A December 2017 policy brief by the National Foundation for American Policy outlines current U.S. immigration policies, addresses and clarifies many of the myths and misrepresentations that feature in the current debates on immigration policy, and outlines the impact of immigrants on the U.S. both historically and presently.
Bloomberg Businessweek featured Portland, Maine as one of three cities profiled in an article on how unemployment well below 4% is affecting employers, and the business community’s responses.
An interesting moving map shows the dominant waves of immigration to the U.S. from 1820 to 2013, including the numbers and the countries most represented at different points in time. It’s a fascinating presentation of the data.
During the first “great wave” of immigration, the 50 years from 1880 to 1930, 27,788,140 immigrants arrived in the U.S. In 1930, the U.S. population, according to census data, was 123.1 million.
During the 50 years from 1960 to 2010, which included the 1965 immigration reforms prioritizing immediate family immigration and the 1986 legalization program, 33,213,749 individuals immigrated. In 2010, census data shows the U.S. population was 309.3 million. While the U.S. received about 6.5 million more immigrants during this more recent 50 year immigration wave, they represented a much smaller percentage of the the overall U.S. population than the nearly 28 million immigrants who arrived during the first “great wave.”.
March 5, 2018 has arrived. That’s the date that the Trump Administration declared as the last day of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. It’s the date by which President Trump said Congress should craft a solution to allow DACA holders to stay permanently in the U.S.
Were it not for two federal court injunctions compelling the U.S. government to continue to accept DACA renewal applications, over 1000 DACA holders each day would now be losing their protected status and work permission. But this is only a temporary reprieve; the government is appealing those decisions, and on March 5, 2018, a third federal court upheld the DACA rescission.
The nearly 800,000 individuals who have had DACA, including a few hundred from Maine, now live in limbo, their futures in suspense. These are people who are working, studying, serving in the U.S. military, volunteering, and contributing in myriad ways to our nation, which is also theirs, given that many have no memories of the countries where they were born.
That limbo ripples far beyond DACA holders themselves. Employers don’t know if they will be able to keep their DACA employees on payroll. Universities don’t know if their DACA students will be able to continue studying (and paying valuable tuition fees). DACA holders have bought cars and homes, and their ability to repay their lenders will evaporate when they no longer have DACA work authorization.
President Trump said multiple times that he wanted to protect the DACA/Dreamers, but that Congress needed to act. He said he would sign any bill that Congress sent to him. Congress did act, proposing a path to permanent residency for DACA/Dreamers and funding for increased border security, including an expanded border wall. But President Trump rejected that proposal, upping the ante and insisting on a complete and drastic overhaul of our nation’s immigration laws that would divide families and make us less globally competitive for labor, in exchange for a DACA/Dreamer solution.
Congress was right to reject President Trump’s demands. But Congress must continue the fight for permanent residency for DACA/Dreamers. Our communities need them, our economy needs them, and it is the right and humane thing to do. Senators Collins and King were leaders in crafting a bipartisan solution for the DACA/Dreamers. They should continue to press for action.
Update: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) began receiving H-2B petitions on February 21, 2018 and within 5 days had received 2700 petitions representing 47,000 seasonal jobs for the summer/fall 2018 season, far exceeding the 33,000 visa cap. On February 28, 2018, USCIS conducted a lottery and randomly selected the cap-subject petitions it will consider. USCIS will reject any cap-subject petitions received after February 27th, and will return to their employers any petitions not selected in the lottery, with the filing fees. USCIS will continue to accept petitions for cap-exempt H-2B visas.
Maine businesses should urge our delegation to support H-2B cap relief as part of the ongoing negotiations to fund the federal government past March 23, 2018.
Read more below about how we got to this point.
On January 3, 2018, the U.S. Department of Labor announced that by January 1st, the first day that it accepted applications for the summer season, it had received applications covering more than 81,600 positions from employers hoping to obtain H-2B visas for seasonal non-agricultural foreign workers. That number is triple that of January 1, 2017. Only 66,000 H-2B visas are available annually, with a mere 33,000 allocated for seasonal jobs with start dates between April 1 and September 30. While certain seasonal workers are exempt from the cap, the majority of employers who hoped to meet their summer season labor needs in part with H-2B workers are likely to be sorely disappointed. Employers can learn which H-2B employees are exempt from the 33,000 cap, and track whether the cap has been reached here.
Last year, the H-2B summer seasonal visa cap was reached in mid-March, leaving Maine’s restaurants, hotels and other seasonal businesses scrambling to find staff. Several had to open late or close early in the season, close some of their hotel rooms, or offer fewer meal shifts. Congress enacted a temporary fix applicable only to FY2017 that resulted in 15,000 additional H-2B visas being added to the cap, but too late to benefit most employers.
