Passage of national immigration reform legislation this year appears increasingly unlikely as summer draws to a close and members of Congress ramp up their reelection campaigns. Months of House-sponsored hearings on various aspects of the Senate-passed bill, including 21 hearings in August alone, have highlighted local issues and kept immigration in the news but have not substantially altered the immigration reform debate.
Hearings have highlighted the potential community and federal costs of immigration reform, possible impacts on U.S. workers, and national security implications of the Senate bill. Members of Congress have speculated that many of the key players in the debate would be unwilling to make the sacrifices necessary to reach a middle road between the enforcement-heavy House bill and the broader Senate bill.
The Senate bill includes a path to permanent residence for a portion of the country's unauthorized immigrant population, a temporary worker program, and expanded enforcement of immigration laws at the border and workplace, while the House bill calls for border fencing, a nationwide verification system for employers, and other enforcement measures.
According to new estimates by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Immigration Statistics, there were 10.5 million unauthorized immigrants in the country in January 2005, and the unauthorized immigrant population is growing by about 408,000 persons a year. Demographer Jeffrey Passel of the Pew Hispanic Center has estimated the unauthorized population at 11.5 to 12 million as of March 2006.
If the Senate bill becomes law, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that its provisions would cost the government about $127 billion over the next 10 years. As the law is written, federal tax revenues could be reduced in future years, but a technical change to reflect the Senate's intent would raise revenues by about $44 billion by 2016.
As it is now worded, the bill would exempt employers from tax liabilities resulting from the past and future employment of unauthorized immigrants, which could lead to a $79 billion reduction in revenues by 2016. Senate staffers say the provision was intended to only cover past actions, and that the language will be revised.
Increased government costs would stem mainly from various enforcement provisions of the law requiring additional border patrol and other enforcement agents (up to 31,000 additional positions by 2011), border fencing, and an electronic employment verification system, as well as costs from government assistance programs such as the earned income tax credit (EITC), Social Security, and Medicare benefits.
CBO estimates that enrollment in child nutrition, food stamp, and Medicaid programs would rise by only about two to three percent by 2016. Detailed analyses of subnational costs and revenues of immigration are not included in the estimate, nor are broader economic impacts of expanded immigration, such as a potential increase in consumer demand, workforce productivity, or entrepreneurship.
CBO projects that under the Senate bill, the number of legal immigrants in the country would increase by about 16 million over the next 10 years, including 6.5 million new legal immigrants and 9.5 million people who are either unauthorized immigrants already present in the country or who would likely enter the country under current immigration laws.
In fiscal year 2005, about 1.1 million people obtained lawful permanent resident status (see Spotlight on Legal Immigration to the United States), and the unauthorized immigrant population grew by an estimated 400,000 to 500,000.
Census Unveils New Annual Data on U.S. Immigrants
The number of foreign-born persons living in U.S. households grew 16 percent to 35.7 million between 2000 and 2005, increasing from 11.2 to 12.4 percent of the U.S. household population, according to American Community Survey (ACS) data just released from the U.S. Census Bureau. About 11 million of the 2005 total were from Mexico, 1.8 million from China, 1.6 million from the Philippines, and 1.4 million from India.
The new data reveal that many of the states showing substantial growth in their immigrant population since 2000 are not traditional settlement locations for immigrants.
South Carolina saw a 48 percent increase in the size of its foreign-born population, New Hampshire saw a 45 percent increase; Tennessee, 43 percent; Arkansas, 41 percent; Delaware, 41 percent; Alabama, 39 percent; and Georgia, 39 percent. Still, this new growth has not unseated California, New York, Texas, Florida, New Jersey, and Illinois from their positions as the top-six immigrant-receiving states.
Detailed state and local-level data on the U.S. foreign-born population have previously been available only every 10 years, following each decennial census. The Current Population Survey (CPS), a series of monthly surveys conducted in a yearly rotation, provided some detailed information on the foreign born. However, those data are generally used for analysis of immigrant characteristics at the national level, as the survey's small sample size makes it difficult to perform analysis at the state or local level.
This is the first year the Census Bureau has fully implemented ACS, which has a much larger sample than CPS and will eventually allow for detailed analysis of the U.S. immigrant population at all levels of geography. The 2005 survey provides data on all Congressional districts, counties, or cities of 65,000 residents or more. By 2010, it will provide multiyear averages for the smallest levels of geography.
This year's survey describes only the household population, meaning that anyone living in "group quarters," such as university dorms, prisons, or long-term care facilities, is not included. Future years will capture the full U.S. population.
Immigration Judges Face Increased Scrutiny
All of the country's more than 200 immigration judges will face annual performance reviews for the first time, according to an August 9 announcement by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Judges will also be subject to regular review to uncover unusual patterns in decision-making, backlogs, or complaints filed.
Gonzales had ordered a comprehensive review of immigration judges in January 2006 (see the February 2006 Policy Beat for more detail). He has not publicly disclosed the findings of that review but reportedly told immigration judges that the findings overall were positive, though some troubling patterns emerged, including improper treatment of immigrants or their legal representatives.
Decisions by immigration judges can be appealed to the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA); BIA rulings may then be appealed to federal courts. Streamlining measures taken in 1999 and 2002 reduced the number of BIA members and allowed the BIA to issue summary decisions. Following this streamlining process, there has been a large increase in the number of cases appealed to federal immigration courts, leading to greatly expanded caseloads.
In his recent talk, Gonzales said he will push to hire more immigration judges, add four members to the BIA, and allow federal courts to send certain cases back to the BIA for further review.
