The Final Push for Immigration Reform
It doesn't end with a wall.
A Donald Trump victory in November would presumably scuttle hope of soon fixing America’s broken immigration system. But Hillary Clinton has vowed to push for comprehensive reform in the first 100 days of her administration, should she prevail. It’s not too early to start planning.
Senator Charles Schumer of New York, who is likely to be the next Democratic leader in the Senate, has predicted that immigration reform will pass in 2017. Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a Republican, has promised to revive the comprehensive reform that passed the Senate in 2013. With Republican leaders once again eager to put the issue behind them, could Congress finally break the logjam next year?
This, of course, is the same logic that predicted comprehensive reform would follow in the wake of Mitt Romney’s 2012 defeat. Immigration restrictionists in the House turned that logic upside down. The only legislation to make it out of the House in 2013 made a mockery of reform, explicitly rejecting the bipartisan measures passed by the Senate.
The U.S. cannot afford to miss its next opportunity. America’s unrepaired immigration system entails high costs not only for families caught in the stalled gears, but for myriad businesses and the economy as a whole. Technology companies, in particular, are on a crusade to increase the number of H-1B visas for highly skilled workers and to create a special visa for entrepreneurs. Likewise, activists have sought to curtail abuses of the current system. Neither group can be content with the flawed status quo.
The agriculture industry may be in an even tighter bind. In 2010, the year Arizona adopted its landmark law cracking down on immigrants, labor shortages cost American farms $300 million, according to the American Farm Bureau. While there is no cap on H-2A agricultural visas, the process of obtaining temporary foreign workers under the program is costly, cumbersome and subject to manipulation by recruiting agents who sometimes cheat the workers they place in jobs. Like the system for high-tech visas, the one for manual farm labor serves neither employers nor workers well.
An effective, market-based alternative would not only aid American agriculture but probably reduce the flow of illegal immigration, by making legal employment the preferable option.
It’s impossible to support an innovative American economy without supporting an overhaul of the nation’s antiquated and dysfunctional immigration laws. With each day of political stasis, the costs to the American economy rise. The 2013 Senate bill stood to increase gross domestic product by 3.3 percent after 10 years, or about $700 billion, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
There is no shortage of ideas on how to fix the system. The basics of any political compromise will include new enforcement mechanisms, including mandatory use by employers of the E-Verify system, which checks work applicants against a federal database to determine eligibility; a path to legalization or citizenship for longtime resident undocumented immigrants; and an overhaul of key visa classifications, including those for tech workers and farm workers, to make sure American industries can operate at peak productivity.
The problems have festered too long. A final push, powerful enough to overcome political obstacles, must begin in November.
To contact the senior editor responsible for Bloomberg View’s editorials: David Shipley at firstname.lastname@example.org.