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.
TEXT SIZE - +
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

Multimedia Anti-Keystone XL Protests Continue

Demonstrators are worried about pipeline's effect on climate change, their traditional way of life, health and safety More

Thailand's Political Power Struggle Continues

Court gave Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra until May 2 to prepare her defense over abuse of power charges but uncertainty remains over election timing More

Malaysia Plane Search Tests Limits of Ocean Mapping Technology

Expert tells VOA existing equipment’s maximum operating depth is around 6 kilometers as operation continues on ocean bed for any trace of MH370 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.
Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Messagei
X
Penelope Poulou
April 22, 2014 5:53 PM
Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Message

Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pro-Russian Separatists Plan 'Federalization Referendum' in Eastern Ukraine

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine say they plan to move forward next month with a referendum vote for greater autonomy, despite the Geneva agreement reached with Russia, the U.S. and Ukraine to end the political conflict. VOA's Brian Padden reports from the city of Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine.
Video

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

French filmmaker Luc Jacquet won worldwide acclaim for his 2005 Academy Award-winning documentary "March of the Penguins". Now Jacquet is back with a new film that takes movie-goers deep into the heart of a tropical rainforest - not only to celebrate its grandeur, but to make the case for its survival. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Boston Marathon Bittersweet for Many Runners

Monday's running of the Boston Marathon was bittersweet for many of the 36,000 participants as they finished the run that was interrupted by a double bombing last year. Many gathered along the route paid respect to the four people killed as a result of two bombings near the finish line. VOA's Carolyn Presutti returned to Boston this year to follow two runners, forever changed because of the crimes.
Video

Video International Students Learn Film Production in World's Movie Capital

Hollywood - which is part of Los Angeles - is the movie capital of the world, and many aspiring filmmakers go there in hopes of breaking into the movie business. Mike O'Sullivan reports that regional universities are also a magnet for students who hope to become producers or directors.
Video

Video Pacific Rim Trade Deal Proves Elusive

With the U.S.-led war in Iraq ended and American military involvement in Afghanistan winding down, President Barack Obama has sought to pivot the country's foreign policy focus towards Asia. One aspect of that pivot is the negotiation of a free-trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations. But as Obama leaves this week on a trip to four Asian countries he has found it very difficult to complete the trade pact. VOA's Ken Bredemeier has more from Washington.
Video

Video Autistic Adults Face Housing, Job Challenges

Many parents of children with disabilities fear for the future of their adult child. It can be difficult to find services to help adults with disabilities - physical, mental or emotional - find work or live on their own. The mother of an autistic boy set up a foundation to advocate for the estimated 1.2 million American adults with autism, a developmental disorder that causes communication difficulties and often social difficulties. VOA's Faiza Elmasry reports.
AppleAndroid

More Americas News

Jailed American Aims to Leave Cuba 'Dead or Alive'

In Havana after visiting Alan Gross, attorney Scott Gilbert say his client has lost some vision in his right eye, walks with a limp due to hip problems, has lost a tooth and is 50 kilograms lighter than at the time of his arrest
More

Oldest Living Pro Ballplayer Dead at 102

Conrado Marrero's grandson confirmed the death, which came just two days before the centenarian's 103rd birthday
More

Summit to Protect Oceans Opens

Oceans called fundamental to life
More

Actress Lupita Nyong'o is People's 'Most Beautiful' Woman

Oscar winner, 31, lauded for role in '12 Years A Slave' says she 'never dreamed' she would be praised for her looks and land on cover of weekly magazine
More

Violent Protests Erupt Near Rio's Tourist Attractions

The rioting was sparked after word spread that the body of Douglas Rafael da Silva Pereira, a dancer on Brazil's Globo television network, had been discovered
More

Russia Expels Canadian Diplomat

Reports say first secretary's expulsion in Moscow is in retaliation for deportation of Russian military attache from Russian Embassy in Ottawa
More