Panel Transcript: Immigration Fixes

From the Jordan Commission to the RAISE Act

Panel Summary


Press Release
Panel Video
Report: Immigration Multipliers - Trends in Chain Migration

Date: Thursday, November 30, 2017, at 9 a.m.

Location: National Press Club, Lisagor Room, 529 14th St, NW, 13th Floor, Washington, D.C.

The Center for Immigration Studies hosted panel discussion focusing on past and present attempts to change the immigration system. The speakers will included U.S. Senator David Perdue (R-Ga), co-author of the Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy (RAISE) Act, Michael Teitlebaum, Vice Chairman of the bipartisan U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform (which was the last officially appointed advisory group to offer detailed immigration recommendations chaired by the late civil rights icon Barbara Jordan), and Jessica Vaughan, Director of Policy Studies at the Center for Immigration Studies and author of an extensive report on chain migration.

The debate over the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program has brought the issue of chain migration, and legal immigration in general, to the forefront. While the RAISE Act and the recommendations of the Jordan Commission differ in certain respects, both seek to end chain migration by focusing on the nuclear family and put an emphasis on skills useful to the United States. Senator Perdue, Dr. Teitelbaum, and Ms. Vaughan discussed these issues and more.

Introduction and Moderator

Executive Director, Center for Immigration Studies


David Perdue is the only Fortune 500 CEO in Congress and is serving his first term in the United States Senate, where he represents Georgia on the Armed Services, Banking, Budget, and Agriculture Committees. He is a co-author of the Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment (RAISE Act) and a congressional leader on legal immigration reform.
Michael Teitlebaum served as Vice Chair and Acting Chair of the U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform (”the Jordan Commission”). An internationally recognized expert on migration, he is a senior advisor to the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, a Wertheim Fellow at Harvard Law School, and a member of the Center of Migration Studies Board of Trustees.

Jessica Vaughan is Director of Policy Studies at the Center for Immigration Studies and author of a recent report, “Immigration Multipliers: Trends in Chain Migration”, which examines the impact of the U.S. family-based immigration system.

Transcript by Superior Transcriptions LLC

MARK KRIKORIAN: Good morning. My name is Mark Krikorian. I’m executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, and I’m paying for the lavish spread of coffee in the back – (laughter) – which, given what it cost, it should be pretty lavish. Please drink every drop that you can. (Laughter.)

We are here to discuss probably the most important immigration issue – or the most important part of the immigration issue that doesn’t get the kind of attention it really needs. You know, the issues of the border and the wall and all of the rest of that is very important. Vetting of people for security purposes – again, extremely important. But those kind of things get a lot of discussion, a lot of tweets, a lot of debate in Congress.

The issue of chain migration, though, doesn’t get as much debate and discussion as it needs because it really is the driver of our whole immigration policy. I won’t go into details – our speakers will talk more about it – but really we have an immigration policy based on yesterday’s immigrants deciding who tomorrow’s immigrants are going to be, where basically it’s kind of like there’s a – there was a shampoo commercial, for those of you who are my age and older where it was – some model said, you know, I use this shampoo and then I told two friends, and then they told two friends, and they told two friends, and there was like a multiplying number of pictures here of people saying there were telling two friends.

That’s the way our immigration policy works, and that’s what chain migration basically is. An immigrant comes in, for whatever reason. The immigrant may have a spouse, the spouse has siblings, the siblings have parents and their own spouses, and on and on and on. And it’s something that doesn’t get the kind of discussion that’s necessary, but over the past year it really has started to get some attention outside the kind of wonky circles of people who do this for a living, like us. And that’s why we decided to have this panel, and it’s a pretty distinguished and impressive panel if I say so myself. I guess we’re coming up in the world.

Our star, as it were, is Senator David Perdue from Georgia. He was elected in 2014, had not held public office before, is apparently Congress’s only Fortune 500 CEO. Probably could use a little more of that to ground what Congress does in reality. Former CEO of Reebok, which I didn’t know, as well as the Dollar General stores, is on the – is on the Banking, Budget, Armed Services and Agriculture Committees, and he has been – what relates to us here is he has been leader, along with Senator Tom Cotton, in pushing what’s called the RAISE Act. I forget the acronym, but I think they come up with a name first and then they make up the – what the – what it stands for. But the point of it is it would modernize and streamline our immigration system, and you know, people introduce bills all the time. This, however, is a real thing. The president had an event at the White House for it. This isn’t just some bill for show; this is a beginning, at least, of a serious engagement with this issue of how our legal immigration system picks people, so we’re delighted to have the senator here with us.

We’re also delighted to have Dr. Michael Teitlebaum, who is a demographer and has been looking at immigration and working on it for years. He wrote – I believe was it 1979 – that foreign affairs article, which was one of the first thing I’d read on – basically critiquing current immigration policy.

What’s relevant specifically for here is that Dr. Teitlebaum was vice chairman of the U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform, the Jordan Commission, which in the mid-1990s really did take a serious look, a bipartisan look at the faults of our immigration policy and came up with a lot of consensus recommendations that, frankly, had Congress implemented 20 years ago, we would be in a very different place today.

The RAISE Act and the recommendations of the Commission on Immigration Reform aren’t the same, but, you know, there’s all this – various differences here and there, but they are animated by many of the same concerns: chain migration as well as some others. And so Dr. Teitlebaum is going to talk to us a little bit about what the Jordan Commission found two decades ago, and it’s still quite relevant today.

