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House, Senate Hold Hearings; President Weighs in on Immigration Reform in State of the Union Address

Recent House of Representatives and Senate hearings focused on immigration reform. Also, President Obama included immigration reform issues in his State of the Union Address.

House hearing. On February 5, 2013, the House of Representatives' Judiciary Committee held a hearing on "America's Immigration System: Opportunities for Legal Immigration and Enforcement of Laws Against Illegal Immigration." Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), chairman of the committee, said that additional hearings on this topic would take place in the Immigration and Border Security Subcommittee.

Witnesses included Vivek Wadhwa, Director of Research, Pratt School of Engineering, Duke University; Michael Teitelbaum, Senior Advisor, Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and Wertheim Fellow, Harvard Law School; Puneet S. Arora, Vice President, Immigration Voice; Julian Castro, Mayor, San Antonio, Texas; Julie Myers Wood, President, Guidepost Solutions LLC; Chris Crane, President, National Immigration and Customs Enforcement Council 118, American Federation of Government Employees; Jessica Vaughan, Director of Policy Studies, Center for Immigration Studies; and Muzaffar Chishti, Director, Migration Policy Institute's office at New York University Law School.

Mr. Wadhwa noted that foreign students graduating from U.S. colleges and universities have difficulty in finding jobs because employers have difficulty in getting H-1B visas. Those graduates who are lucky enough to get a job and a visa and who decide to make the U.S. their permanent home find that it can take years—sometimes more than a decade—to get a green card, he said. "If they have ideas for building world-changing technologies and want to start a company, they are usually out of luck, because it is not usually possible for people on H-1B visas to work for the companies they might start." Not surprisingly, Mr. Wadhwa said, many are getting frustrated and returning home: "We must stop this brain drain and do all we can to bring more engineers and scientists here." He recommended (1) increasing the numbers of green cards available to H-1B holders; (2) allowing spouses of H-1B holders to work; (3) targeting immigration based on required skills; (4) allowing H-1B holders to change jobs without requiring sponsorship renewal; (5) extending the term of optional practical training for foreign students from one to four years; (6) instituting a startup visa; and (7) removing the country caps on permanent residence applications.

Mayor Castro recommended further strengthening border security; streamlining the legal immigration process "so that law-abiding companies can get the workers they need in this 21st century global economy"; and creating a path to citizenship "to bring the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in this country out of the shadows and into the full light of the American Dream." He said that "outdated visa allocations" that separate family members for years "make no sense," and that companies who want to play by the rules are sometimes "handcuffed by rigid employment ceilings and burdensome regulations." He noted that as global competition increases, American companies watch U.S.-trained engineers, nurses, and entrepreneurs "leave in frustration only to invent new products, heal the sick and bring new innovations to other countries." Mayor Castro also lamented "DREAMers" who were brought to the United States as children but remain in legal limbo.

Ms. Vaughan said the most important responsibility of the U.S. government is to secure the borders. She said that the "most conspicuous void" in immigration law enforcement, however, has been in the workplace. Among other things, she recommended "[r]outine, frequent and thorough enforcement [that] discourages illegal workers by creating an expectation that they could be subject to arrest and removal at any time."

Mr. Chishti recommended, among other things, establishing a nonpartisan commission, called for by the Independent Task Force on Immigration and America's Future (convened by the Migration Policy Institute), that would make recommendations to Congress every year or two for adjusting immigration levels "based on analyses of labor market needs, unemployment patterns, and changing economic and demographic trends." He noted that the task force also recommended creating a provisional worker visa to bridge the "frequently artificial" distinction between temporary and permanent immigration and "build a system that is more closely aligned with how migration flows and labor markets work in practice." The commission would recommend the number of provisional workers to be admitted every year. Such provisional workers in all occupations would be allowed to enter the country sponsored by employers and work for two renewable three-year periods. They would be allowed to change employers after an initial period, and could bring family members. Over time, they could be eligible to adjust status to permanent residence. Mr. Chishti also suggested testing a variety of identity verification options. Among other things, he recommended that the Department of Homeland Security empanel a group of employer and worker representatives, and other stakeholders, to help it monitor E-Verify and advise on its progress during various stages of enrollment.

Senate hearing. The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on comprehensive immigration reform on February 13, 2013. Witnesses included Janet Napolitano, Secretary of Homeland Security; Jose Vargas, Founder, Define American; Jessica Vaughan, Director of Policy Studies, Center for Immigration Studies; Steve Case, Chairman and CEO, Revolution, and Co-Founder, America Online; Chris Crane, President, National Immigration and Customs Enforcement Council 118 of the American Federation of Government Employees; and Janet Murguía, President and CEO, National Council of La Raza. Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), Mazie Hirono (D-Haw.), and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) submitted statements.

