Comparing the Proposals of 2013 Reform of the United States on Illegal Immigration

Undocumented immigration in the USA has historically been one of the hottest topics in the US politics, and has become one of the main pillars of election debates in the last four presidential elections. While each presidential administration has outlined various mechanisms to combat illegal migration, the pace of family reunifications and the new demands for low-skilled labor force have created unprecedented high volumes of undocumented population in the USA, that today accounts for estimated 11 mln. undocumented migrants — roughly 3.5% of the US total population.

Two immigration reform proposals were put into public debate in early February, 2013 in the USA– one by a bi-partisan group of democrat and republican senators, and the other by President Obama. Both proposals offer four components: (a) improvement of border control, (b) control on employers hiring illegal migrants, (c) earned citizenship to those migrants already in the country, and (d) promoting a legal migration policy (White House 2013; Bipartisan Framework 2013). Let’s compare both proposals.

Border Control: Despite doubling the number of border control guards, the US border crossings by illegal immigrants are still a vital problem. During 2009-2012 annually in each fiscal year law enforcement officers have removed around 47,000 migrants illegally crossing the border, whereas this number was up to around 70,000 persons for the fiscal year 2012. And in 2012 this was just 17% of the total of 400,000 removals due violations of law by immigrants. (Immigration and Customs Enforcement n.d.).

The bipartisan proposal takes a hard stance and sees part of the solution of border control in increased surveillance and higher number of aerial unmanned vehicles to guard the border. Both the President Obama’s and the bipartisan proposals offer to strengthen the border control infrastructure, improve the partnership between the law enforcement and border communities by increasing the funding and border control personnel, giving more training on civil rights and liberties to the staff of the Department of Homeland Security. Obama also aims to create new criminal penalties to combat trafficking and criminal networks on passport and visa fraud, increase the number of immigration court judges and their staff, and to deport criminals when their sentences end with no possibility to re-enter (White House 2013).

The bipartisan proposal also offers to track temporary entries in the USA by fostering the entry-exit registration–to identify whether migrants have left the country or not, something that perhaps sounds better on paper that is effective in practice.

One is left to wonder to what extent intensive investment in the border control will have tangible impact on undocumented migration. The 17% percent due to border violations, as stated earlier, can indicate that the border control does not have sufficient capacity to capture those who cross the US border illegally, which on its turn may explain the low percentage of border violators among those apprehended. Yet, a more plausible explanation is that most migrants enter the US legally, and then overstay their visas. This is especially true for those migrants who arrive not from Mexico, but from countries that do not share a border with the USA– such as illegal migrants from Asia, such as China, Vietnam, or Eastern Europe, the post-Soviet states, Middle East, etc. This also means that the stricter border control would have only limited impact. This is already evident in the same 2012 fiscal year statistics of immigration removals: the proportion of those who re-enter illegally is larger than those caught at the border– 21% of those removed were persons who were deported and then re-entered and were caught in the USA. Thus, the migration reform should be directed at finding flexible visa regimes that could regulate mobility of persons and prevent them from seeking an illegal entry or a stay in the destination country.

Employment of Undocumented Migrants: The Immigration Reform and Control Act (ICRA) of 1986, one of the achievements of President Regan administration, made it illegal for companies to knowingly hire migrants who were in the country illegally (Immigration and Customs Enforcement 2012a). Since then employers are subject to a monetary penalty of $375 to $16,000 for per violation (Immigration and Customs Enforcement 2012a). However, as illegal immigration has expanded in the USA since then, it became clear that employment documents were easily falsifiable, and the mechanisms to punish employers were inefficient. Until 2006 no employer was punished for hiring an undocumented migrant (Immigration and Customs Enforcement cited in Washington Post 2013), whereas during Obama Presidency only in fiscal year 2012 more than 370 businesses were sanctioned for violations of illegal hiring (Immigration and Customs Enforcement 2012b).

Today there are estimated 11 million. To fight against employers who hire illegal migrants, both proposals offer to introduce a mandatory electronic system for employers –connected to the federal database– to verify whether the migrant is allowed to work in the USA. Obama will fight against illegal hirings through a “labor law enforcement fund” he suggests to create. Moreover, both proposals offer to create a fraud and tamper resistant social security card for employment authorization, and increase the penalties for hiring illegal migrants.

