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 and is national security correspondent. You can follow Jeff on Twitter at @jseldin or on Google Plus.

You May Like

Obama: Alaskans Feel Signs of Climate Change

They're seeing bigger storm surges as sea ice melts, more wildfires, erosion of glaciers, shorelines More

Katrina Brought Enduring Changes to New Orleans

The city’s recovery is the result of the people and culture the city is famous for, as well as newcomers and start-up industries More

Magical Photo Slides Show Native Americans in Late 1800s

Walter McClintock spent 20 years photographing the Blackfoot Indians and their vanishing culture at the dawn of the modern age 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.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs

More Americas News

Tropical Storm Erika Dissipates; 21 Dead

Storm flags over Cuba, could regain strength over Gulf of Mexico; death toll in Dominica, Haiti is 21
More

Video Cubans Embrace New Internet Connectivity Options

Government has approved use of prepaid cards for web access; some foresee construction of better infrastructure, with towers, fiber-optic cables
More

Brazil's Rousseff Faces Growing Impeachment Threat

President’s woes increasing as she now also faces angry rival who controls the possibility of impeachment proceedings against her
More

Cancer, Transplant Patients Rail at Drug Shortages in Venezuela

Currency controls, slumping production and smuggling have caused acute shortages of medical supplies in the socialist-led nation
More

Guatemalan Prosecutors Urge President to Resign Amid Scandal

Government comptrollers' office also issued a statement saying Perez Molina should resign 'to avoid greater social unrest that could have unpredictable consequences'
More

Bolt Sprints to Double Gold in Beijing

Jamaican's victories take place on track where in 2008 he first made headlines by winning Olympic gold medals in record fashion at Bird's Nest Stadium
More