Out migration from Venezuela

The out-migration of people from Venezuela in the past five years has been one of the largest migration crises in the region, with millions leaving the country and at least 6.1 million people (estimates vary) outside the country by the end of 2021, about one fifth of the entire population.

At least one million have been or are being formally recognized as refugees (i.e. documented evidence of fear of persecution).  This makes them the largest formally identified refugee group in the Americans after the some 1.6 persons in the U.S. who are refugee applicants and by nature of residing in the U.S. are called asylum applicants. (In addition there are admitted refugees now living in the U.S., the size of which I cannot estimate.)

1.7 million or 31% are living in Columbia; 400,000 in Ecuador; 940,000 in Peru; and a half million both Chile and the United States, and 300,000 in Spain – in all, three quarters of these emigrants. These figures are a few years old.(Go here.)

The out-migration of Venezuelans has also created challenges for the countries receiving them, including increased demand for healthcare, education, and social services, as well as concerns about security and the potential for social tensions.

In 2022 the Biden Administration announced plans to spend $170 million to financially support this large out-migration, and another $130 million to support those who have left Venezuela, Haiti and Nicaragua.

Asylum and “credible fear”

There is a 1.6 million backlog in asylum applications facing the country’s immigration courts, some 75% of all cases pending in these courts.

Asylees are accepted into the U.S. due to a well-founded fear of persecution on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. In recent years, the percentage of court decisions in favor of the applicant has varied betweemn 25% and 40%.

To qualify for asylum, an individual must demonstrate that their fear of persecution is both subjectively genuine and objectively reasonable. This means that they must have a credible fear of persecution, and that there must be a reasonable possibility that they would face harm if they were to return to their home country. The asylum provisions begin here (section 208 of the Immigration and Nationality Act).

Credible fear assessments are initially made by an asylum officer employed by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, an arm of the State Department.  An applicant can appeal an adverse decision to the immigration court (within the Dept of Justice). If a positive decision by the asylum officer, the case goes to an immigration judge for other questions before the judge grants asylum status.

To document the basis for credible fear, applicants typically present evidence such as:

Personal testimony: The applicant may provide a detailed account of their experiences in their home country, including any incidents of persecution, threats, or violence they have suffered or witnessed.

Country conditions reports: These reports provide information on the political, social, and economic situation in the applicant’s home country. They may include information on human rights abuses, persecution, and violence, and can help establish the credibility of the applicant’s claims.

Expert testimony: Experts in relevant fields, such as human rights or country conditions, may provide testimony to support the applicant’s claims.

Documentary evidence: This may include news articles, government reports, or other documents that support the applicant’s claims.

Medical evidence: Applicants may provide medical reports or evaluations to document any physical or mental health conditions resulting from past persecution or trauma.


New bipartisan bill in the House

The Wall Street Journal reports a fledgling effort in Congress to support important reforms in immigration. The chances of near term success are at best dim. Yet it is useful to consider how reforms can be credibly articulated within one package. The leaders are Reps. María Elvira Salazar (R., Fla.) and Veronica Escobar (D., Texas).  I’m of the opinion that a lot of Reps and Dems don’t really want major reforms is that would require them to abandon their crisis messaging and commit themselves to change.

Note that a key element is the reduction in lag times for resolution of asylum cases.

Per the WSJ: Among the measure’s main components —

It would pay for more Border Patrol agents, as well as additional surveillance technology and border fencing.

Asylum-seeking migrants would be sent to new “humanitarian campuses” along the border that are managed by the federal government. There, they would have access to legal counsel and receive an asylum decision within 60 days.

It would create a new seven-year “dignity” program for immigrants in the country illegally to pay a $5,000 penalty and gain a legal status. After seven years, if they pay an additional $5,000 penalty, they would become eligible for permanent resident status, known as a Green Card.

