- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America’s Security and Prosperity Act (CIR ASAP) was introduced last week by Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez, Illinois Democrat.

The co-sponsors are a mix of mostly left-wing groups, and the bill is a hodgepodge of different ideas and political compromises all too common in today’s Washington. Consequently, few are enthusiastic about it, and many will be outraged.

Republican opposition leaders state that it would exacerbate the unemployment problem during a recession. That economic fallacy, and the readiness with which it is believed, could kill the good in this bill.

Besides a genuine desire to overhaul our flawed immigration system, there are other motivations to introduce CIR ASAP at this time. The health care bill is in serious trouble, and Democrats need a distraction. They also are worried about the midterm election. Throwing a bone to the pro-immigration camp, particularly Hispanics, could help increase turnout and shift votes to Democrats. Regardless, CIR ASAP is the beginning of another long political battle that will stretch long into next year.

But bringing millions of undocumented workers out of the shadows and streamlining immigration are in America’s best interest. The best idea in the bill is allowing an unlimited number of visas for foreign graduate students from American universities. The bad ideas are increased paperwork and oversight for visas. But the worst idea is a proposed extension of the E-Verify system to all workers.

A modified E-Verify system would require both immigrants and citizens to prove their eligibility to work to a government-run database full of errors and incompetently run. This will hamper employers, discourage and reject legal employees and otherwise “Europeanize” America’s labor market during a recession. Terrible idea.

Those regulations dissipate many, if not all, of the benefits of increased highly skilled green cards. The anti-immigration crowd may love this requirement but for the American economy, employers, and innovators it would be disastrous.

Ironically, a recession should be the best time to streamline immigration. During the boom times of the 1980s, 1990s and mid-2000s, the numbers of immigrants increased steadily while the unemployment rate repeatedly hit record lows. That is because there is no static number of jobs for immigrants to “take.” Rather, immigrants fulfill a demand for jobs created in boom times. This experience is mostly lost in Washington, though.

Moreover, immigrants create a great number of economic opportunities for Americans. Highly skilled immigrant entrepreneurs, like Google co-founder Sergey Brin and Ozen Engineering founder Metin Ozen, employ Americans at the firms they start up. Intel, eBay, Yahoo!, and Sun Microsystems, which have created economic opportunity for millions of Americans, all include immigrants among their founders.

Many of today’s highly skilled immigrants come in on H-1B visas. Rules and caps on the number of these visas issued each year hamper economic growth and entrepreneurship. H-1Bs and former H-1Bs have been in on the ground floor of new firms. As of 2008, one-third of all companies founded in Silicon Valley had Indian or Chinese immigrants as co-founders.

Moreover, expanding enterprises rely on H-1B workers to fill needed slots. According to the nonpartisan National Foundation for American Policy, each H-1B visa requested increases employment by five workers. Foreign skilled workers need support and management, so they typically do not substitute, but complement American labor. A firm willing to employ H-1B foreign workers employs Americans alongside them.

The CIR ASAP should just eliminate the cap for H-1B visas or, as has been suggested, recycle unused H-1B visas from the past. Instead, it creates a government agency to suggest “market” changes to the system. Markets do a much better job as markets.

When immigration rules are strict, employers are denied laborers. Customers are denied greater shopping choices at businesses owned by immigrants. Perhaps most important, technology consumers are denied the inventions of immigrants. Five of the eight American winners of Nobel Prizes in the sciences have been immigrants. How would it have helped America to have denied them entry?

Everyone agrees that criminals and terrorists need to be kept out. Let’s focus our border resources on weeding out criminals instead of turning away laborers. Our immigration authorities should not waste time monitoring the pay scales of computer programmers or rounding up construction or agricultural workers. Such exercises make us less safe, weaken our economy, and waste everyone’s time.

Immigrants come and will continue to come because of economic opportunity. Yet typically it takes 15 to 20 years for a low-skilled laborer to get a green card - if he’s lucky. Highly skilled workers and H-1B visa applicants fare hardly better. Anyone ambitious enough to seek a better life in a new country isn’t going to wait for a labyrinthine bureaucracy.

Without a legal path to entry, many will continue to break the law and the economy will continue to suffer. CIR ASAP offers some positive reforms, but the politically motivated E-Verify program would be a disaster.

Alex Nowrasteh is an immigration policy analyst at the Competitive Enterprise Institute and a contributor to OpenMarket.org.

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