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What’s Next on Immigration: Frequently Asked Questions

May 10, 2019

Background:

Congress and the president have a duty to secure our borders. That duty has recently been met with fierce partisanship and blatant political posturing, leaving our borders porous and insecure. Congress should pass common-sense legislation that enforces the laws currently on the books and reforms our broken immigration system.

Here are some frequently asked questions and answers about what multi-staged immigration reform should look like:

1. What are the goals Congress should pursue when reforming our immigration system?

When it comes to fixing our broken immigration system, Congress should have two goals: 1) reduce the current number of illegal immigrants living in the United States and 2) discourage future illegal immigration. To do this, Congress should enforce existing immigration laws and end practices like birthright citizenship, chain migration, and the diversity visa lottery and switch to a merit-based immigration system that awards visas to people who are more likely to contribute to the U.S. economy through their education and experience. A merit-based immigration system would strengthen the U.S. economy, create more jobs, reduce the financial hardship of immigration on American taxpayers, and keep America freer and safer.

Congress should also reject amnesty and open borders, end “catch and release” programs (where an immigrant is released into the U.S. while he or she awaits hearings in immigration court), and fight back against transnational criminal networks, fraud, humanitarian abuses, and human trafficking. At the same time, Congress must implement effective border security, take a more organized approach to border staffing, provide more funding for U.S. Coast Guard acquisitions, discourage illegal immigration, align U.S. national security interests with assistance funding levels to Mexico, and increase cooperation with regional governments.

2. What is the pathway to conservative immigration reform?

First, enforce U.S. immigration law: The Trump administration is already beginning to enforce current U.S. immigration laws and should continue to do so. Deporting illegal immigrants, denying amnesty and simply enforcing the law sends a strong signal to potential offenders not to enter or stay in the U.S. illegally.

Second, secure our borders: Congress should approve funding to build more secure fencing along the southern border and implement a comprehensive surveillance system to monitor the border that includes cameras, sensors and drones. Doing so will make it more difficult to enter the U.S. illegally.

Third, crack down on unauthorized labor: Improve internal enforcement, while prosecuting companies who intentionally hire illegal immigrants.

Fourth, defund sanctuary cities: Municipalities who wish to disobey federal immigration laws should be denied federal security grants.

Fifth, reform the legal immigration system: Move away from the blanket chain-migration and replace it with a rational, skills based-migration system. There are lessons from the Canadian and Australian models that might best serve the United States’ immigration system.

Sixth, fix the asylum claim process: Instead of applying for asylum at the U.S. border, Congress should adjust the asylum claim process so asylum seekers are required to have a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services asylum officer hear their claims at a U.S. consulate in Mexico.

Seventh, increasing funding for immigration court judges, prosecutors, and affiliated staff: In order to properly enforce existing immigration law, the U.S. government should hire more immigration judges, prosecutors, and staff to help with immigration proceedings.

3. What is patriotic assimilation and should Congress promote it?

Patriotic assimilation is the practice of welcoming foreigners while at the same time insisting they learn about America’s political principles, history, institutions, and civic culture. It does not mean an immigrant must give up his or her cultural heritage and customs; it simply means fostering an increased understanding of America’s political principles, history, and culture. And yes, Congress should promote patriotic assimilation because it is the glue that unites Americans and allows us to live together as a nation of immigrants. According to The Heritage Foundation:

This may be a nation of immigrants, but it is more accurate to say that this is a nation where immigrants are Americanized, sharing the benefits, responsibilities, and attachments of American citizenship…[T]he federal government has a significant, albeit limited, role to play in ensuring the success of this crucial process.

4. What factors make it harder to enforce border security and should be a focus of reform?

There are several factors that make it more difficult to reform our immigration system including chain migration and the visa lottery, meritless legal claims, and recent changes in culture and society. The Heritage Foundation explains the problems with chain migration and the visa lottery:

For some time, the family reunification preference has been a means to extend green cards well beyond the nuclear family. In essence, once a family member is legally allowed within the country, a chain begins that extends out to the farthest reaches of a family. Similarly, while family-based immigrants contribute to the U.S. economy in some ways, depending on their education and skill level, the current system does not consider their skills or productivity, but merely their relation to someone already living in the United States...given the finite number of available slots for entering this country, family migration is coming not merely at the expense of the U.S. and its citizens, but also at the expense of other people who want to come to the U.S. legally.