It would require the use of E-Verify, an online system that checks whether an employee is legally authorized to work, for every sector of the economy including agriculture. The system is popular among many conservative Republicans but has drawn criticism from some lawmakers and industry groups worried about its effect on the labor pool.

It would fund five “regional processing centers” throughout Latin America where migrants could apply to come to the U.S. as a refugee or on a work visa.

It would make more green cards and temporary visas available, including creating a new year-round visa for farmworkers that has been a top request of the agriculture industry.


A new study on immigration to solve labor shortages

The Migration Policy Institute issued a short study on immigration to solve labor shortages. the study attempts to frame the issues, and does not delve into the research or make any conclusions about what the U.S. should do.

This topic is increasingly becoming center stage for immigration reform, endorsed by Republican governors and industries. My own take is that if there is a change in U.S. practices to increase immigration to meet labor demands, that the private sector, including business and labor will try and will likely succeed to gaining control of design and implementation, leaving the federal government on the sidelines.


When is there a labor shortage?

“There is not a clear answer for when a shortage rises to the threshold of being genuine. In practice, it is often a judgment call for government to decide which jobs seem genuinely hard to fill, and where immigration seems to fit in.”

On the role of technology to replace workers and solve a  problem: “it is uncertain how quickly into what extent new technologies will be adopted. For example, advances in crop harvesting robotics could potentially transform soft fruit production such as strawberries.. Yet, low profit margins in the sector mean that, for the for seeable future, this technology remains out of reach for most producers.”

The report also sites questions about Japan’s feasibility to use robots to take care of elder care. And, “relying on immigration to address shortages can lead to employers and governments, putting off necessary investments, such as upscaling local workers for a hard to fill newly emerging jobs or improving productivity and sectors through mechanization and restructuring jobs.”

Examples of fitting immigrants to their best use: Employer-sponsored program; specialized visas, such as tech visas; using a point system that are met some high scoring candidates, as in Canada. Talent visas, such as electrical workers; permits that apply to a particular sector, such as healthcare.

More than a job assignment: “Attention needs to be given to providing these immigrant workers with opportunities to develop social and provide professional networks so that they can thrive.”



Where immigrants cannot obtain federal public benefits

This is a seemingly simple question to ask which quickly becomes a morass.

Under the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA), “qualified” non-citizens are generally barred from receiving certain federal public benefits for a period of five years from the date they become eligible for the benefits.  Qualified persons include recent green card holders — the great majority of new non-temporary new arrivals,  The benefits that are subject to this five-year ban include:

Supplemental Security Income (SSI); Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF); Medicaid (with some exceptions); Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP); Food Stamps (SNAP); and certain housing programs, including Section 8 housing vouchers and public housing

There are exceptions to this five-year ban. Refugees, asylees, and other humanitarian immigrants are generally exempt from the ban and may be eligible for these benefits immediately upon entry into the United States. Additionally, some benefits, such as emergency Medicaid and disaster relief, are not subject to the five-year ban. Finally, some states have opted to provide certain benefits to non-citizens regardless of their immigration status or the length of time they have been in the country.

And, federally supported community health centers routinely provide medical care to all comers no questions asked about legal status, time in country, etc.

The federal government has a website which provides a user friendly way to find what federal and state public benefits are legally available, based on about 20 questions asked. Unfortunately the website in Kafka-esque style asks the user if there are eligible for some dozen truly valuable benefits – it doesn’t tell the user.

See a recent report by the Center for Immigration Studies which decries the expansion by the Biden administration of federal public benefits to certain classes of foreign-born persons legally in the U.S.

Surge in demand for workers in advanced countries

The Wall Street Journal reports: “Government actions to attract foreign nationals for skilled and unskilled jobs have spread from Germany to Japan and include countries with longtime immigration restrictions and some with a populist antipathy to streams of foreign workers.

The U.S. remains an outlier. Hundreds of thousands of migrant workers have arrived through back channels, but the country isn’t openly welcoming more legal workers, despite the tight labor market.

