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Beverly Hills, California, United States
Eli Kantor is a labor, employment and immigration law attorney. He has been practicing labor, employment and immigration law for more than 36 years. He has been featured in articles about labor, employment and immigration law in the L.A. Times, Business Week.com and Daily Variety. He is a regular columnist for the Daily Journal. Telephone (310)274-8216; eli@elikantorlaw.com. For more information, visit beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com and and beverlyhillsemploymentlaw.com

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Thursday, May 31, 2012

Help U.S. Economy With Visas for the Best and Brightest

Bloomberg (Editorial): To see the results of self-defeating U.S. immigration policies, you need only open your browser to www.canadavisa.com. There, you'll see a shrewd neighbor fishing for talent at U.S. expense.

At the top of the website, in large print, is the question: Currently on an H1B Visa or otherwise working or studying in the United States? There is nothing subtle about the appeal. Canada is seeking skilled foreigners who've grown frustrated with the U.S. visa gantlet, which can take a decade for the lucky few who manage even to begin it.

Plans to loosen U.S. restrictions on high-skilled immigrants have been kicking -- and getting kicked -- around Washington for years. The latest comes from a bipartisan group of senators, who last week introduced legislation to ease the logjam on visas. The Startup Act 2.0 would create a new visa for immigrants who graduate from U.S. universities with a masters degree or doctorate in science, technology, engineering or math fields. It would also create an entrepreneurs visa to enable immigrants with capital to start businesses and create jobs in the U.S.

These are not new ideas. The House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a bill to expand high-skills visas last fall. That promptly fell prey to politics in the Senate.


Economic Necessity

A combination of economic necessity and demographic change makes immigration reform -- even limited progress like the Startup Act 2.0 -- more crucial than ever. The growth rate of the U.S. labor force is declining. Fewer young workers are entering the labor market as older ones retire, a combination that exerts a drag on economic growth. This has been compounded by the 2008 financial crisis and the job losses that ensued. From 2007 to 2011, the rate of new business creation slowed by 23 percent. Even before the recession, trouble was apparent; from 2000 to 2007, job creation in the U.S. was weaker than for any decade since the 1930s.

If jobs aren't being created, why does the U.S. need more immigrants? A survey by the McKinsey Global Institute found almost two-thirds of companies say they have positions for which they often cannot find qualified applicants, with management, scientists and computer engineers topping the list. A Kauffman Foundation report found that in 2011 immigrants were more than twice as likely to start businesses as native-born Americans. A Duke University study found that immigrants helped start more than a quarter of the technology and engineering companies established in the U.S. from 1995 to 2005.

A smarter, more open immigration policy can do much to create jobs and boost growth. The U.S. annually issues just 65,000 H-1B visas for highly skilled immigrants, with 20,000 more going to foreign professionals who graduate from a U.S. university with a masters or doctoral degree. Yet in 2011, more than 150,000 students from China alone were studying in the U.S. Roughly 40 percent of international students receive U.S.-based grants or scholarships. In effect, the U.S. invests heavily in the education of foreigners -- most of whom are enrolled in the science-related fields that fuel high-wage employment -- and then prohibits them from pursuing job opportunities, allowing other nations to reap the benefits.

Reap they do. According to a report by the Partnership for a New American Economy and the Partnership for New York City, Singapore's foreign-born population has quadrupled in the past two decades, to more than a third of its total population. Many of the newcomers are highly-skilled. Australia issues 15,000 fewer employment-based green cards to foreigners than the U.S. does -- though the U.S. has 14 times its population.

Labor Crossing Borders

Labor, like capital, is increasingly flowing across borders. Even Germany has loosened historically restrictive immigration policies in response to labor shortages in technology and math-related fields. In contrast, the U.S. remains too burdened by anti-immigrant politics to welcome the many highly educated, skilled workers who would contribute to the U.S. economy if only they could.

The U.S. no longer ranks first among nations in the percentage of its population with post-secondary education; it is 16th. It needs more of the foreign-born workers who have proved central to the creation of companies and jobs.

Comprehensive immigration reform is on hold. The Dream Act, which would create a path to citizenship for young illegal immigrants who serve in the armed forces or attend college, is blocked. Because of backing from business lobbies, the Startup Act 2.0 has a window of possibility in this Congress. Senate and House leaders should put immigration politics aside and push it through.

The Innovation Costs of Reducing the Flow of Immigrants and Travelers to the U.S.

