Critical immigration issues and Congress Bill are in Limbo
By Nancy J. Gonzalez
Immigration is a hot topic in America. For decades, unauthorized immigrants have come to the United States to reunite with family or just to work and support their families back home. The immigration reform promised by President Barack Obama put on the spot this subject and many people are counting on this new legislation to fix their immigration status. The Economic Policy Institute counts 11.7 million unauthorized immigrants in the United States, most of them from Mexico, Central America and Asia. (Exhibit 4). This institute explains that at least 7 million out of the 11.7 million unauthorized immigrants are from Mexico and most of them send money back to their families. The background of the Mexican unauthorized immigrants varies, but most of them are skilled labor force such as carpenters, construction workers and technicians. Also, one out of 10 Mexican unauthorized immigrants has a Bachelor´s degree, but most of them are blue-collar workers in the U.S. According to the report “The economic benefits of fixing our broken immigration system”, prepared by the National Economic Council, the Domestic Policy Council, the President’s Council of Economic Advisers and the Office, the immigration reform has long term financial benefits to the U.S., such as helping to reduce the budget deficit and bring additional resources to the Social Security Fund. The report states the immigration reform can help to increase the Gross Domestic Product (GPD) by at least 3.3 percent in 2023 and 5.4 percent in 2033. Furthermore, this legislation will definitely increase the labor force, the production will go up and more investment, tourism and new technology will come to the U.S. “The CBO found that enacting a Senate immigration reform bill will reduce the federal budget deficit by nearly U.S. $850 billion over the next 20 years,” shows the report. The immigration issue is not only an economic debate in the U.S, but also a human rights issue and an enforcement and infrastructure discussion.
The Mexican nationals in the U.S. and Mexico´s economy
Mexican immigrants living and working in the U.S. send money back home; therefore, they are important to their country´s economy. Exhibit 1 shows that in a decade, the money Mexicans send back home increased 45 percent. In 2003, they sent U.S. $15.1 billion while in 2013 this figure went up to U.S. $21.9 billion, according to the National Institute of Statistics, Geography and Informatics (INEGI). The annual reports show a peak in 2011 when the money sent from the U.S. reached U.S. $22.8 billion. Three out of five money transfers to Mexico are made to a bank account, while the other are sent via money order and checks. Other people send back to Mexico goods and cash. Although the money Mexicans in the U.S. send back to their families varies every month, Juan Jose Li, BBVA Bancomer analyst, believes it will increase in the last quarter of this year. The INEGI report shows Michoacan is the Mexican state that receives more money from Mexicans living in the U.S. The other top recipients are Mexico, Jalisco, Guanajuato and Mexico City D.F.
Deportations on the rise
Mexicans are the largest unauthorized population in the U.S.; therefore, 72 out of 100 deportees are from Mexico. (Exhibit 2) According to the Department of Homeland Security, in FY 2011 a total of 387,134 people were deported, while in FY 2013 this figure went up to 438,421 unauthorized aliens. Jessica Vaughan, director of Policy Studies for the Center for Immigration Studies, said the data create the illusion enforcement agencies are working effectively, but they are using the arrest of undocumented border crossers to increase the numbers. Although entering the country without legal authorization is not a crime, once a person has been deported, he or she can be prosecuted if they reenter the U.S. As a result, a growing number of people caught trying to cross the border now have a formal deportation order on their records. This new policy has increased the number of immigrants charged in federal court. In 1992, immigration offenses accounted for 5 percent of federal convictions. In the subsequent two decades, the share of immigration cases on the federal docket increased sixfold, according to a study by the Pew Research Center. In 2012, immigration offenses made up 30 percent of federal convictions, second only to drug cases, which made up one-third. The Obama administration not only increased the deportations, but also spent more money on border security and hired more Border Patrol and Custom and Border Protection agents. In 2010, Congress approved U.S. $600 million to add border agents and new surveillance technology. Nowadays, there are more than 21,000 Border Patrol agents on the border, twice the number of a decade ago.
