News / Americas

US Immigration Proposal Divides Reform Advocates

Immigration reform activists hold a sign in front of Freedom Tower in downtown Miami, Jan. 28, 2013.
Immigration reform activists hold a sign in front of Freedom Tower in downtown Miami, Jan. 28, 2013.
A legislative proposal out of Washington may soon give hope to millions of illegal immigrants living in the United States, while at the same time sparking renewed fears of a system run amok and warnings that years of inaction have made the problem only more complex.
 
The plan, being floated by a group of Democratic and Republican senators, calls for a “tough but fair” path to citizenship that helps attract and retain high-skilled workers while ensuring immigrants who apply for jobs are in the country legally.
 
Groups like the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) are not impressed.
 
“To a certain extent this is déjà vu,” said Special Projects Coordinator Jack Martin. “It basically is a rehash of the push that was made in 2007 to come up with a comprehensive immigration reform that could pass. And it did not pass Congress.”
 
FAIR’s biggest objection is the plan’s path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants, a provision it sees as nothing more than a general amnesty.
 
“The public basically opposes that because of the fact that they want people to come into our country legally, and they see the amnesty-type proposal as encouraging more illegal immigration,” Martin said.
 
Yet that “tough but fair path” to citizenship is exactly what many groups that work with undocumented workers have been clamoring for, and something they say has been sorely lacking from the country’s intense focus on immigration enforcement.
 
“It’s almost like the Wild West where workers are isolated and they have very little rights and protection,” said Ai-jen Poo, director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance and co-director of the Caring Across Generations Campaign.
 



Family is key
 
The National Domestic Workers Alliance represents nannies, housekeepers and other caregivers, not all of whom are in the U.S. legally. Poo says many have already been given the responsibility of caring for the country’s children and elderly — some of the most vulnerable members of society — although they themselves have nowhere to turn when victimized by crime or abuse.
 
“[They are] living in fear of immigration enforcement, living in fear that on your way to work you could be stopped at a checkpoint and deported immediately and separated from your own family,” she said.
 
Other groups that work with undocumented U.S. immigrants worry that many immigrants find themselves in a similar situation — unskilled laborers with few trusted places to turn to for help.
 
The Pew Hispanic Center, a Washington, D.C.-based research group, estimates of the 11.1 million unauthorized immigrants living in the United States in 2011, the majority are in jobs that currently require little education and little or no certification, like construction, food service or even light manufacturing.
 
But Pew Hispanic Center Senior Demographer Jeffrey Passel argues those numbers tell only part of the story.
 
“The stereotype is a young man who is here maybe working in construction or agriculture, and there are a lot of those people,” he said. “But 40 percent of the adult unauthorized immigrants are women. Those women and most of the adult men are in families. There’s about four and a half million U.S. citizen children who have parents who are unauthorized immigrants. So we’re talking largely about young working families.”
 
Pew estimates that between 40 and 50 percent of the adult unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. are parents of U.S.-citizen children. Two-thirds of them have been in the U.S. for 10 or more years.
 
“This is a group that has come here, formed families and put down roots,” Passel said.
 
Illegal immigration slowing
 
According to the Pew Hispanic Center, about 60 percent of the unauthorized immigrants currently in the United States — more than six million — are from Mexico; another 400,000 to 500,000 are from El Salvador, with significant numbers from Guatemala and Honduras, and smaller numbers from other Latin American countries. But Passel says the numbers of new illegal immigrants to the U.S., especially from Mexico, is falling substantially, in part because of a down U.S. economy and in part because U.S. enforcement measures are working.
 
“We have data that tells us that it’s gotten much more expensive to hire a smuggler. It’s physically gotten more difficult to get into the United States, to sneak in,” he said.
 
Last May, a study by the Pew Hispanic Center found “the net migration flow from Mexico to the United States has stopped and may have reversed.”
 
Meanwhile, the numbers of illegal immigrants from outside Latin America remain relatively small. According to Passel, several hundred thousand unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. come from India, China and other Asian countries, many of whom did not sneak into the United States but, instead, overstayed their visas.
 
Then there is the problem of the high tech and skilled workers that companies want to bring into the United States but cannot.
 
“We have major fashion designers who cannot get their models and their staff in the United States on visas that cap out in certain seasons,” said Michael Wildes, managing partner of the immigration law firm Wildes & Weinberg. “America [sic] then gets marginalized because we’re not effectively up to speed on the needs of certain commercial industries and corridors.”
 
Targeting workers to stay
 
One of the sectors that has been most vocal has been high-tech.
 
“We have a large number of people — it’s estimated to be somewhere in the range of 500,000 people — who are here on a temporary basis, and many of them face a very long backlog,” said David Hart, director of the Center for Science and Technology Policy at George Mason University.
 
“There’s no question that they are going to stay, that they add value to our country,” he said.
 
But Hart warns many of them get stuck, unable to advance in their careers or move on from the companies that sponsored their entry into the country, and that ultimately hurts U.S. competitiveness and job creation.
 
“One of the things that they bring to that process are relationships with businesses and communities in their home countries,” he said. “They can help to drive exports. They can help to create businesses that native-born Americans wouldn’t have thought of starting.”
 
The plan being floated by the group of eight U.S. senators aims to make sure “the world’s future innovators and entrepreneurs” are not forced to leave.
 
But for groups like FAIR, concerns remain. Martin argues any plan that looks at increasing immigration levels — whether for skilled or unskilled labor — “flies in the face of what we think is appropriate.”
 
“We have so many unskilled Americans who are out of jobs, and they also question the need for any expansion of skilled immigration because of the fact that we similarly have many skilled Americans looking for jobs who are out of work,” he said.

