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Obama Administration Can Improve Immigration Policy in Many Ways

Posted on August 23, 2011
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Fresh off the announcement that it would prioritize deportation for those with criminal records over other individuals here without legal status, the Obama Administration could take a series of other measures within its authority to rationalize U.S. immigration policy. The dozens of ideas for reform advocated in two new reports by the National Foundation for American Policy would be much less controversial than the recent Obama Administration on deportation.

First, let’s take a look at the new policy on deportation. According to the response Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) received from the Obama Administration, the new policy would work as follows: “Under the new process, a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Department of Justice (DOJ) working group will develop specific criteria to identify low-priority removal cases that should be considered for prosecutorial discretion.  These criteria will be based on ‘positive factors’ from the Morton Memo, which include individuals present in the U.S. since childhood (like DREAM Act students), minors, the elderly, pregnant and nursing women, victims of serious crimes, veterans and members of the armed services, and individuals with serious disabilities or health problems.” (The Morton memo, issued in June, sought to address the situation of limited enforcement resources by providing field guidance on who to prioritize in deportations.)

Again, while this policy has received praise and criticism in different quarters, it is more controversial than other measures that could be taken. In the two reports released this week by the National Foundation for American Policy, a group of organizations and legal experts recommended a variety of measures that would improve immigration policies in a variety of areas. The recommendations in the reports come from organizations that include the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the American Council on International Personnel, the American Immigration Lawyers Association, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) and others.  The goal was to find measures that did not require legislation and that, generally speaking, were unlikely to be controversial.

In January 2011, President Obama issued an executive order that called on agencies to remove outdated regulations or those that harmed competitiveness. A number of the recommendations in the reports were also submitted during a public comment period opened up by the Administration.

To improve the naturalization process, the reports recommended fee reform and streamlining that brings down the price of applying for naturalization, revising and simplifying the language in both the naturalization form and instructions, and restoring offsite naturalization interviews at local community centers. Since even critics of immigration would like those already here to integrate as well as possible and become citizens, these policy proposals should not engender much opposition.

To improve aspects of employment-based immigration, the reports advocated changes that would reduce red tape, such as allowing online advertisements rather than more expensive print ads for labor certification (a highly bureaucratic process required to secure a green card for a skilled immigrant that can cost employers $10,000).

Other reforms recommended in the reports would achieve important policy objectives, such as providing additional labor mobility to skilled foreign nationals. That is something critics of high skill immigration have supported, since it would encourage foreign-born professionals to change employers the same as U.S. workers.

The most direct way to provide more labor mobility, including within a company,  is to allow individuals waiting for green cards in the United States (often in H-1B status) to apply for adjustment of status even when a visa number is not yet available. Currently, individuals waiting for a green card often may be passed over for promotion or may hesitate to change jobs because such actions could trigger the need to re-start the green card process. As Aman Kapoor of Immigration Voice explains, “By allowing applicants to obtain an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) through the adjustment of status process, this minor fix would allow high-skilled immigrants to accept job offers and promotions, either with their current employer or other perspective employers, without having to start the entire green card application process all over again.”

In response to a question from the Huffington Post’s Alex Wagner, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Alejandro Mayorkas said he thought some of the recommendations in the two reports were “well taken” but that he would need to examine them further. That’s a positive response. Randel K. Johnson of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said many of the recommendations in the reports could be easily implemented, calling them “low hanging fruit.” Let’s hope the Obama Administration is willing to pick some of that fruit and, in the process, bring greater rationality to our immigration system.

Aug. 21 2011

http://blogs.forbes.com/stuartanderson/?p=95

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