Sen. Leahy opened the hearing by noting that "[m]ost importantly, comprehensive immigration reform must include a fair and straightforward path to citizenship for those “dreamers” and families who have made the United States their home -- the estimated 11 million undocumented people in the United States." He said he is "troubled by any proposal that contains false promises in which citizenship is always over the next mountain." Sen. Leahy noted that in Vermont, immigration "has promoted cultural richness through refugee resettlement and student exchange, economic development through the EB-5 Regional Center program, and tourism and trade with our friends in Canada. Foreign agricultural workers support Vermont's farmers and growers, many of whom have become a part of farm families that are woven into the fabric of Vermont's agricultural community." He said that President Obama "has a comprehensive proposal that he has deferred sending to us at the request of Senators working to develop their own legislation."

Mr. Case said the United States did not become the world's leading economy by luck or accident. He noted that pioneering immigrant entrepreneurs, beginning with the country's earliest settlers, took a risk hoping to turn dreams into business, and their startup businesses became primary drivers of our economic growth. He noted that U.S. Steel, Pfizer, Kraft Foods, Honeywell, AT&T, Yahoo, and Goldman Sachs were all started by immigrants. Today, he said, 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies in the United States were started by immigrants or the children of immigrants, employing 10 million people across the globe and earning $4 trillion in revenue. Of the 10 most valuable brands globally, he said, seven of them come from U.S. companies founded by immigrants or their children, and in the past 15 years, immigrants founded one-quarter of U.S. venture-backed public companies. He said statistics show that immigrants are almost twice as likely as U.S.-born workers to start a company. Between 1995 and 2005, he noted, half of Silicon Valley startups had an immigrant founder. In 2005 alone, those businesses achieved $52 billion in sales supporting 400,000 jobs. In 2011, he said, more than three-quarters of the patents filed at the top ten patent-producing U.S. schools had an immigrant inventor. Of the 1,600 computer science PhD graduates from U.S. universities in 2010, 60 percent were foreign students, Mr. Case noted. He added that "this is not just about technology companies." Mr. Case said that when Hamdi Ulukaya, an immigrant from Turkey, told friends that he was going to start a yogurt company in upstate New York in 2005, they advised against the idea, but Hamdi was adamant. He hired four employees to begin packaging yogurt by hand. Eight years later Chobani Yogurt generates $1 billion in sales, has hired 1,500 American workers, and is expanding operations across the country.

Ms. Murguía said that "if we are to restore the rule of law, the single most essential element of immigration reform is an earned legalization program with a clear, achievable roadmap to citizenship—not because enforcement is unimportant, but because enforcement is all we have done thus far, and restoring the rule of law requires both elements." She noted that the "continuation of a situation where we collectively nod and wink because our society benefits from [undocumented] labor is unacceptable. When our laws don't reflect reality, reality will win every time."

Mr. Crane remarked on low employee morale at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Out of 291 federal agencies, he said, only 12 ranked lower than ICE in employee morale and job satisfaction, according to the results of a survey that included managers, officers, agents, and administrative personnel. Among other things, he blamed confusion among ICE employees about who they can or cannot arrest and which federal laws they should enforce. Among other things, he claimed that undocumented aliens in jail are being released by claiming they qualify under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals without being required to provide any documentation.

State of the Union. On February 12, 2013, President Barack Obama delivered his first State of the Union address of his second term in office. On the topic of immigration reform, he noted that the U.S. economy "is stronger when we harness the talents and ingenuity of striving, hopeful immigrants. And right now, leaders from the business, labor, law enforcement, faith communities -- they all agree that the time has come to pass comprehensive immigration reform." Real reform, he said, means:

strong border security, and we can build on the progress my administration has already made -- putting more boots on the Southern border than at any time in our history and reducing illegal crossings to their lowest levels in 40 years. Real reform means establishing a responsible pathway to earned citizenship -- a path that includes passing a background check, paying taxes and a meaningful penalty, learning English, and going to the back of the line behind the folks trying to come here legally. And real reform means fixing the legal immigration system to cut waiting periods and attract the highly skilled entrepreneurs and engineers that will help create jobs and grow our economy.

President Obama noted that bipartisan groups in both chambers were "working diligently" to draft a bill. "Send me a comprehensive immigration reform bill in the next few months, and I will sign it right away," he said.

WITNESS TESTIMONY FROM THE HOUSE HEARING

TESTIMONY FROM THE SENATE HEARING

STATE OF THE UNION ADDRESS TRANSCRIPT

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