A Comprehensive Immigration Policy: undocumented immigrants

A New Center policy on undocumented immigrants:

Undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. should have access to a path to citizenship, but the criteria must be exceptionally rigorous. Citizenship must be earned.

Unauthorized immigrants living in the U.S. would first apply to become Registered Provisional Immigrants (RPIs). To become RPIs, they would be evaluated based on their history of continuous presence in the U.S. since December 31st, 2011, their payment of application fees, their outstanding tax payments, and their criminal backgrounds. (Their criminal backgrounds must be clean.) After three years of LPR status, immigrants would be able to apply for U.S. citizenship.

Under Registered Provisional Status, persons can both work in the U.S. and return to the U.S. after traveling abroad.  They can renew their status as RPIs in 6-year periods. They can transition to become LPRs after ten years of RPI status, continuous presence in the U.S., regular employment or educational enrollment or completion of a course in English and U.S. history.

A Comprehensive Immigration Policy: Legal Immigration

A New Center policy on legal immigration:

The U.S. currently admits almost five times as many immigrants for family-based reasons as employment related ones. We should shift our targets closer to those from countries like Canada, which currently has an almost equal split—letting in 27% of refugees for family based

reasons and 32% for employment-based ones. Like Canada, the U.S. could use multiple criteria to determine which immigrants qualify for merit-based entry, including: a. Education.

  1. English language ability. c. Work experience. d. Age. e. Arranged employment (those who already have job offers), and f. Adaptability, which includes previous experience living legally in the United States, or personal connections that would make assimilation easier.

Temporary visas should become portable after an initial period so individuals aren’t forced to stick with one employer to maintain legal status and can change jobs to maximize their contributions to the economy. The government should create a new system for provisional visas.

The diversity immigrant lottery should be eliminated in favor of immigrants who possess functional English language skills, have achieved superior education or employment experience, or have American family members.

Family-related immigration should be limited to nuclear families. Specifically to spouses, minor children, and parents of U.S. citizens and the spouses and minor children of legal permanent residents (LPRs).

The U.S. should consider fear of persecution from organized gang violence as a legitimate claim to asylum.

There should be toughened language requirements for naturalization.

A Comprehensive Immigration Policy: Oversight

A New Center, a part of Brookings, offers a comprehensive plan for immigration reform. I will describe over six brief postings.

A New Center policy on immigration oversight:

Congress should establish two new federal commissions that inform the executive branch on immigration related policymaking: A Standing Commission on Immigration and an Office for New Americans. The U.S. immigration system was last seriously revised 53 years ago, and the world is changing too fast for Americans to go decades without adapting to changing circumstances. The Standing Commission should be an independent commission that advises

Congress and the president on immigration in addition to producing an annual report, while the Office for New Americans should oversee state-wide efforts to integrate immigrants into American society.


increase in American workforce due to immigration

Starting in about 2015 and going forward, the net growth in the American workforce will be entirely due to immigration. The total working age population in 2015 was 173 million. Without immigration, that would decline by 2035 by 4%. With immigration, it will increase by 6%.

Between 2005 and 2014, the native-born American working age population increased by 4.8 million workers. The first generation immigrant workforce increased by 6.1 million and the second generation immigrant workforce by 2.4 million.

After 2015 and through 2035, the native-born working age population will decline by 8.1 million, the first generation immigrant workforce will increase by 4.7 million, and the second generation immigrant workforce will increase by 13.6 million.

From Pew Research


Unauthorized immigrants today are fewer, longer tenured

Pew Research reports that there were 10.7 million unauthorized immigrants living in the U.S. in 2016, down from a peak of 12.2 million in 2007. In 2016 there were 5.4 million unauthorized Mexicans, 1.5 million less than in 2007.

Between 2007 and 2016, the unauthorized population in the U.S. shrank by 13% while the legal immigrant population rose by 22%.  In Arizona, which introduced a tough law to discourage unauthorized persons, the unauthorized population declined by 44%. (Requiring employers to use a federal electronic database called E‑Verify to check the legal status of employees; requiring law enforcement to inquire about immigration status during a lawful stop; and making unauthorized immigrant students ineligible for in-state college tuition rates.)

In 2007, the immigrant population was 28.2 legal (70%) and 12.2 million unauthorized (30%). In 2016, the legal population was 76% of the total; unauthorized, 24%.

The decline is due almost entirely to a sharp decrease in the number of Mexicans entering the country without authorization.

Important segments of the unauthorized population:

Of the 10.7 million unauthorized persons, one half are from Mexico. 700,000 are legally protected as Dreamers (DACA). Two-thirds of adult unauthorized immigrants have lived in the country for more than 10 years. A rising share of unauthorized immigrant adults – 43% in 2016 compared with 32% in 2007 – live in households with U.S.-born children. The great majority of children living with an unauthorized person was born in the U.S. (5 million born in U.S. vs 0.7 million born outside the U.S.)


Most unauthorized immigrants live with spouses, partners, their children or other relatives. In 2016, 5.6 million children younger than 18 were living with unauthorized immigrant parents





Numbers of birthright births have declined.