And last but not least is Jessica Vaughan, the director of Policy Studies here at the Center for Immigration Studies. She has been at CIS even longer than I have, and is a former FSO, and has written on a wide variety of the immigration issues. And most recently, she has a report on chain migration which I think we outside – is that correct? – kind of giving people a sense of the scope of it and the nature of it.

And so what we’re going to do is we’re going to start with Jessica, then Michael will talk, and then the senator will give some reactions and thoughts at the end. So, Jessica?

JESSICA VAUGHAN: Thank you, Mark, and good morning, everyone, and thanks for coming.

What I’d like to do is set the stage by explaining the mechanics of chain migration, the scale of chain migration, and what provisions in our current immigration law contribute to it and drive it, and then also say a few words about how this could play out with certain legislative proposals that are on the table now because, after all, that’s the other reason we’re talking about -chain migration, is that it – there is legislation, not only the RAISE Act, but also proposals for an amnesty for people with DACA, and chain migration really helps determine what the ultimate impact of such legislation would be.

So legal immigration now is over one million a year – one million legal immigrants that we admit every year. And it has been over one million a year since 2005. And I’ve been able to estimate what the 2016 numbers will be – they haven’t been released yet officially by DHS – but it looks like, based on some of the administrative data that is public, that 2016 legal immigration will be about 7 percent – or possibly more – higher than 2015. And in fact, legal immigration numbers have risen 74 percent since 1965 when our current immigration system was established.

The growth in immigration is due to a couple of things. Sometimes it’s because we create new immigration categories or change the law, like adding the diversity visa lottery, or the 1990 Act or increasing or decreasing the number of refugees, but a lot of it – of the growth is because of chain migration, and that is because of the phenomenon that Mark described that has an exponential impact on the numbers. When you – let’s say you get – you are sponsored for an employment-based green card, or win the lottery or come in as a refugee. When you get a green card, the family – immediate family members that you have get that green card at the time – or the immigrant visa if you are coming from overseas – your spouse and your children who are under the age of 21.

When – but if you come in by yourself as a new, initiating immigrant – as some have called them – and you are not married – let’s say you’ve been a student here, get a work visa and adjust to an employment-based green card, if you then marry someone who is not a citizen, that’s chain migration. If that person you marry has children, they also get to migrate with them if they are under the age of 21. If you have adult sons and daughters and they have children, you can sponsor them when – usually when you become a citizen, but also if you have a green card if they are unmarried. If they are married, you can sponsor them after you become a citizen. And when you become a citizen you can sponsor your parents, and your sisters and brothers, and all of those folks can in turn sponsor other immigrants.

And there is a handout on the table that has some charts and graphs that enumerate the categories of – that we allow for family migration. All of these categories, except for two, have numerical limits, and what kind of reins in the growth in chain migration is the numerical limits that we have in some categories. But two of the largest categories are not limited in number each year and that is spouses of U.S. citizens and their children, and parents of U.S. citizens. And so that is why those numbers have been growing dramatically because they are not constrained by numerical limits, and they increase exponentially. And if you have a chance to look at the handout, there is a line graph showing what has happened with the numbers in the parents category and the spouse category over time. And each of these bumps in immigration can be traced back to a specific event in which legal immigration was increased and more people then became citizens and had the opportunity to sponsor family members. And the parents category is one of the fastest growing in our legal immigration system, and it’s now three times the number that it was back in the early 1980s.

So scholars have long tried to calculate exactly what is the level of chain migration, and a team of researchers from Princeton University studied the administrative data and determined that over the last 35 years chain migration has made up almost two-thirds of our total legal immigration flow. And in 2015 – I show how this happens – it has been about 50 percent of our total legal immigration in the last few years. The reason for that is not so much because immigrants are sponsoring fewer family members but because we have – a larger share of our legal immigration is first-time immigrants like refugees, in particular, and asylees and lottery winners. Those are all what we call initiating immigrants. So it’s a very significant chunk of our legal immigration system.

They calculated that the average new immigrant who is the first one in their family to migrate to the United States will ultimately sponsor an average of 3.45 family members, so you could say for every two new immigrants that we admit, ultimately there will be an average of seven additional green cards from that initiating immigrant. So you can see that there is a multiplier effect. And the growth is built in to our immigration system.

Chain migration has also contributed to the aging of our immigration – of legal immigration to the United States. Several decades ago, only about 17 percent of new immigrants we admitted were over the age of 50, and nowadays it’s up – over 21 percent are coming in over the age of 50. And this has implications, as well, for the fiscal impacts of our immigration system that we need to consider now much more than even a couple of decades ago.

So, because of chain migration, under – without changes to current law, any change that we make to expand the number of legal admissions to the United States is going to have a larger impact over time. So if, for example, we were to offer green cards in the form of an amnesty to people with DACA, which is one of the legislative proposals now being considered, it is estimated that roughly 700,000 people now have DACA status. Because of the way our law works, once they receive their green card, of course, they would immediately be able to sponsor spouses, although some studies have suggested that not very many people who have DACA would have spouses that they would sponsor, but there would be a few. But the big chain migration impact would be because they would be, after obtaining citizenship after five years, able to sponsor their parents, most of whom are believed to be living in the country illegally.

In addition, they would be able to sponsor siblings upon getting citizenship, and then of course over – that would – that process would take a long time because of the long waiting lists in our legal immigration system. Our law actually promises a green card to more people than can be admitted in any given year, which causes the wait list to build up and so on, which is a different problem. But that does slow down the chain migration somewhat.

