In March, Democrats challenged the GOP by trying to push through immigration reform using a discharge petition to force the vote- it’s still short the required 217 signatures. Why the rush? Many are concerned that if immigration reform does not go through this session, the midterm elections in the fall and the following 2-year race for the 2016 presidency will keep a controversial topic like immigration reform off the decision-making table. In the meantime, immigration reform advocates are trying to push through smaller policies that won’t reform the whole system, but will address what they see as the most problematic aspects of it. The advocacy is broadly organized around two disparate themes: stopping deportations and expanding guest worker programs.
As immigration reform appears unlikely in 2014, many activists are now focusing their attention on stopping deportations. On the heels of a hunger strike of immigrant detainees, President Obama announced a review of his deportation policy on March 14th to judge if enforcement policies can be done “more humanely within the confines of the law.” Obama is known for being the U.S. president with the highest number of deportations in history and his administration deported 368,644 in the last year alone. The majority of deportations in recent years have been for immigration or vehicle traffic violations, aided through the federal government partnership with local law enforcement agencies. However, ICE has also been accused of inflating deportation records with the inclusion of apprehensions during border crossings- a task previously conducted by the Border Control. The review is being conducted by the new Department of Homeland Security Secretary, Jeh Johnson, who has been meeting with advocates to reconsider the administration’s deportation priorities. Despite this promising move by the administration, activists remain diligent in their push for changes in the deportation policy by organizing and fasting in the Capital this month. For now, states like California have initiated their own actions to reduce deportation numbers.
As activists focus on deportation, the agricultural and technology industries are calling for more low-skill and high-skill immigrant workers. High deportation numbers are sharing the blame for labor shortages in the agricultural industry, whose farms rely on migrant labor. A March report by the Partnership for a New American Economy asserted that increased immigrant labor is needed to keep up with U.S. produce demands. The publication is part of a campaign launched by the American Farm Bureau Federation and over 70 other agricultural organizations advocating for immigration reform. Echoing the concerns of the report, farmers and ranchers from Texas and South Carolina have been fighting for immigration reform in the interest of maintaining the productivity of the agricultural industry. This month, the International Dairy Foods Association joined the multi-coalition fight for immigration reform. The industry’s efforts revolve around the revision of the H-2A visa program and increased flexibility for farmworker visas that can meet the industry’s need for full time workers- concerns addressed through the proposed creation of the W visa program included in the comprehensive immigration reform legislation passed by the Senate last year.
There are also continuing attempts by the tech industry to increase opportunities for employing high-skill immigrant workers- one example being the group, FWD.us, launched by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg last year. But it’s not just Silicon Valley; the petrochemical industry is among those calling for more skilled laborers as well. Both are concerned about keeping up with global competition and the demand for high-skill immigrant workers is evident. The H-1B visa, which requires immigrant workers to at least have a bachelor’s degree, took only five days to reach its cap this year. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) received about 172,500 H-1B petitions within the period for the 65,000 general-category visa cap and the 20,000 advanced-degree exemption cap. These numbers do not include petitions concerning current H1-B workers, which are not counted towards the FY 2015 H-1B cap.
More Immigrants, But No Where to Go
Current immigration reform revolves around how to get immigrants temporarily in through guest worker programs and out through ‘more humane’ deportation. With the advocacy for more economic opportunities in the country and a projected wave of immigrants from Latin America, Congress needs to address the question of citizenship prior to 2016. Otherwise, we will likely have more immigrant laborers, documented and undocumented, with proportionally less avenues for incorporation into the society. Without pathways for citizenship and more opportunities for legal entry, America will continue to struggle with incorporating the new and existing 12 million undocumented immigrants as effective contributors into the formal economy.
IIR bi-weekly news roundup “In the News” is run by Erin Stephens. For more information contact Erin at firstname.lastname@example.org
This post was originally published on April 11, 2014, http://iir.gmu.edu/articles/6734