Around five million more people moved to affluent countries last year than left them, up 80% from pre-pandemic levels, according to a Wall Street Journal data analysis. [This amounts to about a 0.5% increase on the workforce.  In the U.S. the workforce adds about 0.3% due to immigration. In Canada, the annual increase is about 1%.]

The Journal examined 10 countries that received most of the migration, including the U.S., Germany, the U.K., Canada, Australia and Spain. Migration experts say it is the highest number ever reported. That total includes about two million refugees from Ukraine. Even excluding that surge, net migration was significantly higher than 2019 levels, according to the data.

In Europe and North America, the working-age population is expected to decline from 730 million to 680 million over the next two decades, according to United Nations estimates. Such places as South Korea and Taiwan stand to lose more than half their workforce over the coming decades. The working-age population in sub-Saharan Africa, meanwhile, will increase by 700 million by 2050, according to U.N. projections; in Latin America and the Caribbean, the U.N. estimated an increase of 40 million by midcentury.

An example:

Paul Papalia, a government minister in Western Australia, said the region desperately needs workers in both public and private sectors to serve the mining industry, which is booming from global demand for battery-powered vehicles that rely on locally mined lithium, cobalt and nickel. Mr. Papalia led a delegation in March to pubs and other spots in the U.K. to try to lure as many as 30,000 British workers with the prospect of better salaries and sunny weather. Nearly 70,000 job seekers expressed interest so far, including 1,100 applications to join the police force, he said.

The stalemate in immigration reform and the underlying cause

Karoun Demirjian of the NY Times provides a short history of attempts by Congress to pass an immigration bill in the past 25 years: 2006, 2008, 2010, 2013, and 2018. I put these failures into a context of increasing polarization of the immigration issue between parties — especially the shift of the Republican party from being fairly friendly to immigration to being opposed.

Until the late 2000s, there was very rough similarity among Republicans and Democrats on their immigration views. (Go here.) Both parties were interally diverse in views. Since then, the Republicans became increasingly restrictionist, if not blatantly anti-immigration, while the Democrats become more uniformly inclusivist.

1960s through mid 1990s – bipartisan

Over generations, popular sentiment has been vaguely inclined to not to increase immigration, but also not to cut it back. Party lines were not clearly drawn because both parties were internally conflicted.

A 1965 Gallup survey showed that….Republicans and Democrats were divided internally, with similar shares of respondents in both parties favoring a decrease. In 1977, a survey continued to show that partisan differences were negligible. In 1986, as the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) was passing with a bipartisan congressional majority, a CBS News/New York Times poll recorded no statistically significant partisan differences in opinion toward overall immigration levels.

2000s: tension while bipartisan reform fails

The 9/11 attack sharply heightened concerns about illegal immigration. After a while, Rep concern about mass immigration stayed high but most Dems and, by even more, Independents stopped expressing concern.

President George W. Bush expressed support for immigration reform. In his 2007 State of the Union address, he said, “We need to uphold the great tradition of the melting pot that welcomes and assimilates new arrivals.”

In 2007, there was a concerted bipartisan effort in the Senate to pass comprehensive legislation, such as The Strive Act, proposed by Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ).

Reps have conflated the issue of immigration with the issue of law and order. Pew Research polls suggest that Reps and Dem come down very differently on the unfairness question. The 2016 Republican Convention platform’s section on immigration demands that legal immigration be cut back, “in light of the alarming levels of unemployment and underemployment in this country.”

2010s: increasing split along party lines

According to Pew Research polling in 2015, about half of Republicans (53%) say immigrants coming to the U.S. make society worse in the long run, compared with just 24% of Democrats. Among Republicans, 71% say immigrants in the U.S. are making crime worse, compared with just 34% of Democrats. 71% of Republicans say immigrants are making the economy worse, compared with 34% of Democrats who say the same.

