White House’s Immigration Pillars Would Harm Our Economy

On January 25, 2018, the Administration released its “White House Framework on Immigration Reform & Border Security”, whose “pillars” featured prominently in the President’s State of the Union address. Previously, the Administration had not been clear on what it would accept in any deal to provide a path to permanent legal status for those with DACA, the so-called “Dreamers”, but this framework makes a deal harder, rather than easier, to reach.

What are the “Four Pillars”?

The semi-good:

  • A path to legal status for those with DACA, and those who were DACA eligible but never got the chance to apply. This would legalize an estimated 1.8 million immigrants youth who are already integrated into our communities, studying, working, serving in our military, and paying taxes. While this is a good start, the proposed 12 year long process relegates these young adults to long-term second-class status, and prevents them for years from being able to work in jobs that are restricted to U.S. citizens, for no rational reason.

The bad:

  • Border security measures. This “pillar” would include billions of dollars for the border wall, despite its lack of public support, with even some border state Congressional Republicans and conservative think tanks While many Democrats would agree to technology and personnel security upgrades, the wall, as envisioned by the Administration, would be ineffective and a waste of taxpayer funds, especially when about half of the undocumented population enter legally and overstay their visas. This “pillar” would also strip due process rights from those crossing the border in search of asylum, in violation of U.S. obligations under international law.
  • Drastic cuts to immediate family immigration. The Administration proposes to “emphasiz(e) close familial relationships” and end “extended family chain migration”. This is patently false. Current law does not allow extended family to immigrate. Permanent residents (green card holders) can sponsor only their spouses and unmarried children. U.S. citizens can, over a period of many years, bring their entire immediate families, including their spouses, fiancé(e)s, children of any age and marital status, parents, and siblings. Aunts, uncles, cousin, grandparents and other extended relatives of U.S. citizens are not allowed. This “pillar” proposes restricting family immigration to only spouses and minor, unmarried children of U.S. citizens and permanent residents.   Under these terms, most of us would not be here, since vast numbers of our forebears immigrated in the categories being eliminated. (This includes the President, whose Scottish mother immigrated through her sister, and his German grandfather who immigrated through his brother.)
  • Elimination of the Diversity Visa (DV) lottery. The DV lottery was created by Congress in 1990 to give those without immediate family or employer sponsors a chance to immigrate and try their hand at the American Dream. Fifty thousand visas are available annually. The “framework” document states that individuals are selected “without consideration of skills, merit, or public safety.” This is disingenous. DV lottery visas are only issued to those who pass rigorous criminal and national security background checks, and can prove that they have, at a minimum, completed secondary or high school or have at least two years of experience in a skilled trade.  DV lottery “winners” also must prove that they will be able to support themselves in the U.S., and are ineligible for means tested public benefits for their first five years in the U.S. DV immigrants are a reliable stream of new workers for our economy. Changing or eliminating the DV lottery program may indeed be a viable negotiating pawn in the effort to create a path forward for DACA/Dreamers, but the Administration’s ostensible reasoning is dishonest.

The negative economic impact of the Administration’s framework.

In exchange for legalizing up to 1.8 million DACA/Dreamers, the Administration’s proposal would:

  • Dramatically reduce family-based immigration: The Administration has already endorsed proposals that are estimated to cut family based immigration by as much as 44 percent. The Administration’s premise is that we have too many immigrants, and that family-based immigrants do not add needed skills and talent to our work force. Centuries of immigration have proven otherwise; family immigrants come with a wide range of education and skill levels, from dishwashers to PhD scientists, and they overwhelmingly work. Current family-based immigrants have higher education levels than native-born U.S. citizens, and are essential to stem our shrinking labor pool as “baby boomers” retire.
  • Substitute our current employment-based immigration system with a “points” system: The framework does not mention this shift, but the White House has repeatedly stated its support for revamping our current employment immigration scheme with a system that would assign points for education levels focused on STEM fields, English proficiency, age, wealth, and extraordinary achievement (such as being a Nobel Laureate or an Olympic medalist), as proposed in the RAISE Act, which the Administration endorsed in 2017. While there is widespread agreement that the U.S.’s current employment-based immigration system needs an overhaul, the RAISE Act is not the solution. It would reduce our overall number of employment-based immigrants, and not be tied to job openings. Not every business needs a person with a doctorate in a STEM field. Moreover, most highly educated, motivated professionals who would not qualify. Use yourself as an example, using this tool.