When employers have to scale back because they can’t get the workers they need, this hurts entire communities. States and localities lose tax revenues from the business’s reduced sales. U.S. workers may lose their jobs or have reduced hours if a business decides not to open or limits its hours. Local businesses lose the funds that foreign workers spend while living here.
Congress needs to enact a permanent solution to stop these perennial H-2B visa shortages.
In 2015, the Obama Administration issued a rule allowing spouses of certain H-1B professional/specialized knowledge visa holders to obtain work permission. The rule was an acknowledgment that many of these H-4 visa holding spouses of H-1B workers want to work, and their inability to do so was not only an emotional and professional or economic hardship for them, but also a loss of talent for the U.S. It was additionally a policy that made the U.S. less competitive in the global labor market and harmed U.S. businesses’ ability to retain valuable employees.
The Obama Administration’s 2015 rule stemmed in part from long wait lists for permanent residency visas for citizens of certain countries. For example, H-1B visa holders from India who are applying for their residency through their employment must wait over a decade to get their “green cards.” This represents a tremendous amount of human capital. For example, according to USCIS data, as of January 2018 over 20,000 Indian citizens holding bachelors or advanced degrees and already working in professional or skilled positions here in the U.S. were still waiting for adjudication of their permanent residency applications filed between 2006 and 2009. Under the old rule, their spouses had no ability to work during this time. The 2015 rule change allowed H-4 spouses in these circumstances to obtain work permits during the backlog delay. Otherwise, the H-1B worker might seek employment and residency in another country that allows the spouse to work, depriving her/his U.S. employer of a valuable employee.
In 2016, the first full year after the rule change took effect, over 41,000 work permit applications were approved for H-4 spouses, enabling them to be productive, pay taxes, help support their families, and participate more fully in their communities.
A 2015 lawsuit claimed that allowing H-4 visa holders to work would harm U.S. workers. While the Federal Court denied the plaintiff’s injunction request and the rule took effect, the litigation over the rule continued.
In April 2017, the Trump Administration asked the Federal Court to pause the litigation while they considered whether they want to revise the Obama Administration’s rule. On February 28, 2018, the Administration indicated to the Court that it intends to issue a new proposed rule by June 2018.
It is anticipated that the current Administration will roll back the H-4 employment authorization rules. This would make it harder for U.S. employers to retain the H-1B workers in whom they’ve already invested and who are part of their teams, and will harm our economy.
Should the current Administration indeed propose rolling back the Obama era rule, comments opposing that rollback during any “notice and comment” period will be critical.
After a Federal District Court in California struck down the Administration’s September 5, 2017 rescission of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), the Administration appealed directly to the Supreme Court, trying, in an extraordinary maneuver, to skip over the usual appeal to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Following briefing and arguments on whether it should hear the appeal without the case first going to the 9th Circuit, today the Supreme Court declined to accept the Administration’s appeal.
That means that if the Administration wants to appeal the lower courts’ decisions (there are now two separate Federal District Courts that have ruled against the Administration), it must proceed first to the appropriate Circuit Courts of Appeal.
It also means the injunctions against the DACA rescission remain in place and USCIS must continue to accept certain DACA renewal applications. Anyone wanting to renew their DACA status should talk ASAP with a competent immigration attorney.
What is next? The government may appeal to the proper Circuit Courts of Appeal. Or the Administration could decide to again announce that it will rescind DACA, and provide a different rationale that will stand up in court (the DACA rescission was struck down because the courts determined the rescission was based on flawed legal reasoning). It will be interesting to see what the Administration decides to do.
In the meantime, DACA holders need certainty and only legislation giving them a path to permanent residency will provide that. We must continue to work for passage of the Dream Act or another durable solution for DACA/Dreamers.
Travel bans. Extreme vetting. Frontal attacks on prioritizing keeping immediate families together when they immigrate.
And now, it has come to this. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has unveiled a new mission statement that denies our history and our present, and signals trouble for our future, by striking the words that acknowledge the very essence of our country, “nation of immigrants.”
Here’s the prior Mission Statement that appeared on USCIS’s website through February 22, 2018 (emphasis added):
And here’s the new Mission Statement:
This is a striking change in tone, and raises the question of which “values” are being referred to in the new mission statement. Given the removal of the concept of our “promise as a nation of immigrants” and the insertion of language regarding “protecting Americans, securing the homeland”, one could infer that the “values” no longer prize offering safe haven and opportunity to those who believe in the United States, and who want nothing more than the chance to become Americans and to create a better life for themselves and their children.
