scientific and engineering graduates are being trained around the world, particularly in China, India and Russia. We need more technical manpower than is currently being trained in the U.S.  In Silicon Valley, a greater percentage of its tech workforce is foreign-born.

 

China, India and Russia are working furiously to get leadership in science and technology.  Yet U.S. companies are encountering difficulties in recruiting foreign personnel and getting visas for them.  This is shortsighted, especially since it is so easy to correct.

 

 

  1. Should the U.S. give preference to wealthy individuals?

 

Canada and a number of other nations have tried to attract wealthy individuals to move to their countries.  Canada offered visas to business people who had a net worth of at least $1.6 million and who were willing to lend $800,000 to the Canadian government.  Canada had planned to attract 60 wealthy individuals but ended the program in 2012 because only seven were attracted.  The program was attacked by some critics as unfair to average persons seeking immigration to Canada.

 

The disappointing response to Canada’s program doesn’t mean that the U.S. would have the same fate.  The U.S. probably is viewed as a much more attractive area for investment and living than Canada.  The U.S. has already tried one program to attract wealthy investors.  Congress created the program in 1990 to allot EB-5 (employment-based visas) for individuals who would invest in certain commercial projects.  Investors, their spouses, and unmarried children under 21 years old became eligible for green cards if they create or keep 10 permanent full-time jobs for U.S. workers and if their investment is at least $1 million, or alternatively $500,000 if it is in a Targeted Employment Area (TEA) in the United States.

 

Unfortunately, the EB-5 program was charged with some fraud by Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy. “The EB-5 program … was designed to bring jobs to underserved rural and urban communities. According to Senator Leahy, “Only 3 percent of EB-5 investors now invest in rural areas … Less than 10 percent invest in true high-unemployment areas.”

 

We need to reintroduce a strong program to attract wealthy individuals and make sure that it works as expected.

 

 

  1. Should the U.S. give preference to certain age groups?

 

The U.S. is an aging society given the increase in the number and proportion of older adults. In 1980, the median age of Americans was 30 years old; in 2016, the median age rose to 37.9.  A population ages when life expectancy rises, when the birthrate falls, when older people move to this country and young people leave this country. Americans are living longer because of better health care and better care of disabled persons.  The birth rate is falling because of a lower marriage age and families deciding to have fewer children.

 

In an aging society, the working population has to support more retired people. As the proportion of workers declines, taxes also decline and public services decline.

 

The nation needs to attract more young people to enter the U.S.  The U.S. lead in technology is helping to attract young people, especially entrepreneurial types, providing that U.S. immigration policies don’t prevent them from entering or getting work permits. 

 

 

  1. Should the U.S. give preference to certain countries over others?

 

The U.S. immigration service has to decide on which countries to favor in admitting immigrants.  In the past, quotas were related to how many persons had already come from each country.  This policy would preserve the same relative mix of countries as presently exists. More people would be admitted from Western Europe than Eastern Europe.  In 1924, the government implemented the “national origins quota system” which skewed the quotas to benefit immigrants from Western Europe. This was challenged as unfair to the countries who were admitted later to the U.S.

 

Today, the goal is to enlarge on admitting persons from countries that have fewer or no members living in the U.S.  The Immigration Act of 1990 passed the Diversity Visa Program to favor countries with low rates of immigration to the U.S.  Visas were allocated randomly to nationals from countries that have sent fewer than 50,000 immigrants to the U.S. in the previous five years.  This program especially benefits Africans and Eastern Europeans.

 

An immigrant for a diversity program must have a high-school education or have, within the past five years, a minimum of two years working in a profession requiring at least two years of training or experience. If accepted, spouses and minor unmarried children of the principal applicant may also enter as dependents.

 

The idea is that immigration laws should not discriminate in admitting countries on the basis of race, religion, country of origin, nationality, or political ideology.

 

 

  1. Should the U.S. limit or ban certain countries or groups from coming to the U.S.

 

Past U.S. immigration policies did discriminate against certain countries at different times.  There was opposition to Catholics, Jews, Southern Europeans, later Eastern Europeans, Asians, and Africans.  Today some people from all these areas are admitted.

 

The U.S. immigration system today puts numerical limits on how many immigrants can come to the United States from any one country. No group of permanent immigrants from a single country can exceed seven percent of the total amount of people immigrating to the United States in a single fiscal year. This is to prevent any immigrant group from dominating immigration patterns to the United States.

 

The newest discrimination policy was proposed by candidate Donald Trump in December 2015. Trump suddenly called for a total ban on Muslims based on how hard it is to tell whether a Muslim is a radical Islamist.  Trump claimed that this was not to discriminate against a religious group but a group containing a sizeable number of radical Islamists.  As President, he gave this authority to the Department of Homeland Security.  A year later he proposed banning entry from a specific set of seven majority-Muslim countries Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen – for 90 days. This caused considerable confusion about whether U.S. Muslim residents who were abroad could come back, and whether those possessing work or student visas, could come in.

 

 

  1. What immigration policies should guide admitting family relatives?

 

Family unification has been an important principle in U.S. immigration policy. First this would strengthen families and second the admitted immigrants would be supported by their relatives.

 

U.S. citizens and those with lawful permanent residence (LPR) could bring in certain family members to the United States. These family members are admitted either as immediate relatives of U.S. citizens or through the family preference system.