But I calculated that if Congress were to pass an amnesty for people with DACA, it would ultimately result in at least two million new legal immigrants over time because of chain migration: the original 700,000 people with DACA and at least 1.4 million additional immigrants that they would sponsor, which is at a rate lower than the 3.45 multiplier. But it’s still – I think that’s a conservative estimate of what we could expect from a DACA amnesty, which is something important to consider and why I think it’s very important that if an amnesty is to be enacted there should be some offsetting, mitigating changes to our legal immigration system to minimize the effect of an amnesty like that.

So what I’d like to do now is hear from Dr. Teitlebaum and Senator Perdue about what some of the proposals for reform would look like and how they would affect chain migration. Thank you.


MICHAEL TEITLEBAUM: Well, thank you very much. It’s a pleasure to be here.

And my task is to give you a 10-minute precis of a seven-year Commission on Immigration report – (laughter) – with five reports. So I’m going to be very shorthand in what I can tell you in this time.

The commission was genuinely a bipartisan commission. The members had a wide range of opinions coming in. And the surprising thing to me, and I think to everyone else, was that all of its recommendations were unanimous at the end of this commission process, with the exception that one member of the commission rescinded his vote in favor of a couple of recommendations on the day of the release of the report. So unanimous, or unanimous minus one, if you will, for a couple of the recommendations.

You can see the reports of the commission. Happily, they are online if any of you are interested in a digital library called the Hathi Trust – H-A-T-H-I Trust. So And then you just put in Commission on Immigration Reform and you’ll find all the reports of the commission. It’s a Hindi word, by the way, for the elephant – the elephant, you remember, never forgets. (Laughter.)


MR. TEITLEBAUM: Very useful resource.

So what did the commission have to say about lawful or legal immigration? It favored substantial continuing legal immigration as being in the national interest, but only if properly regulated. And that was a theme of all of the recommendations of the commission: positive about immigration if properly regulated. And the commission pointed to many failures in the then-current and still current 20 years later legal immigration system that the commission felt unanimously required reform. Many of those problems were unintended outcomes. That’s a classic aspect of immigration policy in the U.S., that legislation is passed, it has effects that its sponsors did not anticipate and in many cases did not want, and then it can’t be changed because it’s in legislation and interest groups of various kinds suddenly discover that they’re the beneficiaries of this unintended consequence, and they fight doggedly to maintain that unintended consequence.

It urged Congress to set clear priorities for legal immigration and deliver on them. And its priorities – the commission’s – were unification of nuclear families, admission of those highly-skilled workers who are genuinely needed to support U.S. competitiveness – not arguably or we would like to, but genuinely needed – and support for refugees, admission of refugees, reaffirming longstanding U.S. commitments to refugee resettlement. And the commission said once you have those priorities, the number of visas in these categories should flow from the priorities.

The current system doesn’t work that way. It comes right back from 1965, as Jessica said. The visa numbers are large, and they are increasing – and they were in ’97, too, when the final report of the commission, 20 years ago, was released. But the visas are large, increasing, but not sufficient – not sufficient for those three priorities. So there are backlogs in some of those priorities. And why is that? The reason is that many visas are allocated to low-priority or lower-priority categories, even as the higher-priority categories are not satisfied. And you end up, then, with what was just said: You have a legal immigration system that is managed by backlog, essentially, rather than priorities.

So the primary recommendations in this domain were to reallocate visas – it’s perfectly straightforward once you – if you agree with that analysis – reallocate visas from the lower-priority categories to the high-priority categories. And the lower-priority categories in the current legislation, and I think in most people’s minds as well – the lower-priority categories would be the adult children of U.S. citizens, the adult brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens, each of which have very large backlogs that have built up; and the diversity visas.

Which the – one of the members of the commission was one of the primary sponsors of the diversity visa system. And he said, and most of the sponsors of the diversity visa system would say now, it’s outlived its usefulness. It had a particular goal when it was passed, which I won’t go into, but nobody anticipated that there would be 19 million applications each year for 55,000 diversity visas. So you have a hit rate – it’s worse than Las Vegas. (Laughter.) You have a hit rate of well under a quarter percent of those who apply, the 19 million who apply.

If you reallocate from these lower categories to the higher categories, the commission said, all eligible immigrants with high priority could be admitted within one year. And the primary beneficiaries of that system as recommended would have been spouses and minor children of legal permanent immigrants who have not yet naturalized. They would be the primary beneficiaries. Their backlogs would be cleared quite rapidly. The projected numerical outcome showed that overall legal immigration numbers would have risen for a period of about 10 years in order to clear the backlogs of these categories, and then would decline to levels lower than those at the time of the report.

What about skilled immigrants? Well, again, if properly regulated, the commission said, it could be in the national interest, because it would enhance in some respects global competitiveness of the workforce if they were genuinely needed, and it would enable more immigrants to prosper in a modern economy that really requires skills and education to prosper. But only if properly regulated. And the commission said the system in 1997, which is the same system in 2017, is not properly regulated. Labor certification in particular, which is the primary regulatory mechanism, does not protect U.S workers from unfair employment competition, and the commission said that system does not serve the national interest for that reason.

You can see I’m going very quickly through these.

