November 16, 2017

Three Bipartisan Immigration Reforms Congress Can Pass



Passing immigration reform through Congress is a task that requires bipartisan cooperation. Although prospects for a new comprehensive reform package are dim, there are a number of specific issues in immigration that members of both parties have expressed an interest in tackling.

In September, President Donald Trump announced the elimination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, with a six-month delay to allow Congress to pass legislation protecting Dreamers from deportation. The time sensitive nature of this issue has made it a paramount legislative goal among both Democrats and Republicans.

Other areas of immigration policy, too, have attracted attention, including reforming the H-2B nonagricultural temporary worker visa, and the creation of a “start-up” visa to attract entrepreneurs to the United States.

Dreamer Legislation

For over 15 years, members of Congress have tried and failed to pass legislation granting legal status to Dreamers. Dreamers are individuals who were brought to the United States as children without proper authorization, through no fault of their own. The Obama administration implemented the DACA program in 2012 as a temporary solution to protect Dreamers from the threat of deportation.

In nearly every Congress since 2001, some iteration of the DREAM Act has been introduced with bipartisan support, including this year; again, there remains significant doubt about its potential for passage in this Congress.

However, alternative bills do exist that offer credible solutions members of both parties can find amenable. The Niskanen Center has endorsed the SUCCEED Act, a bill introduced by Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), James Lankford (R-Okla.), and Thom Tillis (R-NC), along with its House companion bill, the Recognizing America’s Children (RAC) Act, introduced by Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.-26). Although a lack of support from congressional Republicans has plagued the passage of the Dream Act, there is significant support by Republicans for these bills; at present, 31 Republicans and one Democrat have cosponsored Curbelo’s bill.

Democratic alternatives to the DREAM Act exist as well, including the American Hope Act, introduced by Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.-4), which boasts strong support from House Democrats with 153 cosponsors. Despite key differences in the specifics of each bill, energy from both parties could finally provide a clear path forward for the hundreds of thousands of Dreamers facing uncertain futures.

H-2B Reform

A number of proposals with bipartisan support aimed at exempting returning H-2B workers from the statutory cap have been introduced by this Congress, including the Small Business Assistance Act, introduced by Rep. Jack Bergman (R-MI) and the Save Our Small and Seasonal Businesses Act, introduced by Sen. Tillis. Both bills feature Democratic and Republican cosponsors, and were spurred by shortages of nonagricultural temporary worker visas. Neither bill has been considered in their respective committees yet this Congress.

In July, then-Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly made available 15,000 H-2B visas as an addition to the annual statutory cap of 66,000, which was met early this year. In peak times for seasonal industries, like tourism, H-2B workers help alleviate labor shortages for businesses that might very well fail without them. While obviously bad for those businesses that are forced to close, there are important spillover effects of allowing too few H-2B workers. American workers may be harmed if their own places of employment struggle to remain open because of an economic interconnection with businesses using H-2B workers. Many small businesses that employ Americans, but also rely on H-2B workers to meet staffing needs during seasonal business peaks, have closed and will continue to do so without an available source of temporary workers.

Start-up Visa Interest

When the Trump administration announced that the International Entrepreneur Rule was slated for termination last July, it sparked a backlash from business and tech leaders. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) used this rule to grant entrepreneurs expected to provide a significant public benefit authorized stay in the United States for up to 30 months. An entrepreneur can prove the public benefit of their stay in the United States by demonstrating significant capital investment in their project or by the reception of awards or grants from federal, state, or local government entities. Just shy of 3,000 foreign entrepreneurs were expected to utilize the program each year.

In May, Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.-9) introduced the Jobs in America Act, which would establish in law, rather than through DHS rule-making, a startup visa. The bill lays out specific requirements for job creation, capital investment, and revenue generation. The visa also would be available to H-1B visa holders or other well-educated immigrants.

There are a few key differences between Rep. Sinema’s bill and the DHS rule. The legislation does not include a provision about government grants, whereas the rule accepts reception of government grants as a proof of concept. The bill requires only $100,000 in capital investment, whereas the rule requires a $250,000 investment. A third key difference is that the proposed legislation grants conditional permanent resident status so long as investment, job creation, and revenue level requirements are met. The DHS rule grants an initial 30-month parole, which may be re-granted once so long as the parolee is meeting investment, job creation, and revenue objectives. Both Republicans and Democrats support the bill, but it has not yet been considered in committee.

Conclusion 

These three areas of immigration policy demonstrate the political will among members of both parties to enact meaningful reform. Immigration reform is often a politically divisive issue, but the bipartisan support for protecting Dreamers, improving the H-2B visa, and creating a startup visa shows that this doesn’t have to be the case. Such reforms would benefit the U.S. economy and American workers, chief concerns of those typically opposed to immigration reform. Piecemeal legislative action, as seen here, offers a politically practical chance to reform the U.S. immigration system for the better.