It could have been worse.
In the weeks leading up to the president’s speech there was much speculation about what specifics would be offered; among them were three immigration policy changes that, fortunately, did not make the cut:
- Special, easy rules for illegal-alien farm workers;
- A blanket legalization program for the parents of the DACA beneficiaries, those who had arrived illegally before their 16th birthday; a tabloid headline writer might have written “Devious Daddies of the DACA Dreamers Denied”; and
- The admissions of lots more H-1B workers.
The president’s proposal was outrageous, of course, but it could have been more so.
A quarter of a century ago, special, easy rules were created in the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA) for farm workers, and these provisions were widely abused by fraudulent applicants. I suspect one reason for the current omission of anything on the subject, is because agri-business is quite aware that enforcement of the immigration law in the fields and orchards is so minimal these days that there was no need to press for a specialized amnesty for such workers.
While the ag employers made only minimal efforts on farm worker legalization, the beneficiaries of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and their friends noisily called for an extension of immigration benefits to the parents of the DACA beneficiaries. There was much of the usual open borders rhetoric about “dividing families.”
Bear in mind that these parents not only entered the country illegally themselves, which is bad enough, but they also smuggled their kids into the nation, or encouraged them to enter illegally on their own. Did the White House figure that these double violators deserved nothing? Or did it make a hard-nosed political decision that this was a particularly unattractive group to grant amnesty to?
I was surprised that the president did not find a way to permit more H-1B (high tech) workers into the country; it would have enlisted Silicon Valley as a supporter of the whole package. Again, perhaps he recognized that this would be a reach too far.
In his speech he talked about making efforts to “retain” some of these workers in this country, as if the retention of literally hundreds of thousands of these workers was a problem. They are not going anywhere.
From one vague reference in the speech, and from many leaked comments before it, I gather that the administration will seek to move some of the H-1Bs into legal permanent residence (i.e., greencard) status sooner than currently planned. This would please some of the aliens now waiting for the green cards, but it would not increase the number of these workers, and it would, make them less indentured, a good thing. On the other hand, lifting the annual ceiling from the current level of 85,000 H-1Bs – something not mentioned at all in the speech – would have increased the flooding of this labor market.
A related, rather minor step would be to allow the often college-educated spouses of the H-1Bs to work; this would lower wage pressures on the U.S. employers of the married H-1Bs; this is a proposal that has been in the works for months, and while it is bad public policy it may not violate the law. The H-1B spouses carry H-4 visas, which allow them to be in the U.S. legally, but not to work.
Typically, as time passes in these amnesties, immigration lawyers sue to open things up still further, definitions change, and gradually the migration streams expand. That is certainly what happened with IRCA, and we can expect the same this time around.
But the basic proposal could have been worse.
Congressman Rogers’ Caveat. Congressman Harold Rogers (R- KY) is the chair of the powerful House of Representatives Appropriation Committee. He recently issued a strange statement (for a Republican and for a committee chair) saying that Congress could not stop the executive amnesty by denying the administration funding for it on the grounds that the entity that would be running the amnesty (USCIS) is “completely funded by fees” not tax moneys.
This is odd for several reasons: first, I do not know about right now, but budget documents over the years show that USCIS has usually been partially funded by tax funds in the past; second, he is cutting the ground out from under fellow Republicans in the House who oppose the amnesty, but thirdly, and most curiously, he is saying something that can only reduce the power of his committee, and of his chairmanship.
For years, if not decades, agencies have come before his committee asking for the authority to spend fees on various things, such as the running of the National Parks, or the immigration programs. Is he saying that from now on such agencies need not check with his committee (or the Senate counterpart) before spending fee moneys?
If so, that would be a surrender of congressional authority of historic proportions.