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5/26/07

Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007: An Iranian-American Perspective

By James Irani, Esq. and David Rahni, Ph.D.

 

With the heated, reinvigorated debate on immigration reform, WE, as Americans of Iranian heritage, would like to share our Community’s views in anticipation of its accommodation in the current legislative process, as follows:

 

Whereas we empathize with the plight of the 12 million “illegal” immigrants and their employers and the public at-large relying on their labors, we nonetheless, stress unequivocally the need for this Country’s continuing prioritized commitment to the repatriation of families of Americans as stipulated in the federal legal codes. The notion of rewarding those who arrived via Entry Without Inspection, at the expense of penalizing family members, I .e., parents, children and siblings, who have anxiously awaited for the LEGAL adjustment of their status overseas for 15-20 years, is ludicrous, absurd and un-American. We, therefore, oppose any restrictions on the current family-based immigration laws.

 

Moreover, our current laws providing adjustment of status to permanent residency and naturalization for immigrants of outstanding scholarly abilities on whom our country has so heavily depended in the past fifty years, as well as the same stipulations afforded to legitimately verified political asylum seekers, must continue.

 

Finally, we must put an expeditious legal mechanism in place, so that family members of Americans overseas, who do not seek permanent residency in the U.S., but would very much like to periodically visit their close relatives here, are accommodated. Specifically, after a careful expedited security check, such family members should be granted Multiple Entry Visitor visas to travel to the U.S. Without the need to secure tourist visa on each sojourn.  This predicament, contrary to the principle of free family travel rights, has particularly become financially burdensome and emotionally taxing for Americans and their relatives aboard, especially after September 11 and the enactment of the Patriot Act. They are denied, in many instances with no appeal rights, the American temporary tourist visas. 

 

 *The authors, an attorney and a university professor, respectively, are with The Voice of Iranian-Americans, gratis, in New York.

 

P.S. Please feel free to further disseminate this note and copy and paste the sample letter below in your WORDS, tailor it to your specific remarks and send it (email and/or snail-mail) off to your congressperson, the White House, and senators. Thanks

 

 

[To be printed on your personal, professional, or business letterhead]

 

 

[date]

 

Sample

Senator Hillary Clinton

476 Russell Senate Office Building

Washington, D.C. 20510-3204

 

Senator Charles Schumer

313 Hart Senate Office Building

Washington, D.C. 20510-3203

 

RE:       Concerns with the Border Security and Immigration Reform Act of 2007

 

Dear Senator Clinton/Schumer:

 

I write today to express [my/our/my company’s/my organization’s] concern with several provisions of the proposed Border Security and Immigration Reform Act of 2007 (“the Act”).

 

It is not that this proposal is completely without merit; we applaud certain concepts contained in the Act: there must be a pathway to legalization available to the approximately 12 million undocumented individuals whose presence here is essential to their U.S. Citizen families and to the U.S. Employers who depend upon their services to remain competitive.  The effort to reduce the long backlogs in the family-sponsorship categories is a well-received expression of the importance of the family in the American value system. 

 

Similarly, the DREAM provisions offer a much-needed solution for undocumented young people, brought here innocently as children only to find themselves without prospects for college or employment upon graduation from high school.  Of course, the agricultural worker provisions are a long overdue relief to our nation’s farmers.

 

However, much of what is proposed in the Act will not solve the problems which face us, will not have the intended deterrent effect, and will not ultimately benefit America.

 

1.                   The Act Dramatically Harms the Ability of Families to Remain United

 

By eliminating all of the current family preference categories and limiting future family-sponsored immigration to spouses and minor children of citizens and permanent residents, the Act sends a mixed message about our commitment to families.  By capping at 40,000 per year the number of parents of citizens permitted to obtain permanent residence, we call into question the value we place on our elderly.  The ability to sponsor adult children (those already over 21 years of age) and adult siblings would be completely eliminated, further separating once-close families.

 

The justification for reducing or eliminating these avenues for family sponsorship is apparently in part so that these immigrant visas may be allotted to the employment-based categories.  While certainly true that not nearly enough immigrant visas have been reserved in this area, and while maintaining the competitiveness of American businesses is certainly a worthwhile goal, this should not come at the expense of families.