 

Under the immediate relatives’ category, applicants must meet the standard eligibility criteria, and meet certain age and financial requirements. Preference is given in the immediate relatives category to:

 

  • adult children (married and unmarried) and brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens
  • spouses and unmarried children (minor and adult) of 18-years-olds.

 

The government allows 226,000 applicants for the immediate relatives category.  It allows another 226,000 applicants for the family preference visas in a given year.  The total number of family-based visas often exceeds 480,000. Preference is increasingly given to admitting siblings and parents, less so uncles and aunts and other relatives.

 

To be admitted through the family-based immigration system, a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident sponsor must petition for an individual relative, establish the legitimacy of the relationship, meet minimum income requirements, and sign an affidavit of support stating that the sponsor will be financially responsible for the family member(s) upon arrival in the United States.

 

 

  1. What policies guide admitting temporary or permanent workers to the U.S?

 

Employers often need to hire foreign nationals for specific jobs for limited periods. There are over 20 types of visas for temporary nonimmigrant workers, including visas for intracompany transfers, for athletes, entertainers, and skilled performers, for religious workers, for diplomatic employees, for workers of extraordinary ability, and for highly-skilled and lesser-skilled employment. The requirements vary in terms of their eligibility requirements, duration, whether they permit workers to bring dependents, and other factors. In most cases, they must leave the United States if their status expires or if their employment is terminated.

 

Employers in high tech industries have been frustrated in getting the U.S. immigration service to let in the actual number of needed employment-based immigrants.  The U.S. set the number at 85,000 and this number filled up in five days.  Max Levchin, the CEO of Affirm, urged Congress to increase the number of visas available to 115,000.  Said Levchin, “At nearly every company I’ve been a part of there has been at least one heartbreaking story of a hardworking immigrant being sent back to his or her home country.” On the other hand, critics argue that increasing the number of employment-based immigrants is against the interests of American workers.

 

As for permanent employment-based immigrants, the U.S.takes in 140,000 a year. This number includes the immigrants plus their eligible spouses and minor unmarried children, which means that the number of employment-based immigrants is actually less than 140,000 each year.

 

 

  1. What conditions should applicants for U.S. citizenship meet?

 

In order to qualify for U.S. citizenship, an individual must have a green card for at least five years (or three years if he or she obtained the green card through a U.S.-citizen spouse or through the Violence Against Women Act, VAWA). Another exception includes members of the U.S. military who serve in a time of war or declared hostilities. Applicants for U.S. citizenship must be at least 18-years-old, demonstrate continuous residency, demonstrate “good moral character,” pass English and U.S. history and civics exams, and pay an application fee, among other requirements.

 

 

  1. How many legal permanent persons should the U.S. admit each year?

 

The U.S. is still the country admitting more legal permanent immigrants than any other country in the world.  In 2016, the U.S. admitted 1,200,000 legal permanent immigrants.  The question is whether the U.S. should increase this number further. 

 

 

The U.S. can think in terms of setting a floor and a ceiling rate.  The floor should be set to maintain a constant U.S. population size, given the need to replace deaths and loses in U.S. population.  The ceiling could be higher, up to the point of the number of admitted immigrants not taking jobs away from American workers.  Increasing the U.S. population by attracting more young persons with talent and ambition would be a worthy goal.

 

 

  1. What policies should the U.S. adopt toward admitting refugees, asylum seekers, and other vulnerable populations?

 

 

In this time of wars and political oppression in several countries, many persons are being persecuted because of their religion, race, social group, or political opinion. Many want to flee from their homeland in search of a safer or better life.  The U.S. accepts a limited number of refugees based on their “well-founded fear of persecution.”  Many apply from a transition country to which they initially fled.  The U.S. considers many factors, such as the degree of risk they face, whether the U.S. has a special concern for this group, and whether they have family members in the U.S.  In 2016, the President set the worldwide refugee ceiling at 85,000, with a major portion coming from Near East/South Asia, Africa, and East Asia.

 

Asylum seekers are persons already in the U.S. or at a port of entry who are fleeing persecution in the home country.  In 2014, the U.S. granted asylum to 23,533 individuals.  The U.S. cannot deport persons who have a likelihood of persecution in their home country.  Refugees and asylum seekers are eligible to become legal permanent residents one year after admission.

The U.S. offers other forms of humanitarian relief.  Persons fleeing from a “natural disaster” or “a temporary armed conflict” might be granted some months to stay in the U.S. until conditions improve in the homeland where they must return.

 

CONCLUSION

 

Every nation needs to answer several questions about how many people should be admitted into their country and who should be admitted. The decisions made on immigration will affect the country’s size, competitiveness, unity, culture, and economic growth.

 

Immigration to the United States has been based on several principles such as the reunification of families, attracting immigrants with needed skills, protecting refugees, and promoting diversity. Recent themes have included limiting immigration to immediate family members, attracting skilled foreign workers, welcoming wealthy persons who are willing to invest and grow the economy, favoring younger persons, increasing diversity and accepting refugees.

 

America has been the country that persons abroad admired for its democracy, its melting pot, its innovation, and its wealth.  It remains a country that many people want to enter.  Hopefully the U.S. will develop a set of immigration policies that will contribute to the country’s long term growth and that draws respect from other nations in the world.

 

 


1 comment

 

One response to “Revise the U.S. Immigration System – We Owe This to the Rest of the World”

  1. Anonymous says:

    These are the right questions to ask but very difficult to answer given existing immigration trends and the fact that they have been ignored by politicians, both parties, for decades.

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