Low-skilled and unskilled workers. Admissions in large numbers, the commission said, is not in the national interest. It’s certainly in the interest of some interest groups, but it’s not in the national interest. The commission was unable to find any credible evidence of shortages among low-skilled or unskilled workers. There is a large population of low-skilled/unskilled workers in the U.S. workforce. And wages and benefits for those people had been and still are in long-term decline. They’ve been going down in real terms over a period of 30 or 40 years. And the commission also recognized that the family and refugee categories would continue to admit substantial numbers of low-skilled and unskilled immigrants.

What about temporary agricultural workers? Not in the national interest, said the commission. Based on a lot of experience in the U.S. and elsewhere, the commission actually had a very strong statement here. It said a large temporary agricultural worker program would be a “grievous mistake.” That was the wording in the commission report. You can see this was not a milquetoast commission report. Those people are easily exploited. Large numbers depress conditions for U.S. workers who might be attracted to positions of this kind if their conditions of work were not so bad. And retards productivity growth on the part of employers, who don’t have a good reason to invest in saving labor if labor is very cheap.

What about refugees? The commission was strongly supportive of a continuing refugee resettlement program as in the U.S. national interest, but only if well regulated. You can see there’s a refrain here. And protection, it said, also is important protecting the majority of the world’s refugees, for whom resettlement is really not appropriate or practical. The U.N. says there are now 20 million refugees around the world, 65 million – the last number I saw – of refugees and internally displaced people in refugee-like situations. There’s no prospect that 20 million or 65 million are going to be resettled, but those people need protection where they are. And the commission strongly supported that.

And finally, more flexibility, more adaptability of U.S. immigration policies, the commission said, is badly needed. Everything keeps changing in this domain. It’s a dynamic set of global movements. Policies adopted in 1965 are really inappropriate for 2017 or 1997 or 1990. And yet, when you have a legislative process that can’t be changed without legislation, and it’s possible to block changes in legislation more easily than to adopt legislation, you get frozen into inappropriate policies.

The other thing the commission said was that there’s a long history of reforms that have led to these unexpected outcomes, and unwanted outcomes by their sponsors as well, and when you see those you should be able to change them. And yet, we haven’t been able to change those policies that had those unexpected outcomes.

This is a personal comment. I would say that is characteristic of the ’65 immigration reforms, of the ’86 immigration reforms, and of the 1990 immigration reforms. All of them had features that had unexpected outcomes not anticipated or wanted by their primary sponsors, much less those who voted for them. But they’ve never been really corrected.

So the commission said every five years or so – three to five years – Congress should find a way to revisit these issues. I know you enjoy, Senator, dealing with these issues. (Laughter.) And maybe it wouldn’t be the Senate and the House that would do it themselves, but have some kind of objective enterprise that would advise the Congress on things that have done unexpectedly in the wrong direction. You might want to look at these things.

But – and I would add this as a closing comment – the risk of that is if there were some kind of independent commission, then it would be a primary target to be captured by the many interest groups that are fascinated by immigration issues. So you’d have to have some mechanism – effective mechanism to keep from that – that advisory function, if you will, from being captured by special interests.

I’ll stop there.

MR. KRIKORIAN: Thank you, Michael.


SENATOR DAVID PERDUE (R-GA): Well, I think we’ve heard today so far from the academic part of this, and also from the practical side, given the commission’s work. And a large part of what I’m going to talk about today comes from the practical side, but we’ve looked at the commission’s work, and I applaud them today and I’ve applauded them publicly. Had we implemented even parts of that – of those recommendations, we’d be in a totally different situation today.

So we don’t have all the answers, but I would like to address from a practical standpoint the implications of what is possible with reforming our immigration system. First, the RAISE Act is Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy. So I’m going to give you a very practical perspective on the data that you have heard so far and, frankly, agree with. I don’t have any differing opinion about the data. It speaks for itself. But I want to talk about the subject matter itself.

First of all, immigration has several dimensions to it. First, it’s a national security issue. Secondly, it’s an economic issue, as we’ve proven over the last 230 years of our history as America. And then, thirdly, it’s a humanitarian – it has humanitarian dimensions to it as well. There are some 65 million refugees around the world, as Michael just noted. I’ve been to many of these refugee camps in the Middle East. I just got back from Afghanistan.

And I lived in Hong Kong and Europe during my career, so I have sort of a perspective. And even Eastern Europe recently, looking at the refugee pipeline into Europe and seeing the issues of how Europe has approached it, how Canada has approached immigration, how Australia has approached it. And these are countries that have large percentages of immigrants every year, in many cases larger percentages than ours, and we’ve looked at how they were dealing with those. But we took it into – we tried to put it into context as it relates to national security, economic needs, and also humanitarian needs.

But what we tried not to do – and this is differing – this differs from what maybe the commission did and what a lot of people have done in the Congress. And this is – this is a disease in Washington that I can – I can critique as an outsider. Typically, what Washington tries to do, or in Congress, is to try to solve the comprehensive problem. And there are three dimensions of the immigration problem today – and I call it a problem because it really is.

Number one, you have the legal situation that Jessica talked about very articulately. In terms of the numbers, we’re bringing in a little over a million people today, almost 1.1 million. That’s about twice what our historical hundred-year average is, but that’s not the issue today. The numbers are not the issue.

The second dimension is the temporary work visa. There’s about 2.2 million visas issued every year, and yet we have pockets in there where people in business say we can’t get enough workers. And what Michael is talking about, and what Mark addressed as well, is this unusual paradigm here where we have jobs that are – can’t be filled, and we have workers who can’t find work. And I look at that very simply. I think it’s a mismatch of skills, and so I’ll get to that in a minute.

