Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Obama’s Immigration Dance Partner

Talking to The Race (La Raza) about highly qualified immigrants is typical Obama evasion. Such immigrants are the ones LEAST likely to come from The Race

In his speech Monday to the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), President Obama mentioned the enormous number of “high-tech startups in America—companies like Google and Intel...founded by immigrants.” Many immigrant entrepreneurs in the high-tech industry began with employer sponsored green cards, H-1B work visas, or in American universities. The President says he wants them to stay.

He also said that needed a “dance partner, and the floor is empty.” Yet there is much his administration can do already.

First, he should look to Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.). Rep. Flake’s bill, the Stopping Trained in America Ph.D.s from Leaving the Economy (STAPLE) Act (H.R. 399), would remove the quotas on H-1B visas and employer-sponsored green cards for foreign Ph.D. graduates from American universities in the sciences, technology, engineering, or mathematics.

H-1B visas are temporary employer-sponsored visas for highly skilled workers in specialty occupations. They run for three years and can be renewed once, for a second three-year term. Currently, only 20,000 spots are set aside for foreigners graduating from American universities. The STAPLE Act expands the quota by exempting a large number of petitioners from it.

In stark contrast with other immigration reform bills, the STAPLE Act has numerous co-sponsors on both sides of the aisle, and is brief—at only three pages—and easily understandable by laymen. It is a vital reform that will match growing American industries with the skilled workers they require to grow. Last year, 60 percent of computer science Ph.D. graduates from U.S. universities were foreign-born. Allowing more of them to stay and start businesses will help spur job creation.

However, highly skilled industries are not the only area where job creation is needed. The NCLR audience seemed upset by the President’s praise for the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, not because they oppose it, but because Obama has been so tepid in his support. The DREAM Act would allow some undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children to gain conditional legal status. That would then be extended to permanent legal residency if they complete at least two years of college or join the military within six years.

The problem was that the DREAM Act directs federal education aid to these students. It failed last December for that very reason. Poll after poll show that American apprehension about immigration mostly concerns taxes to support immigrants, and rightly so.

For a solution, the President should look to California. On the same day as Obama’s speech, Governor Jerry Brown (D) signed into law California’s own version of the DREAM Act. It allows undocumented students who went to high school in California for three or more years to pay in-state tuition for public universities and to have access to non-state scholarship and financial aid. DREAM Act supporters in Congress should adopt this last provision.

The President talked about cutting “red tape that keeps entrepreneurs from turning new ideas into thriving businesses.” If he is serious about this, he should abandon his administraiton’s endorsement of E-Verify, an electronic employment eligibility verification system, which has proven a massive regulatory burden.

According to a major 2009 audit by research service Westat, 4.1 percent of the E-Verify system’s initial responses to queries were inaccurate, negatively affecting legal workers too. E-Verify even approved 54 percent of unauthorized workers. Worse, E-Verify pushes unauthorized immigrants even deeper into the black market, according to a study by the Public Policy Institute of California.

Immigration advocates have other reasons to be upset. The Obama administration has also begun electronic audits of I-9 records, deployed military units and predator drones to the Mexican border, and set deportation records, topping out at 387,242 last year – 176,144 more deportations than in the third year of Bush’s Presidency. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is on track to exceed that record this year.

We are a nation of laws but those laws should be wise. That is far from the case with America’s immigration laws—they burden the economy, create a black market in labor, and deprive America of talent by forcing highly skilled U.S.-educated immigrants to go back to their home countries after graduation.

President Obama’s stated support for immigration reform suggests that he realizes this, but he has not done nearly enough to address the problem. There is much he could do, both with and without a “dance partner”—work for passage of the STAPLE Act and a revised DREAM Act and abandon E-Verify and invasive I-9 audits. It’s a shame he didn’t mention them in his speech.


Australia's deal with Malaysia too cushy to be a deterrent to boat people (illegal arrivals)

THE next 800 asylum seekers arriving by boat to Australia will be fingerprinted before being flown to Malaysia, where the federal government will pay for a month in a hotel plus a living allowance, under the controversial Malaysian refugee swap agreement signed yesterday.

New transit centres in Kuala Lumpur, where asylum seekers will be processed within 45 days, are expected to be ready in weeks for the first arrivals. Malaysia will have the right to reject any asylum seekers if they are on terrorism lists or have serious criminal convictions. Australia will also screen the 4000 refugees it accepts from Malaysia in return as part of the deal.

Yesterday the Immigration Minister, Chris Bowen, said asylum seekers would have the right to work in Malaysia, a breakthrough in a country where 95,000 refugees cannot work legally.

Yet he rejected suggestions that the special treatment asylum seekers would receive would encourage refugees to take boats to Australia. "Critics may say asylum seekers transferred from Australia to Malaysia are getting too good a deal," he said. "On the other side, people may say the arrangements aren't strong enough. We've struck a good balance that ensures appropriate protections."

After facing heavy public criticism of his country's treatment of refugees, Malaysia's Home Affairs Minister, Hishammuddin Hussein, said Malaysia would be judged by the results of the scheme, and was committed to treating refugees with dignity. "The UNHCR will be there to monitor and safeguard the standards that we have set," he said.

Malaysian police officials and representatives of the International Organisation for Migration and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees were present at the signing, while a small group of activists and opposition politicians protested outside the hotel.

The UNHCR said in a statement it was not a signatory to the deal and would prefer to see boat arrivals to Australia processed in Australia, but both governments had consulted the organisation. Mr Bowen said there would be no blanket exemption for unaccompanied children but the UNHCR's feedback had shaped the document and the agency would be involved in processing both groups of asylum seekers - unlike the Howard government's so-called Pacific solution.

The deal commits Australia to funding schooling for children, and health costs. But these will be the basic facilities used by refugees in Malaysia.

The Greens condemned the deal.

The opposition spokesman on immigration, Scott Morrison, said the swap sought to counteract the "pull" factors of Labor's previous border protection policy, as a result of which 230 boats had arrived since Labor formed government.

The government also announced a reversal of its position on the 567 asylum seekers who had arrived by boat since the in-principle agreement was announced 11 weeks ago, saying they would now be processed in Australia.

Originally the government said they would be held pending removal to another country, either Malaysia or Papua New Guinea. The government is working to seal a deal with PNG.

To ensure asylum seekers knew of the deal, Ms Gillard said the government would embark on an information campaign in Indonesia and other departure points to raise awareness of the folly of boarding a boat. "Do not do that in the false hope that you will be able to have your claim processed in Australia," she said.


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