‘Immigration Problems Only Get Worse’

An Intel immigration executive challenges Congress in 2014: “Address these problems now or maintain a broken system that fails to meet the needs of anyone.”

Peter Muller is director of immigration policy for Intel.
National Journal
Peter Muller
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Peter Muller
Dec. 18, 2013, 12:05 a.m.

As the first ses­sion of the 113th Con­gress winds to a close, it is clear the House of Rep­res­ent­at­ives will not vote on im­mig­ra­tion le­gis­la­tion be­fore 2014. But the prac­tic­al need to fix our broken im­mig­ra­tion sys­tem re­mains, the polit­ic­al im­per­at­ive for re­form is stronger than ever, and a win­dow of op­por­tun­ity ex­ists for Con­gress to fi­nal­ize a re­form pack­age next year.

One year ago the res­ults of the 2012 elec­tion promp­ted lead­ers in both ma­jor polit­ic­al parties to take a fresh look at im­mig­ra­tion re­form.

Pres­id­ent Obama and the Demo­crats dis­covered a re­newed com­mit­ment to the is­sue in part be­cause His­pan­ic and Asi­an-Amer­ic­an voters made up a sig­ni­fic­ant por­tion of the Demo­crat­ic elect­or­ate, and im­mig­ra­tion re­form was high on their agenda. At the same time, Re­pub­lic­ans at­trib­uted Mitt Rom­ney’s loss in part to his fail­ure to at­tract minor­ity voters and viewed im­mig­ra­tion re­form as an op­por­tun­ity to build sup­port with that con­stitu­ency.

Elect­or­al res­ults in 2013 have pro­duced sim­il­ar evid­ence that im­mig­ra­tion re­form can be a po­tent factor in elec­tions.  Re­pub­lic­an Gov. Chris Christie, an im­mig­ra­tion re­form back­er, was over­whelm­ingly reelec­ted in New Jer­sey and car­ried nearly half the His­pan­ic vote in his state. But Re­pub­lic­an At­tor­ney Gen­er­al Ken Cuc­cinelli, who was viewed as an op­pon­ent of im­mig­ra­tion re­form, lost his race for gov­ernor of Vir­gin­ia in part be­cause he failed to at­tract a sig­ni­fic­ant per­cent­age of the Latino vote.

Mean­while, a poll jointly re­leased this fall by the Part­ner­ship for a New Amer­ic­an Eco­nomy, Re­pub­lic­ans for Im­mig­ra­tion Re­form, and Com­pete Amer­ica shows that 71 per­cent of the Amer­ic­an people fa­vor im­mig­ra­tion re­form, and 54 per­cent say they are less likely to sup­port a can­did­ate who op­poses re­form.

While we have seen sig­ni­fic­ant pro­gress this year to­ward im­mig­ra­tion re­form, in­clud­ing pas­sage of a com­pre­hens­ive bill in the Sen­ate, it has yet to get across the fin­ish line.

And while we wait for re­form our im­mig­ra­tion prob­lems only get worse.

The last ma­jor over­haul of U.S. im­mig­ra­tion sys­tem oc­curred in 1986, and the laws en­acted then have failed to pass the test of time. The num­ber of people liv­ing here without doc­u­ment­a­tion has grown, em­ploy­ers have struggled to find the work­force ne­ces­sary to per­form both lower- and high­er-skilled jobs, and the Amer­ic­an people lack con­fid­ence that our bor­ders are se­cure.

Mean­while, in the high-skilled arena, our abil­ity to com­pete in the glob­al mar­ket­place is com­prom­ised. The in­form­a­tion-tech­no­logy in­dustry struggles to find enough qual­i­fied U.S. work­ers to fill the key jobs ne­ces­sary for con­tin­ued in­nov­a­tion. Em­ploy­ees who ob­tain tem­por­ary visas must wait years be­fore they can get a green card to al­low them to live and work here per­man­ently. Em­ploy­ers are already pre­par­ing for an ex­pec­ted H-1B visa lot­tery in April that will dis­trib­ute too few visas to meet de­mand.

The chal­lenge for Con­gress is clear: Ad­dress these prob­lems now or main­tain a broken sys­tem that fails to meet the needs of any­one.

In June, the Sen­ate passed le­gis­la­tion that would make hol­ist­ic re­forms to the im­mig­ra­tion sys­temfrom leg­al visas to il­leg­al entry to en­hanced bor­der se­cur­ity meas­ures — with the votes of two-thirds of the sen­at­ors.

In­tel and oth­er em­ploy­ers of high-skilled work­ers strongly sup­por­ted the le­gis­la­tion be­cause it ad­dressed our three key needs: to hire for­eign-born work­ers when we can’t find qual­i­fied U.S. work­ers; ac­cess to ad­di­tion­al visas to make those tal­en­ted em­ploy­ees long-term mem­bers of our com­pany and our coun­try; and to build the pipeline of U.S. work­ers with spe­cial­ized skills through ad­di­tion­al fund­ing for STEM edu­ca­tion.

The strong sup­port for the bill in the Sen­ate was en­cour­aging, but it didn’t mask le­git­im­ate con­cerns many people, par­tic­u­larly in the House of Rep­res­ent­at­ives, have about parts of the le­gis­la­tion. The House pledged to pur­sue a dif­fer­ent path to­ward re­form and con­sider a series of piece­meal bills ad­dress­ing dis­creet prob­lems with the sys­tem. Five in­di­vidu­al bills have been re­por­ted out of com­mit­tees in the House, but none has yet to reach the House floor.

But that doesn’t mean im­mig­ra­tion re­form is dead. House Speak­er John Boehner re­cently hired a seni­or staffer to co­ordin­ate im­mig­ra­tion policy. Rank-and-file Re­pub­lic­an House mem­bers are in­creas­ingly ex­press­ing their view that they are ready to tackle im­mig­ra­tion re­form. And the pres­id­ent has ex­pressed a will­ing­ness to work with Re­pub­lic­ans on a piece­meal ap­proach to re­form. Even the re­cent budget agree­ment points to the pos­sib­il­ity of bi­par­tis­an ef­forts mov­ing for­ward.

The polit­ics of im­mig­ra­tion re­form are al­ways chal­len­ging, and rarely are people from dif­fer­ent sides of the is­sue ready to come to­geth­er to ad­dress the prob­lem. This is one of those times. However, for the hope of im­mig­ra­tion re­form to be achieved, the House of Rep­res­ent­at­ives must be ready to act when mem­bers re­turn from their hol­i­day break.

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