The Atlantic: September 11th was a traumatic event for the psychology of the nation but also for its innovation capacity. After 9/11 the United States started admitting fewer highly skilled immigrants, invited fewer students to come study here, and companies and consumers cut back on their travel budgets.

These factors, along with many others, combined to reduce the amount of face to face collaboration and created new innovation headwinds for the country.

In 2001, Michael Porter of Harvard Business School published a report ranking the United States as #1 in terms of innovative capacity. By 2009,the Economist Intelligence Unit had dropped the United States in its innovation rankings from #3 between 2002 - 2006 to #4 between 2004 - 2008. The most recent Global Innovation Index has the United States falling from #1 in 2009 to #7 in 2011 -- behind Switzerland, Sweden, Singapore, Hong Kong, Finland, and Denmark.

If you're the United States, not being #1 anymore is a definite concern. Innovation drives job creation, and any decrease in the pace of domestic innovation will ultimately lead to lower economic growth. As the United States slides down the innovation rankings, restrictive immigration policies suddenly look less smart.

The number of foreign student visas increased by a third during the 90s, peaking in 2001 at 293,357 before dropping post-9/11 by 20 percent nearly overnight. It took five years before foreign student visa numbers recovered to 2001 levels. Last year, 331,208 foreign student visas were issued.

But a drop-off in highly skilled immigration does not account for the entire drop in America's innovation leadership. Another headwind that hit post-9/11 was the drop-off in travel in America. In August 2001, 65.4 million airline passengers traveled to the country. It took three years for passenger growth to resume.

Travel -- both corporate and leisure -- is important to innovation for three main reasons:

1. People see and experience things that spark new ideas

2. Face-to-face meetings deepen human connection and improve productivity and collaboration.

3. Innovation partnerships and acquisitions are often made in-person.

The United States is at an innovation crossroads. We must commit to attracting more innovators to this country, and to traveling abroad more. Not doing so is guaranteed to exacerbate America's slide from innovation leader to laggard.

In Alabama, Strict Immigration Law Sows Discord

Reuters (Article by Daniel Trotta): Alabama tomato farmer Darryl Copeland looked out over his seedlings and fretted about this year's harvest.

He was afraid his seasonal migrant workforce might not return for the summer picking season, opting to stay away rather than risk running afoul of Alabama's stringent immigration law. The crew he awaits is picking the Florida harvest.

"I had to cut back my planting not knowing if the labor is going to be available," said Copeland, 47, who planted just two-thirds of his 30 acres on the far side of Straight Mountain in northeastern Blount County.

"I don't know what we're going to do if they run every illegal out of here. It's going to be hard to stay in business."

Fellow Blount County tomato farmer Tim Battles planted just 12 of his 25 acres because of uncertainties engendered by the law.

"I've got $160,000, $170,000 in my crop," he said. "Let's say (immigration enforcement officers) come in July and haul everyone off. I lose it all. What they're doing down in Montgomery (the state capital) is governing us out of a job."

Modeled after Arizona's controversial 2010 immigration law, Alabama's statute and others also passed last year - in Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina and Utah - require state and local law enforcement officers to verify the immigration status of those they suspect of being in the country illegally.

Now, Alabama is finding out whether it can live without undocumented immigrants, estimated to number 120,000 in 2010, who flocked to this southern state only in recent decades. They've been working in border states for several generations.

More states are considering their own laws but first want to see how the U.S. Supreme Court rules on provisions of the Arizona law, a judgment expected before the end of June. Based on questions posed by justices during oral arguments heard on April 25, some analysts expect the Roberts court to uphold much of the Arizona law, potentially inviting other states to follow.

A federal appeals court has said it will await the Supreme Court's Arizona ruling before deciding whether to strike down any aspects of the Alabama law, also known as House Bill 56.

Alabama's law requires state officials to be more vigilant about suspected illegal immigrants, denying them public services. Approved last June by the Republican-held legislature and signed by Republican Governor Robert Bentley, the law took effect in September, though sections were put on hold by the federal courts.

"Without question, Alabama's H.B. 56 is the most comprehensive anti-illegal immigration state law ever drafted," said Kris Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state and intellectual author of both the Arizona and Alabama laws, who has consulted with 10 other states on immigration legislation. "It includes just about everything a state can do to discourage illegal immigration."

Kobach, an informal adviser to presumed Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, is a proponent of "self-deportation," creating conditions so unwelcome that undocumented immigrants leave voluntarily.

