Friday, May 04, 2007

In Review: House Immigration Hearings

by Devi Ramkissoon
AFSC, Project Voice Communications and Policy Advocate

House Revisits Immigration Past and Shortfalls

Throughout March, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security, and International Law, chaired by Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) has hosted a series of hearings focused on immigration reform issues. These hearings lay the groundwork for consideration of a House immigration bill and provide insight on the views and questions of members of Congress on immigration.

Past, Present, and Future: A Historic and Personal Reflection
The first of these hearings, entitled "Past, Present, and Future: A Historic and Personal Reflection on American Immigration," took place on Ellis Island. Two panels included the participation of the Office of Border Patrol Department of Homeland Security and several academicians. In addition, five Subcommittee members attended the hearing (Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Ranking Member Steve King (R-IA), Representatives Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-CA), Linda Sanchez (D-CA) and Luis V. Gutierrez (D-IL), who recently introduced the STRIVE Act of 2007.

The members traced their personal immigration histories and questioned the academicians on the nation's immigrant past. Chairwoman Lofgren noted that, forty percent of Americans trace their roots to a relative who came through Ellis Island.

Historic Discrimination against Immigrants
In addition to the history of admissions, members heard testimony on the history of immigrants' reception in America. As Professor Tichenor (State University of New Jersey) noted, "Each wave of 'new' immigrants has been scored by critics as incapable of successfully joining our ranks, only later to distinguish themselves among our most loyal and accomplished citizens." Representative Luis V. Gutierrez cited the historic arguments made against Irish and Italian immigrants as examples of past discrimination.

Scholars link immigrants and the economy
Professor Dan Siciliano (corporate governance professor, Stanford Law School) suggested, "Immigrants have helped increase wages in recent years." He said that recent research demonstrates that the record immigration between 1990 and 2004 had helped to increase wages in the United States. Immigrants could also help to offset the aging of the "baby boom" generation, said Dowell Myers, a demographer from the University of Southern California.

Fence is Not "Single Solution"
Border Patrol official, David V. Aguilar, suggested that a well designed immigration reform program could help mitigate the flow of immigrants and help the government do its job. Aguilar also stated that a fence was not the "single solution." "The vast majority of that clutter, that chaos at our Southern border, is seeking economic employment," Mr. Aguilar said.

20 Years Later: Shortfalls of the 1986 Legislation (IRCA)
The second major hearing on the "Shortfalls of the 1986 Immigration Reform Legislation," on April 19, 2007 focused on the negative impact of the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) on immigration policy in the United States. Panelist Muzaffar A. Chishti (director of Migration Policy Institute's office at NYU School of Law) cited IRCA as "the first major attempt by Congress to address the problems of unauthorized migration." Its provisions included increasing border security, implementing sanctions for employers to prevent the hiring of undocumented immigrants, and implementing a type of "amnesty" for undocumented immigrants who met certain criteria, and through the Special Agricultural Worker Program (SAW), legalizing unauthorized agricultural workers who had worked at least ninety days.

The panelists explored the failures of IRCA from various angles. According to Chisthi, the ultimate downfall of IRCA stemmed from its narrow focus, which only addressed the issues of undocumented immigration and did not foresee the problems related to future immigration and the labor market demand for immigrant workers. Rosemary Jenks, director of government relations for Numbers USA and an organization which supports reducing immigration, opposed this view by stating that the major setbacks of IRCA included its focus on amnesty, the government's failure to enforce employer sanctions and prevent the rise of fraudulent documents. Conversely, research by the AFSC on the affect of employer sanctions indicates that 1986 employer sanctions were ineffective and harmful.

The panelists also examined several possible solutions to the current immigration debate. Chisthi explored the possibility of creating a "provisional worker category for jobs that are not seasonal or temporary" while Stephen Legomsky (Professor, Washington University- St. Louis) suggested awarding 2A's (i.e., spouses and unmarried children under the age of 21 of legal permanent residents) the same status that immediate relatives of U.S. citizens receive.