In addition, the Administration would sacrifice family-based immigration for this new points-based system as if there must be a trade off. It repeatedly, but erroneously, states that this is the same system that Canada uses.   However, the Administration fails to mention that Canada’s points based system is in addition to its family-sponsored, employer-sponsored, and refugee immigration components. Moreover, the Administration would allow only the spouses and under 18 year old children to accompany the points-based immigrants. This would discourage many talented people, who would want their college aged children to be able to accompany them to the U.S., from choosing to immigrate to the U.S.

Finally, by endorsing the RAISE Act, the Administration also supports reducing the overall number of employment based immigrants from current levels. This is indefensible when the nation’s unemployment rate has held steady between 4.1% and 5% for two years, and our labor pool, both nationally and in Maine, is shrinking as the Baby Boom generation retires.

Bottom Line: 

Through the recently released “Framework” document and its support of the RAISE Act, the Administration has shown its hand, bowing to immigration restrictionists who categorize today’s immigrants as somehow fundamentally different from the generations of immigrants who came before us and built this country.   This characterization is false, and harms not only our country’s values, but also our ability to progress. Today’s immigrants, like the centuries of immigrants who came before them, bring energy, renewal, and optimism that the “American Dream” is still alive and well.   Our country, and our economy, needs them.




Updated: Federal Court Blocks Refugee “Travel Ban 4.0”

“Travel Ban 4.0”, described more fully in this post, applies to refugees only, indefinitely suspending the ability of refugees already in the U.S. to bring over their “follow-to-join” spouses and under 21 year old, unmarried children who are still abroad, and temporarily suspended refugee processing of any refugees from eleven countries, including Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Mali, North Korea, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen.  (Update:  On January 29, 2018, the government announced that it is no longer suspending refugee processing from the eleven countries listed earlier,  but will subject them to intensified scrutiny – this, notwithstanding that refugees have long endured more scrutiny than any other category of immigrant to the U.S., going through identity, background, and other verifications that typically take 18 to 24 months.)

On December 23, 2017, a Federal District Court in Washington State issued a nationwide injunction blocking enforcement of Travel Ban 4.0 against follow-to-join relatives.  (The court also blocked enforcement of the ban against any persons from the eleven designated countries who have a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the U.S., as defined previously by the Supreme Court, but that is now likely moot following the government’s January 29, 2018 decision mentioned above.)

On December 27, 2017, the government challenged the District Court’s injunction against implementation of the Travel Ban 4.0 against refugees who have received assurances from refugee resettlement agencies.

Bottom line:    Under the Federal Court’s ruling the government should continue to process  visa applications for follow-to-join relatives of refugees already resettled in the U.S. while this litigation continues.

NOTE:          As a practical matter, the government has put a stranglehold on refugee processing irrespective of any court decisions. Fewer than a third as many refugees were admitted in the first quarter of FY 2018 as compared to the prior three fiscal years as explained in this Wall Street Journal article.     Refugee resettlement agencies across the country are cutting staff because not only is this fiscal year’s 45,000 cap on refugee admissions the lowest number since 1980, but also at the rate refugees are actually being allowed in, barely half that number might actually arrive.  UPDATE:  In Maine, as of March 21, 2018, only 30 refugees had arrived for resettlement (compared to several hundred at the same time in 2016).

How does this affect Maine’s businesses?