Citizenship and Permanent Residency: Since deporting 11 million illegal migrants is not realistic, both proposals offer very similar mechanisms for the integration of undocumented migrant. Moreover, the US citizenship or permanent residency statuses are made pre-conditional on a probationary status before an immigrant can be eligible to apply. These provisions sounds attractive to undocumented migrants in the USA as these changes will finally create a legal platform for rights and civic citizenship of migrants, and create prospects for their social mobility in the society. Namely, naturalization, or what Obama has called in his proposal “pathway to earned citizenship”, is pre-conditional for immigrants first giving up their undocumented status and registering, submitting biometric data, going through a criminal background check and paying penalties and dues they owe to the USA. This will give migrants no more than a provisional legal status. Those wishing to be considered for permanent residency, must also pay taxes, learn English language and only after five years, consistent with the current procedure, they will be eligible to apply for citizenship. Funding will be provided to appropriate agencies to conduct regular audits for fraud prevention. In the bipartisan proposal, these immigrants on probationary status (that were previously undocumented migrants) will not be eligible for federal public benefits, have to also show history of work and current employment before they become eligible to apply for permanent residency.

In Obama’s proposal children of undocumented migrants will be eligible for earned citizenship by either going to college or serving in the Army for 2 years.

The bi-partisan proposal calls for preferential treatment of undocumented migrants in the agriculture sector. Given the high demand for labour force in the agriculture and due to the delays in getting a guest-worker status, majority of workers in the US agriculture sector are undocumented. The report by the American Farm Bureau Federation (2006) stated that the “[US] agriculture is the most dependent on migrant labor”, and the production of up to 5-9 billion US dollars of import-sensitive commodities “would be lost”, and 10-20 percent of fruits and vegetables would have to be imported from other countries. Given these considerations, undocumented migrant-workers in the agriculture “will be treated differently than the rest of the undocumented population… and earn a path to citizenship through a different process under our new agricultural worker program”– states the bipartisan proposal.

Family Re-Unification and High-Skilled Labor: Both President Obama’s and the bipartisan proposals offer several facilitated mechanisms for family or employment-sponsored immigration. To get rid of the backlog visas that hinder family reunification, Obama offers to temporarily increase annual visa quotas and to double the annual country caps for family sponsored immigration; and create additional visas for employment-sponsored immigration system. This is in addition to encouraging permanent residency visas for foreign entrepreneurs and investors. Both proposals acknowledge that graduate students educated in the USA in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM programs) should be eligible for automatic green card: in Obama’s terms a green card should be “stapled” to the diplomas if persons have found an employment in the USA. This latter clause is a big change from the past practice when only jobs in the academia qualified for a green card application without a quota, otherwise, the recent Ph.D. or Master’s graduates were subject to a quota system on green card if their post-graduate job was outside of the academic sector.

What to Conclude? The most important achievement of both proposals is that finally both the liberal and conservative policy-makers have offered similar mechanisms to solving migration policy gaps in the United States. While the bi-partisan proposal lays out the major principles around which the immigration reform should be designed, the Obama proposal is somewhat more concrete and offers specific steps to four issues mentioned above. As a shortcoming, both proposals rely on an even increased public spending and expanded bureaucracy to combat migration (primarily on tracking entry-exit of temporary migrants, border control and surveillance, document fraud, etc). Yet the only real solution to undocumented migration is the improvement of the visa system and the reduction of paperwork and bureaucracy on obtaining a family reunification or guest worker visas– the two main sources of US illegal migration.

Both proposals also stop short of mentioning any further steps for migrant integration. In both proposals the target seems to be only at the entry points– entry into the US border, entry into the US labour market legally, entry into the US citizenship body. Yet, none of the proposals mentions how to ensure that migrants not only obtain a legal/documented status at entry stage, but also be able to retain their membership to the US society and not become marginalized. When only 17% of immigration removals from the US are due border violations for fiscal year 2012, another appalling 55% comprise aliens caught for committing criminal offences in the USA– i.e. felons or repeat offenders (Immigration and Customs Enforcement n.d.). Can there be a stronger indicator that more policies should focus on marginalized migrants and aim to create opportunities for their integration into the US society?

