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How to Fix Nation's Broken Immigration System

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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.


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