November 2013 Immigration Reform
As Jews in America, our history and culture are deeply rooted in the immigrant experience. Central to Jewish teaching is the principle that we should “welcome the stranger.” Both the Jewish Federations of North America and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs have made the issue of fair and compassionate immigration reform a priority concern. Immigration reform is also a matter of concern to our local coalition partners, including Catholic Charities-Archdiocese of Saint Louis and the Saint Louis Labor Council. The JCRC has been an effective, strong and active voice in the past on immigration issues and, working together with our coalition partners, we can make a contribution to the public dialogue with a coherent, fair, and compassionate immigration reform policy.
In 2007 the St. Louis JCRC adopted a resolution that addressed: 1) the rights of nations to secure borders; 2) the positive characteristics of individuals who migrate to the U.S.; 3) the need for uniform, compassionate, and humane protocols for refugees and those seeking asylum;and 4) expediting the immigration process for those entering legally. However, since 2007, the additional issues of paths to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and family disruption for the U.S. citizen children of these immigrants have necessitated an updated JCRC resolution.
In today's immigration system, justice is delayed for the millions of family members who encounter decades-long backlogs in acquiring visas. It is denied to the 11 million undocumented immigrants who must live in the shadows of our society, away from the protective shelter of workplace standards and legal recourse. Righteousness is denied to the 5,000 children of immigrants who were forcibly placed in the foster care system when their parents were deported.
Immigration policy should recognize that the U.S. was founded by individuals who came in search of religious and political freedom and economic opportunity. In light of this history, revisions to immigration policy should embrace changes that address both documented and undocumented immigrants. For immigrants with documentation the proposed revisions should: a) streamline and standardize procedures and eliminate backlogs for those seeking to come to this country to insure that all who come seeking citizenship are treated fairly; b) simplify procedures for those foreign students who wish to remain in this country after graduation and become citizens; and c) implement more uniform and responsive procedures to safeguard immigrants who are political refugees.
For those currently in this country without documentation -- but who wish to become citizens -- immigration reform should provide a path to eventual citizenship. Thus the JCRC supports creating: a) provisional legal status that would eventually lead to citizenship. (Undocumented immigrants would be required to register, pass background and security checks, and comply with federal and state laws such as paying taxes while they wait for their turn to become citizens. They would have a longer path than those here legally, and their probationary status could be revoked for failure to comply with U.S. law or the requirements of the process. ) b) a path for those children who were brought here to become citizens; and c) uniform administrative and judicial review procedures including better methods for employers to verify the status of prospective workers.
The number of green cards (H-1B visas) for high technology and skilled workers is limited, and businesses find it challenging to obtain visas for these workers. Skilled workers -- especially those with science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) training, and individuals willing to make a substantial economic investment in the US economy by fostering entrepreneurships, paying taxes, stabilizing Social Security and Medicare trust funds -- assist the nation's economic growth. Visa opportunities should be substantially increased. A new category should exist for foreign entrepreneurs who start or grow domestic U.S. businesses. They should be given permanent legal status (green cards).
Low-skilled, year-round temporary (guest) workers who are brought in by businesses and companies unable to find enough US citizen workers (e.g. seasonal harvesters, laborers to respond to natural disaster) to fill their hiring needs should be protected by wage guidelines requiring the same pay level as citizens would receive, in order to minimize competition with citizens.
Much of the discussion of the economics of immigration concerns undocumented immigrants. The costs of increased border control and customs are growing, while workplace enforcement is not keeping pace. Enforcement that balances border security with crackdowns on worksite fraud would save taxpayers money. The economic benefits of a legal path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants include increased consumer demand, taxes, Social Security contributions, and lowering of costs (due to cheaper labor). Economic costs include lower wages, education, health care, and legal expenses. The net cost/ benefit is controversial, and analytic results depend on the time period selected. However, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that, had undocumented workers become legal, they would have increased federal revenue by $22.7 billion between 2008 and 2012. Once legalized, undocumented workers stop working at below market wages, and thus reduce competition for jobs with native born citizens.
The problems of the children of undocumented immigrants are concerning because of family disruption and truncated future opportunities. There are about 5.5 million such children in the U.S. The children of undocumented immigrant parents, many of whom are U.S. citizen children (those born in the U.S.), face high rates of family separation. The Department of Homeland Security reports that about 100,000 parents of U.S. citizen children are deported each year. Their U.S. citizen children either are deported with them, are left with family and friends, or sent to foster care. Currently, 5,100 children are in the U.S. child welfare system. The children of undocumented immigrants face limited access to higher education, health services, and only temporary legal means to join the workforce. Any long term solution to our immigration system must account for the needs of children and protect and promote their fundamental rights, including keeping families together.
The JCRC recognizes that the U.S. must secure its borders and must take steps to exclude those who engage in criminal and terrorist activity. The JCRC supports steps to strengthen and improve infrastructure at ports of entry and to facilitate public-private partnerships to increase investment in foreign visitor processing. Current reform proposals also have provisions to improve partnerships with border communities and law enforcement in an effort to keep undocumented individuals from entering the country. Efforts to provide a pathway to citizenship should take place simultaneously with efforts to maintain and strengthen border security in an effort to prevent individuals from crossing into U.S.territory illegally in the future.
Therefore, the JCRC supports working with other organizations and coalitions to support comprehensive federal immigration reform that includes:
• A legal path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants
• Facilitation of visas and citizenship for skilled foreign workers
• Efforts to keep immigrant families and their citizen children together