One of the sensible things that the Congress does from time to time is to create or extend a specific program on a short-term basis. It allows the system to operate, but gives it a "sunset" — a certain date that will end it unless Congress acts to extend it.
In this way, Congress can look at the program to see how well it is working and then make a decision as to whether or not to: 1) kill it; 2) make it permanent; or 3) give it another period to prove itself by giving it a later sunset.
It is obvious that getting votes for a program that will have a sunset is much easier than rounding up votes for a permanent program, so it is the shakier proposals that wind up with a limited life span. Most of the provisions of the immigration law are permanent ones, and only the more controversial ones have sunsets.
Into this situation has ridden the Gang of Eight and they have decided that two not-very-solid bits of the immigration program should be made permanent. They are wrong on this issue and one hopes that even if the bill survives, the anti-sunset provisions will lose. The pertinent part of S.744 follows:
SEC. 2319. ELIMINATION OF SUNSETS FOR CERTAIN VISA PROGRAMS.
(a) Special Immigrant Nonminister Religious Worker Program - Section 101(a)(27)(C)(ii) (8 U.S.C. 1101 (a)(27)(C)(ii)) is amended in subclauses (II) and (III) by striking "before September 30, 2015," both places such term appears.
(b) EB-5 Regional Center Program - Section 610(b) of the Departments of Commerce, Justice, and State, the Judiciary, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 1993 (Public Law 102-395; 8 U.S.C. 1153 note) is amended by striking "until September 30, 2015."
This is a doubly-sneaky move because: 1) the three-line provisions both appear to be innocuous, and 2) the Gang of Eight is seeking, quietly, to preserve controversial subparts of larger, less controversial immigration programs.
In the case of the religious workers program, few object to churches bringing in genuine members of the clergy from overseas to preach in the United States, though it is not a program that is used much by the mainline Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish organizations, being employed largely by some of the less well-established religions. Most of the controversy has arisen in the nonminister portion of the program and it is this part that is sunset, and that the Gang of Eight wants to make a permanent part of the immigration law.
For earlier reports on how three different government agencies, separately, concluded that the religious workers immigration program was shot through with fraud see this earlier blog.
Similarly, in the EB-5 (or immigrant-investor) field all the controversy is in the Regional Center part of the program; this is the part that sets the minimum investment that nets a whole family a set of green cards for half a million dollars. The other part of the program, which demands a million-dollar investment for the same set of green cards, is not a subject of controversy. For example, all the charges of fraud in the program, usually with domestic sharpies doing in the aliens, such as in the Chicago O'Hare Scandal broken up by the SEC, are in the Regional Center segment. For more on that specific scam, see this blog.
My problem with eliminating the sunsets is that once the sunsets are removed, Congress is not forced to review the program every few years, and the program, whatever it is, becomes part of the landscape and becomes much more difficult to challenge. That's the long-term scenario preferred by the Gang for these two provisions.
The most notorious of all the exploitative nonimmigrant worker schemes, the Bracero Program of the 1940s through the mid-1960s, was always subject to sunset, which eventually turned out to be a very good thing.
That program brought Mexican males (only males) to the United States to do farm work under grim conditions and low wages; they did hand-harvesting of fruits and vegetables. Eventually it became so (justifiably) controversial that its advocates, in the early 1960s, were reduced to asking Congress for just one more extension, which they got during the Kennedy years.
No one tried to extend it when the sun finally went down on the evening of December 31, 1964, and so it died.
Had there been no legislative limit on its life, it might be with us till this day.
I had a special interest in all this, having been the Assistant to the Secretary of Labor in 1965 and 1966 tasked with trying to convince growers to switch from aliens to domestic workers; it soon developed that the growers had a strong and narrow preference for Mexican workers, legal or illegal. But that's another story.