By that measure the Alabama law has succeeded, driving tens of thousands of illegal immigrants from the state, according to data gleaned from labor surveys and supported anecdotally by employers, politicians and immigrants themselves.

At the same time, employers have so far escaped sanctions. One section assigns escalating penalties for employers caught hiring undocumented workers, ranging from a three-year probation for the offending company to a permanent suspension of all business licenses in the state. Officials report virtually no instances where such sanctions have been enforced.

"This law is scapegoating the vulnerable population. Cracking down on those people is a lot easier than going after businesses," said Mary Bauer, legal director for the Southern Poverty Law Center. "I don't see how we can see it as anything other than a civil rights crisis."


WHAT AFFECTED WORKERS SAY

At Gordo's Market in a Birmingham strip mall, Mexican day laborers tell of compatriots who fled after the law was approved, either to another U.S. state or back to Mexico.

"Those with families left," said Abel Trevino, 30, from San Luis Potosi. "They were afraid they were going to get deported and split up."

Proponents of the law boast that with U.S. citizens and legal immigrants taking jobs vacated by illegal immigrants, Alabama's unemployment rate fell from 9.3 percent in June when the bill passed to 7.2 percent in April. That compares with national figures of 9.3 percent and 7.7 percent, respectively, with Alabama outperforming the national rate by a full percentage point or more in January, February and March.

Not everyone agrees the law has helped employment.

"The fall in the unemployment rate is merely because of the shrinking labor force and not because this law helped anything," said Samuel Addy, a University of Alabama economist. A cost-benefit analysis he published in January said the law could cost the state between $2.3 billion and $10.8 billion in annual gross domestic product, based on estimates that between 40,000 and 80,000 undocumented workers would flee.

"Most immigration researchers find a net (economic) benefit as a whole for the nation" when migrants are allowed to work, Addy said.

Each immigrant represents an additional consumer. Some experts, however, say illegal immigrants, just like low-earning U.S. citizens, are a net drain on public finances, largely from the cost of educating their children.

Immigration from Mexico has slowed since the U.S. economy fell into recession at the end of 2007. The estimated population of unauthorized Mexicans living in the United States dropped from 7 million in 2007 to 6.1 million in 2011, said Jeffrey Passel, a senior demographer at the Pew Hispanic Center.

From 2005 to 2010, he said, as many Mexicans returned home as came to the United States.

"Part of what people are responding to in states like Alabama, Georgia and Arizona is the rapid growth of the undocumented population from the late '90s to 2007, but by the time the response occurred the phenomenon seems to have been over," Passel said.


HELP WANTED

Albertville, Alabama, is home to 25,000 people and half a dozen chicken-processing plants that drew undocumented immigrants to low-wage jobs. The plants run three shifts a day: two to process the chickens and one to clean up after the slaughter.

Once the law passed, illegal workers left the Alabama poultry industry, and U.S. citizens filled those jobs.

As one consequence, Albertville's sales tax revenue increased 9.3 percent from October to April, an increase Mayor Lindsey Lyons attributed to citizens taking those jobs and spending their money locally rather than sending it over the border.

Poultry processors, including Tyson Foods Inc, for the most part declined to discuss the impact of the Alabama law. Only Georgia-based Wayne Farms LLC talked publicly.

"We had to replace about 130 employees (of a 900-employee workforce) at our Albertville plant," said Wayne Farms spokesman Frank Singleton. "We can't say for sure that was because of the Alabama law, but the inference certainly was there that we can assume the people left because of their concern about the law. It definitely had a chilling effect on the migrant community."

To attract the new employees, Wayne Farms offered "a little above the prevailing minimum wage" of $7.25 an hour, Singleton said.

"When Wayne Farms had a job fair not long after the bill was signed, there were 250 people standing in line," Lyons said. "The poultry industry has hired a lot more whites and blacks that are glad to have the work."


RESPONDING TO CRITICS

Some, citing Alabama's racist past, see in the Alabama law evidence of bigotry, an argument Governor Robert Bentley rejected.

"As Christians, we are taught to obey the law. There is nothing unkind or unjust about asking people to obey the law," Bentley said in an email to Reuters.

"What took place in the civil rights era was a series of unlawful actions against lawful residents. It was a shameful chapter in our state's history. The immigration issue of today is entirely different. The government is not persecuting people."

Bentley supported removing a section of the law that has been temporarily blocked by the courts: one requiring schools to determine whether students and their parents are legal residents.

