Biden Calls on Congress to Act on Immigration Reform

In his speech to a joint session of Congress on April 28, 2019,  President Biden called on Congress to act on immigration reform.   While he urged Congress to support the broad U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021, he acknowledged that reaching agreement on enacting a comprehensive reform bill may be a heavy lift.

He insisted that Congress must move forward regardless, on immigration issues where there is agreement.   Biden highlighted the  strong bipartisan public support for providing a path to permanent residency for Dreamers and DACA holders, and urged Congress to move ahead with passing the Dream Act.  He also stressed the need to pass the Farm Workforce Modernization Act to legalize undocumented farmworkers who are essential to the nation’s food supply chain, and  the SECURE Act to provide residency to immigrants who work and are now rooted in our communities after having had Temporary Protected Status for more than twenty years.

Between them, these bills would offer a path to permanent  residence  to between 4 to 5 million immigrants who are already part of our workforce and economy.

The President’s speech also spotlighted the jobs that the administration’s infrastructure  and climate change plans would create.   But pre-pandemic, there were millions more open jobs than there were job seekers.  Unemployment rates are already decreasing, and getting closer to pre-pandemic levels, and immigrants will be critical to the nation’s economic recovery and any future growth.

Congress must act on immigration reform this year both from a humane, and an economic perspective.  Read more about the President’s remarks in this article from The Hill.

Business and Economic Leaders from All 50 States Call on Senate to Pass Dream Act

A federal judge in Texas with a history of issuing decisions hostile to immigration could issue a decision within days or weeks on the legality of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.   If, as widely expected, he strikes DACA down, over 600,000 young adult Dreamers who came to the U.S. as children would be left without legal status. Their lives will be in legal limbo, harming them, their families, their employers and their communities.

Their futures cannot be left up to the courts.   Only Congress can give a path to permanent residency to Dreamers and DACA holders who arrived in the U.S. as children.

The House of Representatives has already passed a bill to do just that.  Now, the ball is in the Senate’s Court.

MeBIC partner, the American Business Immigration Coalition (ABIC), and the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration has drafted a sign-on letter collecting signatures  from business, higher education, and other civic and faith leaders from all 50 states calling on Senate leadership to move ahead on the bipartisan Dream Act of 2021

If the federal court strikes down DACA, the letter will be sent to Senators Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer immediately.

Maine’s economic leaders can sign the letter to show that immigration reform is critically needed for Maine,  not just for the nation, by joining businesses and higher education institutions nationwide to send a strong message that the time to pass the Dream Act is now. Dreamers and DACA holders need to finally know that they can live permanently in the U.S.   Passing the Dream Act is vital for them, for our communities, for our economy, and for our nation’s future.

As the letter explains:

“Dreamers are pillars of our nation’s economy and communities – 93 percent of them are employed, they pay close to $10 billion in taxes, and they carry nearly $20 billion in spending power. Nearly 40,000 Dreamers have started businesses and created new jobs for American workers, growing our entrepreneurial spirit. Dreamers are on the frontlines of the pandemic response. Almost 200,000 are essential workers – first responders, restaurant and grocery store workers, childcare providers and almost 30,000 healthcare workers, including doctors and nurses.”

Maine’s business voices matter in the push for federal immigration reform and passage of the Dream Act.   You can join buisnesses nationwide by signing the letter here.

2020 Decennial Census: Ominous Bellweather for U.S. Economy

The U.S. Census Bureau released its first tranche of data from the 2020 decennial census on April 26, 2021.   From 2010 through 2020, the U.S. population grew by only 7.4%, the second slowest rate of growth (second only to 1930 to 1940, covering the Great Depression) since the census was first conducted in 1790.

Maine’s population grew by only 2.6% in the past decade, lower than the national rate, as well as below the 4.2% state growth rate experienced between 2000 and 2010.

A Brookings report parses the initial Census 2020 data, which bears out predictions that Brookings made in a January 2021 analysis.  While the demographic details painted in the January analysis can’t be confirmed until the Census Bureau releases additional information from the 2020 Census, the confirmation of population growth stagnation that Brookings predicted is troubling.  As that analysis noted, “immigration is essential for countering further stagnation.”

And as another recent report notes, without immigration to offset the nation’s declining birth and increasing death rates, our economy will shrink.

The Brookings report on the initial 2020 Census data concludes:

As we digest these and later results of the 2020 census, it is apparent that the United States is becoming a more demographically stagnant nation. How we adapt in the post-pandemic period in terms of childbearing, movement across states, and toward adopting a reasoned immigration policy will determine what kind of country we will become, both demographically and economically, in the decade ahead.

Bipartisan Border Bill Introduced in Congress

On April 22, 2021, Senators John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Arizona), together with Representatives Tony Gonzales (R-Texas) and Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) introduced the Bipartisan Border Solutions Act of 2021, proposing improvements in asylum processing procedures for the  asylum seekers arriving at the United States’ southern border.

In addition to proposing increases in asylum officers, immigration judges, and border personnel, the bill would create four regional processing centers at locations on the border that see high influxes of asylum seekers,  as well as providing expanded access to legal information orientations, to pro bono attorneys and legal aid providers, and to materials and information in asylum seekers’ primary languages.  The bill strikes a balance between improving existing due process standards for asylum seekers at the border and more effective processing, as summarized here

The effort to craft a bipartisan approach to improve asylum processing at the southern border has been publicly welcomed by a broad range of organizations including the American Business Immigration Coalition, of which MeBIC is a chapter, as well as  by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, National Immigration Forum, Texas Association of Business, MeBIC partner New American Economy, Americans for Prosperity, and The LIBRE Initiative.