Professor Stephen Pitti (Yale University) focused on the impact of future legislation on immigrants from Mexico, "Any future guest worker program signed with Mexico must allow migrants to join organizations in the United States without risk of penalty; it must allow migrants to leave employers who do not comply with the terms of the program without great difficulty; and it must require both close governmental and nongovernmental monitoring of working conditions - by private organizations, unions, churches, and other groups - to investigate the operations of the program."

A Decade Later: Shortfalls of the 1996 Legislation
A similar hearing on April 20, 2007 focused on the "Shortfalls of 1996 Immigration Reform Legislation" which included the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA); the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act; and Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act.

Paul Virtue (executive associate commissioner partner at Hogan & Hartson Law Firm) noted that the 1996 legislation took the focus away from the contribution of undocumented immigrants to the U.S. and that any potential reforms should reflect each case on its merits. Professor Douglas Massey (Princeton University), called U.S. immigration policies "dysfunctional," concurring that increased border control would not provide an effective solution. He recommended policies that would regularize the status of undocumented immigrants, increase legal quota for permanent residents from Mexico, establish a temporary worker program, focus on "internal enforcement" instead of border control, and increase the resources of the U.S. immigration administration.

Discussing the issues on broader terms, Mark Krikorian (Executive Director, for the Center for Immigration Studies which favors reducing immigration to the U.S.), declared that Congress's most significant mistake in 1996 was refusing to cut overall legal immigration and argued in favor of stronger border control. Professor Hiroshi Motomura (North Carolina School of Law) added that border enforcement is not enough to solve immigration problems, and that decision-making should be placed in the hands of immigration judges instead of entry inspectors.

AFSC's Analysis
Increased personnel or technology have not been effective solutions in the past and it is highly unlikely that this situation will be ameliorated by continuing to pursue these same 'solutions.' Authorizing appropriations for increased Department of Defense equipment, enforcement personnel, and infrastructure disrupts the quality of life of border residents and citizens alike and fails to effectively deter unauthorized crossings. AFSC's border policies stem from a vision of borders which are the product of mutual agreement and acknowledgement, jointly administered, disarmed, and aided by border crossing procedures that respect human dignity and rights.

Problems in the Current Employment Verification System
Lastly, on April 24, 2007 and April 26, 2007 the Committee on the Judiciary held a hearing on"The Problems in the Current Employment Verification and Worksite Enforcement System" and "Proposals for Improving the Electronic Employment Verification and Worksite Enforcement System."

John Shandley (senior vice president of human resources, Swift & Company) outlined the Employment Eligibility Verification (EEV) Program formerly know as the Basic Pilot Program, which was established as part of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 (IIRIRA). EEV is used to verify the residency status of employees.

Basic Pilot Fatally Flawed
Shandley pointed out the system's major shortcomings, acknowledging as well that Swift had been raided by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and that over 1,000 employees were displaced. He stated that "Basic Pilot is...fatally flawed."

Database not Intended for Immigration Purposes
Furthermore, Professor Stephen W. Yale-Loehr (Cornell Law School) indicated that other major problems included the fact that the database against which the EEV Program checked its information was not intended for immigration purpose, it took program officials weeks to respond to employer inquiries, errors were evident in about twenty percent of all inquiries; and that a full-scale implementation would require billions of dollars. Yale-Loehr insisted on increasing government participation, support, and evaluation for the systems effectiveness. Professor Marc Rosenblum (University of New Orleans) recommended that the government provide employers and employees with a clear set of rules about the verification process and also enhance enforcement.

AFSC's Analysis
The AFSC continues to oppose all forms of employer sanctions due to the negative affects these have wrought since 1986 including employment discrimination. The proposed Electronic Employment Verification System has the overall effect of imposing on both workers and employers burdensome and expensive requirements just to earn a living or stay in business, respectively.

The Social Security Administration should only be used for its original intent, the welfare of retired and disabled workers, their dependants and survivors. SSA should not become an enforcement arm of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The implementation of the current "Basic Pilot Program" (a voluntary EEVS) indicates that there exists a significant rate of false positives. The process to appeal a "tentative non-confirmation" under EEVS is cumbersome, time consuming, and financially beyond the reach of many working class immigrants.