Jeff Seldin

Jeff works out of VOA’s Washington headquarters covering a wide variety of subjects, from the nature of the growing terror threat in Northern Africa to China’s crackdown on Tibet and the struggle over immigration reform in the United States. You can follow Jeff on Twitter at @jseldin or on Google Plus.

You May Like

Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unrest

Seen as a potential driver of recovery, Cairo’s plan to expand waterway had been raising hopes to give country much needed economic boost More

Ebola Maternity Ward in Sierra Leone First of its Kind

Country already had one of world's highest maternal mortality rates before Ebola arrived, virus has added even more complications to health care More

Malaysia Flight 370 Disappearance Ruled Accident

Aircraft disappeared on March 8, 2014; with ruling, families of 239 passengers and crew can now seek compensation from airline More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: phuong from: georgia
January 29, 2013 12:41 AM
Looking around the world, is there any where we can get scholarship ... to earn a degree and over stay to take the jobs of their people? can you senators just name one place? why keep doing thing like this? The author is right when saying this:

“We have so many unskilled Americans who are out of jobs, and they also question the need for any expansion of skilled immigration because of the fact that we similarly have many skilled Americans looking for jobs who are out of work,” he said.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Groundbreaking Hand-Painted Documentary About Van Gogh in Productioni
X
George Putic
January 29, 2015 9:43 PM
The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Groundbreaking Hand-Painted Documentary About Van Gogh in Production

The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Rock-Consuming Organisms Alter Views of Life Processes

Scientists thought they knew much about how life works, until a discovery more than two decades ago challenged conventional beliefs. Scientists found that there are organisms that breathe rocks. And it is only recently that the scientific community is accepting that there are organisms that could get energy out of rocks. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports.
Video

Video Paris Attacks Highlight Global Weapons Black Market

As law enforcement officials piece together how the Paris and Belgian terror cells carried out their recent attacks, questions are being asked about how they obtained military grade assault weapons - which are illegal in the European Union. As VOA's Jeff Swicord reports, experts say there is a very active worldwide black market for these weapons, and criminals and terrorists are buying.
Video

Video Activists Accuse China of Targeting Religious Freedom

The U.S.-based Chinese religious rights group ChinaAid says 2014 was the worst year for religious freedom in China since the end of the Cultural Revolution. As Ye Fan reports, activists say Beijing has been tightening religious controls ever since Chinese leader Xi Jinping came to office. Hu Wei narrates.
Video

Video Super Bowl Ads Compete for Eyes on TV, Web

Super Bowl Sunday (Feb. 1) is about more than just the NFL's American football championship and big parties to watch the game. Viewers also tune in for the world famous commercials that send Facebook and Twitter abuzz. Daniela Schrier reports on the social media rewards for America’s priciest advertising.
Video

Video Theologians Cast Doubt on Morality of Drone Strikes

In 2006, stirred by photos of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners, a group of American faith leaders and academics launched the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. It played an important role in getting Congress to investigate, and the president to ban, torture. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Freedom on Decline Worldwide, Report Says

The state of global freedom declined for the ninth consecutive year in 2014, according to global watchdog Freedom House's annual report released Wednesday. VOA's William Gallo has more.
Video

Video MRI Seems to Help Diagnose Prostate Cancer, Preliminary Study Shows

Just as with mammography used to detect breast cancer, there's a lot of controversy about tests used to diagnose prostate cancer. Fortunately, a new study shows doctors may now have a more reliable way to diagnose prostate cancer for high risk patients. More from VOA's Carol Pearson.
Video

Video Smartphones About to Make Leap, Carry Basic Senses

Long-distance communication contains mostly sounds and pictures - for now. But scientists in Britain say they are close to creating additions for our smartphones that will make it possible to send taste, smell and even a basic touch. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Former Sudan 'Lost Boy' Becomes Chess Master in NYC

In the mid-1980’s, thousands of Sudanese boys escaped the country's civil war by walking for weeks, then months and finally for more than a year, up to 1,500 kilometers across three countries. The so-called Lost Boys of the Sudan had little time for games. But one of them later mastered the game of chess, and now teaches it to children in the New York area. VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York has his story.
Video

Video NASA Monitors Earth’s Vital Signs From Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, is wrapping up its busiest 12-month period in more than a decade, with three missions launched in 2014 and two this month, one in early January and the fifth scheduled for January 29. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, the instruments being lifted into orbit are focused on Earth’s vital life support systems and how they are responding to a warmer planet.
Video

Video Crowded Republican Presidential Field Off to Early Start for 2016

It seems early, but the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign is already heating up. Though no one has officially announced a candidacy, several potential Republican contenders have been busy speaking to conservative groups about making a White House run next year. Many of the possible contenders are critical of the Obama administration’s foreign policy record. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid

More Americas News

US Seeks to Break Up Drug Ring

Alleged drug ring accused of smuggling cocaine and laundering money from Venezuela to the United States
More

Senators Introduce Bill to End Ban on Americans Traveling to Cuba

Some Cuban American lawmakers strongly oppose Obama administration’s sudden shift in US policy towards Cuba, others say it is past time to end embargo
More

At Mexican Hospital, Rescuers Search for Blast Victims

At least 2 people killed and dozens wounded, including 22 children, when tanker truck explodes outside building
More

HRW: Security Measures Erode Human Rights Worldwide

New Human Rights Watch report cites Nigeria, Iraq, Syria, Israel and the United States among nations using security concerns to justify rights violations
More

Chilean MPs Approve Measure Allowing Civil Unions

Bill will give many legal rights afforded to married couples to about two million more Chileans - mostly unmarried heterosexuals but also gay couples
More

Don't Meddle in Our Politics, Cuba's Leader Warns US

Fomenting opposition to Cuba's government will undermine efforts at normalizing bilateral relations, he says at summit in Costa Rica
More