Ranking economics over family in immigration

A New York Times editorial last week and an AP story (further below) both address the White House plan to reduce the volume of immigration based on family ties in favor of recognizing the potential of applicants to add to the economy. As I have posted before, Canada is trying to do this; so is Australia and France.
Family values, betrayed
Published: May 4, 2007
When George W. Bush was running for president in 2000 as a new kind of Republican — the caring kind — he had a ready answer for those skeptical of his moderate views on immigration. “Family values do not stop at the Rio Grande,” he said, again and again. He was standing up for immigrants who come here seeking better lives for their children, and he repeated the message so often that it stuck.
Now, like so much else in Mr. Bush’s tattered slogan file, it’s in danger of coming unstuck. Negotiators struggling to draft an immigration bill in Washington are being pressured by the White House and Republican leaders to gut the provisions of the law that promote the unity of immigrant families in favor of strictly employment-based programs.
Details are still being sweated out in private, but a draft proposal circulated by the White House and the G.O.P. would eliminate or severely restrict whole categories of family-based immigration in favor of a system that would assign potential immigrants points based on age, skills, education, income and other factors. Citizens would no longer be able to sponsor siblings and children over 21, and their ability to bring in parents would be severely limited.
Unattached workers with advanced degrees and corporate sponsors could do all right, but not families, not the moms, pops, sons and daughters who open groceries and restaurants, who rebuild desolate neighborhoods and inspire America with their work ethic and commitment to one another. The plan would also shut out hundreds of thousands of people who have applied for family visas under current rules and are patiently waiting because of long backlogs.
The goal seems to be to end what immigration restrictionists call “chain migration,” a tendentious term that recasts in a sinister light one of the fundamental ways America was built, and a decades-old cornerstone of our immigration policy. It’s a cruel distortion that feeds fears of outsiders and fails to acknowledge that healthy immigration levels keep the economy running, particularly in a country with low unemployment and birth rates and workers who shun backbreaking, entry-level jobs.
America needs immigrants. Last year’s bipartisan Senate bill recognized this, and raised quotas for both family and employment-based immigration. Congress should do so again. Closing the door to families would be unjust and unworkable, and a mockery of the values that conservatives profess. It would only encourage illegality by forcing people to choose between their loved ones and the law.
Compromise is necessary with any bill, particularly on an issue as complex as immigration. But if a deal hews so closely to the new harsh line of the White House and G.O.P that it fundamentally distorts America’s pro-immigrant tradition, it would be better to ditch the whole thing and start over.
Immigration talks bog down over family ties
May 3, 2007
BY Julie Hirschfeld Davis Associated Press
WASHINGTON — Who should get a preference when it comes to immigrants?
For decades, relatives of those already in the United States have moved to the front of the line.
The White House and senior Republican lawmakers now want to strictly limit the influx of family members and give preference to skilled workers sought by employers.
Democrats say that is inhumane and impractical.
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., says the issue has become “one of the most contentious” in pulling together a broad immigration bill upon which Republicans and Democrats can agree.
The idea is to give many of the nation’s 12 million illegal immigrants a chance at citizenship and create a guest-worker program for new arrivals.
“It would be a huge mistake to expand employment-based immigration at the expense of our historic tradition of family-based immigration,” Kennedy, one of the key negotiators, said in a speech this week.
Nearly two-thirds of legal permanent residents admitted last year were family-sponsored immigrants, while less than 12.6 percent came in based on employment preferences, according to the Homeland Security Department. Roughly one-fourth fell into other categories, such as refugees and aslyum seekers.
Reshaping immigration laws is a priority for President Bush, who wants it as part of his domestic legacy. It also would be a popular achievement for Democrats to take to voters in the next election.
Senate Democratic leaders have promised to bring up a measure, with or without GOP agreement, within two weeks.
Bush put in a plug Wednesday for a swift compromise. “I will work with both Republicans and Democrats to get a bill to my desk before the summer is out, hopefully,” he told a contractors’ trade group in Washington.
Under the White House proposal, legal immigrants would lose the right to petition to bring adult children and siblings to the U.S. They could do so for spouses and minor children, but their ability to sponsor parents would be severely limited.
The proposal would limit or end preferences for people who had family members living legally in the U.S., and award many more visas based on employability criteria, such as education and skills.