Over at Talking Points Memo, Benjy Sarlin has posted a legislative summary of the Gang of Eight immigration-reform proposal, which is due to be released by tomorrow. Assuming this summary draft is accurate, one thing is clear: This proposal truly lives up to the name of “comprehensive immigration reform.” It would be a far-ranging proposal, one that would substantially transform the immigration system of the United States. The major parts of the bill seem to include: a process for legalizing current illegal immigrants, a few provisions for enforcement, new provisions for employer-based immigration, new provisions for guest workers, and a legalization and guest-worker program for agricultural workers. The Los Angeles Times has a fair summary of the bill, as does Justin Green. There’s a lot that could be said about the actual text of the proposal (and I’m sure much will be said about it), but two heretofore-undiscussed portions of the bill stand out.
The first is the size of the amnesty. Most media reports describe the bill as offering a “path to citizenship” for around 11 million illegal immigrants, but the number of illegal immigrants legalized by the bill could be much larger than that. According to this summary, illegal immigrants could register for “Registered Provisional Immigrant Status” if they have resided in the United States since December 31, 2011. This status could be maintained for six years and could be renewed for another six years. After ten years in RPI status, individuals could apply for a green card. There is no requirement that an immigrant need to have worked to receive RPI status. What is not made clear in this summary is how an individual would prove that he had been in the U.S. since December 2011. Would a sworn affidavit be enough? The possibility for fraud could be extensive.
Moreover, it seems that family members of individuals in RPI status could themselves apply for RPI status. The summary states the following:
Spouses and children of people in RPI status can be petitioned for as derivatives of the principal applicant (but must be in the United States at the time).
This provision could encourage more illegal immigration, as it would seem to give an incentive to family members of those currently in the U.S. to come illegally to the U.S. in order to apply for RPI status, and the summary states that the application period could be as long as two years. This provision could push the number of individuals legalized to well over 11 million.
In addition to this family provision, individuals who are currently under removal orders are eligible to apply for RPI status, as are individuals who have been deported if they are a spouse or parent of a lawful permanent resident or U.S. citizen or someone who would be eligible for DREAM Act provisions.
The second noteworthy element is how much this bill expands the federal government’s ability to intervene in the employment picture through guest-worker programs. The H-1B visa program would be considerably expanded, with the base cap growing from 65,000 visas a year to 110,000 visas a year. In later years, the cap could grow as high as 180,000 visas a year.
This Gang of Eight proposal would also create a new W-visa for foreign nationals to work in the United States. This visa would focus on what legislators consider “lower skilled” positions. As part of this provision, a new government agency would be created:
We establish an independent statistical agency called the Bureau of Immigration and Labor Market Research (Bureau) headed by a commissioner that will be placed within US Citizenship and Immigration Services in the Department of Homeland Security. The Commissioner shall be appointed by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate.
The Bureau will devise a methodology to determine the annual change to the cap for W nonimmigrants; supplement the recruitment methods employers use to attract W nonimmigrants; devise and publish a methodology to designate shortage occupations by job zone; conduct a survey every 3 months of the unemployment rate of construction workers and the impact on such workers; study and report to Congress on employment-based and immigrant and non immigrant visa programs; make annual recommendations to improve such programs; and carry out any functions necessary to accomplish the above mentioned duties.
The Commissioner shall establish a methodology to designate shortage occupations and the methodology will allow an employer to ask the Commissioner if a particular occupation in a particular area is a shortage occupation.
This Commissioner will have considerable de facto power to regulate U.S. employment. The cap for the W-visa will start at 20,000 per year and climb to 75,000 per year by the fourth year. After the fourth year, the cap will be determined by a complex statistical formula and by the commissioner’s discretion. The W-visa alone could have hundreds of thousands of supposedly “temporary” workers coming into the U.S. over the course of a decade, and these visa-holders would also be allowed to bring their immediate family members with them. The premise of the Bureau of Immigration and Labor Market Research seems to be that the federal government can determine ideal levels of employment; having arrived at what this ideal level is, bureaucrats will manipulate the numbers of “temporary” guest workers as appropriate. The agricultural component of the Gang of Eight plan would also introduce new guest-worker provisions.
Opposition to an amnesty for illegal immigrants may be a flashpoint on the right, but this bill seems to be about more than amnesty. As the debate over immigration moves forward, Americans would do well to look at all the possible implications of this bill — for both the free market and the American worker.