May 25, 2019

THREE MIGRATION TAKEAWAYS SERIES



#1: Niskanen recently released a report about the Southwestern border, which includes 20 policy recommendations to improve border security and allow for more efficient trade and travel. It also highlights how we can combat drug-and-human trafficking, and begin to address the growing numbers of asylum seekers presenting at the border.

These challenges require short, medium, and long-term solutions. In the short-term, the report recommends hiring more judges and support staff to hear asylum claims and reach final asylum decisions in a timely manner. In the longer-term, we recommend removing the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) courts—“immigration courts”—from the Department of Justice. From that change, we can expect expedited hiring for judges and safeguards for judicial independence. The report also addresses family detention, body cameras, aid, cooperation with Mexico, infrastructure modernization, and more.

Takeaway: The complicated humanitarian situation at the border continues to worsen. And while policy solutions exist, the polarization of the issue all but guarantees that Congress will fail to adequately address these issues.

#2: Earlier this month, 36 Senators—more than one-third of the Senate—signed an oversight letter addressed to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Director Francis Cissna. The letter—which highlights the long processing delays plaguing the agency and disrupting American business, families, and vulnerable populations—is an encouraging bipartisan effort to find solutions to this harmful issue.

A recent study by the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) finds significant processing delays with applications for initial and renewed employment authorization. AILA found that the overall average case processing time surged by 46 percent over the past two fiscal years and 91 percent since FY 2014 and that USCIS processed 94 percent of its form types—from green cards for family members to visas for human trafficking victims to petitions for immigrant workers—more slowly in FY 2018 than in FY 2014

Takeaway: As my colleague Kristie De Pena noted, “the delays in employment authorizations, family-based visas, and humanitarian visas is at best disruptive, and at worst, dangerous.”

#3: Last week the White House rolled out a new immigration reform plan that USA Today reports is “doomed to fail.” It’s the latest in a long, disappointing line of reform proposals that have little to show in terms of realistic progress. USA Today outlines some of the various proposals that have failed since the last major legislative accomplishment on immigration reform–which was all the way back in 1996.

The world looked different the last time the U.S. immigration system was reformed legislatively: the Spice Girls “Wannabe” was dominating the radio, Bill Clinton was in the Oval Office, and Independence Day was the highest grossing movie of the year. The bulk of changes to the immigration system since 1996 has been from a series of court decisions, executive actions, regulatory reforms, and state laws.

Takeaway: Immigration reform is hard under normal conditions, but the toxic political culture of the day is making it more difficult than ever—even as the need for reform becomes more pressing each day.

Recommended Weekend Readings

Paige Pfleger: One-Quarter of Physicians and Surgeons in Ohio are Immigrants

Jeremy Weber: Americans Abroad Among Those Being Left in the Lurch by the Trump Administration

Richard Florida: How ‘Heartland Visas’ Could Reduce Geographic Inequality

Becca Heller: The U.S. Is Taking In Fewer Refugees Than Ever, and It’s Our Loss

Senators Mike Lee (R-Utah) & Kevin Cramer (R-North Dakota): Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act: The Case for a More Merit-Based Immigration System