Danny Zeng | March 5, 2013
There are about 11-12 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S., including hundreds of undocumented students attending the University of Texas at Austin. What drives immigration? What are some of the struggles that immigrants face on a daily basis? What is the political solution to this issue? What kind of discourse should we have to ensure that America continues to stand for opportunity and freedom? Join us tonight in GAR 0.102 from 6 to 8pm to explore these points with some of the distinguished scholars on this issue. Immigration reform has been on the back burner for policy makers of all stripes for a very long time now. Our nation needs to rethink how we go about managing the flow of immigrants and emigrants in an increasingly globalized world. We don’t agree too much with our friends from University Democrats, but we do agree on the need to take action on this issue. Instead of providing an exhaustive list of points to consider, I offer you the following less-emphasized points to think about on this issue that I personally find quite interesting:
- Citizenship through marriage has provided thousands of foreign nationals a path to become U.S. citizens. This is under the “nationality through naturalization” part of the Immigration and Nationality Act. However, currently U.S citizens with gay and lesbian partners cannot successfully petition for their foreign spouses to become naturalized citizens because their civil union is not recognized by the U.S government. Specifically, the law states that the foreign spouse has to have been continuously “living in marital union with the citizen spouse” [emphasis mine] for three years prior to applying for naturalization. Not only this, same-sex foreign spouses cannot even be petitioned for green cards. These hurdles have caused some gay and lesbian Americans to immigrate to other countries to live with their foreign spouses. Regardless of your position on marriage equality, this is an incidence of legal discrimination against one group of Americans, pushing them away from homeland; such anathema should be considered for amendment.
- The visa geared toward highly skilled workers, H1-B visas, had a cap at 85,000 in 2012. U.S. firms hit the cap as early as June of last year, causing many companies to lose qualified candidates who could greatly contribute to our economy, including graduate students working in American research universities. The cap needs to be enlarged or lifted to allow for a more dynamic movement of skilled labor and talents into the U.S. This will ensure our competitiveness in the global economy. Is the U.S. experiencing a labor shortage? Who are the winners and losers for allowing more foreign skilled workers to come to the U.S?
- Some in the debate focus heavily on the terms “path to citizenship” versus “path to permanent residency.” In actuality, they are much the same for many immigrants, as many Latino immigrants stop short of becoming naturalized by maintaining their green card status instead. For Mexican immigrants, their naturalization rate is at mere 36%, lower than 61% for Latino immigrants overall, according to research by Pew Hispanic Center. Many choose not to naturalize for personal and administrative reasons i.e. need to learn English and cost of application is too high. How can we get people more involved on this issue in politics? In fact, net migration from Mexico was reported to be zero in 2012. Note this does not mean there were not people coming from Mexico, but simply that as many people are going from the U.S. to Mexico as well. Data also indicates that immigration from Mexico is at all-time low.
- Asian Americans have become the fastest growing racial group in the United States, according to Pew Research Center. Though ethnically diverse within this larger racial construct, Asian Americans as a whole earn more money (median salary at $66,000) and are better educated (49% have at least bachelor degree). The group has grown 46% since 2000 – Texas being the second-largest growth state for Asian Americans. Today, Asians constitute 4.4% of population in Texas (Census data). However, looking through Asian American history, Asians had faced legal immigration barriers for ages i.e. Chinese Exclusion Acts, Immigration Act of 1917, Cable Act, Nationality Act of 1940. The Asian population especially Chinese Americans, have had a history of “illegal” immigration. A present influx of illegal immigrants from Asia persist today. How can we reconcile the relative affluence and talents of this group with components of illegal immigration? More bluntly, do economic demands trump legality?
Congress is projected to tackle immigration this year, as early as late March. And just yesterday, Secretary Napolitano called immigration her “No.1” priority. The political climate is ripe for immigration reform, if not at least major changes to existing immigration system. The challenges and opportunities facing immigration are rooted in politics, history, and law.
College Republicans are honored to co-host this immigration policy forum with our friends from University Democrats tonight here on campus. We’ve assembled some of UT’s top faculty in this field to join us for the dialogue. Join us for a lively conversation on this issue! #UTimmigration
A brief context on national immigration politics in recent years (by no means comprehensive…ha):
President Bush attempted comprehensive immigration reform back in 2007 – a bipartisan legislation that traced back to early 2000s between Ted Kennedy and John McCain – but the bill was filibustered in the Senate; only 33 Democrats, 12 Republicans and one independent voted to advance the bill through cloture. The bill would have created new categories of visas for undocumented immigrants, one of which presented a path to citizenship, and the other was geared toward temporary guest workers. The bill would have also increased border security and implemented a national employer-employee verification system. Other things would have affected include a reduction of immigration through family reunification, replacing employer-sponsored green card program with a point-system, and an older version of the DREAM Act.
Under President Obama, who promised to focus on immigration his first year in office but didn’t, a patchwork of immigration items were implemented through executive prerogatives. Obama has been dubbed as the “Deporter-in-chief” by critics. The President had deported more than 1.5 million people since he’s been in office, and about half of them have committed a crime prior to departure. The Senate tried to pass the Dream Act (yet again) in 2010 during the lame duck session but failed 5 votes short of cloture. Shortly after, the President, with pressures from activist groups, started to take things into his own hands and directed Department of Homeland Security head, Janet Napolitano, to look into executive action.
After a year of digging around, the President found a legal tool to sort of implement the Dream Act via executive agencies. The President announced his deferred action program in June of last year, amidst a heated campaign cycle, that won the approval of many immigrant advocacy groups. The impact of this program was projected to affect about 153,000 “Dreamers” in Texas alone, allowing those who would otherwise qualify under the Dream Act to stay in the country through renewable reprieves. An upward of 1.8 million undocumented people in this country could potentially benefit from this initiative. Critics accuse Obama of abusing “prosecutorial discretion” and expanding executive power.
Recently in January, a bipartisan group of Senators put forth this legislative framework for comprehensive immigration reform with the following foundations:
Four Basic Legislative Pillars:
1. Create a tough but fair path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants currently living in the United States that is contingent upon securing our borders and tracking whether legal immigrants have left the country when required;
2. Reform our legal immigration system to better recognize the importance of characteristics that will help build the American economy and strengthen American families;
3. Create an effective employment verification system that will prevent identity theft and end the hiring of future unauthorized workers; and,
4. Establish an improved process for admitting future workers to serve our nation’s workforce needs, while simultaneously protecting all workers