Lawmakers led by the main sponsor of H.B. 56, state Senator Scott Beason, voted on May 18 to preserve that provision and added one requiring law enforcement to publish online the photographs and any criminal charges against undocumented immigrants brought to court.

Fifty-four percent of Alabama voters approved of the law compared with 35 percent opposed, according to a February poll by Anzalone Liszt Research.

"We're not talking about a hard-hearted policy," Beason told Reuters in his legislative office in Montgomery. "It's a trespassing issue. Federal law, properly enforced, would be sufficient. If we close the border and enforce the law, states wouldn't have to pass these kinds of laws. It's an issue nationally, and Alabama just had the courage to deal with it."

Farmers simply shake their heads.

Jerry Spencer is founder and chief executive of Grow Alabama, a farm advocacy group that also runs a for-profit business helping farmers market their crops. When farmers complained the law left them short of labor, he spent $3,000 of his own money, he said, on a 30-day experiment to take unemployed workers from Birmingham to tomato farms an hour away.

"It was pretty disastrous. The people that we took were not prepared for the level of arduous work involved. And the farmers were not prepared to teach them what to do," Spencer said.

In a state where one in five jobs is supported by agriculture, other farming advocates seek greater access to seasonal workers on temporary visas, saying the current system is too costly for all but the largest farms, requiring the employer to provide transportation and housing.

"Over the last two generations (of Americans), we just don't have anybody that can do that work, that backbreaking work," said Brett Hall, Alabama's deputy agriculture commissioner.


NOT JUST FARM LABOR

Building contractors, among others who have long depended on undocumented workers, complain the law has also had the effect of driving out legal employees. Families and work crews tend to stick together, so if one or two lack papers, the entire group leaves together.

"My counterparts around the country are saying, thanks for sending workers our way,'" said Henry Hagood, chief executive of AGC Alabama, an association of contractors.

"The Republicans took over the Senate and the House, our so-called friends," Hagood said. "From a business point of view, it's a terrible piece of legislation. It's just mean-spirited."

Across Alabama's border to the west, Mississippi considered its own immigration law. The bill passed the state House this spring but died in a Senate committee.

"We saw what was happening in Alabama," said Mississippi state Representative Preston Sullivan, chairman of the state Agriculture Committee, "and we didn't want that happening here."

Brewer Loses Bid to Dismiss Immigration Law Case

Associated Press: A judge has rejected a request by Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer to dismiss one of three remaining legal challenges to the state's 2010 immigration law, ruling that the people who filed the lawsuit in question had legal standing to contest the law because they properly alleged that they would be harmed by its enforcement.

The ruling on Tuesday by U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton means the people and coalition of groups behind the lawsuit can continue pushing their argument in court that the law should be overturned in its entirety.

The governor's lawyers had argued that those who filed the challenge hadn't shown that they would be harmed because their alleged injuries were too speculative.

Attorneys pressing the case contended, in part, that their clients faced increased risk of being stopped by police under the law because of their appearances and limited English proficiency. They also argued that two sections of the law can't be enforced in a race-neutral way.

Bolton wrote it was realistic that police will rely on physical and linguistic characteristics in enforcing two sections of the law that the judge herself blocked officers from enforcing in 2010.

The blocked provisions would require police to question the immigration status of those they suspect are in the country illegally and allow police to arrest people without warrants in cases where they commit crimes that make them removable from the United States.

It's unclear whether Brewer will appeal the ruling. Her office and lead lawyer in the case didn't immediately return a call seeking comment around mid-day Wednesday.

Bolton has prevented the law's most controversial elements from being enforced. The governor appealed Bolton's ruling and took the issue to the U.S. Supreme Court after a lower appeals court rejected her request to let the blocked sections take effect.

The Supreme Court heard arguments in Brewer's appeal in late April.

During arguments over the law, liberal and conservative justices reacted skeptically to the Obama administration's argument that Arizona exceeded its authority in creating the requirement that police check people's immigration status and the provision allowing suspected illegal immigrants to be arrested without a warrant. A decision in the case is expected in late June.

Three of the seven challenges to the Arizona law remain alive. No trial date has been scheduled in the three cases.

'Sleeping Giant" Latino Vote Yet to Awaken

CNN (Article by Dave Schechter)Editor's note: As President Barack Obama and GOP candidate Mitt Romney court the Latino vote, CNN takes an in-depth look at this complex and diverse community, what matters most to Latino voters, and how their vote will influence the November elections.