2018: full blown restrictionist proposal

On January 10, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and other Republicans introduced the Securing America’s Future Act (H.R. 4760). The bill would give Dreamers a three year visa with no right to permanent stay or citizenship, restrict family reunification to spouses and minor children (thus removing adult children and parents), shift the visa lottery to economic visas, and boost border security.

According to The Hill, “Addressing these four issues — border security, the visa lottery, chain migration, and then something for DACA recipients — is a great first step,” Goodlatte told reporters as he returned to the Capitol. “I think there are a lot of other things that need to be done on immigration.”


The DeSantis Immigration bill

Florida’s new immigration bill, Senate Bill 1718 was signed by Governor DeSantis on May 10. It goes into effect July 1.

Pew Research estimated in 2016 that 775,000 unauthorized persons were living in Florida. As the total national number of unauthorized persons has not risen since, this is a reasonable figure to use. Nationwide, 40% of crop workers are unauthorized. This implies a workforce of about 500.000. Many of them are in agriculture. The average hourly wage is about $13. (Go here and here.)

It will be a criminal act to drive an unauthorized person across state lines into Florida. (Go here.)

Companies with 25 or more employees will have to use the federal E-Verify system when hiring workers. Failure to do so will trigger $1,000 a day fines. Penalties for employers who don’t verify their employees’ status could face suspension of their licenses to operate.

Local governments will be banned from contributing money to organizations creating identification cards for undocumented immigrants.

Driver’s licenses issued to non-citizens in any state will be barred from use in Florida. These states are CA (2013), CO (2013), CT (2015), DE (2015). HI (2020), IL (2013), MD (2013), NV (2013), NJ (2019), NM (2003), NY (2019), OR (2013), and UT (2020).

Florida hospitals would need to include a question asking patients whether they’re United States citizens, and whether they are lawfully in the country. The form should inform patients that their answer does not affect patient care or result in a report to immigration authorities. (Go here.)

A guide to our new Mexican border rules

Here is today’s NY Times explanation of the new rules on access to the U.S, in particulay asylum, effective today May 11 2023. “Here’s what the process of getting across the border will look like under the new rules, as best as we could determine with the help of Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, the policy director at the American Immigration Council, and one of the top experts in the country on this issue.”

Death of Title 42; continuation by other means

Title 42, which has been used to turn back over two million migrants at the Mexican border, is being terminated today, May 11, 2023. New measures by the administration severely cut back the effective access to asylum applications for migrants.

The new measures were laid out in a regulation issued on May 10.  In with words of Dan Gordon of the National Immigration Forum, “The rule will reportedly disqualify most all asylum seekers who fail to pursue refuge in a third country on the way to the U.S. or otherwise follow a limited number of lawful immigration pathways to get here.”

In the words of the Wall Street Journal’s Michelle Hackman, “I think the administration’s theory [in its new post Title 42 rules] is that if they’re able to deport enough people quickly enough, using these new tools that they have, then that will really quickly send a message that it is not worth it to even try.”

About 80% of asylum applications are denied in formal hearings and by courts. But applying formally for asylum can enable a person to live in the U.S. for years. This has led to immense backlogs of open asylum cases. The core idea of the Biden strategy is to cut off this opportunity.

The formal citation for Title 42 is “Title 42 of the United States Code, Section 265: Suspension of Entries and Importations of Persons from Designated Foreign Countries.” Here is a timeline for the introduction and use of Title 42 in 2020 and 2021.  Here is a posting on the November 2022 court decision that ruled Title 42 a violation of federal regulatory law.

Title 42 has already been largely replaced by the use of Title 8, which provides broad powers for migrant control. This article summarizes the effect of this phase out, when linked to other Biden administration orders that effectively bar migrants who come to the border between official entry points and those who do not apply for asylum in countries they pass through. These new rules are covered by Title 8 of the immigration statutes (8 U.S.C. §§ 1101-1504, covering many topics including deportation and removal procedures, and more).

Title 42 has mostly affected Mexican and Northern Triangle citizens. Recently it is rarely used for other migrants.