Beginning next year, new immigration judges will be required to pass a written immigration law exam, and new immigration judges and BIA members will undergo a two-year trial period of employment to ensure they have the proper skills and temperament for the job.
It remains unclear who will conduct the annual reviews and what the consequences of a negative evaluation will be. Immigration judges are concerned they may be unfairly evaluated by those with certain political orientations, or that they will be pushed to emphasize speed and backlog clearance over the quality of their decisionmaking.
A spokesman for the Justice Department countered that the judges would be evaluated on their "professionalism, reasoning, and courteous manner."
New Report Finds Uneven Treatment of Asylum Cases
U.S. immigration judges across the country vary greatly in their willingness to grant asylum to those seeking to remain in the United States, with acceptance rates ranging from 10 to 98 percent, according to a recent study by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University. The report further found that while 64 percent of requests for asylum were denied among asylum applicants with lawyers, 93 percent of applicants without lawyers were denied.
The study attempted to control for the possibility that some judges might have higher or lower denial rates because the asylum applicants before them tend to come from one or several main countries.
However, researchers found that even in their consideration of similar asylum applicants, immigration judges demonstrated very different denial rates. One New York judge who regularly heard cases from legally represented Chinese nationals denied asylum requests about 95 percent of the time, while another judge denied asylum in only about seven percent of similar cases.
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales called on the director of the Executive Office of Immigration Review and the acting chief immigration judge to review the study and to make recommendations on the topic, if deemed appropriate.
Policy Beat in Brief
Policy Change for Cubans. The U.S. government will grant lawful permanent residence to more Cuban immigrants each year who have family members in the United States. The move is part of a policy change made following the temporary handover of power from Fidel Castro to his brother Raúl. Since 2004, about 12,500 Cubans have entered the United States each year under the Special Cuban Migration Program, referred to as the Cuban Lottery. Under the revised policy, about 7,500 of the lottery visas will now be granted to individuals waiting for family-sponsored green cards. In order to deter Cuban migrants from trying to circumvent the visa process and reach the United States by sea, any Cuban interdicted by the Coast Guard on the water will become ineligible for a future U.S. visa. Further, officials from the Cuban government who served in certain positions, who are identified human rights abusers, or who have engaged in prosecution of others will be denied entry to the United States. Cuban medical personnel currently working or studying outside of Cuba, as well as their families, will be granted permission to enter the United States.
Business Compliance Plan. A new Department of Homeland Security (DHS) initiative will allow employers to work with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to develop good practices for verifying employees' ability to work legally in the country. The ICE Mutual Agreement between Government and Employers (IMAGE) program is the agency's response to employers' requests for help with ensuring that their workforce is legal. The requests followed several high-profile criminal cases against companies found to employ unauthorized immigrant workers. As part of the program, employers will submit to an audit of their I-9 records, which all employees complete to prove their employment eligibility. They must also use the Basic Pilot Employment Verification Program to electronically verify the work authorization of new hires. ICE will provide employers with training on proper hiring procedures, fraudulent document detection, and antidiscrimination laws, and will review the hiring practices of employers to correct any minor compliance issues that are detected.
Colorado's Benefit Restrictions. Applicants for nearly all federal, state, or local government benefits in Colorado will now need to prove their lawful presence in the country. The law, which became effective August 1, requires adult applicants for any government benefit, excluding emergency services, food stamps, and Medicaid, to produce a photo ID, submit a sworn affidavit, and have their application verified through the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements Program. The Colorado Department of Revenue passed emergency rules to allow people without required documents to continue to obtain services until March 2007. Government benefits covered by the law include everything from in-state tuition or state financial aid to government licenses or permits, government workforce training programs, government contracts, welfare, and unemployment benefits.
US-VISIT Program Expansions. Lawful permanent residents of the United States, as well as certain Canadian citizens entering for specific business or employment reasons, will likely need to submit fingerprints to border agents upon reentering the country as part of a proposed expansion of the US-VISIT program. US-VISIT currently tracks the entry of all temporary visitors to the United States, excluding those from Canada or Mexico. Since January 2004, 61 million visitors have been fingerprinted and photographed to ensure they hold valid visas and to weed out suspected terrorists or known criminals. The new measure, included in proposed regulations, is intended to prevent those using stolen or fraudulent green cards from entering the country. DHS is also testing a program to record all 10 fingerprints as part of US-VISIT tracking, rather than the current two prints. Currently, US-VISIT is not compatible with an FBI criminal database, which tracks 10 prints. The 10-fingerprint test program will begin at some U.S. ports of entry in 2007, with full implementation slated for 2008 or 2009.
TPS Extension for Somalis. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has announced that Somali nationals with temporary protected status (TPS) may register for an 18-month extension, which would give them TPS status until March 2008. About 250 Somali nationals are eligible for the extension. TPS was granted to Somali nationals following the outbreak of violence after the 1991 fall of the Siad Barre regime. Somalia has lacked a central government and faced continual violence since that time. Current TPS holders will have until September 25 to register for the extension.
GAO on Border Checks. Undercover agents were able to enter the United States at nine land crossings on the southern and northern border by providing fake documentation to support their claims of U.S. citizenship, according to a recent report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO). U.S. citizens are not currently required to carry a passport to cross the U.S. border from Canada or Mexico, but border agents may request documentation establishing U.S. citizenship, which could include a driver's license, birth certificate, or baptismal record. Border officials asked the GAO agents for documentation on most crossings, but never questioned the validity of the driver's licenses or birth certificates presented to them. CBP inspectors are trained to detect false driver's licenses, birth certificates, and other documents, but border crossers may present inspectors with up to 8,000 acceptable forms of identification.