Yet the US immigration reform remains unbalanced: Ironically, neither proposals mention any simplification for obtaining permanent residency or citizenship for already legal migrants in the USA who have lived in the USA for many years as lawful nor tax-paying citizens, some have even been educated in the USA. Despite their contribution and investment in the US society these persons and their families, by following the established procedure, may get permanent residency or citizenship even later than the undocumented migrants who have lived in the shadow of the US society and economy. The bureaucratic rules and procedures will remain unchanged for these already legal migrants.

What Lessons Can European Policy-Makers Learn? Border control reforms are not sufficient for combating undocumented migration. Migrants will always find alternative ways to enter the country. Moreover, if visa policies are not harmonized with labour-market demands, such as the timely issuance of work visas or work-permits, the labour demand will continue to encourage undocumented migration. And finally, as number of migrants increases globally, family reunification more than ever becomes an important factor for migrants. Thus, all migration policy reforms in Europe should pair stricter border controls with creating facilitated travel and mobility regimes for migrants to prevent migrants from seeking illegal alternatives of travel. Visa facilitation initiatives are a good starting point, but not enough. Integration of migrants at destination countries andat sending countries is as important as creating flexible visa regimes for travel. Integrated migrants are more likely to contribute to social institutions both in home countries and in destination countries. Integration in home countries reduces the chances of a migrant to overstay their visas in the host country. Integrated migrants who obey laws also socialize about migrant culture future potential migrants, such as their children and future generations. These steps can achieve larger positive systemic outcomes than any “dry” border control policy ever will.

 

Shushanik Makaryan, Research Assistant to CARIM-East

The views expressed by the author are not necessarily the views of the Migration Policy Centre.


References:

American Farm Bureau Federation. 2006. Impact of Migrant Labor Restrictions on the Agricultural Sector, February, 2006.

Bipartisan Framework for Comprehensive Immigration Reform. 2013. Authors: Senators Schumer, McCain, Durbin, Graham, Menendez, Rubio, Bennet, and Flake.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (n.d.) Removal Statistics: Factsheet, February 6, 2013

Immigration and Customs Enforcement. 2012a. Form I-9 Inspection Overview: Fact Sheet, August 1, 2012. Downloaded on February 6, 2013.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement. 2012b. Worksite Enforcement: Fact Sheet. May 23, 2012. Downloaded on February 6, 2013.

Washington Post. 2013. Why Immigration Reform in 1986 Fell Short?, February 3, 2013, by Karen Tumulti, Feb. 4, 2013

White House (The). Office of the Press Secretary. Factsheet. Fixing our Broken Immigration System so that Everyone Plays by the Rules. January 29, 2013.

 


Between Solidarity and the Priority to Protect – Where Refugee Relocation meets Refugee Resettlement

As resettlement in Europe continues to evolve, its effectiveness in responding to humanitarian emergencies and long term refugee situations beyond EU territory has been challenged by difficulties which are related to how EU Member States answer the question – What does the resettlement of refugees consist of?

Solidarity of Member States with third states is perhaps best demonstrated through resettlement while relocation is an example of internal Member State solidarity. There is a need to define both of these terms. It has been made clear by the Commission in its Communication to the European Parliament and the Council on the establishment of a joint EU resettlement programme (page 3) that, unlike resettlement which is considered a humanitarian enterprise concerned with solidarity with third countries, relocation is a ‘burden sharing’ exercise, at the heart of which is solidarity between EU Member States north and south.

The Know Reset project has considered how this defined difference does not prevent Member States from allowing overlap between these two distinct undertakings. The importance of access to protection for refugees prompted the EU to begin to explore more feasible methods by which refugees may be taken by Member States and given protection. These refugees did not therefore have to gain access to Union territory. This resettlement was widely regarded as being in solidarity with the European neighbourhood – especially non-Member States to the south.

As resettlement evolved the idea of this external solidarity became somewhat confused by expressions of internal solidarity. Those persons who gained access to Member State territory through ‘irregular’ means and later became refugees have, in certain circumstances, been relocated to other Member States. Most of these clandestine arrivals have been to Mediterranean Member States who have found themselves under intense strain from such migration. As an act of solidarity, Member States have taken refugees from their fellow Member State.

The following is a table of those EU Member States which have relocated under the EUREMA programme in Malta according to the EASO report on that programme. This relocation programme is an intra-European initiative which takes internationally protected individuals from one Member State and finds another Member State willing to accept these individuals.