 

The changes to the family preference classification system send the wrong message to prospective immigrants and to the world about America’s values at a time when our character as a nation is already questioned on the global stage.  It is imperative that we make a strong statement that we value keeping families intact.

 

2.                   The Act Inadequately Serves the Needs of America’s Business Community to Remain Competitive

 

The proposed “point system” contained in the Act fails to take into account the dynamic requirements of the global marketplace in which our nation’s businesses must compete.  By accommodating only a very few (about 40,000 per year over the next five to eight years) and favoring only those with the highest degree level, the new system continues one of the worst features of the current strict H-1B visa limits: it encourages many of the best products of America’s system of higher education to take their degrees abroad to benefit the global competition. 

 

Further, many of the categories upon which American employers depend would be eliminated: the Extraordinary Ability category for proven high achievers who might not have advanced degrees, Outstanding Professor and Researcher petitions for our best academics and innovators, Intra-company Transferees to ensure the companies can deploy the best executive talent to where it is most needed, and National Interest Waivers for those serving the vital needs of the U.S.

 

The point system also eliminates the labor market tests conducted under the current system to protect native-born workers.  The system now in place was completely revamped only two years ago at the considerable effort and expense of the U.S. Department of Labor.  The new streamlined, web-based process is more effective and efficient than ever before, with stronger enforcement measures and more significant penalties for violators while also substantially reducing processing time (quite literally from six years to six months for New York cases).

 

The point system leaves U.S. employers without a way to respond to a rapidly changing and highly competitive global economy, and leaves U.S. workers without protection where the U.S. labor market can meet employers’ needs – all while setting too low a numerical limit on employment-based immigration.

 

3.                   The Act Fails to Provide a Path to Permanent Residence for the Future Flow of Essential and Highly Skilled Workers, and So Fails to Provide a True Deterrent to Remaining in the U.S. Without Status

 

While the Act provides a much-needed temporary worker option in the Y visa classification, the Y visa option is problematic on several levels.  The Y-1 provides little continuity to U.S. employers or the temporary workers, providing only two years at a time and then requiring the foreign national to spend a full year abroad before coming back in Y-1 status.  A foreign national can bring a spouse and children or can renew the Y-1 visa up to two additional times, but the individual cannot do both: the foreign national must choose between future opportunity and family unity.  Of course, the Y-2 category is limited to 10 months – with no possibility of extension.

 

There is no pathway to permanent residence in the Act for most foreign nationals in Y visa situations - they would hardly qualify under the point system as highly educated workers, and even the existing preference system provides no real option in most cases.  While a miniscule 10,000 immigrant visas per year are allotted for "essential" Y workers (compare this to the 400,000 Y-1 visas allotted per year), it appears that even these could not be sought while the temporary worker remained present in the U.S.

 

Without a realistic pathway to permanent residence, there is little incentive for a foreign national to use this program – or to depart the U.S. at the end of an authorized period of stay in Y status.  This provision of the Act therefore does little to solve the problems which have plagued this area on a long-term basis, or to discourage future undocumented immigration.  These provisions need to include a way forward to permanent residence for Y visa holders.

 

4.                   The Act Simply Does Not Allocate Sufficient Immigrant Visas In the Family and Employment Categories to Meet Known Demand, Thus Ensuring Continued Backlogs

 

After the initial eight-year period during which most immigrant visas will be allocated to clearance of the current backlogs, the legal immigration program contemplated in the Act calls for a mere fraction of the immigrant visas needed: 380,000 employment-based immigrant visas and 127,000 family-based immigrant visas, plus a certain number of refugee-based immigrant visas – slightly over 500,000 annually. 

 

Current economic projections and assessments of family unity requirements indicate that actual immigrant visa needs will be over three times this number: at least 1.8 million visas per year.  New backlogs will therefore begin to form almost immediately, and with unreasonably long waits for families to be together undocumented immigration will almost certainly continue.