  • If you have refugee employees, be aware of their stress due to the uncertainty of whether this court decision will hold, and their worries about when their spouses and children, whom they may have been expecting to immigrate soon, will be able to reunite with them here in the U.S.
  • Maine has resettled hundreds of refugees annually for decades.   Refugees from four of the eleven targeted countries – Somalis, Iraqis, Syrians and Sudanese – have been long been the majority of those resettled here each year. They become integral members of our communities, working, volunteering, and spending their earnings locally.   With Maine’s historically low unemployment rate and shrinking labor pool, we need workers. Refugees already were subject to more strenuous vetting than any other category of immigrant. Choking off this regular source of new immigrants to Maine will hurt Maine’s economy.

Update on “Travel Ban 3.0” Litigation

“Travel Ban 3.0” applies to people from Chad, Iran, Libya, No. Korea, Somali, Syria, Venezuela, and Yemen. This ban affected those applying for visas or entry as immigrants (permanent residents) and nonimmigrants (temporary stays). Read this post for more details about the specific immigrants and nonimmigrants affected. It does not apply to refugees.

On Dec. 22, 2017, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the government and found that the President exceeded his statutory authority when he issued Travel Ban 3.0.   The Court issued a partial preliminary injunction of Travel Ban 3.0 while the case proceeds through the federal courts. The injunction would block implementation of the ban as it applies to persons from the 8 countries who have a “credible bona fide relationship with a person or entity” in the U.S. – including immediate and specified extended family members, and those with a “formal, documented” connection to a business or university etc.

However, the 9th Circuit court then “stayed” its own preliminary injunction pending review by the Supreme Court, in deference the Supreme Court’s earlier decision on 12/4/2017.

On January 19, 2018, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the government’s appeal of the 9th Circuit’s decision.  Oral arguments are expected in the spring, with a decision by the end of June, 2018.

Update:  On February 15, 2018, in a separate challenge to Travel Ban 3.0, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, similar to the 9th Circuit, affirmed the Federal District Court of Maryland’s ruling enjoining portions of Travel Ban 3.0 , but stayed implementation of its ruling since the Supreme Court will be considering the case.

Bottom line: Travel Ban 3.0 remains in effect pending the Supreme Court’s decision. See this post for the impact of Travel ban 3.0.

Government to end TPS for Haitians

Update: Government documents reveal that in deciding to terminate TPS, the Administration ignored the advice and reports of its own officials indicating that conditions in Haiti were not ripe for Haitian citizens with TPS to return.   A lawsuit has been filed challenging the Administration’s decision to end Haitian TPS.


On January 18, 2018, the Administration announced that it will end Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Haitians.  TPS was offered to Haitians already in the U.S., following the devastating earthquake in their country in 2010.

Congress created TPS to allow citizens of countries hard hit by natural disasters or civil conflict who are already in the U.S. to apply to stay and work here legally until our government determines they can safely return.  TPS is normally granted and extended in 12 or 18-month increments.

The decision to terminate TPS, following one final 18 month extension until July 22, 2019,  will affect about 50,000 Haitians who have been living and working legally in the U.S. since at least 2010.   Their TPS has been repeatedly renewed as Haiti’s recovery has been hampered by flood, hurricanes, and cholera.   The U.S. Embassy in Haiti’s own travel warning states that

The U.S. Embassy remains concerned about the security situation in the southern peninsula departments of Grand Anse and Sud following the devastation of Hurricane Matthew. Embassy employees are not permitted to travel to those departments without special approval for and official trips only.

Medical care infrastructure, ambulances, and other emergency services are limited throughout Haiti.

Data shows that 16% of Haitians with TPS have lived in the U.S. for 20 or more years.  They are parents to an estimated 27,000 U.S. children and their labor force participation is 81%, far higher than that of native-born U.S. citizens.

In Maine, Haitians with TPS work in agriculture, housekeeping, wreathmaking, elder care, hospitality, and myriad other sectors.  With Maine’s shrinking workforce and low unemployment, losing these individuals who are already fully contributing members of our communities is bad not just for them, but for Maine.

Congress must pass legislation to create a path to permanent residency for long-term TPS holders.  Various bills have been proposed to do just that.   Maine’s Congressional delegation should work to resolve this issue urgently.


