How to Fix Nation's Broken Immigration System

| by AFL-CIO

The current immigration system is badly broken and needs a comprehensive overhaul. The Obama administration has put immigration reform on the legislative agenda this year by calling for a new system that “controls immigration and makes it an orderly system.” The White House also says such a plan should include a path to legal status for undocumented workers.

A new report released today by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) lays out an approach to fixing the system in a way that protects the rights of all workers. Written by former Labor Secretary Ray Marshall, this approach already has been adopted by both the AFL-CIO and Change to Win.

Marshall told a Capitol Hill press conference this morning:

Current immigration laws subject foreign workers to grave risks, exploitation, and uncertain futures, while depressing wages and working conditions for all workers. This framework addresses these defects. All workers will benefit from these reforms.

The report, “Immigration for Shared Prosperity: A Framework for Comprehensive Reform,”‘ points out that the American economy has become dependent on foreign labor. Indeed, most of our workforce growth since 1990 has come from immigration. But, at the same time, according to the report:

The programs for admitting foreign workers for temporary and permanent jobs are rigid, cumbersome, and inefficient; do too little to protect the wages and working conditions of workers (foreign or domestic); do not respond very well to employers’ needs; and give almost no attention to adapting the number and characteristics of foreign workers to domestic labor shortages.

Click here to download the report.

Marshall’s approach calls for the establishment of an independent commission to monitor industry trends and labor needs for future immigration. The commission, which would be established in two stages, would improve the way labor market shortages are measured and put in place procedures to efficiently adjust foreign labor flows to employers’ needs while protecting domestic and foreign labor standards.

The approach also calls for:

  • A secure and effective worker authorization mechanism. Border control alone is not likely to be sufficient, the report says. At best, 40 percent of unauthorized border crossers are stopped. But even completely successful border controls would not stop illegal immigration because an estimated 40 percent to 45 percent? of these immigrants have overstayed visas. So Marshall proposes that the government complement border controls with a much more effective visa enforcement system.
  • Rational operational control of the border. Because most unauthorized immigrants enter the United States to work or join family members who are working, the report proposes creating a secure identifier issued by the federal government for immigrant workers with biometric data and a unique work authorization number for each new job based on individual PIN numbers.
  • Adjustment of status for the current undocumented population. Rounding up and deporting millions of undocumented workers would violate American values of fairness and due process, but also would be impractical. Instead, providing a clear path to citizenship would raise labor standards for all workers, the report says.
  • Improvement, not expansion, of temporary worker programs, limited to temporary or seasonal, not permanent, jobs. To prevent the well-documented abuse of guest workers, Marshall recommends that there be a limit on the period guest workers can work and that the use of these workers to occupations the independent commission certifies have real, temporary labor shortages and there have been good-faith efforts to recruit domestic workers.