For those who haven’t done so recently, now is a good moment to reread The New Colossus, by Emma Lazarus, written to help raise funds for the Statute of Liberty’s installation, and now affixed to its base.
Words have meaning. Please ponder those of Emma Lazarus, and those of USCIS’s new mission statement, and recall your own family’s immigration history as you do.
Immigration authorities recently announced a significant change in procedure that will affect all asylum seekers applying for safe haven before U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). All asylum applicants undergo a personal interview with USCIS to assess their eligibiity for asylum. Because of growing backlogs, USCIS will begin scheduling interviews on a “Last in, first out” (LIFO) basis to try to keep the backlog from growing.
Under the new procedure, USCIS will only schedule interviews with applicants whose cases were filed before early January 2018 if USCIS is able to keep up, via LIFO, with newly filed asylum applications. USCIS will chip away at the backlog, if possible, by working from more to less recently filed cases.
Maine asylum applicants have routinely waited as long as four years to be interviewed on their applications. Now, individuals who have already waited nearly four years will likely be waiting many years longer for their interviews.
Conversely, under LIFO, new asylum applicants may be interviewed within 2 to 3 months of filing. Many asylum seekers will be unable to find lawyers to help them properly prepare their applications and get ready for their interviews in this time frame, which may result in asylum seekers losing their cases. The asylum application process is extremely complex, and asylum applicants without lawyers are far more likely than those who have competent legal representation to have their applications denied.
How does this affect Maine employees?
Asylum cases often present life or death situations. Waiting for a decision on one’s asylum application means living a life in limbo, temporarily safe, but unsure if the U.S. will eventually allow a new, permanent future in the U.S., or will force the asylum seeker’s return to persecution abroad. Waiting for years for this decision is extremely stressful.
Many Maine workers, especially those who have arrived in recent years from countries such as Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, and Angola, are asylum seekers authorized to work while their cases are in process with USCIS. In addition to their concerns about their own futures in the U.S., many are separated from their spouses and children who can only join them here once the asylum seekers have been granted asylum. For asylum applicants already stuck in the backlog, the LIFO system will prolong by years their strain and worry about their futures and their family separations, as they wait for interviews, and decisions in their cases.
How can Maine employers help?
Employers who offer an EAP as an employee benefit can make sure that their employees are aware of that benefit, and other support that may be available.
When President Trump spoke last September about his decision to rescind DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, he stated that he had great sympathy (and even “love”) for these young adults (the so-called Dreamers), and urged Congress to get a deal done that would provide them with a path to stay in the U.S. permanently.
That was then. On January 12, 2018, when presented with a bipartisan proposal to help the Dreamers, President Trump rejected the deal.
And this week, with debate on DACA underway on the Senate floor, and following countless hours spent by bipartisan groups of legislators to reach good faith compromises to allow for legalization of DACA/Dreamers, President Trump announced that he would veto any bill not incorporating his “four pillars”. He then endorsed a 592 page bill sponsored by Sen. Chuck Grassley that went far beyond the scope of DACA and border security, proposing arguably the most fundamental change in the values of U.S. immigration policy since 1924, when Congress imposed race-based national origins immigration quotas.
On February 15, 2018, the Senate voted on four immigration proposals. All of the proposals failed, including the bipartisan Immigration Security and Opportunity Act (S.A. 1958) and the bipartisan USA Act of 2018 (S.A. 1955), both of which were narrowly tailored to address DACA/Dreamers and border security. MeBIC supported both of these measures, which had elements that both sides could like and hate, but at least were thoughtful compromises. Of the four items voted on, S.A.1958, sponsored by Senator Angus King and co-sponsored by Senator Susan Collins, gained the most votes in favor (54-45). The Adminstration-backed Grassley bill received the least votes, suffering defeat by 60-39.
The Senate will be on recess next week, while March 5, 2018, the last date of the DACA program (absent Court rulings blocking the rescission), looms. When the Senate returns to work, it is imperative that they continue to make crafting a permanent solution for the Dreamers a top priority.
There is little doubt that President Trump’s veto threat influenced the outcome of this week’s debate. Holding the nearly 800,000 DACA holders who are already integral members of our communities and the country’s economy hostage in order to achieve a massive overhaul of the U.S. immigration system is unconscionable from a humane perspective, and unwise from an economic one. Any massive immigration overhaul should be the result of careful thought and a deliberative process, with hearings and input from a wide range of experts. The 60 Senators who voted against the Administration-backed Grassley bill apparently agreed.
We can only hope that President Trump will revert to his earlier willingness to sign any bill that resolves the status of the DACA/Dreamers that gains bipartisan support, and will allow other immigration issues to be tackled at a later date.