But the third piece, the third dimension of our immigration problem is the illegal situation, and so what the – three times in the last 11 years, Congress has tried to solve all three of these at the same time in a comprehensive, sweeping bill, and they failed. And these were well-intentioned people, they were bipartisan for the most part, they got to bipartisan solutions and, quite frankly, had any of those been adopted, our situation would have been quite different today.

Now, I don’t agree with everything that each of those bills did, but I certainly don’t agree with doing nothing. If you think about it, we haven’t done anything since 1990. That’s almost 30 years ago.

In 1965 to ’86, China was in a cultural revolution. I mean, they didn’t even come out, you know, publicly trading until the late ’80s, when Deng Xiaoping said, you know, to get rich is glorious. And we see the world change so dramatically here.

In 1990, the Internet really wasn’t used, for the most part, and so what we have is an entirely different world now with an immigration system in the United States that does not meet the needs of our country nor the needs of the people who are around the world needing help.

Our act is very simple. I want to go through the pillars of this. And by the way, this is just one piece of what I think is the ultimate solution here, but you have to start with the high ground, and that’s what we’ve tried to do. We looked at other countries, we tried to find best practices, and we really liked what was recommended in the study back in the ’90s of the Jordan Commission. In many respects, we’re recommending what we are talking about here today.

Now, there are some parts where we differ, but this is a – this is going to be a negotiation. What we’re trying to do, though, again, is to bring this back to what we think can be a practical solution on the legal side, and that means that temporary work visas and H-2As, H-2Bs, H-1Bs, and so forth, need to be separated in terms of what we are going to do there.

Right now, though, what we have is a system that is a merit-based system. It moves to a merit-based system to evaluate people who want to apply for citizenship. Now, let’s recognize that the green card in America is the gold standard of immigration around the world. It just is.

When I was a graduate student, I remember in engineering that, you know, most of my – or a lot of my compatriots there were foreign nationals. They got their diploma, they got a green card, they got a job, and they’ve been productive citizens of the United States ever since. That’s part of the American dream.

So what we’re trying to do is look at the things that make people contributory into our economy, as well as – we leave a refugee category in there, we eliminated – in this proposal we eliminate the – what is called the diversity visa lottery. I don’t like that term because it was never really successful at its original mission, and as Michael said, we don’t need to get into that today, but I call it the green card visa program because of what it is. And today – let me talk about that just for a minute. Even CIS has called out that, for example, Iran is the third – we give Iran the third most green card visas – or green card situations of any country that we give in the green card visa program – or visa lottery. Iran, the third most. And 30 percent of all visas given out in the green card – or the diversity visa lottery program are given to countries who have been identified by ICE as being sources of terrorists. And so this is a major national security issue, and we take it out. We eliminate it in our proposal.

There are skill-based – merit-based skills that we want to look at. Basically, it’s education, job, age, investment, accomplishment and English. And there a 100-point base system, and again, this is totally negotiable. In fact, I would argue that the two people who are sponsoring this – Tom Cotton and myself – are among the most conservative in Congress on this immigration issue. And yet, we have a totally workable situation relative to the structure of what we are trying to recommend as well as what we might have to do in some other areas to get a negotiated settlement with people on the other side of our aisle. And we have those discussions underway today.

This bill is pro-worker, it’s pro-growth, and it has been proven to work. Seventy-two percent of Americans support an immigration system that is limited to the worker and to the worker’s immediate family – 72 percent. I challenge you to find another topic where you can get 70 percent of Americans to agree. This is not Washington’s – this is Pulse, and they’ve done this repeatedly. Fifty-seven percent of Americans support a merit-based immigration system. This is widely popular out in America, and they believe it protects our national security, and our economic interest, and it protects American workers.

Today, in the current system, we bring in a little over a million people. Of that, 140,000 are designated as workers, and so they are looked at as their worker – as their skills, to some degree, their ability to work. The practical nature of that is only 70,000 come in based on their skills to work. The other 70,000 of the 140(,000) are pretty much immediate family. So what that means is the remaining 950,000 people are being – the people there – and I think Mark said this, but maybe Michael said it – that we’re letting historical immigrants determine who future immigrants are going to be under this system – 950,000 people a year. And I would argue that that’s just not contributory to an economy in the situation we are in today. And so this is a system that absolutely is screaming to be reformed. That’s what we are proposing here.

You hear the DACA solution being thrown out right now, given the president’s – and by the way, I support what the president did in terms of declaring that this was not something that the executive branch should decide. This is something the legislative branch should decide, and now we have some – until early March to get this done. And so there’s all sorts of suppositions being thrown out there that, well, we’ll do a DACA deal to get the end-of-year spending bill done, or we’ll do a debt ceiling, and for DACA, and all this. Well, I don’t even know what a DACA solution is yet. You know, I hear the – I hear some people talk about DREAMers, some people talk about DACA and so forth. But we are trying to do is engage to make something happen to where we can get a solution on the legal immigration side. But I will say this publicly – and I’ve said it before – no solution on DACA, in my opinion, can be concluded without the inclusion of RAISE and the end of chain migration in America.

And with that, Mark, I’ll stop. I know you want to take some questions. But I – it’s an honor to be here, and I appreciate the interest in this so-critical topic.

MR. KRIKORIAN: Thank you very much, Senator.

Why don’t we take some questions? If you could identify yourself and then speak up so we can – so we can show it for later.