Member States Relocation Resettlement
Austria  
Belgium  
Bulgaria    
Cyprus    
Czech Republic  
Denmark  
Estonia    
Finland  
France
Germany
Greece    
Hungary*    
Ireland
Italy  
Latvia    
Lithuania    
Luxembourg
Malta    
Netherlands
Poland*  
Portugal
Romania*    
Slovakia*    
Slovenia  
Spain  
Sweden  
UK

*Denotes Member States which have committed to relocate refugees as part of the EUREMA programme but have yet to do so.

Relocation from Malta is on-going and uptake in participation has increased. The word which arises time and time again among the States which participate is solidarity. The States which participate are, more often than not, northern EU Member States. They are not on the receiving end of the heavy migration flows which reach the southern, Mediterranean Member States. On that basis, relocation from the Mediterranean to their own State is seen as an act of solidarity.

The tension arises through certain Member States, typically those which are most experienced in resettlement, calling into question whether relocation comes at the expense of resettlement. Resettlement undoubtedly remains the preferable response to those most in need. The priority to protect those who have not been able to gain access to European territory should remain the primary objective in the view of certain Member States.

Malta, the home of the EASO, has been the venue of the aforementioned EU relocation pilot project – EUREMA. An emerging role of the EASO is in evaluating the relocation pilot project as can be seen from the EASO’s September newsletter.

It has become clear that there may be a risk of using relocation as a substitute for resettlement. This is a misperception that the EU, Member States and the EASO must be mindful of in participating in refugee relocation in Europe. The friction between relocation and resettlement indeed points to the greater challenges in achieving a functioning and effective solidarity within the Common European Asylum System.

In July of 2012, the EASO released a fact finding report on intra-EU relocation activities from Malta. Respondents to the report expressed “mixed” views on relocation:

“While a number of participating States maintained that voluntary ad hoc relocation measures with Malta were a concrete tool for demonstrating intra-EU solidarity, and generally assessed them positively, other States feared that …relocation …could act as a pull factor for irregular migration…”

“…concerns were expressed about the possible implication of relocation on the resettlement quotas in the EU. It was stressed that intra-EU relocation should not be confused with resettlement of refugees from third countries.”

The EASO here underline what must be a pivotal consideration if the resettlement of refugees in Europe is to increase quantitatively and qualitatively. As part of our research we have recorded reaction to relocation across the twenty-seven EU Member States. Interesting perspectives on the advantages and disadvantages of relocation have been gathered and provide an insight into State behaviour.

Differing attitudes were identified among Member States toward relocation – some advocate for it, certain States are opposed to it and still others seem not to differentiate completely between relocation and resettlement.

Of those States which express doubt as to the use of relocation, a Swedish opinion on the matter was expressed in an interview by Know Reset with a political adviser to the Swedish Minister for Migration and Asylum Policy.[1] That adviser stated that Sweden is doubtful as to the use of relocation; it was stated that the places used for relocation should instead be used for resettlement from outside the EU. The interviewee went on to state that there were alternative measures of solidarity which could be pursued if Member States wanted to express their solidarity. Finland is of a similar disposition to their Scandinavian neighbours. Finland and Sweden represent two traditional resettlement countries. Both States have well established and large resettlement on a programme basis. Another interesting emerging viewpoint from our research in Scandinavia is that the Member States to the north often do not accept that reducing the pressure on its southern counterparts should be a legitimate aim. This sentiment should be considered in the context of the northern Member States believing that they already take a considerable share of the so-called ‘burden’ of refugee numbers. This is interesting when it is considered how often intra-EU solidarity is proffered by certain Member States as a reason for pursuing relocation.

Slovakia does not conduct resettlement but has announced that it intends to participate in relocation. Hungary is in a similar position. Lithuania committed in 2011 to relocate from Malta but that declaration has yet to be implemented. A trend for certain States is emerging that if they do not participate in resettlement, they may instead be involved in relocation. The overwhelming reason given for this is that of solidarity with EU partners to the south. If those countries were not involved in relocation, would they be resettling refugees? This question is impossible to answer definitively however a tendency has emerged for newer Member States, which are oftentimes new to refugee resettlement as well, to primarily pursue relocation as an avenue of EU solidarity in terms of refugee intake.

