Immigration Policy Debate Simmers

Article excerpt

An immigration law expert explains the controversy dividing Congress.

Not since1965 and the abolition of al origins quota system been as comprehensive nls a debate of U.S. immigration policy as the one in which Congress currently is embroiled.

The debate began in 1995, when Sen. Alan K. Simpson (RWyo.), Chairman of the Senate Immigration Subcommittee, proposed sweeping changes to immigration policy. The changes included imposing an employment eligibility verification system based on secure documents-like enhanced tamper-proof Social Security cards-and a provision to curtail the availability of benefits to illegal aliens and legal immigrants.

Almost simultaneously, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), Chairman of the House Immigration Subcommittee, also undertook immigration reform. He not only proposed employer sanctions and limitation of benefits, but also supported a dramatic curtailment of the procedural due process rights of illegal and legal aliens with criminal convictions.

Employment-related revisions proposed. Of significance to the business community was Smith's proposal to revise the legal immigration system. He proposed limiting family-based immigration, reducing numbers for employment-based immigration and generally making the system more restrictive. In addition, Smith introduced an H-lB (skilled professional nonimmigrant)worker protection provision.

Simpson then introduced a legal immigration bill that would have a more serious adverse impact on the business community. This bill included many of the same changes called for in the House bill and also established foreign experience requirements for immigrants and H-lB nonimmigrants; limited the duration of stay of H and L nonimmigrant workers (intracompany transferees); imposed a fee on the gross earnings of H-lB workers and labor certification applicants to fund retraining of American workers; and required a gradual reduction in reliance on H-lB workers.

The business community mobilized, forming American Business for Legal Immigration (ABLI), a Washington, D.C.-based lobbying group that represents a number of associations and employers, and commissions academic studies to support its position. In an effort to stymie the progress of these radical provisions, the business community concentrated on educating the press and members of Congress about the threat posed by such provisions.

Focusing first on the House bill, the goal was to have the most egregious business-related provisions deleted; and by the time the full House voted on it, most of them were. For the Senate bill, the strategy was to convince the Senate to consider legal and illegal immigration separately, splitting the existing bill into two. The theory was the two issues are unrelated, and the enforcement concerns would color objective consideration of legal immigration reform.

Spearheaded by Sen. Spencer Abraham (R-Mich.) and supported by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), an array of disparate groups-including businesses, the American Immigration Lawyers Association, ethnic/religious groups and the Christian Coalition-successfully worked together to split the bill.

The same coalition convinced a group of conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats to pass an amendment striking changes to family- and employment-based immigration policies. Soon after, the Senate passed its illegal immigration bill and, with the help of then Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.), prevented the reintroduction of legal immigration amendments. The Senate's legal immigration bill has yet to be debated, and it's widely believed there will be no legal immigration reform, at least in this Congress.

What will remain are the enforcement provisions and four areas of the pending legislation that will seriously affect the business community. …