Comprehensive Immigration reform: a pending issue
In April 16, 2013, Senator Charles E. Schumer introduced the Senate Bill 744 (S.744). This bill had several amendments and was passed by the Senate 68 to 32 on June 27, 2013 and sent to the House of Representatives for discussion. The “Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act,” or S. 744, is a broad-based proposal for reforming the U.S. immigration system that includes five sections: border security, immigration visas, interior enforcement, reforms to non-immigrant visa programs and jobs and youth. If enacted, this bill would require that a series of enforcement measures go into effect prior to completing the legalization process. For example, although undocumented immigrants will be allowed to register for the new Registered Provisional Immigrant (RPI) program almost immediately, before those with RPI status can apply to become lawful permanent residents, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) must certify that the Comprehensive Southern Border Security Strategy is deployed and operational. This strategy includes the completion of the 700 miles of fencing, the deployment of 38,405 Border Patrol agents and the E-Verify employment verification system is in place, among other requirements. The Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act (DREAM Act) and Agricultural Job Opportunities, Benefits, and Security Act (AgJobs) are both incorporated into the RPI program, but applicants who qualify under those provisions will be eligible to obtain legal permanent resident status more rapidly. Other aspects of the bill, such as changes in family and employment-based immigration categories, would go into effect gradually, giving DHS the opportunity to reduce extensive backlogs that have built up due to a lack of available visa numbers. One of the key aspects of this bill is a new worker program that could expand over time based on workforce needs. Although W visas are for a limited duration, workers in W status may eventually be eligible to apply for lawful permanent residence, marking the first time that such less-skilled nonimmigrant workers would be allowed to transition to permanent resident status without an employer’s sponsorship. S. 744 also expands permanent visas for many foreign graduates from U.S. universities in the sciences and related fields, increases over time the number of temporary high-skilled visas based on demand and expands opportunities for entrepreneurs and investors to come to the U.S. Although this bill was passed by the Senate, the House of Representatives has taken no action. U.S. senators are urging the House of Representatives to pass this bill. One of them is Senator Amy Klobuchar, who serves as chairwoman of the Joint Economic Committee. She argues a comprehensive immigration reform will boost the U.S. economy. “While we allow unlimited visas for pro hockey players, we severely limit visas for engineers, doctors and their spouses. The House of Representatives needs to pass comprehensive immigration reform,” she said in a written statement. Texas Congressman Beto O´Rourke said immigrants provide a new dimension of culture, vitality and economic growth to the country and especially to border cities such as El Paso. “Our immigration laws are flawed, broken and drastically out of sync with our values and the current and future needs of our economy,” he explained. He stated that through immigration reform, immigrants will be empowered to come to the U.S. legally, discourage the abuse of the visa system, encourage employers to hire legally documented workers, enrich the American presence in the global economy and reduce the exploitation and discrimination of foreign workers. The House of Representatives must take action before the end of this year if Congressmen want to pass an immigration reform, if not, the Senate must begin a new process.
Border Security and the U.S – Mexico binational relationship
The increase of personnel, infrastructure and technology in the U.S. – Mexico border created a new problem: confrontation between enforcement agents and Mexican nationals. According to media records, U.S. enforcement agents and Mexican nationals have been involved in 80 shooting cases in the borderline between June 2010 and January 2014. These confrontations caused the death of 27 Mexicans. “Border Patrol is using excessive and unnecessary force against people on both sides of the border. Agents continue to violate the Constitution with impunity,” explained Lee Gelernt, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union Immigrants’ Rights Project. This organization documented that at least 27 people have died since 2010 as a result of the use of force by border enforcement agencies. Last month, Araceli Rodriguez, the mother of a slain Mexican teen Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez, filed a federal lawsuit in Arizona. The teen was shot and killed in 2012 by unknown Border Patrol agents. “The lawsuit seems to be the only way to find justice for Jose Antonio and his family,” said Luis Parra, an attorney for the family. “What happened to Jose Antonio should never be allowed to happen again. We hope this suit will serve as a warning to agents that they will be held accountable for their actions in cross border shootings.” Many other similar incidents were reported in Nogales, Tijuana and Ciudad Juarez since 2010.
Millions of undocumented immigrants living and working in the U.S are keeping a close eye on the immigration reform. In the meantime, they are sending back money to their families in their native countries. Although the Senate passed the S.744 last year, this bill has not been discussed by the House of Representatives. Many Senators are urging Congressmen to pass the immigration reform to boost the economy and modify a system they consider broken. In the last 2 years, the U.S. has a stronger policy and deportation statistics are up, while the border security, technology and infrastructure increase to avoid more people coming to the country unauthorized. Hopefully the immigration bill will not be lost in the ongoing political struggle in the U.S. Congress.