H.R. 2407 – Changing the Heart of America’s Citizenship and Immigration agency

H.R. 2407 – Changing the Heart of America’s Citizenship and Immigration agency

No one needs me to cite statistics or opine on the fact that we are a nation based on immigration and that we as a nation have often struggled with lovingly embracing immigrants. Yet over the years, our laws and institutions have striven to embody and exemplify our best values, our welcoming spirit and our belief that we are open to those who desire to move from their homelands to ours.

H.R. 2407 the “United States Citizenship and Immigration Services Authorization Act”, which is currently being reviewed by Committees within the House – one of them being the House Education and the Workforce Committee – is a bill that does away with the presumption that immigrants come to America for positive reasons and chips away at the American belief that immigrants are a rich as well as strong element of our national fabric.

H.R. 2407 desires to establish a “United States Citizenship and Immigration Services” agency within the Department of Homeland Security – this bill does not create a new agency or change the Department it is under, there currently is a United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) agency in the Department of Homeland Security, rather this bill changes the mission, the focus of the agency. The USCIS agency this bill creates would continue to perform all citizenship and immigration duties and would develop new policies, craft strategy, provide advisement and thus influence/dictate the official U.S. policies on citizenship and immigration. As noted it is the essence of the agency that would change, as evidenced by the mission statements of the current and the intended USCIS.

The current mission statement of the USCIS is, “Mission Statement… [the]USCIS will secure America’s promise as a nation of immigrants by providing accurate and useful information to our customers, granting immigration and citizenship benefits, promoting an awareness and understanding of citizenship, and ensuring the integrity of our immigration system” (https://www.uscis.gov/aboutus). This is a statement that upholds America as a nation of immigrations – that we are a beacon of hope and opportunity. This statement makes it clear that USCIS is primarily there for its customers, those aspiring to gain immigration and citizenship status. This statement is also crystal clear that it is the government’s duty to educate and teach the duties of American citizenship.

The strategic goals denoted on their website underscores this mission statement, “USCIS’ strategic goals include: Strengthening the security and integrity of the immigration system. Providing effective customer-oriented immigration benefit and information services. Supporting immigrants’ integration and participation in American civic culture. Promoting flexible and sound immigration policies and programs. Strengthening the infrastructure supporting the USCIS mission. Operating as a high-performance organization that promotes a highly talented workforce and a dynamic work culture” (https://www.uscis.gov/aboutus).

Contrast the values upheld in the current USCIS with those the new USCIS would espouse. The mission statement of the new USCIS is: “The mission of United States Citizenship and Immigration Services is to efficiently adjudicate petitions and applications for immigration benefits for foreign nationals seeking lawful immigration status in the United States and for individuals seeking to become citizens of the United States in a manner that detects and prevents fraud, protects the jobs and working conditions of American workers, and ensures the national security and welfare of the American people” (italics added for emphasis) (https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/2407/text).

 

So to be clear, the presumption that America is a nation of immigrants is supplanted with presumptions that immigration fraud is widespread, that immigrants threaten US jobs and that the fact of being an immigrant means a person is a potential risk for the wellbeing of our nation and its residents. In the new USCIS the purpose of the agency is not help its customers navigate the system, the purpose is to protect America from the criminal, economic and terror threat inherent from immigrants. None of the presumptions within the new USCIS mission statement are supported by reality and it is mind boggling to truly take in what this mission statement implies (see end of the blog for links to information on the truthfulness of the presumptions).

Another core belief within the new USCIS is that those immigrating to the U.S. should lose their culture in exchange for American culture (which is of course not monolithic, but that does not seem to matter to the author of this bill). No longer would it be the focus of the USCIS to teach American civics and citizenship, but rather there would be an injunction for the agency to push the adoption of American culture “There is established within United States Citizenship and Immigration Services an Office of Citizenship. There shall be at the head of the Office of Citizenship a Chief who shall— promote instruction and training on citizenship responsibilities, as well as assimilation, for eligible aliens who are interested in becoming naturalized citizens of the United States” (italics added for emphasis)  (https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/2407/text).

Assimilation is a term that may not be known by everyone but every student of multiculturalism knows the term all too well and every child of an immigrant has tasted it too. Assimilation is the process by which a minority culture is swallowed up by the dominant culture and thus the minority culture fractures or even disappears. It is what was done when Americans in power decided to round up the children of Native American tribes and send them to distant boarding schools, it is what caused waves of immigrants to not teach their children the heritage, traditions, language or customs of their distant homes and it has been shown to be of great psychological cost as well as damage to people. And while assimilation may not be a term known by those outside of the circles of psychology, social work, anthropology, social justice, etc… it is absolutely a term that anyone writing a bill for an immigration agency ought to know and steer clear of, unless of course they know exactly what the term means.

(In case you are curious, acculturation is the term that describes someone moving from one culture and learning a new culture thus becoming bi-cultural, having roots and ties to both heritages. Research shows that acculturation leads to the healthiest, most integrated immigrants. For a brief discussion on assimilation versus acculturation: http://pediaa.com/difference-between-assimilation-and-acculturation/. For lengthier discussions look at the writings of Derald Wing Sue: http://www.tc.columbia.edu/faculty/dw2020/ and Stanley Sue: https://www.paloaltou.edu/faculty/stanley-sue two brothers who are preeminent American psychologists on the issues of multiculturalism.)