The Immigration Debate: Language Matters

The current Administration wants to drastically reduce family-based immigration to the U.S. and replace our current employment-based immigration system with a points-based one, as proposed in the Administration supported RAISE Act.    The Administration is also pushing to drastically cut family based immigration as part of any legislative deal to provide permanent status to those with DACA.

As part of its campaign for these reforms, the Administration uses terms that taint honest debate. First, referring to the proposed points scheme as a “merit-based” system infers that our current system is not already merit-based. In reality, immigrants through employment must meet strict educational and skill requirements. In most cases (with exceptions for immigrants already internationally renowned in their fields), the U.S. employer must prove to the government that the position requires highly specialized skill or professional education and experience, and that the immigrant it wants to hire meets or exceeds the requisite criteria.

Similarly, the Administration is wrong to describe family-based immigration as “chain migration” that floods the U.S. with immigrants’ extended family members.   In reality, immigrants can petition only for their immediate family members. Refugees and asylees can bring only their spouses and children who are unmarried and younger than 21. Permanent residents (“green card” holders), can bring only their spouses and unmarried children of any age.  U.S. citizens can bring, in addition to their spouses and unmarried children, their married children, parents, and siblings – in other words, their immediate family members.  The U.S., in fact, is more restrictive than some other countries.   For example, both Canada and the U.K. allow grandparent immigration, which is not allowed here.

For most of these immediate family members, the U.S. immigration process is punishingly long. For example, as of January 2018, there was a seven year wait for adult (over 21) children of permanent residents to immigrate, and the wait was only slightly shorter for unmarried adult children of U.S. citizens.  Married children of U.S. citizens waited nearly twelve years, and siblings of U.S. citizens waited over 13 years to immigrate. The waiting lists are even longer for certain countries.  A naturalized U.S. citizen originally from the Philippines must wait about 13 years to be reunited with her adult child, about 23 years to be reunited with her married child, and about 24 years to be reunited with her siblings.  A naturalized U.S. citizen from Mexico will wait over 21 years for his unmarried child, over 22 years for his married child, and over 20 years for his sibling to gain residency in the U.S.

The Administration also disparages family-based immigration by implying that these immigrants bring no talents and skills to enrich our economy and workforce. Throughout our recorded history of immigration, that has simply not been the case.   Whether they are Ph.D. researchers, engineers, and entrepreneurs, or caregivers, farm workers, and housekeepers, today’s  immigrants participate in the workforce at higher rates than native-born U.S. citizens, and like generations of immigrants before them, keep our country and our economy growing and vibrant.

Government Ends TPS for El Salvador

On January 8, 2018, the Department of Homeland Security announced that it will end “Temporary Protected Status” (TPS) for about 200,000 citizens of El Salvador who have been living legally and working in the U.S. with that status since earthquakes devastated their country in early 2001. The initial TPS designation sprang from that natural disaster, but TPS has been extended repeatedly for Salvadorans in 18 month increments because of instability from an economy still struggling to recover, one of the highest homicide rates in the world, and rampant crime and gang violence.  Despite the fact that these challenges continue (as indicated in this 2017 State Department report about the country’s capital, although the State Department appears to have recently scrubbed its website of its long-standing El Salvador travel warnings), Salvadorans are being given until September 9, 2019 to depart the U.S.

More than half of Salvadorans with TPS have lived in the U.S. for two decades or more. Many arrived when they were younger than 16 and have lived over half of their lives here. They are parents to approximately 200,000 U.S. citizen children, and have put down roots here, buying homes, starting businesses, contributing to our communities as workers, volunteers, taxpayers and consumers.

Salvadorans with TPS participate in the labor force at far higher rates than the native-born population (88% participation compared to 63%), and are integral members of our economy.   In Maine, they work in our hospitality, caregiving, food processing, agriculture, construction and other industries – sectors that are crying out for more workers as Maine’s unemployment rate persists at or below 4% for more than two years.

Forcing these long-term members of our communities to return to El Salvador is inhumane, and economically unsound as well.   Congress must work to create a path to permanent residency for Salvadorans with TPS before their status expires in 2019.