Finally, there also exists a grey area in between preferences for resettlement and preferences for relocation. Ireland and France typify this intermediary position. Refugees whom arrive to the State as part of a relocation regime may be included in the quota of that State for refugee resettlement. The need to differentiate between relocation and resettlement is particularly salient in this context.

The overwhelming message to be gleaned is that the relocation of refugees within Europe must not come at the expense of resettlement. Resettlement, the humanitarian enterprise, underlines the priority to protect. Taking refugees from third States beyond the Union which are host to much larger numbers of refugees is taking the most vulnerable and giving them an opportunity that they otherwise will not receive. Protection must be the priority and as difficult as conditions are within certain Member States for refugees, if they are at least properly protected then it is still a fortunate situation in comparison to the precarious position of many refugees in camps across the world.

The EASO can play a role in ensuring that relocation is not carried out at the expense of granting resettlement to those refugees who are eligible for resettlement and who are still at risk and should be a protection priority. National authorities should also be aware of the distinction and the importance of not putting protection priorities behind the commendable desire to express solidarity with other Member States. This balance must always be at the forefront of any consideration of relocation.

This article is based on the results of the research led within the framework of the KNOW RESET project.

The Know Reset team recently teamed up with the EASO Monitor blog in considering the EASO’s growing role in resettlement in Europe. The thanks of the Know Reset team goes to Dr. Neil Falzon and everyone at Aditus and the EASO monitor for the original collaboration.

Frank Mc Namara, Research Assistant to Know Reset.

The views expressed by the author are not necessarily the views of the Migration Policy Centre.


 
[1] In an interview with Know Reset’s Swedish researcher – Alina Ostling.


Challenging the Myth of the Undesirability of Low-Skilled Labour in the EU

When EU countries visualise an ideal immigrant, a highly-skilled and educated immigrant comes to mind. For many, the highly-skilled and skilled represent the only ´legitimate´ form of immigration. EU immigration policy in its current form is characterised by three main dimensions: attracting highly-skilled workers, deterring irregular migration, and promoting the integration of third country nationals. The EU approach is one of increased migration management so that Europe receives legal migration, particularly in sectors that are lacking in personnel. The increased emphasis on cooperation both with countries of origin and between Member States, as reflected in the Global Approach to Migration adopted in 2011, is part of this drive to more efficiently manage migration. EU migration policy is therefore implicitly based on the assumption that low-skilled labor is no longer needed, and indeed, would be harmful to the European economy at a time of economic crisis and high unemployment, especially among youth. Low-skilled workers receive little attention at the EU level, with the exception of seasonal workers and in some bilateral agreements with individual EU countries. But is low-skilled immigration always unwelcome? A case study of low-skilled employment in the Italian dairy industry reveals that immigrants from the Punjab region of India have successfully inserted themselves into this sector of the Italian economy, without ´stealing´ jobs from native Italians.

How did Immigrants Manage to Enter into the Dairy Sector and convert it into an economic niche?

The dairy industry in Italy is the most important sector of Italian agriculture, with an annual turnover of 15 billion Euros in 2011 (all dairy products), including 2 billion Euros worth of cheese exports[1]. In Italy, dairy consumption is ´recession proof´, with Italians continuing to consume dairy products, including high-quality DOP (Protected Denomination of Origin) dairy products, despite the slowing of the Italian economy. Indeed, 87% of Italians consider their national DOP cheeses to be the foundation of the ´Made in Italy´ brand[2]. Indians have thus inserted themselves in a sector that is not only economically important, but also key to Italian identity. Dairy work has since become a Punjabi niche market, with 90% of the workers in this sector estimated to be Indian[3]. According to 2008 data from Istat, (the Italian Institute of Statistics), 42.9% of Indians work in the agricultural sector in the Lombardy region, compared to only 2.8% of the total foreign population, showing a marked tendency for Indians to concentrate in agriculture, particularly in Northern Italy.

