At the time of this writing, immigration reform is front and center in media and policy circles in Washington, D.C. The U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Boehner has announced that his side of the Congress "basically" has a deal on immigration. The bipartisan Senate group (gang of eight) just announced its principles for comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) and the president is set to announce his CIR plan as well.
The call for CIR to address the seriously broken immigration system began in the late 1990s. There was and continues to be a central recognition that the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 left the immigration system without a key component - a workable non-immigrant visa system program for lesser-skilled workers to enter the United States. Following the 1986 amnesty, workers streamed across the border in unlawful status to the tune of almost 12 million. These workers became embedded in the U.S. workforce. From construction to health care to food processing, undocumented workers permeated the U.S. workforce. It was estimated that this undocumented workforce made up about five percent of the U.S. workforce. It was also estimated that about 70 percent of those undocumented workers were from Mexico. The immigration policy debates blow hot and cold and are now blowing steadily.
Some of the key principles for immigration reform concerning the workforce were and are:
- Reform should be comprehensive, addressing future workforce needs, the existing unauthorized worker population, and a workable employment eligibility verification system.
- Reform should create an immigration system that allows for sufficient numbers of immigrants and temporary workers to meet the economic needs of the country.
- Reform should create a program for hard working, tax paying unauthorized workers to earn permanent status after meeting strict requirements, such as law enforcement screening and learning English.
- Reform should create a fair employment eligibility verification system that functions efficiently, effectively, and inexpensively for employers, workers and government agencies.
- Reform should ensure that U.S. workers are not displaced by foreign workers.
- Reform should strengthen homeland security by providing for the screening of foreign workers and creating a disincentive for illegal immigration.
- Reform should strengthen the rule of law by establishing clear, sensible immigration laws that are efficiently and vigorously enforced.
If Congress and the president can join together, the winds of CIR might actually become new policy.