Peggy? Oh, wait for the microphone.

Q: Thanks. Peggy Orchowski. I’m a congressional correspondent for the Hispanic Outlook.

And I’ve also written two books on immigration, and one of them was about the 1965 law. And the two things that distinguished that was not only a priority on family unification, but a rule that said you cannot prefer any national origin. So there was a complicated formula that was proposed and, I mean, still works today called the 7 percent rule, that no nationality can have more than 7 percent of all the green cards given out.

And it seems to me if you give green cards to DACA, people who are 85 percent Mexican, you are giving an extreme preference to a particular nationality. So I’m just wondering, is that nationality preference any kind of issue at all, or is that a dead issue now?

MR. KRIKORIAN: Michael, did you guys address that in the commission?

MR. TEITLEBAUM: I don’t think we did. There was – when we were writing, there were an estimated – I’m sorry – estimated 3 million unauthorized migrants in – a population of 3 million. It was considered a very serious problem.

It’s now estimated, conventionally, to be 10 million, 11 million, something – you know, nobody knows for sure because you can’t measure a population accurately like this. So we weren’t really dealing with that kind of issue.

I would say, though – to go back to the ’65 Act – the ’65 Act, if you look at the history of the ’65 Act that you referred to, the family preferences that were put in there and are still part of what the senator is talking about, were put in for the purpose of maintaining the national origins flow, pre-1965, without having quotas. Do away with the quotas, but make sure that only people who are citizens of the United States can petition for their family members. The expectation of the sponsors was that the national origins flow going forward would not change very much. They were wrong. It changed dramatically.

That’s an example of unintended – there’s a whole paper written about this – I commend it to you – by a well-known historian at NYU named David Reimers. He called it “An Unintended Reform: The 1965 Immigration Act and Third World Immigration to the United States.” It’s worth a –

Q: The national origins limits still convey – (off mic).

MR. TEITLEBAUM: Yeah, but the idea of the – the goal of the family –

Q: (Off mic.)

MR. TEITLEBAUM: Yeah, yeah – somebody else will have to comment on that, I think.

MS. VAUGHAN: Yeah – oh, go ahead.

SEN. PURDUE: No, you go ahead, Jessica.

MS. VAUGHAN: All right. The per-country cap, the 7 percent rule – first of all, only applied to the preference categories and the – family and employment preference categories, but also even that has been gradually eroded over time. One big reform was made after the IRCA amnesty when the beneficiaries who, again, were largely citizens of Mexico, wanted to – their spouses were not legalized at the same time. Many of them were not even in the country. But when they were sponsored by their IRCA beneficiaries, that caused the waiting list in the spouse of green card holders category to spike very dramatically. And it was felt – you know, that’s kind of a difficult question to ask, you know, people to wait years and years to legalize their spouses, so Congress then passed a law that exempted – I think it’s 73, 77 percent of the spouses from the per-country cap. And there is talk now – I believe the RAISE Act eliminates the per-country cap for the employment-based green card. So we’ve been moving away from that for some time.

MR. KRIKORIAN: Senator, do you have anything to add on that?

SEN. PURDUE: Well, no, Jessica – I was just going to remind that in the RAISE Act we do do away with the per-country caps. I just don’t think that that applies today in a global economy that we have. And when you go to a merit-based system, it needs to be pure, in my opinion.

Now, the other thing is that I want to address – the DACA situation, you’re exactly correct. If there is a solution for that 800,000 to 2 million people, depending on what type of solution, you’re going to throw that ratio out dramatically.

But I think what happens here – and a lot of people have criticized this – is it will focus on two or three countries. Well, I don’t subscribe to that America has to have X number of people from X – from every country in the world. I mean, what we have right now is a fight for our way of life, frankly, economically, and militarily and socially in many respects. So what we’re trying to do is get back to what helped make America great to start with, and that is that in the early part of the industrial revolution, we needed low-skill wage – low-skill workers and we got them. Today, we need skilled workers and we’re not getting them.

MR. KRIKORIAN: Yeah, and I’d only add that the very mechanism of something like the RAISE Act is going to result in a more diverse immigration flow anyway because if most of the immigrants are either spouses of American citizens or they are picked through the point system that, you know, picks people based on their education and what have you, you’re just not likely to have the kind of domination of the flow by one or two countries because half of the spouses, for instance, currently are earlier immigrants, U.S. citizens marrying people, but half of them are Americans, and they’re going to marry people from all over the world. You study in Italy, you know, you study in Colombia for a year, you meet somebody.

Likewise with the skills – you know, it’s going to be a much more – assuming it were implemented, it’s a much more straightforward thing. You go on the website, you put in your information. It will tell you that – Canada does this – do you qualify or not, and you’re going to end up with less sort of monopolization of the flow without having to do it explicitly the way the per-country caps do it now.

So let’s move on to the next person.

Q: Neil Munro here from Breitbart.

So on the question of chain migration, I’m wondering, given what Senator McConnell said last night that he endorses, is this a success? But, you know, the – what’s the response of your colleagues to the question on chain migration? They’re busy, they don’t know a lot about particular issues.

And the second question I have is, where do they get their information on polling? (Laughter.) Because I write about this for a long time, and a lot of my stories are those polls are wrong – you’ll notice the Trump election, and it seems to me that a lot of your members just don’t know squat about the true numbers here.