On top of chain migration, the visa lottery program grants 50,000 visas per year to a random selection of people from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States. The visa selection is based on pure luck and is part of the reason Congress should instead push for a merit based immigration system where people are awarded visas based on their skills and experience and not on their familial connections or the visa lottery.

5. How has modern-day American culture made it more difficult to reform our immigration system?

Over recent years, American culture, the media, and universities have encouraged immigrants to resist assimilation and remain distinct from American culture. The Heritage Foundation explains this effort to highlight differences:

Elites in government, the culture, and the academy have led a push toward multiculturalism, which emphasizes group differences. This transformation has taken place with little input from rank-and-file Americans, who overwhelmingly support assimilation...rather than an invitation to be included in the American community, assimilation is now described as a humiliating demand that those who are presumed to be marginalized must conform to the identities of their supposed oppressors.

Even though past immigrants succeeded in assimilating to the American way of life, present day American culture encourages new immigrants not to assimilate and to remain as different as possible. As The Heritage Foundation says, “indoctrinating people into the victimization narrative has not produced successful immigrants: Instead, it has only produced more and more people claiming victim status. Interpreting all disparities of outcome through a lens of racism preempts any serious discussion of differences in culture, behavior, and interests and how those differences might help or hinder someone from succeeding in this country.”

6. Isn’t illegal immigration through visa overstays also a problem?

Yes. Recent studies show that two-thirds of illegal immigrants are those who overstayed their visas and not people who crossed the border illegally. The Heritage Foundation says:

In FY 2017, 606,926 visitors and other nonimmigrants overstayed their visas for more than 60 days, evincing a desire to remain in the U.S. illegally. In FY 2016, there were 628,799 overstays for more than 60 days. Holders of student, work, or cultural exchange visas are the most likely to overstay, and Visa Waiver Program (VWP) visitors are the least likely.”

Part of effective immigration reform must include cracking down on people breaking the law and overstaying their visas. And under no circumstances should the U.S. government grant amnesty or legalize Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

7. Should Congress advance these immigration reforms in one comprehensive package or as a series of stand alone bills?

Congress should allow these legal immigration reforms to stand alone on their own merits and advance individually. According to The Heritage Foundation, “it is important that legal immigration, border security, and enforcement reforms not be bundled into a comprehensive package. They should stand alone and advance on their own merit.” The advantage of Congress individually considering each piece of legislation is that there would be more time to debate each policy area separately and to allow for each piece of legislation to advance on its own merit. This is the most effective way to keep the immigration enforcement agenda moving in the right direction.

8. Where is the current immigration fight and what can we expect?

After meeting with a series of outside groups that support expanding legal immigration, President Trump’s senior adviser Jared Kushner has been working on a comprehensive immigration proposal for Congress that would increase the number of low- and high- skilled workers who enter the U.S. annually, increasing legal immigration levels. Mr. Kushner reportedly has the proposal ready now.

The Trump administration’s immigration proposal should address the root causes of our illegal immigration problems: an immigration system that incentivizes fraud and is not designed to take into account our nation’s labor needs. In order to effectively reform our broken immigration system, Congress should make the policy changes discussed on the first page of this document.

9. What can conservatives do to help with legal immigration reform?

The best thing conservatives can do to help with legal immigration reform is to call their member of Congress and ask them to reject any comprehensive immigration proposal and instead propose targeted reforms as listed above. Members should be held accountable to end practices like birthright citizenship and support a merit-based immigration system. Conservatives should also tell their members of Congress to reject amnesty and open borders, end “catch and release” programs, and fight back against transnational criminal networks, fraud, humanitarian abuses, and human trafficking. At the same time, conservatives should urge their members to implement effective border security, take a more organized approach to border staffing, and discourage illegal immigration.

Resources:

The Heritage Foundation: An Agenda for American Immigration Reform
The Heritage Foundation: The Border Is in Disarray, but Change May Be Coming
The Heritage Foundation: The Border Is a Hot Mess. What’s Trump to Do? Here Are His Options
Heritage Action for America: Immigration Issue Toolkit
Heritage Action for America: Immigration Reform Brief