To close, it is only the tiniest fraction of Americans who can claim to have no immigrants in their family tree and so why are we writing bills that stand in sharp contrast to what our foremothers and forefathers needed most when they arrived on these distant shores? Why are we attempting to craft a new United States Citizenship and Immigration Services that shrinks the open arms, the welcoming heart that our nation has aspired to be?

Information on immigration fraud is a bit difficult to find due in part to the complexity of defining the issue. There are two kinds of immigration fraud: document fraud also known as identity fraud and benefit fraud. Document fraud is falsely saying you are someone you are not in order to get around immigration laws while benefit fraud is lying and/or falsifying information in order to gain an immigration benefit one is not entitled to (https://www.ice.gov/identity-benefit-fraud). There is a fraud detection unit within the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services agency: https://www.uscis.gov/about-us/directorates-and-program-offices/fraud-detection-and-national-security/fraud-detection-and-national-security-directorate and an official page warning individuals on how to avoid being defrauded https://www.uscis.gov/avoid-scams. Official government Immigration Data & Statistics can be found at: https://www.dhs.gov/immigration-statistics

For information on the fact that immigrants do not threaten the jobs of native born or naturalized Americans:  https://www.forbes.com/sites/artcarden/2015/08/28/how-do-illegal-immigrants-affect-american-workers-the-answer-might-surprise-you/#7aac6328771a, https://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2015/01/06/do-immigrants-take-jobs-from-american-born-workers/an-aging-us-is-revitalized-by-immigrants, https://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2015/01/06/do-immigrants-take-jobs-from-american-born-workers/immigrants-are-replacing-not-displacing-workers, http://www.factcheck.org/2015/01/all-u-s-jobs-did-not-go-to-immigrants/

For information on the fact that immigrants are not a threat to the well-being of native born or naturalized Americans: https://www.theatlantic.com/news/archive/2016/06/immigrants-and-crime/486884/, https://www.cato.org/publications/policy-analysis/terrorism-immigration-risk-analysis, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/28/us/politics/a-sweeping-order-unlikely-to-reduce-terrorist-threat.html?_r=0, https://www.usnews.com/opinion/articles/2017-04-21/trumps-immigration-restrictions-will-hurt-americans

H.R. 2233 – A supposed reform to the H-1B visa program

H.R. 2233 – A supposed reform to the H-1B visa program

The H-1B visa program, created in 1990, was designed to allow U.S. employers to hire non-U.S. workers on a temporary basis thus enabling companies to fill positions for which there is a shortage of American workers. Some of the key components of the H-1B visa are that workers need to have at minimum a B.A. or specialized training for the designated job and can only be sought out if no U.S. citizen or legal resident can be recruited to fill the position. In addition the guest worker needs to be paid the prevailing wage. Finally, the number of H-1B visas is capped though the exact number of visas available has varied throughout the past years, currently it is capped at 85,000 visas (http://www.latimes.com/opinion/editorials/la-ed-visas-tech-workers-h1b-20150217-story.html; https://www.law360.com/articles/919056/immigration-bill-roundup-visa-extensions-h-1b-reforms). For more information on the specific requirements of the H-1B visa: https://www.uscis.gov/eir/visa-guide/h-1b-specialty-occupation/understanding-h-1b-requirements.

While this visa program has been regarded as a genuinely good idea it has also become prone to misuse and abuse, due to loopholes and the quest for profit. These misuses and abuses occur on both sides of the equation, some examples of which are U.S. employers intentionally skipping over American workers and filling the position with H-1B visa recipients whom they pay below the prevailing wage and foreign staffing agencies trapping individuals into debt. For information on the misuse and abuses of this visa program:  http://www.cbsnews.com/news/are-u-s-jobs-vulnerable-to-workers-with-h-1b-visas/, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2014/oct/28/-sp-jobs-brokers-entrap-indian-tech-workers,https://www.revealnews.org/article-legacy/visa-program-for-best-and-brightest-also-used-to-fill-low-wage-jobs/, https://www.bostonfed.org/publications/new-england-public-policy-center-policy-report/2014/demand-for-h-1b-visas-in-new-england-an-analysis-of-employer-requests-for-highly-skilled-guest-workers.aspx, http://www.epi.org/publication/h-1b-visa-needs-reform-to-make-it-fairer-to-migrant-and-american-workers/.

Due to the problems with this visa program there are and have been widespread calls for reform and a bill that would provide reform is currently under review by the House Education and Workforce Committee. Before looking at what changes this bill would create to the visa program, a quick look at the originator of the bill for some clarity on what the intentions of the bill might be.

