CEI Immigration Analyst: Gang of 8 Proposal ‘A Good Starting Point’

WASHINGTON, D.C., April 17, 2013 – A bipartisan proposal to reform America’s immigration system provides “a good starting point” for discussion but could be improved in a variety of ways, said David Bier, an immigration policy analyst with the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

The legislation, introduced in the predawn hours of April 17, would attempt to secure America’s border, permit more legal immigration and legalize the statuses of millions of immigrants already in the country. But its limits on the number of visas for unskilled workers remains too low; its regulations will impose new costs on businesses; and E-Verify, a key component of reform, needs strict standards to limit errors for American workers and protect small businesses, Bier said.

“This legislation will help keep American businesses competitive by giving them greater access to foreign labor and talent around the world,” said Bier. “It will help secure the border, protect families and end expensive, unnecessary deportations. And, to its credit, it will do so without making these immigrants eligible for Obamacare or other entitlements. But it still needs improvements to end illegal immigration and meet the needs of America’s economy.”

Among the needed improvements: more visas for unskilled and low-skilled workers, Bier said. The legislation calls for at most 200,000, but last year – a down year for illegal immigration because of our soft economy – more than 500,000 people crossed into the United States illegally. “This legislation will not end illegal immigration unless supply of work visas more closely meets demand,” Bier said. “Quotas for construction workers are extremely low.”

Bier said the legislation also includes a number of provisions that add fees and restrictive regulations on some businesses that use foreign workers. These include fees for H1-B visas for certain employers, unnecessarily high minimum wage rates for H1-B workers and mandated use of E-Verify, the electronic data base by which employers check new hires against government data bases.

E-Verify’s error rates, if applied to all workers, would force as many as 180,000 into a byzantine appeals system that can take up to two months to resolve. Employees can continue to work while appeals are resolved, but if they do not prevail on appeal, they must be fired – which means more costs to find, train and deploy new employees.

“If Congress wants E-Verify, it should require far lower error rates,” Bier said. “If it wants to end illegal immigration, it should increase the guest worker caps. If it wants to keep America competitive, it should find ways to expand immigration without imposing more regulations on businesses.

“But this legislation represents a good-faith effort to start the discussion. It recognizes immigrants are, on net, assets, not liabilities. More work is needed, but this is a good start toward the true reform package Americans demand.”