Reform bill to double immigration

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The immigration reform bill that the Senate takes up today would more than double the flow of legal immigration into the United States each year and dramatically lower the skill level of those immigrants.

The number of extended family members that U.S. citizens or legal residents can bring into this country would double. More dramatically, the number of workers and their immediate families could increase sevenfold if there are enough U.S. employers looking for cheap foreign labor. Another provision would grant humanitarian visas to any woman or orphaned child anywhere in the world “at risk of harm” because of age or sex.

The little-noticed provisions are part of legislation co-sponsored by Republican Sens. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Mel Martinez of Florida, which overcame some early stumbles and now has bipartisan support in the Senate. The bill also has been praised by President Bush, and he is expected to endorse it as a starting point for negotiations in his prime-time address to the nation tonight

All told, the Hagel-Martinez bill would increase the annual flow of legal immigrants into the U.S. to more than 2 million from roughly 1 million today, scholars and analysts say.

These proposed increases are in addition to the estimated 10 million to 12 million illegal aliens already in the U.S. whom the bill would put on a path to citizenship. These figures also do not take into account the hundreds of thousands of additional immigrants who would be admitted to the U.S. each year under the guest-worker program that is part of the bill.

“If there is anyone left in the world, we would accept another 325,000 through the guest-worker program in the first year,” said NumbersUSA’s Rosemary Jenks, who supports stricter immigration laws.

The numbers have emerged only recently as opponents studied the hastily written 614-page bill in the five weeks since it was first proposed. It quickly stalled over Democratic refusal to allow consideration of any amendments to the bill, but debate resumes today after Senate leaders reached a compromise on the number of amendments.

“Immigration is already at historic levels,” said Ms. Jenks. “This would double that at least.”

The figures have been provided by Ms. Jenks, the Heritage Foundation and several Senate lawyers who have studied the bill since it was proposed.

One of the most alarming aspects of the bill, they say, are the provisions that drastically alter not only how many but also which type of workers are ushered into the country.

Historically, the system that grants visas to workers has been slanted in favor of the highly educated and highly skilled.

Currently, a little less than 60 percent of the 140,000 work visas granted each year are reserved for professors, engineers, doctors and others with “extraordinary abilities.” Fewer than 10 percent are set aside for unskilled laborers. The idea has always been to draw the best and the brightest to America.

Under the Senate proposal, those priorities would be flipped.

The percentage of work visas that would go to the highly educated or highly skilled would be cut in half to about 30 percent. The percentage of work visas that go to unskilled laborers would more than triple. In hard numbers for those categories, the highest skilled workers would be granted 135,000 visas annually, while the unskilled would be granted 150,000 annually.

What’s more, the Hagel-Martinez bill would make it considerably easier for unskilled workers to remain here permanently while keeping hurdles in place for skilled workers. It would still require highly skilled workers who are here on a temporary basis to find an employer to “petition” for their permanent residency but it would allow unskilled laborers to “self-petition,” meaning their employer would not have to guarantee their employment as a condition on staying.

Slanting immigration law in favor of the unskilled and uneducated would be costly, said Robert Rector, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation who has just completed a study on the impact of immigration and the new Senate bill.

“College-educated immigrants are likely to be strong contributors to the government’s finances, with their taxes exceeding the government’s costs,” wrote Mr. Rector, who will release his findings today at a press conference with Sen. Jeff Sessions, Alabama Republican.

“By contrast, immigrants with low education levels are likely to be a fiscal drain on other taxpayers,” he added. “This is important because half of all adult illegal immigrants in the U.S. have less than a high-school education. In addition, recent immigrants have high levels of out-of-wedlock childbearing, which increases welfare costs and poverty.”

The flood of unskilled workers could cause other problems as well, opponents say.

Because they would be allowed to “self-petition,” their obtaining permanent residency here would bypass the Department of Labor, which currently monitors immigration to ensure that American workers are not displaced by foreign immigrant labor.

But the greatest cost to the U.S. may not be the unskilled workers who immigrate here in the future, but the ones who are already here illegally.

Mr. Rector estimates that the Senate bill would grant citizenship to between 9 million and 10 million illegal aliens. If allowed to become citizens, those immigrants would be permitted to bring their entire extended family, including any elderly parents.

“The long-term cost of government benefits to the parents of 10 million recipients of amnesty could be $30 billion per year or more,” Mr. Rector said. “In the long run, the [Hagel-Martinez] bill, if enacted, would be the largest expansion of the welfare state in 35 years.”

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