The “American Jobs First Act” was introduced by Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama and his opinions on Immigration stated on his, official U.S. Congress, website make one question what his intent for the H-1B visa program is – whether he truly has the best intentions for the visa program in his sights,

“[Congressman Brooks]… introduced the American Jobs First Act, which would reform     the foreign-worker visa program (H-1B visa program), a broken system which exacerbates the country’s labor shortage and depresses wages by bringing in foreign workers to compete with American workers…. Congressman Brooks believes the federal            government has been derelict in its border protection and immigration duties with both short- and long-term adverse effects. Illegal aliens receive free health care at America’s      hospitals, driving up health care costs and delaying emergency room care for American       citizens. Illegal aliens get free K-12 education, driving up education costs by requiring         more English as a Second Language instructors and reducing funds for American citizens.      Illegal aliens take jobs in the blue collar trades, causing wage suppression and denying    jobs for American workers. Congressman Brooks supports and will vote for any            substantive measure that removes illegal aliens from America”           (https://brooks.house.gov/issues/immigration).

While this succinctly states Rep. Brooks’ opinions on immigration, it is also compelling to know that he addressed the House floor in November 2016 supporting Mr. Trump’s allegations that non-U.S. Citizens voted in the election. Rep. Brooks went further stating that “tens of millions of noncitizens are a threat to register to vote, and vote, in America’s elections” (https://brooks.house.gov/media-center/news-releases/news-release-brooks-addresses-house-support-president-elect-trump). Another opinion of Rep. Brooks’ is that the solution to the high cost of health care is to “deport the illegal immigrants” and thus it is not extreme to state that Rep. Brooks seems to regard immigration as a scourge that must be done away with (https://brooks.house.gov/media-center/in-the-news/ijrcom-congressman-proposes-radical-solution-rising-cost-health-care-deport). Which brings us back to the bill he introduced and whether this bill truly is what is best for the H-1B visa program?

The main points of H.R. 2233 are as follows: “This bill amends the Immigration and Nationality Act to revise the H-1B nonimmigrant visa (specialty occupation) program, including by declaring that a petitioner employer:

  • is offering an annual wage to the H-1B nonimmigrant that is the greater of the annual wage paid to the U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident employee who did identical or similar work during the previous two years, or $110,000, if offered not later than one year after the date of enactment of this Act;
  • will not require an H-1B nonimmigrant to pay a penalty for ending employment before the agreed on date;
  • will not replace or contract to replace a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident with one or more nonimmigrants;
  • has not displaced, furloughed, terminated without cause, or otherwise involuntarily separated a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident employee during the four-year period beginning two years before the H-1B visa petition was filed; and
  • shall attest in the H-1B application that during the previous two-year period there has not been an employee-initiated strike or an employer-initiated lockout, and that no employee in the same or substantially similar occupational classification has been displaced, terminated without cause, or otherwise involuntarily separated without cause” (https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/2233?q=%7B%22search%22%3A%5B%22HR+2233%22%5D%7D&r=1).

These amendments to the visa program seem to make it financially unwise if not downright impossible for a company (what company has not “involuntarily separated” an employee from her or his position during a 4 year time period) to hire anyone through the visa program, thus in effect ending the H-1B visa program. While reform is needed gutting the visa program is hardly the solution.

Ask Senator Feinstein to make a statement about S.54, the Protect American Families Act

Ask Senator Feinstein to make a statement about S.54, the Protect American Families Act

Senator Cory Booker introduced a rather short and succinct bill with a title almost longer than the bill itself. The bill (S.54) is called the “Protect American Families from Unnecessary Registration and Deportation Act of 2017” or the “Protect American Families Act”. Not to wax too poetic, but the bill is almost beautiful with its six mini paragraphs. And while its brevity is certainly something worth noting, the content of the bill is what has caught my eye and is what we are focused on.

The heart of the bill states, “the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice, or any other Federal department may not create or implement a law enforcement or national security program that requires, or has the effect of causing, people to register or check in on the basis of religion, race, age, gender, ethnicity, national origin, nationality, or citizenship; and … no Federal funds may be used to create or implement an immigration registry or check-in program.” (truly that is it – check the bill out at https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/senate bill/54/text?q=%7B%22search%22%3A%5B%22S54%22%5D%7D&r=1). Thus this bill would prevent the creation of a Muslim registry, which was one of Mr. Trump’s campaign pledges, and as we are all learning Mr. Trump truly believes he has a mandate to fulfill his pledges (https://govtrackinsider.com/s-54-would-prevent-the-creation-of-a-registry-of-muslim-immigrants-f6fdb88987cc#.qoxw6dlts).

As noted earlier, this bill was introduced into the Senate and therefore needs to make it out of the Senate for it to have a chance at becoming law. There is a possibility some Republicans might support this bill given the public statements certain  Republican Senators made against and the public uproar against the Executive Order Muslim ban. And this is where we come in….

The bill is currently in committee, and yes you guessed it – it is in the Judiciary committee, specifically the Immigration and the National Interest subcommittee on which our very own Senator Feinstein sits. So, let’s connect with Senator Feinstein and urge her to make a public statement about this bill, her voice is listened to by citizens in, as well as outside of CA, by the media and by her peers. She has the political clout to raise awareness about this bill, thus triggering constituents of Republicans who also sit on this subcommittee/committee to express their support. Stated slightly more succinctly, we want Senator Feinstein to speak up about this bill, we want to encourage her to shop this bill around, thus triggering a domino effect of support for the bill.