New Book Seeks Fewer Family-Based Visas

By Jerry Kammer and Jerry Kammer on September 29, 2010

A new book that was discussed Wednesday at the American Enterprise Institute proposes to redirect U.S. immigration policy away from its heavy emphasis on family reunification.

"We couldn't find another nation in the world that's as generous as we are with regard to family immigration," said Pia Orrenius, an economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas and co-author of Beside the Golden Door: U.S. Immigration Reform in a New Era of Globalization.

Along with co-author Madeline Zavodny, an economics professor at Agnes Scott College, Orrenius says it makes no sense for the United States to prioritize green cards for the adult siblings and parents of immigrants, while providing relatively few green cards for highly skilled foreigners who can contribute to economic growth.

"On the high end of the education distribution, we are very busy constraining immigrants from coming to the U.S.," said Orrenius. Meanwhile, she said, referring to scant federal enforcement of immigration laws, "On the low end we've had basically unrestrained immigration policy and that policy has really been hands-off on illegal immigration."

While Orrenius and Zavodny want many more high-end workers to get green cards, they also want low-wage employers to have access to workers. They propose an auction system in which employers would pay $6,000 for the right to hire a skilled worker and $2,000 for the right to hire an unskilled worker. Such workers would receive provisional five-year visas and would be eligible to apply for the green cards that confer permanent residence status.

The authors say a reliable system of work authorization, featuring documents akin to the national identification cards issued in many countries, will be essential to the integrity of a reformed immigration system. Their call for government-issued documents drew a dissent from their host at the American Enterprise Institute, who said such identification would be inconsistent with American values of individual liberty.

Despite that disagreement, the AEI Press published the book.

What was most striking about the event – at least for this observer – was the lack of discussion of the broader social effects of large-scale immigration of low-wage workers. The social costs absorbed by local communities amount to a subsidy for employers who pay such low wages that immigrant families often depend upon social services.

This is yet another economic system whereby the rules have been rigged to privatize profits and socialize loss. Shouldn't employers clamoring for low-wage immigrant workers be expected to pay wages sufficient to keep workers' families off the welfare rolls?

Beside the Golden Door doesn't address such concerns. But it does present a lucid proposal for overhauling the distribution of what may be the world's most coveted document: the U.S. green card. It is an eloquent call for placing the national interest above the interests of groups who clamor to bring more of their relatives and friends, regardless of their skills and talents.