Federal Legislation Update: August 2017

Many immigration related bills have been introduced in 2017 in the 115th Congress. Most have little chance of passage or are not yet in play.  Of those that may take on life, just a few  are noted here.

  • The Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment (RAISE) Act, S. 1720.

Introduced by Senators Tom Cotton and David Perdue and backed by President Trump, this bill would slash the overall number of immigrants to the U.S., chiefly by gutting immediate family immigration.   It would immediately reduce the total number of immediate family immigrants allowed each year by more than 40% from current levels, and eliminate most categories of family members presently eligible (including children who have have already turned 18, and parents, married children, and siblings of U.S. citizens). It would also eliminate the Diversity Visa lottery, and cap the number of refugees allowed in each year at 50,000.

The bill would create a new “points” system for employment-based immigration. Individuals with English fluency, post-graduate degrees in STEM or professional fields, younger workers, and those with high paying job offers or independent wealth to invest in the U.S. would be given the highest priority, apart from Nobel Laureates and Olympic individual medalists or other world class athletes, who would be granted special points. Under the proposed points system, total employment-based visas would be capped at 140,000 annually, which is fewer than the number granted for each of the three most recent fiscal years for which there is complete data.

While the bill’s sponsors state it will strengthen our nation’s economy, there is broad opposition to that view from economists, business leaders, academics and others, including members of Congress on both sides of the aisle.  A small sampling of the early reaction to the RAISE Act:

The Bipartisan Policy Center

The Cato Institute:  here and here

The Council on Foreign Relations

New American Economy

Susan Martin, former Executive Director of the U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform

Various economists quoted in this Eduardo Porter piece in the NYTimes

  • The Dream Act of 2017, S. 1615, H.R. 3440
  • Introduced in July with bipartisan support in both the Senate and the House of Representatives, the Dream Act of 2017 would allow immigrants who came to the U.S. while under age 18, who lived in the U.S. at least 4 years prior to the bill’s enactment, who completed high school or their G.E.D., or who have DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) status, and who meet certain other conditions (medical exam, background checks), to apply for conditional residency, valid for 8 years.  While conditional residents, if they meet various conditions including completing at least 2 years of honorable military service or at least two years of higher education, or performing substantial work for at least 3 years, they would be able to apply for permanent residency. The bill would also protect immigrant youth in elementary, middle or high school, until they are eligible to apply after getting their high school diploma or their GED.Estimates are that the Dream Act of 2017 would immediately benefit nearly 2 million undocumented immigrants, with an estimated 1.5 million more who would eventually qualify once they complete high school or get their GED.  With legal status, they can pursue more educational opportunities and better jobs, so that they can reach and contribute to their full potential in the U.S.The U.S. has already invested in these youth, and for many, this country is the only home they can remember.  With our shrinking labor pool as “Baby Boomers” retire, helping these “DREAMers” gain permanent residency  in the U.S. is not only the right thing to do, it’s economically smart for our country.
  • The Agricultural Worker Program Act of 2017, S.1034, H.R. 2690

 This bill would allow farm workers who have performed at least 100 days of agricultural work in the U.S. in each of the two years preceding the bill’s enactment, and who meet other conditions, to apply for temporary residency (the “Blue Card”).   Both seasonal agricultural visa holders and undocumented farm workers would be eligible.   After working for a defined period in agriculture during three to five additional years, Blue Card holders who also meet other conditions could apply for permanent residency, and would no longer be tied to farm work.

The bill would help potentially millions of farm workers who have lived in the U.S. for many years without documentation to come out of the shadow economy and regularize their status.  They could then pay taxes (and would be required to prove that they have, prior to gaining residency), pursue educational goals, and improve their and their families’ lives.