#WYNTKA: Immigration

Photos: (Getty Images)

By: Joe Lazauskas

Immigration policy in the United States has been more hotly debated in the United States the past decade than whether purchasing a Snuggie constitutes a cry for help.

While many people think that the great wave of American immigration ended a century ago, the number of foreign-born people residing in the United States is at the highest level in U.S. history and has reached a proportion of the U.S. population—12.5%—not seen since the early 20th century. As of January 2010, there were 38 million foreign-born residents in the United States, approximately 16.4 million are naturalized citizens. The remaining 21.6 million foreign-born residents are noncitizens, with about 10.8 million of those noncitizens the country as unauthorized immigrants (also referred to as “unauthorized aliens”). Unauthorized aliens=foreign-born folks who, for a variety of reasons, don’t hold legal status in the U.S.—put down the phone, there’s no need to call Will Smith.

Those 10.8 million unauthorized immigrants have been oft-cited as a sign of the US immigration system’s systematic failure, and both President Obama and Governor Romney have called for an increase in resources to secure the southern US border with Mexico, although new studies have shown that just as many immigrants are returning to Mexico as immigrating to the US.

The immigration debate involves a lot more than just what to do with unauthorized immigrants. Visa restrictions may be driving out foreign-born technology entrepreneurs and engineers who studied in the US, despite a huge demand and short supply of qualified technology professionals in the US.

Indeed, immigrants create jobs at a rate higher than the native-born US population. Immigrants make up about 18% of all small-business owners in the United States, though they only make up 12.5% of the total US population.

Much of the national focus remains on finding a solution for the high number of unauthorized aliens residing on the country. The Supreme Court Ruling in late June striking down Arizona’s immigration law placed control of immigration policy back in the hands of the federal government, and now, Democrats and Republicans in Congress are tasked with coming together to find a way to reduce that number.

+ So what are the major issues with US immigration policy?

Technologically, the US immigration process is just catching up to the times. Heck, you couldn’t even apply for citizenship online until two months ago. There are also many roadblocks for people (students, workers, etc.) trying to immigrate to the U.S. legally.

Policy-wise, there’s a large consensus that our immigration policy needs to be updated, though views on what that update should be varies.

A study released earlier this year by the US Chamber of Commerce found some current aspects of Immigration policy outdated for the growing digital economy. Immigrants fueled the US tech boom; from 1999-2005, immigrations founded 25% of new technology companies in the US. In 2005, those companies generated over $50 billion in revenue and created nearly a half million jobs. The tech boom created a demand for immigrant technology professionals, and so the country increased the number of temporary H-1B visas, but not permanent resident visas. With an estimated 500,000 professionals stuck in “immigration limbo,” many—including the Chamber of Commerce—fear a technology “brain drain” from the United States if immigration policies are not reformed. While “immigration limbo” and the “brain drain” both sound like fun 80’s dances, the consequences could be pretty dire.

In addition, there are many young people who grew up in the United States and have graduated from US high schools, but, since their parents are undocumented immigrants or are stuck in immigration limbo, do not have a clear path to citizenship.

+ What are some of the proposed solutions?

To avoid the looming brain drain in the technology sector, the US Chamber of Commerce has recommended “creat[ing] visa category specifically targeted for immigrant entrepreneurs who want to establish a U.S. enterprise and create jobs,” and “Remov[ing] hurdles for foreign students with desirable skills to remain in the United States, focusing on those who complete graduate degrees in the United States and are offered employment by U.S. companies.”

To address the issue of young US high school graduates without a path to citizenship, a bipartisan coalition in Congress has been trying to get the DREAM Act (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) passed since 2009, though the Act has been unable to garner the 60 votes necessary in Congress to avoid a filibuster.

The DREAM Act would allow immigrant students in good legal status to apply for temporary legal status and have a path to citizenship if they go to college for at least 2 years or serve in the US military. Many US military officials and supporters have championed the DREAM Act as a way to boost the US military’s ranks.

Opponents criticize the DREAM Act as an amnesty program for unauthorized aliens that would potentially take jobs from current US citizens. President Obama’s shift in immigration policy (he basically gave young children of undocumented immigrants who are in good standing an extension to become citizens) has been widely debated. Some view it as a way to bypass Congress’ moves on the DREAM Act.

To see where President Obama and Mitt Romney stand in Immigration Policy, check out Power of 12’s candidates page.

+ What can I do?

To learn more about the White House’s plan for Immigration reform, click here. For Governor Romney’s plan, click here.

If you’d like to get involved in helping the Dream Act pass, or aren’t a fan of it, get involved with the NILC or contact your local representatives in Congress.

You have the power to decide the outcome of the 2012 Election. Register to vote with our super easy registration tool. So, no excuses. vote like a champ. 

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