SEN. PURDUE: You know, it’s – my biggest frustration with – coming from my world into this world is that I’m standing on a very squishy platform here in terms of information. I never had that problem in a business because, if you had that problem in business, you were out of business. And here we make a lot of policy decisions on really half-baked data in many – I could not agree more with that.

Let me give you the mood on this. First of all, people see me as a very reasonable person. I come from a world where you have to compromise to get things done, so this is not a rabid attempt to cut immigration numbers. This is a very rational approach to looking at a problem, dividing it into its pieces, and coming up with a solution.

We need to get to temporary visas – there’s no question about that. But if we confuse the two today we will never get any of this solved. So the data we looked at went back to the commission’s work, we’ve looked at CIS, we’ve gone to places like Canada and Australia, and then compared it to Eastern Europe and looked at Germany, and France and places like that to look at what other people are doing.

So we’re very comfortable with the fact that – looking at the needs of the U.S. economy and looking at our national security needs, that going to something like this on the legal side is just what Mark said. In Canada, you go online and you put in your particular – it’s like applying to a college almost. You see what’s important.


SEN. PURDUE: It’s actually easier –

MR. KRIKORIAN: No essays.

SEN. PURDUE: – but you can prepare, too. For example, if you have a job offer or if you are of a certain age – and you mentioned age, Mark. I want to address that.

You know, with the American population being – our average age is about 50 today, and that’s a problem because people are retiring earlier and earlier, and putting more and more pressure on the social systems and so forth. The workers – you know, we – age is a benefit for someone coming in and applying in this system because they will have a longer runway to be contributory. So I couldn’t agree more.

I think the mood in our – in our caucus, anyway – is that ending chain migration is a top priority. When you have the majority leader of one of the – of the Republican caucus say that he is in favor of eliminating chain migration, I think that’s a milestone. And he has looked at this bill, he’s – you know, and we talked about it in our caucus. The thing now is we believe that before March you’ve got to have a solution on DACA legislatively and, therefore, this gives us an opportunity to raise this as an issue and to try to get Democratic support to a bipartisan solution somehow.

Q: Any sign of Democratic support at the moment?

SEN. PURDUE: Well, you know – (laughs) – until you get a vote, there is no such thing as Republican or Democratic support, in my experience. I mean, people will talk a lot, but there’s a lot of posturing going on right now, and so – I’m maybe a little naïve on this, but there is a solution to be done here, and it’s one that I think people would look at and say this is going to set America up to become competitive again with the rest of the world.

MR. KRIKORIAN: And I think one thing I would add before the question is that – and this is something I think Senator Cotton has talked about publicly as well as you, Senator, is that this isn’t just horse trading; in other words, the RAISE Act isn’t just a good idea and here we have an opportunity with DACA to get it through Congress. It actually is related to DACA in the sense that DACA is going to have certain harmful consequences. It’s going to almost certain attract more illegal immigration, and as Jessica pointed out, spark more chain migration so that something like the RAISE Act is necessary as a kind of damage control component of a DACA fix rather than just horse trading – we’ll pick one from Column A and one from Column B.

SEN. PURDUE: I’d like to pile onto one thing Jessica said and remind everybody that, if you just did a pure DACA solution under current law, the problem with that is the parents then – in five years will be the next person that gets included, and I have a particular problem with that because what makes the DACA young people a little different is they haven’t yet violated federal law. Their parents did.

MR. KRIKORIAN: Right. Next question?

Q: Dr Teitlebaum, Roy Beck, Numbers USA.

So in ’95, ’96, ’97, you looked at chain migration. You did not make any recommendations on parents. Now I’m looking at – I’m looking at DACA’s – at – I’m looking at this graph from Jessica. It looks like maybe, I don’t know, around 45,000 parents at the time the commission was delivering its results. It looks like maybe around 140,000 today. I mean, it has at least tripled. Do you think that that would – maybe the commission would have looked at parents in a different way if they had seen how high this was going go?

MR. TEITLEBAUM: Yeah, it’s hard to say. The commission operated – the chair of the commission was of the view that if we weren’t in substantial agreement, we shouldn’t make a recommendation. So there are some things we didn’t even mention about immigration, like, for example, student visas. We didn’t discuss student visas. And they –

Q: Because there’s too much – because there’s too much diversity among –

MR. TEITLEBAUM: The commission was not, in any sense in – did not have even close to a consensus on that subject.

On the parents, I think the numbers were as you indicated. It wasn’t a major issue at that point. I don’t know that the commission expected it would grow. I mean, the – Congress can be wrong, as I’ve said, and ought to change things, and commissions can be wrong, too, in not realizing that certain things are underway that they are unaware of.

Q: And just a quick follow-up – your opinion and then maybe a little speculation at the commission.

Senator Perdue and Cotton’s – the way they handle parents is to end the immigration of parents but to allow immigrants to bring their parents on long-term visa – visitor visas so they can take care of them, so the humanitarian aspect is dealt with, but you stop the chains through that. Does that – is that – do you think that would have – was anything like that even mentioned by anybody?


Q: OK.

MR. KRIKORIAN: If you could hand it back there, yeah.

Q: OK, thank you. Thanks. Fred Lucas with the Daily Signal.

Two questions, actually. First one, just a purely political question, but do you think having DACA on this bill – you know, marrying DACA with the RAISE Act, that will sort of box Chuck Schumer and other Democrats in to supporting – or to ending chain migration if you tie it to DACAers and, you know, quote/unquote, “the DREAMers”?

