With each passing week, Congress is gaining more momentum to transform discussions on Comprehensive Immigration Reform into an actual CIR package from which members can vote. Today, just one day after President Obama delivered his State of the Union address where he briefly discussed comprehensive immigration reform, the Senate Committee on the Judiciary held a four-hour hearing on immigration reform. Chaired by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the hearing was complete with both written and verbal testimony from the government and the public. Unlike last week’s hearing on CIR by the House Judiciary Committee, today’s hearing was much more concise. Department of Homeland Secretary Janet Napolitano was the first witness on the first panel. On the second panel were five members from the public:
Whether it’s because the Democrats currently hold a majority in the Senate, or because the “Gang of Eight” Senators have already released a framework for CIR, the overall tenor of today’s hearing was less contentious than last week’s House hearing; as if the notion of an earned pathway to citizenship was a foregone conclusion. Here are some notable highlights of this hearing that will undoubtedly resurface in future debates:
Immigration- An Opportunity to Seize, Not a Problem to Fix
If we were to reframe the issue on immigration, it should be to approach it as an opportunity to improve our country. Perhaps Steve Case said it best when he indicated that immigration is not a problem our country needs to fix, but an opportunity we should seize! High-skilled immigrants are not a substitute for American workers, but a complement to them. High-skilled, foreign entrepreneurs have traditionally created jobs that have helped to expand other industries in addition to their own. Likewise, the undocumented populations, once lifted out of the shadows, can contribute more meaningfully to the economy.
Reform Will Be Comprehensive, Not Piecemeal
Many agreed that the time to reform our immigration laws was now. A departure from House Members, most of today’s Senators favored a comprehensive approach. While many Senators on today’s Committee are sponsors of various immigration-related bills, many also conceded that those bills were only a part of the larger comprehensive immigration reform framework.
A CIR bill would also include provisions for the low-skilled (temporary, seasonal or agriculture). Though, Jose Antonio Vargas was quick to point out, after visiting farms in Georgia and Alabama, that picking fruits and vegetables was anything but low-skill. The issue of immigration benefits for same-sex partners would also be addressed, further necessitating the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).
We Are NOT Deporting 11 Million Undocumented Immigrants
Even Jessica Vaughan, whose Center for Immigration Studies favors reduction in immigration numbers, conceded that the notion of deporting 11 million undocumented immigrants currently residing in the U.S. was unfeasible and untenable (although she did advocate for a lesser status than citizenship). While she was eager to repeat the phrase “amnesty” during her testimony, others passionately insisted the term was misleading. Amnesty, they argued, implied that individuals would receive a “free pass” to obtain citizenship whereas the proposed compromise would require various conditions be met before any earned path to citizenship would be allowed.
The Effect of “Border Security”
Many aspects of border security were raised during Secretary Napolitano’s testimony. What would it take to secure our borders to reduce it to zero illegal border crossings? Is this goal achievable? What other security measures on the interior could be implemented to offset border security measures but would be equally or more effective. What is the cost-benefit of totally securing our borders?
Secretary Napolitano testified that comprehensive immigration reform that allowed an earned path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants would allow DHS enforcement to focus more of its resources on individuals who actually posed a security or public safety threat to the U.S., rather than the entire pool of 11 million.
Concurrently, imposing higher penalties against employers who hire unauthorized workers and providing employers with a reliable means to verify an employee’s work eligibility would reduce the incentive for immigrants to come to the U.S. unlawfully.
Family Re-Unification Is a Priority
Another important component discussed was family re-unification as it affected immigration and deportation. Family re-unification has always been an American value and priority in immigration. More importantly, Senators were concerned about how mixed-status families were being broken up during removals of immigrants, particularly of undocumented parents and their U.S. citizen children. Any reform would likely include means for parents to retain certain parental rights in determining the fate of their U.S. citizen children and to preserve family unity.
Entrepreneurship Is the Secret Sauce
Of the current list of Fortune 500 companies, 40% were started by immigrants, or children of immigrants. The danger with taking entrepreneurship for granted, as we have been doing in the last decade, is that other countries will eventually discover our secret sauce and want it for themselves. China, Canada, Brazil, and Australia are all attracting talented workers who have been educated by our educational institutions and trained by our employers.
We ought to be reframing the discussion to talk about winning the battle of talent against other countries.
It will be interesting to see how the Senate and the House resolve their current differences but the polls indicate that the electoral climate has shifted towards a more progressive base. No doubt any immigration-related bill will impact a practitioner’s way of helping clients. Stay tuned to for more updates on CIR. Subscribe to the Case Management Guru Blog to get free updates.