Congress must pass immigration reform this year, including paths to permanent legal status for Dreamers and those with DACA, and for farmworkers, TPS holders for whom bills have already been approved by the House of Representatives, and for others who are performing essential jobs in our economy and are already members of our communities.   Members of Congress who say such reforms  can’t be done until the southern border is addressed should support this bipartisan border bill that does just that.

USCIS to Make 22,000 Additional H-2B Visas Available for Second Half of FY 2021

On April 20, 2021, USCIS announced that it would add 22,000 visas  to the number of visas available for seasonal non-agricultural worker positions with start dates from April 1, 2021 through September 30, 2021.   The 33,000 H-2B visa cap for the second half of FY 2021 had already been reached in February, 2020.

The visas will be available only to employers who attest that they will suffer irreparable harm if they don’t get additional employees under the H-2B cap increase.   Employers also will be able to hire H-2B visa holders who are already in the U.S. working for other employers once they file the visa petition for the workers, without needing to wait for the petition’s approval.

The announcement notes that 6,000 of the 22,000 visas will be reserved for citizens of the Northern Triangle countries, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, in order to create a legal channel for individuals from those countries to enter the U.S.    However, if employers do not have connections to labor recruiters in those countries, as a practical matter, this provision may help neither citizens from those countries, nor U.S. employers needing more seasonal workers.

The administration’s 22,000 increase is disappointingly low, given that over 69,000 more H-2B visas could have been authorized under the terms of the  FY 2021 omnibus spending bill passed by Congress in December 2020.

This year, with the new administration, bipartisan immigration reforms should be possible to achieve.   Instead of issuing consecutive one-year cap increases, as Congress has done for at least the past 5 years, Congress should craft a permanent law increasing the number of temporary H-2B visas available to meet the nationwide need for non-agricultural seasonal workers. 


Biden Administration’s Mixed Signals on Refugee Resettlement

After stating soon after assuming office it would reverse the Trump administration’s record low cap on refugee admissions for FY 2021 and admit 62,500 refugees by the end of the fiscal year, on April 16, 2021, the Biden administration issued a new Presidential Determination on refugee admissions restoring a regional approach to refugee resettlement, but maintaining the 15,000 cap.

Within hours, likely in response to tremendous blowback, the administration announced that the 15,000 cap is only the beginning, and that by May 15, 2021, it will make a final determination on an increased cap for refugee admissions.

During the first half of FY 2021, only 2,050 refugees have been admitted to the U.S.    No refugees have been resettled in Maine during this period.  In comparison, during the first half of FY 2016, the last year before the Trump administration began slashing refugee resettlement numbers, nearly 30,000 refugees were resettled.  Maine resettled nearly 650 refugees that year.

With a record 80 million refugees and displaced individuals around the world, the U.S. has both a moral and humanitarian imperative to resume taking a leadership role in refugee resettlement.  Additionally, in Maine, for over 40 years, refugees have been a reliable stream of new Mainers, keeping Maine’s communities vibrant, shoring up our shrinking workforce, and strengthening Maine’s economy.

The White House must follow through on admitting far more than 15,000 refugees this fiscal year, and on its promise to begin admitting 125,000 refugees per year beginning in FY 2022.

Report: Increased Immigration Gives U.S. Competitive Advantage in Global Economy

A recent white paper commissioned by finds that for the United States to retain its position as the world’s largest economy, and to ensure the solvency of programs such as Social Security, the nation must increase its levels of immigration, not reduce or even maintain current levels.

As the report’s executive summary notes,

(t)oday’s low fertility rates and ongoing population aging cast a shadow over America’s future. As a result of these trends, our projections show that grave demographic and economic consequences will follow from more restrictive immigration policies. However, even the maintenance of current levels of immigration would weaken American prospects for strong economic growth and fiscal balance in the medium and long term. It is only through increased immigration that the United States can achieve a sustainable workingage population, economic growth, and a solvent Social Security system.

The report’s findings echo those of many others, including a 2020 report out of George Mason University, and another from the U.S. Census bureau.

A synthesis of the report distills its findings.   Among them,

(i)f the U.S. working-age-to-senior ratio is not maintained, economic growth will slow compared with other nations, draining our social safety nets and sacrificing our current position as the world’s economic leader. In fact, if current U.S. population trends continue, the U.S. economy will fall behind China’s by 2030, and be only three-quarters of China’s economy by 2050.

To offset the ratio of working age adults to those who have or will be retiring from the workforce, the report shows that it will not suffice to simply maintain immigration rates at 2018 levels (immigration levels declined substantially in 2019 and 2020 due to Trump administration policies and the pandemic response).   Instead,

(p)rojections show that U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) could double and grow as large as $47 trillion in today’s dollars in 2050 if immigration levels were doubled to more than 2 million new permanent and temporary immigrants each year. Per capita, this would lead to a 3% increase in average income by 2050 for all Americans compared with keeping immigration at recent levels.

You can read the synthesis of the report here, and find the full report here.

Report Quantifies Declines in Immigration during Trump Administration

A recent report by MeBIC partner New American Economy  quantifies the declines in immigration during the Trump administration.  They resulted from a host of factors, including processing delays, increased bureaucracy and processing barriers, attempted termination of programs such as Temporary Protected Status,  and COVID-19 related immigration office and embassy closures, among others.

But the declines in approvals of naturalization applications, permanent residency applications, H-1B professional temporary worker visas,  and downturns in international students attending U.S. universities preceded the pandemic and were seen in each fiscal year of the Trump administration.

For example, federal court rulings against the Trump administration in challenges against its handling of H-1B visas resulted a dramatic drop in H-1B visa denials in the 4th quarter of FY 2020 compared to the same quarter in FY 2019.

In an era of an aging U.S. population and low birthrates, the U.S. needs to streamline and facilitate increased immigration, not make immigration harder and less attractive to talented foreign nationals.

Read the data here.