SEN. PURDUE: Well, we’re not suggesting that we tie it to DACA. All I’ve said is I want to stop the conversation about DACA as a singular issue relative to a solution because I just don’t think, under current law, there is a solution for DACA because of the parent – parental – the chained immigration dimension of it. So we’ve said, look, if you’re going to have a solution on DACA, you’ve got to at least engage on RAISE and then chain migration.

Q: But, I mean, would you consider like a single bill?

SEN. PURDUE: Look, this is – the next few weeks are going to be very interesting. First we’ve got to get tax done – hopefully this week – but then I think you’ll start having – as they move into the year-end funding conversation, as we parallel that here, you’re going to see a lot of conversation about this immigration issue.

So the way Congress works is we negotiate, and so I wouldn’t preclude any kind of conversation right now except that I have some certain precepts. One is that, beyond anything else, we have to end chain migration, and I’m saying that as a business guy. I don’t know the political ramifications of that. I mean, we’ve had a lot of people saying this, but think about this. I mean, the last time we actually change our immigration law was 1990. I mean, that’s – it’s time to review. The world has changed dramatically since then. I think we can get a deal done, so it may include some facets of all of this.

Q: All right. And this question would probably be for the senator and others, but the current system with chain migration brings on a lot of low-skilled workers that displaces American low-skilled workers. Moving to a merit-based system – would that in the long-term lead to displacing American educated high school – sorry – high-skilled workers?

SEN. PURDUE: Well, there’s always that opportunity. But look, why wouldn’t America be the brain sink? You know, I’ve never believed that innovation has an upper limit, and innovation, capital formation and the rule of law is what created the economic miracle we’ve all enjoyed here in the United States since 1946. So, you know, I just – I’m of a mind that right now what we’re doing is we’re educating a lot of young people around the world coming to our colleges and universities. The number one export we have – the highest quality export we have, I believe, is our secondary education system. Michael – Mike may – Michael may disagree with that, but I really believe that’s one of our greatest exports.

The problem is we’re educating these young people, giving them diplomas, in many cases putting them on scholarships, and then not giving them a green card. Let me give you a little anecdote.

My home state of Georgia right now does more traditional movies than California. That’s a fact. Now, the problem is that digital movie development, which is the fastest growing part of the movie industry, is actually Canada and now the U.K. Why? Well, a lot of kids go to our schools on scholarship, get their degrees – and many of these are engineers and programmers and so forth – high-tech, skilled workers. They can’t get a green card, they end up going to Canada. And so Canada right now is the leading growth area for digital moviemaking.

So I’m of an opinion that nobody knows what this limit ought to be, what a number should be, but we can – we will find out. But first we’ve got to stop chain migration and go to a merit-based immigration system.

MR. KRIKORIAN: Let’s take one last question. Here.

Q: Yeah, I just want to add – oh, my name is Steve Camarota. I’m director of research at the Center for Immigration Studies.

I just want to ask one big question. Everybody knows that if you just project out current trends in immigration you’re going to add about a hundred million – maybe 110 million – people to the U.S. population over the next half century. For a state like Georgia, it might mean it would go to 15 million. For the Atlanta metro area you might add one to two million people to it through immigration.

Can you give me some sense, Senator, of what the thinking of your colleagues is? Do they think, well, you know, if we grow the population by a third that has no implications for quality of life or the environment? Or do they just not know? Or do they not care? I guess that’s sort of my question. What do they think – that that doesn’t matter? Or they don’t know? I’m kind of interested.

SEN. PURDUE: Yeah, that’s a big one, all right. (Laughter.)

You know, I can’t speak for my colleagues, but I can just say, look, it has been since 1990 since anything was done here. That kind of answers your question. And I’m – I don’t think that’s acceptable any more. I think we’ve got to keep fighting until we get something done to change this.

Aside from the growth in that – look, I – some immigration growth is very, very contributory. The GDP consists of productivity growth and population growth, right, among other things. So population growth – and our population growth is declining, just like most mature countries around the world.

The rising economies, obviously, the populations are growing dramatically. So aside from the population growth, which is a tremendous problem – it’s the – it’s the type of growth that you have. These are mostly low-skill workers that are not contributory to the system, and actually are a drain on the system in many respects. So I don’t know if it’s a lack of information, a lack of priority or whatever. Congress typically does very well in functioning in a crisis, and so we have not defined this as a crisis. And what Tom Cotton and I are doing is calling this out as a crisis, just like I have been on the debt. The debt is a crisis. This is part of the solution. If you want to grow the economy, you’ve got to fix your immigration system. It’s just as simple as that.

If you want to fix your national security system, you’ve got to fix your immigration system. It’s not the only thing you have to do, but you certainly cannot ignore it. I mean, look what just happened in New York. Who would have believed that under the, quote, “well-intended” diversity visa lottery you would have a terrorist come in? Well, we’ve been saying that now for four years – that you’ve got to look at that, we’ve got to look at that.

I gave a speech earlier this year, called it out and, you know, God forbid, I hate that it happened, but we ought to learn from that. So I believe that we have now risen at a million people a year coming in a legal system where 950,000 of them, at least, are coming in with no consideration of their contributory ability – I think is a crisis.

MR. KRIKORIAN: Thank you, Senator. Thank you, Dr. Teitlebaum and Jessica.

I’m not sure who will still be here to be accosted. The senator probably will have to run, but feel free afterwards to come up and accost the other speakers. We’ll have the proceedings up on our website at some point – probably next week – and thank you for coming, and hope to see you next time. (Applause.)