Reforms for a Secure and Fair Immigration System

By CIS on February 6, 2019

One fundamental problem with America's immigration system is that it often has prioritized the wants of special interest groups over the concerns of American citizens and legal immigrants. As a result, our current immigration system does not serve our national interest well, and the integrity of our system has been severely damaged. What follows is a list of some of the most important policy changes that could be implemented to right the ship.

Legal Immigration. We have the highest level of immigration in American history and will soon exceed the highest foreign-born share of the population ever. This is causing labor market distortions, even as we have no labor shortage, and chronic high rates of workers dropping out of the labor market. 63 percent of immigrant-headed households are accessing some form of welfare, due primarily to low educational attainment. 60 percent of immigrants are here because of chain migration.

  • Trim chain migration. Discontinue categories for adult, married sons and daughters and siblings, and cap the category for parents at 65,000.
  • Discontinue the Diversity Visa Lottery.
  • Replace employment categories with a point system (while maintaining the same overall number), prioritizing educational attainment, English language proficiency, and earnings. Discontinue the "Other Worker" (unskilled worker) category.
  • Change the definition of "child" to 18 (from 21). Bar child marriages for purposes of immigration. Set the minimum age for petitioners at 25 (from 21).
  • Streamline the existing process and simplify the application forms, eliminating requirements that provide little screening value, such as affidavits and job letters. Use modern screening tools like those used by U.S. financial institutions and background investigators.

Humanitarian Immigration. The array of current humanitarian admission programs is bloated, duplicative, and costly. Loose rules on asylum claims and a dysfunctional court system delay decisions for meritorious cases and encourage frivolous claims, both at the border and within the country. No program directly serves our national interest, and the refugees we admit are neglected.

  • Scrap the existing asylum system and replace with "withholding of removal" for those who apply promptly after admission. Interior port of entry (airport) applicants should be detained.
  • For illegal or land port of entry arrivals, applicants must await processing in the country from which they sought entry.
  • Withdraw from the UN refugee program. Select refugees for protection from overseas according to foreign policy or other national interest or humanitarian criteria.
  • Offset declining admissions of refugees with increased assistance to international or U.S.-run relief programs overseas.
  • Admit refugees for conditional residence for five years, after which they may apply for permanent status. Return trips to their country of origin, absent changed conditions, may lead to loss of status.
  • Reform resettlement programs to hold resettlement contractors accountable for success in refugee integration and self-sufficiency.
  • Scrap the Temporary Protected Status program.
  • Implement regulations to override the Flores settlement agreement.
  • Reform the Special Immigrant Juvenile visa program to address abuse. Eligibility should be determined by USCIS, not state judges.
  • Cancel the Cuban Migration Accord and include Cubans in the new U.S. (non-UN) refugee program (as conditions warrant).

Border Security and Interior Enforcement. One out of four immigrants arrives illegally, either by crossing the land border or overstaying a visa. Illegal employment is rampant, displacing U.S. workers from jobs and depressing wages. Apprehensions at the border have spiked after years of decline. Deportations are stymied by clogged courts, sanctuary policies, and a lack of detention space.

  • More barriers, technology, and agents are needed at the land borders to apprehend illegal crossers.
  • A more accelerated due process is needed for routine, recent cases of illegal entry or overstay. ICE should expand use of Expedited Removal, Stipulated Removal, and Judicial Orders of Removal.
  • Revise the INA to facilitate removal of, and prevent issuing immigration benefits to, gang members and other criminals.
  • Address illegal employment by mandating E-Verify and SSNVS, worksite enforcement, and cracking down on identity theft.
  • ICE must dedicate more resources to policing overstays.
  • Sanctuaries must face sanctions and legal action. The authority of state and local law enforcement agencies to cooperate with lawful federal immigration enforcement actions must be clarified and information-sharing encouraged.

Temporary Visa Programs. Too many employers are using temporary visa programs to hire foreign workers at lower wages, which displaces U.S. workers and distorts labor markets in certain industries and occupations. Some visa programs or countries have concerning overstay rates, which in the aggregate increase the number of illegal settlers by hundreds of thousands of people each year.

  • Employment visas should have shorter terms; e.g. two years for white-collar jobs and six months for low-skill jobs. Discontinue family visas for short-term workers. Require workers to return home for a period between renewals.
  • Hold employers accountable for overstays or other compliance violations, such as through fines or barring them from the program.
  • Establish standards for parity in hiring U.S. workers to avoid dependency on guestworkers.
  • Enforce requirements for wages and working conditions.
  • Citizens from countries with poor visa compliance should not be allowed to participate.
  • Reduce the default duration of stay grants to three months for short-term tourists and 72 hours for Border Crossing Card holders.
  • Certain visa holders should be required to waive their right to an immigration hearing as a condition of entry, as is the case with Visa Waiver Program travelers.
  • Require employers who petition for guestworkers to use E-Verify.
  • Establish annual caps on all guestworker programs.
  • Cap the number of visas per employer, so smaller employers and one-time hires are not shut out.
  • End the Optional Practical Training program for foreign students, replacing it with a more limited program with articulated training or employment objectives, ideally in the student's home country.