Friday, May 04, 2007

House Judiciary Sub-Committee Hearing on Immigration Point System

by Devi Ramkissoon
AFSC, Project Voice Communications and Policy Advocate

While the Senate awaits the introduction of an immigration bill, much of the current discussion in House of Representatives regarding immigration reform stems from a series of hearings. Past hearing topics have included the immigration history, the shortfalls of previous immigration laws, and employment verification. (For a review of past hearings click here). Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security, and International Law plans to wait for Senate action before the Sub-committee considers an immigration bill.

On May 1 the Sub-Committee focused on the use of a point system as a method for selecting immigrants. The Sub-committee also held a hearing on the "U.S. Economy, U.S. Workers, and Immigration Reform" on May 3.

What is a Point System?
In a series of panels, Sub-Committee members discussed the possibility of implementing the point system in the United States. Under a point system immigration officials use various "Factors of Assessment" to assign points to prospective immigrants. These factors often include a combination of the following: level of education, age, language ability, occupational demand, work training and experience, pre-arranged employment (which can include self-employment), personality and adaptation, family ties; and ethnicity (with respect to maintaining diversity).

This idea has been presented to Congress in various forms in previous years. Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand implement points systems to some extent.

Panelists and Members Share Perspectives on Point Systems
In his testimony, Senator Jeff Sessions (R- AL) emphasized the preference of academics over "lower-skilled" workers, observing that academicians were more adaptable than other workers. When Representative Maxine Waters (D-CA) raised a question about the high potential for separation of families under the point system, he responded, "We'll just have to wrestle with that."

Researchers from the Library of Congress presented on the systems of the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, emphasizing the fact that the point system is only one portion of their immigration policy and certainly doesn't apply to all immigrants. In addition, a panelist representing the Migration Policy Institute pointed out that, nations often turn to the system to boost their economies and that the system "can be flexible according to a country's goals."

Supporters of the point system indicated that it would eliminate the long interview process and subsequent backlog in the current US immigration system and would instill a sense of fairness concerning who "deserves" to immigrate to the U.S. Opponents, however, questioned its morals, potential for discrimination, and lack of regard for family unification.

Senator Hagel Introduces Point System Bill
Senator Chuck Hagel's (R-NE) recently introduced the Immigrant Accountability Act of 2007 (S. 1225) reflects the growing interest in the point system. The bill is intended to be incorporated into a Senate bill to be considered in May. Under his bill, undocumented immigrants would receive points if they met the following qualifications: military service; advanced English proficiency; civic engagement/community service; business ownership; home ownership; work history; level of education; length of U.S. presence; and U.S. citizen/permanent resident spouse or minor child.

If they earned enough points, immigrants would then have to wait thirteen years to gain citizenship. However, not all undocumented immigrants would qualify to earn points under the bill. They must have been living in the U.S. prior to January 7, 2004; pass a criminal/security background check; pay all previously owed state and federal income taxes; have proficiency in English; register for selective service; and pay at least $2,000 in fines in order to qualify to earn points.

For the complete text of the bill click here.