Comprehensive Legislation vs. Fundamental Reform: The Limits of Current Immigration Proposals
This policy brief compares existing proposals for comprehensive immigration reform by President Bush and the 109th Congress with regard to changes to lawful permanent resident (LPR) admissions, the terms and conditions of nonimmigrant visas, and policy responses to the existing unauthorized immigrant population. It then evaluates these competing approaches for their ability to address several fundamental flaws characterizing the current legal immigration system.
Existing comprehensive reform proposals all seek to expand LPR flows, create a new temporary worker program, and allow unauthorized immigrants to either enroll in temporary worker programs or adjust to LPR status. The author argues, however, that these proposals would only make modest changes to the current immigration regime, and thus fail to adequately respond to its four main structural flaws—the mismatch between visa supply and demand, overreliance on temporary nonimmigrant visas, inefficient immigrant labor regulations, and the challenges of responding to the large unauthorized population residing within the United States.
To better address these shortcomings, the author suggests a number of additional changes, encouraging reformers to: redefine immigrant selection rules to weight family and skills criteria more evenly; establish broad guidelines for adjusting annual immigration flows in response to measurable criteria rather than negotiating numerical schemes; make most temporary visas explicitly transitional and streamline procedures for adjusting to LPR status; focus enforcement efforts on strengthening universal labor rights rather than imposing immigrant specific recruitment regulations; and ensure that legalization programs are combined with measures to break the cycle of new illegal inflows and prevent fraudulent residency claims.