A Summary of NDN/NPI’s Latest "Rethinking Immigration Reform" Event

On Friday, November 16th, NDN and the New Policy Institute were proud to host our latest “Rethinking Immigration Reform” event.

Since John McCain and Ted Kennedy built the framework for Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR) in 2005, the policy and political landscape has changed a great deal. CIR is often conceptualized as a three pronged approach to fixing our immigration system, focusing on enforcement, future flow, and how to create a pathway to citizenship for the 11.1 million people living in the U.S. without documentation.

Achievements in border enforcement may be seen in the high level of safety in the southwest border region and in the fact that undocumented migration has fallen to nearly zero. Although President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program has ameliorated the circumstance of many young undocumented immigrants, the areas of future flow and the fate of the rest of the 11 million migrants living in the U.S. have yet to be resolved.

This past summer, NDN/NPI launched a series of events called “Rethinking Immigration Reform,” to examine the evolving immigration reform landscape and the opportunities and challenges ahead. The latest event in this series featured a bi-partisan panel, and looked at means of reforming and improving low- and high-skilled immigration visa programs.

Tamar Jacoby, President and CEO of ImmigrationWorks, moderated a lively discussion featuring Alex Nowraseth, Immigration Policy Analyst of the Cato Institute; Josh Bernstein, Director of Immigration Policy at SEIU; and Jeremy Robbins, Policy Director and Special Counsel in the Office of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Director of the Partnership for a New American Economy.

Nowraseth discussed the economic benefits of low-skilled visa reform, and the ways in which an improved system could facilitate a free labor market that will benefit immigrants and employers alike. Bernstein talked about the human rights issues inherent in our current black market labor system, and expressed his faith in the pragmatism of business and labor to overcome potential disagreements on visa reform. Robbins added to the conversation with comments on the high-skilled visa system, and called upon legislators to act upon campaign promises rather than using immigration solely as a “political football.”

Jacoby and the panelists expressed hopes that improving low- and high-skilled visa programs could move in Congress next year. Such reforms are integral to granting greater protection and legal status to undocumented workers, who have already contributed greatly to the growth of our economy’s low-skilled service sector. Moreover, legalizing our low-skilled economic base will allow for worker portability, enabling migrant workers with much-needed skill sets to fill vacant jobs. High-skilled visa reform, while less controversial, is equally important to maintaining our nation’s entrepreneurial and innovative capacity, particularly in STEM fields that many aspiring immigrants specialize in.

For background information on NDN's work in this space please make sure to check out NPI Fellow Rob Shapiro's outstanding report, "The Impact of Immigration and Immigration Reform on the Wages of American Workers." Also be sure to check out our website 21border.com for news and analysis from our team.