The socioeconomic context leading to the Italian exodus from cow milking provides the background necessary to understanding how a low-skilled immigrant group has been able to enter and dominate a key domestic industry. A number of factors led to this Italian exodus from the dairy sector. The mechanisation of the industry beginning in the 1950´s led to a sharp reduction in the number of jobs available, forcing Italian youth to look for work elsewhere[4]. Secondly, the economic boom that Italy experienced in the post-war period led to new aspirations that working in the cascine (dairy farms) could not fulfill. In particular, the houses on the cascine were increasingly abandoned in favor of more modern urban housing[5]. Finally, the low social status associated with cow milking was an additional incentive to look for other work, even when the salary was raised and working conditions improved considerably with mechanisation. Male bergamini (cow milkers) could not find local marriage partners and had to resort to finding spouses from other Italian regions[6]. This native exodus from dairy milking led to demand for a reliable and steady source of labour that could replace Italian workers. In the region of Lombardia, the agricultural sector is distinguished, unlike in other parts of Italy, by the need for a specialised, stable and ´regular´ (i.e. legally documented) workforce that is highly available, in order to be able to adapt themselves to the demanding rhythms of a dairy farm and avoid high turn-over, which would harm productivity. Immigrant labour from India has met this demand for specialised labour that does not require a high level of education. The need for a dependable, ´regular´ workforce has meant that work in the dairy industry has avoided the systematic abuses and severe exploitation characteristic of Italian agriculture in other regions. Sources from the largest Italian union, the CGIL (Conferazione Generale Italiana di Lavoro), have indicated that the vast majority of immigrant workers in this sector possess legal contracts.

The Italian dairy industry is therefore a good example of the continuing need for low skilled third country labour in certain sectors of the European economy. Nor is it the only example: the area of geriatric care is another sector in which immigrant labour has proved to be critical, without harming national employment. While EU expansion can absorb some labour shortages, it cannot be assumed that all occupations will benefit from EU enlargement. In the UK, where migration policy has been completely closed to low-skilled workers (including in the case of temporary labour shortages), restaurant owners, especially from the ´ethnic´ restaurant sector, have raised concerns about the unfairness of a points-based immigration system that only considers skilled workers who possess formal qualifications[7]. The need for low-skilled labour is structural and continues to exist despite high rates of unemployment across Europe. In the case of the Italian dairy industry, native workers have spurned this sector despite its relatively high salaries, as well as other perks, such as free accommodation and ample opportunity to earn more via working overtime. The current thinking that accepts that third country nationals are needed in certain high skilled occupations in order for Europe to remain competitive, must also be extended to specific low-skilled sectors. EU migration policy should therefore take into consideration a sectoral approach when seeking to attract third-country nationals to the EU. Promoting only highly-skilled migration misses out on a number of sectors that need low-skilled immigrant labour in order to continue to thrive. Creating more opportunities for legal low-skilled migration can also contribute towards preventing irregular migration. Low-skilled does not mean ´no skill´, and can also be a pathway to other forms of employment, particularly entrepreneurship, in the future. Indeed, an increasing number of Punjabis who initially worked in the dairy sector are now establishing their own small businesses across Northern Italy.

 

Kathryn Lum, Research Assistant to CARIM-India

The views expressed by the authors are not necessarily the views of the Migration Policy Centre.


 

[1] No author, “Assolatte: il fatturato dei latticini italiani ha raggiunto nel 2011 i 15 miliardi di euro”, June 18 2012, accessed January 21 2013, http://www.beverfood.com/v2/news+notizia.storyid+5341-assolatte-il-fatturato-dei-latticinio-italiani-ha-raggiunto-nel-2011-i-15-miliardi-di-euro.htm

[2] No author, “Nel 2008 l´industria lattiero-casearia si conferma il primo settore alimentare italiano”, June 16 2009, accessed January 21 2013, www.assolatte.it/assolatte/download1.jsp?file=/assolatte/images/

[3] European Journal, “Italy: Sikh Cheese Producers”, Deutsche WelleEnglish,  September 20 2008 08:12, accessed March 13 2012, http://www.podcast.tv/video-episodes/italy-sikh-cheese-producers-4887664.html.

[4] Gardani et al. Turbani che non turbano: Ricerca sociologica sugli immigrati indiani nel cremonese. Provincia di Cremona: Osservatorio provinciale sull´immigrazione, 2002, 1-71. (see p. 30).

[5] Ibid

[6] Ibid. (see p. 31).

[7] Grimwood, Gabrielle. Immigration: Points-Based Immigration and the Restaurant Trade. London: House of Commons Library, 2009.