Sunday, April 14, 2013

Immigration bill would boost number of legal immigrants

While much of the debate over immigration has focused on the fate
of the estimated 11 million people in the U.S. without legal authorization, one of the biggest immediate impacts of the reform bill being prepared in the Senate would be a sudden, large surge in legal migration.

The U.S. admits about 1 million legal immigrants per year, more than any other country. That number could jump by more than 50% over the next decade under the terms of the immigration reform bill that a bipartisan group of senators expects to unveil as early as Tuesday. The impact would be felt nationwide, but areas that already have large immigrant communities would probably see much of the increase.

The immigration package includes at least four major provisions that would increase the number of legal immigrants, according to people familiar with it. Some of the parts could generate as much controversy as the provisions dealing with those who enter the country illegally or overstay their visas, according to those with long experience of the politics of immigration.

Supporters say that higher levels of legal immigration would meet the U.S. need for certain kinds of workers. Increased legal migration also would reduce most of the incentive for illegal border crossings, backers of the plan say, and would allow border agents to focus on smugglers and people with violent criminal records.

Opponents such as Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), who has long opposed measures to increase immigration levels, say new workers would depress wages and crowd out Americans looking for work during a time of persistently high unemployment.

"The masters of the universe in glass towers and suites, they may not be impacted by this, but millions of struggling American families will," Sessions said in an interview Friday. "We do need to be sure we aren't exacerbating unemployment and wage erosion in America."

The surge would come in several ways: The bill aims to eliminate the current backlog of roughly 4 million people waiting to be reunited with family members in the U.S. The 11 million now in the country without legal authorization would be eligible for citizenship only after that backlog was resolved. Reunification efforts would require boosting the number of visas issued each year. To keep the additional inflow under control, the bill would stop allowing adult siblings of immigrants to qualify, but children and parents would continue to be eligible.

In addition to family unification, which allows people into the country permanently, the bill also aims to increase temporary visas for both high-wage and low-wage workers. The number of visas for high-tech workers could nearly double to more than 120,000 per year. At the other end of the wage scale, a new visa system would allow businesses to bring in workers for jobs including janitors, housekeepers and meatpackers. The numbers would start small, but as the unemployment rate declined, it could reach 200,000 a year by the end of the decade. And growers could bring a total of about 330,000 new farmworkers into the country during the decade. At least some of those low-wage temporary workers eventually would be allowed to seek permanent residency.


Barletta's Battle to Halt Illegal Immigration

At a closed-door GOP Conference meeting April 10, Rep. Lou Barletta went up to the microphones for the first time since he was elected to Congress in 2010.

The Pennsylvania Republican told colleagues about his unique experience as a mayor trying to deal with increased crime and strains on city services as the population of Hazleton, Pa., swelled by 50 percent because of an influx of illegal immigrants.

“The emergency room in the hospital, the wait time began to increase to six, seven, eight hours. If you follow illegal immigration this is not uncommon because illegal immigrants will use the emergency room for primary health care because you can’t be refused and you can’t ask whether you’re in the country legally or illegally. So they’ll use the emergency room from hangnail to heart attack,” Barletta said in an interview the next day in his Cannon office.

Barletta approached the Justice Department seeking help, but all he received was a mug, which he keeps in a display case in his office, a lapel pin and a “pat on the back.”

Barletta came to the nation’s attention in 2006 by vowing to make Hazleton, an old Pennsylvania coal town, one of the toughest places for illegal immigrants to live in the United States.

Now, in the House, the sophomore lawmaker is one of the most stalwart opponents of the “comprehensive” immigration bill that bipartisan legislators are crafting in secret. But while he has maintained his staunch views on the topic, so far he is picking a fight on process, rather than substance.

“Alarmingly, there appears to be a rush to force legislation to the floor of the House of Representatives without going through the committee process,” Barletta wrote in an April 10 letter to House leaders obtained by CQ Roll Call.

“Americans already hold a severe distrust of Congress as an institution. To purposefully give the citizens further proof of Washington’s disdain for their interest would be immensely arrogant and needlessly disrespectful.”

The next day, Chief Deputy Majority Whip Peter Roskam privately assured Barletta that any immigration legislation would go through relevant committees, a sentiment echoed by key Republicans such as Policy Committee Chairman James Lankford of Oklahoma in interviews.

But the episode is illustrative of how the immigration bill’s process could be the most delicate part of passing it.

On the one hand, proponents are terrified of letting the bill sit out in the open to be picked apart in the media. But efforts to fast-track the process could only add to suspicion from grass-roots opponents.


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