Washington (CNN) -- The first Latino president of the United States already has been born.

Henry Cisneros, the former San Antonio mayor who was secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development in the Clinton administration, made the suggestion three years ago in an interview with the Spanish-language news service EFE.

"I don't know if he or she's in elementary school or in law school or is already elected ... to public office, but I believe that that person is already alive, and we're 20 years or less away from having a Latino or Latina president," said Cisneros, whose own path to higher office may have been derailed by personal scandal and who today is executive chairman of CityView, an urban development investment firm.

When the day comes that Cisneros predicted, the man or woman behind the resolute desk in the Oval Office will represent an ever-increasing segment of the population. Latinos (or Hispanics, the official government term) made up 15.5% of the U.S. population in 2010, but by 2050 they're projected to approach 25% of the population.

The American, the online magazine of the American Enterprise Institute, calls the Hispanic electorate a "sleeping giant" yet to wake.

Whether or not Latinos' percentage in the electorate has kept pace with their growth in the population -- and the data indicates that at present it has not -- it may one day be enough to sway elections from the statehouse to the White House and stops in between.


Not one 'Latino vote'

Conventional wisdom lumps together "the Latino vote." But that community includes millions of people claiming dozens of countries of origin, speaking more than just Spanish. It is not now -- nor in the future -- likely to be anything so homogenous.

Juan Guillermo Tornoe, owner of Hispanic Trending Inc., a marketing and advertising firm in Austin, Texas, and author of the Hispanic Trending blog, is "counting the days" until he is eligible to become a U.S. citizen in a couple of years and vote in a presidential election.

For several years, Tornoe, a Guatemala native who came to the United States 10 years ago and now has permanent resident status, has talked about the nuances of the Latino community, the kinds of things companies marketing products (and political parties marketing candidates) need to know.

"There is not one Latino Vote; there is a multitude of Latino votes and candidates, society, and the media need to fully understand this if they are ever going to connect with the different parts of the Hispanic community," he advised.

Tornoe cringes "every time someone refers to Latinos as a unified voting bloc or as a homogeneous market segment. We are way too diverse for this."

"There are many differences between Hispanics, depending upon the person's country of origin or heritage: Food and music preferences as well as the holidays they celebrate are some of the most obvious," Tornoe says. "The actual words they use to describe persons, places, actions and things can vary immensely as well. There is also a lot of ideological baggage that comes along with one's country of origin/heritage."


Black beans vs. kidney beans

To illustrate the matter of food preferences, Frank Unanue Jr., an executive with one of the nation's largest Hispanic food companies, notes the differences within the ethnic population in his state of Florida: Black beans and rice are big with the Cuban community in Miami, "But up north, we sell more kidney beans, rice, fruit nectars and fruit juices. They all move well," said Unanue, president of Goya Foods Florida.

Gabriel Sanchez, an associate professor of political science at the University of New Mexico and research director for the group Latino Decisions, explains self-identification: "In short, although more Latinos prefer to use national origin to identify themselves, Latino pan-ethnic identity is highly relevant to the political behavior of the Latino population and will only increase in salience as long as the political debates surrounding immigration policy is perceived to be hostile to the Latino community among the Hispanic population."

As for generational differences, Tornoe said: "It is a completely different worldview depending how far away generationally Hispanics are from their country of origin/heritage.

"First-generation (foreign-born) Latinos have experienced life outside the U.S., have gone through the immigration experience, and to different degrees, have embraced or become acquainted with living in America. Second-generation Latinos encounter a mixed experience, being born and growing up in the United States, but brought up by immigrants and thus heavily exposed and influenced by their parents' culture.

"Finally, Latinos who are third generation and beyond are the sons and daughters of U.S.-born parents. They are very much influenced by the general market but still connect to their roots through the values, traditions and culture passed on by their parents and grandparents."

When it comes to citizenship, Tornoe, who hopes to be officially an American in three years, is clear.

"Being a U.S.-born citizen puts you in a completely different frame of mind than that of a naturalized U.S. citizen, someone who's a permanent resident (who could be counting the days to becoming a citizen or simply choosing to never become one), someone here on a temporary work visa or an undocumented alien," he said. "All of these are part of the Latino population, but only a percentage of them are able to vote.

"Then, among the latter, it is not the same to be able to vote, than to be a registered voter and actually cast your vote. Lack of participation in the democratic process is one of the major problems among the Hispanic community."