 

If the Act is to offer a real solution to the current backlog problems, it needs to provide for a realistic number of immigrant visas in the employment-based and family preference categories.

 

5.                   The Act Includes Barriers to Legalization Too Difficult to Overcome, Thus Rendering Many Proposed Benefits Practically Useless

 

While the Act finally addresses the issue of a real path to legalization for the estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants and does so without a much-dreaded “amnesty,” some of the requirements are so onerous as to make the program virtually impossible to use.  If the Z visa and the ensuing legalization provisions are unusable for most of the undocumented, the problem of the 12 million will not be solved.

 

In its current form, the Act requires undocumented immigrants to obtain a Z visa and wait a significant period of time (eight to thirteen years) before becoming eligible for permanent residence.  As proposed, the Act contains a “touchback” provision requiring the undocumented immigrant to return to their home country and process through the U.S. embassy or consulate there – an extremely frightening prospect for many given the unpleasant and often negative nature of interaction with U.S. posts abroad in the past. 

 

In the course of the legalization process, significant fees and fines would need to be paid (exclusive of any legal fees) - the cost for a single undocumented immigrant in Z visa status to legalize would be at least $9,000, and could go much higher.  Spouses, children, and other relatives not already present in the U.S. as of January 1, 2007 would not be eligible to get permanent residence along with the principal undocumented immigrant.

 

The fear of the touchback provision, along with the unreasonably high fees and inability to obtain permanent residence for family members not in the U.S. as of the beginning of 2007, combine to make the legalization provisions an unrealistic option in many cases.  Further, given that certain enforcement triggers must be met for this program to even come into being as the Act is currently written, the entire legalization section may be somewhat illusory.  We need a usable legalization provision, with reasonable fees, no touchback provision, assured legalization of at least the immediate family members of those here by January 1, 2007, and certain implementation independent of enforcement triggers.

 

6.                   The Act Unduly Burdens American Small Business

 

In several ways, the provisions of the Act place a serious and disproportionate burden on small business.

 

The new Employment Eligibility Verification System  (EEVS), even if designed as a simple-to-use, web based system, will be difficult to implement for trade, agricultural, and other non-office based businesses such as those likely to use the new Y and Z classifications.  The need to re-verify all employees using the EEVS system will be difficult for smaller business entities without dedicated human resources staff, not to mention the overall difficulty of keeping up with the increasingly complex regulatory framework.

 

When a small business makes simple and honest mistakes in documentation or statutory interpretation, it will face dramatically increased fines under the Act.  In some cases, fines increase 25 times per occurrence over the current amounts – easily enough to bankrupt a small business with minimal cash reserves, and likely placing several U.S. workers in the unemployment line.

 

On a grander scale, the substitution of a point system favoring the most educated for the current preference classification system eliminates the ability of smaller professional firms to employ the workers they most often need, and deprives them of a voice in determining which workers are most critical to expansion of the American economy.  These businesses will be left without a way to retain qualified and talented workers – often educated by American schools – who they have already trained and who have become essential to their success.

 

We need a system which considers the needs of America’s small businesses by excepting (or granting longer lead times for) EEVS compliance and graduating fines based upon business size and by retaining the current employment-based preference classification system.

 

In fact, not only do our businesses need access to qualified immigrant labor to perform jobs which citizens won’t do or can’t do (at least not in sufficient numbers), but our businesses often need immigrants to create them: a January 2007 study by the Weiser Group entitled “American Made: The Impact of Immigrant Entrepreneurs and Professionals on U.S. Competitiveness,” determined that immigrants have started one in every four venture-backed U.S. companies which have gone public since 1990, representing a market capitalization of more than $500 billion (Google, Yahoo!, Sun Microsystems and eBay are just a few of these).  The study found that 47% of current venture-back startup companies have immigrant founders.

 

Thank you for taking the time to review these concerns.  We trust that [my/our] views as constituents will inform your positions on the Act as the Senate continues to debate this proposal and its various amendments.

 

Very truly yours,

 

 

[Name]

[Title, and address and phone/email if applicable]

 

... Payvand News - 5/26/07 ...

... Payvand News - 5/26/07 ... --



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