There is no question that the U.S. immigration system is broken. There are an estimated 10-12 million undocumented migrants in the United States, and deporting them would be the equivalent of removing the population of the state of Ohio—not a realistic option. As a country, we are facing an aging population and a severe shortage of workers to fill essential jobs when U.S. workers are not available.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce recognizes that our immigration system is broken. To fix it, a comprehensive approach is needed because it is easier to enforce laws that make sense and are workable.
The Chamber supports legislative action that:
- Is comprehensive, addressing both future economic needs for workers and the status of undocumented workers already in the United States.
- Strengthens national security by providing for thorough screening of foreign workers and creating strong disincentives for illegal immigration.
- Strengthens the rule of law by establishing clear, sensible immigration laws that are effectively enforced. We need a reliable, efficient, accurate and workable employment eligibility confirmation system that is easy to use so that businesses can decipher federal immigration laws without expensive lawyers.
- Creates an immigration system that functions efficiently for employers, workers, and government agencies. We need a fast and dependable way to match willing employers with willing employees, and visa limitations that fluctuate according to market needs.
- Ensures that U.S. workers are not displaced by foreign workers. U.S. workers should have first shot at all job opportunities before they are opened up to foreign workers.
- Ensures that all workers enjoy the same labor law protections. Only by bringing undocumented workers out of the shadows can we protect them from unscrupulous employers who might exploit them, undermining the vast majority of employers who pay a fair wage.
Taken together, these proposals can help fix our broken immigration system and return business owners to doing what they do best: creating jobs. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce recognizes that immigrants have played an important role throughout our nation's history. Our economy will depend on immigrants even more heavily in the near future, when huge numbers of aging baby boomers begin to retire. By putting the right laws in place now, we can clear up the problems created by illegal immigration and take a large step toward alleviating worker shortages that will surely grow unless we act. We need legislation that is fair, balanced, meets the needs of our growing economy, and meets the test of common sense.
A bill passed by the House in December of 2005 (H.R. 4437) starkly illustrates the wrong approach to immigration reform. This bill would require all employers of all sizes from all parts of the country to verify that every one of their current employees is eligible to work here even though they have already been approved to work under the procedures required under current law (this would apply to 140 million employees across the United States!). Penalties for paperwork violations would rise to as much as $25,000 per person. But the House bill ignores other important immigration issues—such as what will happen to the millions of undocumented migrants already here, or how our growing need for low-skilled workers will be met.
In the Senate, a bipartisan compromise immigration bill, the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006 (S. 2611) was passed in May 2006. The bill constitutes a sound legislative blueprint which addresses both the security and economic needs of the country. The bill is designed to improve security and border enforcement, and it increases employer sanctions for knowingly hiring illegal aliens and establishes an employment eligibility confirmation system. The bill addresses the country's need for workers by creating a new temporary worker program and implements a method to deal with the estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants working in the U.S. by providing avenues for certain undocumented workers to achieve legal status and ultimately lawful permanent residency, provided strict criteria are met.
The Senate bill also includes important provisions on other key immigration issues. S. 2611 increases the cap on H-1B high-skilled visas, and also helps reduce the employment-based green card backlog. The Senate bill also provides relief for uses of seasonal H-2B visas, by extending an exemption for repeat users until 2009. In addition, the Senate bill extends the deadline on the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, and also provides initiatives that will help implement it more effectively.
Though the Chamber considers this bill a major step toward providing a workable solution to the issue of the nation's broken immigration system, it does have concerns with certain provisions of the bill, and many changes will need to be made before the bill becomes law. For example, the new employment verification system and the prevailing wage requirements under the temporary worker program need particular attention. The method for addressing the undocumented may also be unnecessarily complicated and may need refinement. These two very different bills will now have to be negotiated into one bill, which will be a difficult endeavor, but the Chamber will continue to push for a comprehensive, rational approach to immigration reform.