Fix Enforcement Before Considering Changes to "High-Skilled' Immigration

By Dan Cadman on November 23, 2016

Michael Barone recently wrote an article for National Review Online entitled "The New Key to Immigration Reform: More High-Skilled Immigrants". In it, Mr. Barone suggests that:

Agreement about bringing in skilled immigrants could help lawmakers settle on legislation to reform the immigration system. ... The interesting question is: What kind of bill could a Republican Senate and House pass? First principle: It must be acceptable to Trump. ... [House Speaker Paul] Ryan, after lunch with Trump last week, insisted that enforcement must come first. Ryan also backed the little-noticed tenth of Trump's ten points in his Phoenix speech: shifting legal immigration from extended-family reunification, mostly of low-skilled immigrants, and setting aside many more places for high-skilled immigrants "based on merit, skill, and proficiency." That resembles the point systems of Canada and Australia. As law professor F.H. Buckley points out, Canada, with one-tenth the U.S. population, admits about 160,000 immigrants yearly under economic categories — more than the U.S.'s 140,000. As a result, immigrants in Canada, unlike here, have incomes above, not below, the national average.


As they say, timing is everything, and it seems to me that it's early days yet to even begin talking about reforms to the legal immigration system when the enforcement regimen has been so effectively dismantled during the Obama years. Ryan is right that enforcement must come first, but I'm probably not the only one who's suspicious of his road-to-Damascus conversion on this point. Ryan's long-held views on opening the door to vast numbers of so-called STEM workers (and others) is well known.

There will be time enough to consider legal immigration reforms when enforcement has been returned to its rightful place in the overall federal system of immigration administration and control. And yes, our current system is entirely too weighted toward expanded families that encourage uninhibited chain migration of low-skilled immigrants with little or no thought to the country's interests. But simply exchanging the yearly admission of hundreds of thousands of family members for hundreds of thousands of "skilled" workers doesn't sound quite right. We are at present admitting about a million persons a year to reside in the United States permanently in all categories.

Nor do I think that Americans, many of whom are perennially un- or under-employed — so many, in fact, that many have left the job-seeking market entirely, thus skewing the real level of unemployment in the country, since only active job-seekers are counted in national unemployment figures — would be enthralled with the idea of admitting thousands of workers whose average salary base exceeds their own. It smacks of the kind of elitism they have just rejected in the presidential election. They may not want to be replaced with cheap labor, but it would sting even more to be replaced by labor making more than they do, as is apparently the case in Canada according to the quote of Professor Buckley.

This brings us to the question of what "skilled labor" means. The devil is in the details, and this is almost surely where corporate mega-giants and virtually all of Silicon Valley will look to perpetuate their almost completely open spigot to third world labor pools. I imagine that the temptation will be high to salt any kind of legal immigration reform bill with the kind of crafty language we found in the Gang of Eight "comprehensive reform" legislation, where what politicians and Chamber of Commerce types say it means has little to do with the true import of the words found in the highly technical text. If all Congress does is substitute overly generous temporary labor programs, such as H-1B, with programs giving the same folks green cards, then real harm has been done to skilled Americans with STEM backgrounds looking for stable jobs and a secure, prosperous future. They will remain the 20-something kids living in their parents' basements to whom Hillary Clinton so pejoratively referred.

Finally, it's worth mentioning that, right now, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the agency responsible for administering immigration benefits, has proven again and again that it can't vet its way out of a burlap sack. This isn't just in the arena of family, or asylum and refugee, benefits, although God knows they come immediately to mind. But as any follower of blogs written by my colleagues David North and John Miano here at the Center can tell you, it also extends to investor visas, optical practical training programs, and a host of other "worker" and "investor" visa categories as well.

Past internal, but suppressed, reviews of USCIS programs suggest that nearly a third of all applications across the range of benefits may be fraudulent. How long would it take for this new system of adjudicating the bonafides of "skilled" workers to be overwhelmed by a multiplicity of fake diplomas, bogus work experience testimonials, and the like? I'd say about as quickly as the first applications were submitted. So, until there is proof of a competent regimen in place to ferret out the fraud, including both targeted investigations and random pre- and post-adjudication reviews of a specified percentage of applications, and perhaps a legislatively mandated interim period of conditional residence to permit detection of and rejection of fraudulent applicants, it would be folly to go down this path.

Which brings us full circle: Enforcement, compliance, and competent, comprehensive screening must come first.