Monday, December 20, 2010

Is U.S. Immigration Reform Dead?

The failure of the Senate to achieve cloture on the DREAM act has not ended the immigration debate. Politically, both sides will attempt to capitalize on this vote. Democrats will argue that they are the only ones who care about the Hispanic community, while Republicans will claim that they are the only ones serious about enforcement. But from a policy perspective, where might the debate go during the next Congress with Republicans running the House and a stronger GOP presence in the Senate? Even more importantly for enforcement proponents, is immigration the next policy ripe for triangulation?

FrumForum spoke to Mark Kirkorian of the Center for Immigration studies before the DADT vote to see if proponents of tougher enforcement may expect some progress in the next two years. The policy that Kirkorian was most interested in was making the E-verify system more widespread and possibly even mandatory for employers.

E-verify is an electronic database that employers can use to check the status of their employees. It allows them to verify their social security number and checks if the employee can legally work in the United States. The effect of this is that it decreases the likelihood that illegals will be able to end up on the books of their employers. Kirkorian noted that at least 60% — if not more — of the illegal population lie and use fraudulent or stolen identification to gain employment.

Of course, without the program being mandatory, its efficacy is limited. Some states, such as Arizona, mandate its use but others do not. Some states only mandate its use for public sector employees. There are also obvious competitive disadvantages that occur if one company uses the system, while another company doesn’t and continues to hire lower paying illegal workers.

Surprisingly, Kirkorian suggested that he could see a situation where the push for wider E-verify use actually comes from President Obama and the Democrats. “If the President wanted to triangulate, I could see him backing mandatory E-verify as a step towards a future amnesty debate.” Krikorian said that the proponents of immigration “agree in principle” to E-verify but hold it hostage to amnesty.

While not likely to happen, the strategy behind supporting DREAM to lock up Hispanic support, while also supporting E-verify could show that Democrats are “serious” on immigration. This could help them win independents; a plan that would also appeal to Democratic pollsters looking for ways to help the party rebound in 2012.

Unfortunately, the larger GOP benches in the House and Senate are unlikely to lead to any meaningful reform in legal immigration, despite the desperate need for the U.S. to modernize and set up a system to prioritize and accept high skilled immigrants, and not simply hand out citizenship through a lottery process. Kirkorian remarked that this process “continues through inertia.” Heather MacDonald of the Manhattan Institute also spoke to FrumForum about the difficulties in achieving reform in this part of America’s immigration policy.

Mac Donald suggested that a skills based system of immigration would undercut the vision of America’s “Ellis Island” immigration policies. “It is somehow easier for politicians to oppose illegal immigration than to argue that the U.S. has the right to be more selective in its immigrants and that doing so is in its self-interest.”


Rejected asylum seekers in Australia should go home, says the United Nations

THE UN refugee agency says Australia's immigration detention system is being clogged by growing numbers of rejected asylum seekers who should be sent home.

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees regional representative Richard Towle says large numbers of people now coming through the asylum system in Australia are not refugees and "the challenge is how to find fair and humane and effective ways of allowing them to leave this country to go home", Fairfax newspapers report.

The deportation of failed asylum seekers has already been announced as central to the government's efforts to stem the flow of boats.

So far, however, only a handful of asylum seekers have been deported. The government is believed to be examining further incentives for people to return home.

Mr Towle told Fairfax that improved political conditions in Sri Lanka and changed methods for assessing Afghan asylum seeker cases have led to the jump in the number of rejected cases, most "left sitting in the detention centres in Western Australia".

He also called for greater regional co-operation and improved conditions in South-East Asia to prevent asylum seekers from making the perilous voyage from Indonesia. He said the problem has little to do with Australia's border protection policies, but rather a "protection vacuum" throughout the region that has been forcing people to risk their lives on unseaworthy vessels.


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