About 250,000 babies were born to unauthorized immigrant parents in the United States in 2016, the latest year for which information is available, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis of government data. This represents a 36% decrease from a peak of about 390,000 in 2007. The analysis follows President Donald Trump’s announcement that his administration may seek to end “birthright citizenship.”

The estimate is for any birth for which at least one parent was unauthorized. In the 1980s the annual number of these births was about 50,000. It rapidly grew in the 1990s. This was due in part to large numbers of women who crossed the border illegally and joined their male partners who had been given legal status due to the immigration act of 1986. Also, the total numbers of unauthorized entries and visa overstays in the U.S. grew greatly until the 2008 recession.

The number of babies born to unauthorized immigrant parents represented about 6% of the 4.0 million total births in the U.S. in 2016, compared with 9% of all births in 2007

From Pew Research

“What Happens If Your Parents Don’t Come Home Today.”

From an article in the current issue of the New York Review of Books, “The Valley of Fear:”

California’s San Joaquin Valley, from Stockton in the north to Arvin in the south, is 234 miles long and 130 miles wide. If you drive there from the Bay Area, in less than an hour the temperature will go from 57 to 97 degrees.

Measured by yearly production, the San Joaquin Valley is one of the highest-value stretches of farmland in the country, and is dominated by large growers who preside over a labor force of migrant workers in a way that has not changed much since Carey McWilliams described it in his 1939 book, Factories in the Fields. Arax likens it to a Central American country. “It’s the poorest part of California,” he told me. “There’s almost no middle class. To find its equivalent in the United States you’d have to go to Appalachia or the borderlands of Texas.”

Raisins, table grapes, pistachios, almonds, tomatoes, stone fruits, garlic, and cabbage are some of the crops of the Valley.

Today, at least 80 percent of farmworkers are undocumented Mexicans, the majority of them Mixteco and Trique, indigenous people from the states of Oaxaca, Sinaloa, and Guerrero—the poorest regions in Mexico—who speak no or very little Spanish, much less English. Most of them have been working the fields for at least a decade, have established families here, and live in terror of la migra, as Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is called, and instant deportation or imprisonment that would wrench them from their children.

Tomato picking is “stoop labor,” the most wearying and painful kind. But the Oaxacans went at it with dizzying speed. The pay was 73 cents for every five-gallon bucket they could fill, which workers prefer to the alternative of $11 per hour….In five hours, a skilled picker could earn between $75 and $85.

In response to the argument that immigrants steal jobs from Americans by undercutting their wages, the [United Farm Workers] set up a website offering citizens and legal residents agricultural jobs anywhere in the country through state employment services. This was in 2010, during the Great Recession. The website received about four million hits, out of which around 12,000 people filled out employment forms. Of these, a total of twelve citizens or legal residents actually showed up for work. Not one of them lasted longer than a day.

Fruit and vegetable picking is a one-generation job—farmworkers I spoke to neither wanted nor would allow their children to follow them into the fields. The heat and physical toll, combined with the feudal power of the growers, make it preferable to work in an air-conditioned hotel or packing house, where you can stand upright and be free of pesticides for the same low wages.

This means that a constant supply of impoverished Mexican immigrants willing to do the work is required. But those immigrants aren’t coming.

At UFW headquarters in downtown Fresno, I met with a group of twelve pro-bono legal advisers to immigrants from every major city in the San Joaquin and Salinas Valleys. They all told me that they were inundated with a virtually endless stream of terrified workers panicked about their future.

Every immigrant arrested there ends up at Mesa Verde, a privately owned prison in Bakersfield where, because of immigrants’ lack of support and poverty, it is almost impossible to retain legal representation. This is where Hernandez and the legal advisers step in, “a drop in the ocean,” she says. Detainees “attend” their hearing at the prison via video feed to a courtroom in Sacramento, 286 miles away. Judgments are rendered in a matter of minutes.

Hernandez coached parents to prepare their children for the worst. One topic of conversation was: What Happens If Your Parents Don’t Come Home Today. People were insecure before, but they more or less had the sense that their labor was needed, that they were valued for, if nothing else, their willingness to do work no one else wanted. Their kids could go to school and live, for the most part, without the fear of their parents disappearing, even under Obama’s aggressive deportation policies. Now, even people with temporary legal status won’t apply for food stamps, unemployment

Latino concerns about life under Trump

More Latinos have serious concerns about their place in America under Trump. 49% say situation for U.S. Hispanics has worsened over the past year; 55% worry that they or someone they know could be deported.

Two-thirds (67%) say the administration’s policies have been harmful to Hispanics – a much higher share than during the administration of either Democrat Barack Obama (15% in 2010) or Republican George W. Bush (41% in 2007).

Half of Hispanic adults (49%) are foreign born, and as a group they have stronger concern than those born in the U.S. Immigrants are more likely than U.S.-born Hispanics to say they have serious concerns about their place in U.S. society (57% vs. 42%), and they worry a lot or some about deportation (66% vs. 43%).

38% say they have experienced an adverse incident in the past year: experiencing discrimination or unfair treatment because of their Hispanic background, being criticized for speaking Spanish in public, being told to go back to their home country, or being called offensive names.

From Pew Research.