WASHINGTON — The Migration Policy Institute (MPI) today launched the first report in a series on how to shape and administer a legalization program, with the intent of providing solutions for some of the most important issues that policymakers in Congress and the administration would need to consider in designing and implementing effective legislation.
The report, Structuring and Implementing an Immigrant Legalization Program: Registration as the First Step, argues that an essential first step to any legalization should be a registration process that rapidly identifies, screens and processes potential applicants. A graduated registration process would screen out public safety and national security threats and would allow qualified applicants to live and work legally in the United States while they attempted to earn legal permanent status and to integrate into society.
“While comprehensive immigration reform may have moved to the back burner politically, Congress ultimately will need to reform U.S. immigration policy — and immigration enforcement alone will not prove effective in dealing with the nation’s estimated 11 million unauthorized immigrants,’’ said the report’s co-author, MPI Vice President for Programs Donald M. Kerwin. “We assume that Congress and the administration will eventually need to revisit legalization as a serious policy option.”
“The well-documented flaws of the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act legalization offer proof that unprecedented, thoughtful planning and coordination beginning well in advance of the passage of legislation will be necessary to craft and implement a successful legalization program,” Kerwin added.
The report describes the planning that would be needed in the periods prior to passage of legislation, between passage of legislation and the beginning of the registration period, and during the registration application period. It proposes intensive applicant screening and documentation requirements, describes the application process and addresses the role of community-based organizations and other stakeholders in helping administer a successful program.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which could see its workload triple beyond the 5 million applications it processes each year for immigration benefits, could face acute staffing and infrastructure challenges without adequate planning and funding. And agencies ranging from the FBI to the Internal Revenue Service and Departments of State and Justice also would face major new workloads.
“Some question whether the federal government is capable of administering such a large-scale program. We conclude that it can — but not without well-crafted legislation; sufficient funding to build the necessary infrastructure; an unprecedented mobilization of public and private stakeholders at the international, federal, state and local levels; and intensive planning beginning well before enactment of a new immigration law,” Kerwin said.
Additional papers in the series will analyze past U.S. legalization programs, how various unauthorized populations would fare under differing legislative scenarios, legal issues in structuring successful legislation, and the role of states and localities in implementing such a program.
The Migration Policy Institute is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank in Washington, DC dedicated to analysis of the movement of people worldwide. MPI provides analysis, development and evaluation of migration and refugee policies at the local, national and international levels.