You Can Tell the Feds How to Change Our Immigration Policy

By David North on June 14, 2011

There is an often overlooked opportunity for individual citizens to give advice to the government about specific parts of the nation's immigration policy, and I want to encourage (and help) the reader to participate.

Frequently various agencies of the executive branch ask for public comments on proposed regulations, fee levels, form changes, and information collection systems; you can be sure that big business and other big pro-mass-immigration groups are well aware of these requests, and respond regularly.

My suspicion is that the voice of those of us who like their immigration in modest doses do not.

Note that this is the executive branch, so it deals with administrative regulations, and not the underlying law passed by the legislature. Congress has its own ways of gathering information, such as holding hearings and listening to lobbyists and reading the constituent mail, but that's another story. Further, this is all about the day-to-day routine of government business; it does not deal with either budget matters or specific cases.

Frankly, it is not always exciting stuff but it can be extremely important. Often it relates to how many questions the government asks those wanting immigration benefits, or how large the fee should be for a particular benefit, or how certain documents should be handled. And you can be sure that the other side wants to answer as few questions as possible, and to pay next to nothing in fees.

My notion is that just about every time the government asks for a response to a substantial immigration-related question there should be several responses from restrictionists, conveying their point of view on the issue in question; otherwise the mail will be thoroughly tilted against us.

Let me provide an example of an important question (which, truth to tell, I did not reply to either) and the response to that question.

As background, one of the most destructive of the many foreign worker programs run by our government is the Summer Work Travel Program of the State Department, a subset of its J-1 exchange program, as I outlined earlier this year. It brings foreign students to the U.S. in the summer to take jobs that U.S. students used to have, and often treats the foreign youth badly; everybody loses except the carnival operators and restaurants that get cheap summer help.

Well, late last year the State Department published a proposed regulation seeking to increase the fees by the employers using this program; it was designed to expand the currently extremely feeble funding that supports State's efforts to monitor and manage the program.

It was, in short, an excellent proposal but exactly three (3) responses came in, presumably from those who like the program as it is.

The point is that one or two additional coherent responses to State's request would surely have been read with some interest, given the sparseness of the mail.

Admittedly many of the proposed regulatory changes deal with such tiny populations (a handful of Japanese investors on Saipan, for instance) or such narrow subjects (documenting posthumous citizenship for aliens who died in the armed forces) that public responses are not needed. Many of the notices deal with minor proposed changes in the text of some government form – they can be ignored.

But responses are badly needed to the repeated attempts by big business to "streamline" nonimmigrant worker programs, so that they can hire foreign workers without revealing much information that might be helpful in regulating such programs; such "streamlining" always reduces the cost of such programs, increases their popularity, and thereby decreases jobs available to U.S. resident workers.

How to find out what to respond to?

Let's assume that you do not have the thick Federal Register delivered to your desk every day, and let's assume that you would like some help in sorting out the immigration material from the 99 percent of the text devoted to other things.

One way to do this is to subscribe to Interpreter Releases, the expensive ($1,380 per annum) biweekly newsletter of the immigration lawyers, or you can (for free) log onto Immigration Daily; IR, however, is much more likely than ID to list these requests for comment. In our own blogs, in the future, CIS will alert readers to the more significant Federal Register notices.

Another approach is to go to or, go to the search engine, and enter what you want framed by quotation marks; sometimes it works, and sometimes it does not. Be concise in what you request. For instance, regarding the Department of Labor's H-2A nonimmigrant program for farm workers, I got the following responses to the following prompts:

  • "H-2A worker program" – 0 responses

  • "H-2A program" – 68 responses

  • "H-2A" – 164 responses

Most agencies have internet listings of their Federal Register postings, such as this one for ICE: First, subscribe to their service, and then indicate (from within a list of choices) that you want to be told about Federal Register postings.

This is the USCIS page which lists notices of their Federal Register postings.

Generally, there are more postings from agencies that make rules (like USCIS and DoL's Office of Foreign Labor Certification) than from law enforcement agencies. And some agencies seem more willing to tell you about their FR listings, at least in a convenient way, than others.

How do you respond?

Here are ten suggestions:

1) Be choosy. There are often FR notices of little import, often dealing with data collection systems. Look for substantive notices where you will have a chance to comment on the actual operation of the program. It is best to choose programs where you know enough to make a sensible comment, if only to say, for example: "There is no need to ‘streamline' this program as it is overused already."

2) Be careful. Follow the instructions about how to address your response; if you don't, your message may be lost forever. You can use e-mail, snail-mail, or fax.

3) If you can do so, respond on behalf of an organized group, or at least a plausible constituency; for example, if this is the case: "I am writing on behalf of legal residents of the U.S. who are over 35 and are unemployed."

4) Do not be modest about your credentials; you may be as much of an expert as everyone else responding.

5) Make it clear, if this is correct, that no one is paying you to make this response, and, if it is the case, that your response does not reflect your own financial interests; your response is written only with the good of the nation in mind.

6) Be cool in your comments; if you write with too much emotion there may be an unconscious tendency of the reader to think, "Well he's upset about this, I don't have to be."

7) Be as precise as you can about the elements in the program that need to be changed or preserved; explicit references to the proposed ruling (which you should have read first) are very helpful. If you can drop in a reference to the underlying statute or a court decision, that's frosting on the cake. If there is an on-point document, cite it.

8) Try to find something positive to say, even if it's a reach, to make your comments seem balanced.

9) Be brief and use your own approach and your own choice of words. If you simply pick up the text of someone else's comments, it does not make a favorable impact on the agency receiving the document.

10) Meet the deadline.

Here's a timely example

If you would like to try your hand at this sort of thing, it would be helpful to the cause to let the State Department know how badly it needs to overhaul – if not terminate – its Summer Work Travel Program, something I have described in a recent blog. It takes away 100,000 jobs from American young people every year.

The FR notice regarding the program can be read here.

My own formal comments that might be useful in this connection can be found here.

The deadline is June 27.