Population does not equal electoral influence -- not yet anyway. As a Houston Chronicle headline noted in April -- "Idea of Hispanic voter surge fading this year" -- Hispanic voter registration and turnout might fall below estimates.

Still, the fast-growing population should not be completely dismissed. An article from the AEI's The American looked at the lag between population and turnout.

"Hispanics have been the 'sleeping giant' of American politics for decades. Each election season, we see more and more articles about how important this group of Americans is, and how their impact will be outsized and ever-growing. Yet for some reason, the 'giant' never quite seems to wake up."

There are an estimated 31.8 million Hispanics of voting age (18 and older) in the United States, but only 10.9 million -- 51.6% -- are registered to vote, compared with 62.8% for eligible African-Americans and 68.2% for what the government calls non-Hispanic whites, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.


Voters not re-registering

"We believe that the recession and mortgage foreclosure crisis explains this decline," Antonio Gonzalez, director of the William C. Velasquez Institute, based in San Antonio, told the Houston Chronicle. "It hit blacks and Latinos and the lower middle-class people first.

"When people lose their jobs or homes, they usually have to move elsewhere. When you move, you have to re-register, and we suspect that didn't happen in 2009-10. ... The law of unintended consequences is at work here. This administration, like the last one, didn't have an answer for home foreclosures. The unintended consequence is a dampening of Latino voter turnout."

Academic experts and advocates agree that increasing registration is the key to taking advantage of the opportunities available to influence the outcome of the 2012 election, perhaps more on Capitol Hill than at the White House.

Gonzalez, who also heads the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project, said that while just 15% of the Latino vote is in so-called battleground states for the presidential race, this year offers numerous opportunities for Latinos to increase their ranks on Capitol Hill.

At the top of Gonzalez' list was the newly created 33rd Congressional District, near Dallas, a seat reflecting the rise in Texas' population, an increase due in large part to the state's growing Latino population.

The Houston Chronicle noted that while the Hispanic population in Texas grew by 2.8 million in the past decade, the number of registered Hispanic voters declined by 100,000 between 2008-2010.

The 33rd District reflects the changing demographics of the Dallas area, Gonzalez said. "Big D" is becoming more Latino, and the population in the 33rd is nearly two-thirds Latino.
The University of Washington's Matt Baretto calls the problem a "registration deficit," pointing to such states as North Carolina and Virginia, where the shortfall threatens or, at least, delays Latino impact from reaching its potential.

Baretto estimates that 70% of Latino voters back President Barack Obama despite disappointment over the failure to see immigration reform legislation enacted. But again, he said, the issue is turnout, which begins with registration.

As for immigration, which conventional wisdom often sees as the issue of greatest importance to Latinos, Baretto said that it falls behind the economy and jobs, not to mention education and health care, for most Latinos.

In the end, the issue comes down to what can be done to increase Latino registration and voter turnout.

Gustavo Razzetti, chief strategy and engagement officer at Grupo Gallegos, based in Los Angeles, said that fear and apathy may be dampening turnout.

"The most obvious answer is lack of information," said Razzetti, who has more than 20 years' experience in U.S. and Latin American markets. "Not understanding how the system works and the fear to take time off of work appear on top of the list. Yet when reviewing other reasons (legal residents who haven't become U.S. citizens or feel that their votes don't count), it seems that one of the most important factors is that Latinos don't care. And I'm not saying it in a negative way; it's simply that if they don't believe that their vote will impact their everyday life, why care to vote or to get the citizenship?"

Razzetti offers this advice: "Candidates and parties need to make a strong effort to engage Latinos. They need to understand that educating Latinos is important but only the first step."

Razzetti suggested such unlikely ideas as "voto trucks," modeled after food trucks, or "voting empanada/tamale stands outside markets" or working voting into the plots of Spanish-language telenovelas to spur interest, registration and, ultimately, voting.

"There's room for a true leader who can inspire Latinos to take a more active civic role as well as community support. Political participation needs to be encouraged at home, school and in the community in general," he said. "Family and friends play a critical role in encouraging other family and friends to vote. Organizations need to consider this as part of their outreach strategy."

Florida Republican Introduces DREAM Act Alternative in House

The Hill (Article by Daniel Strauss):  A Republican congressman introduced alternative immigration legislation to the DREAM Act on Wednesday.

The Studying Towards Residency Status Act, introduced by Rep. David Rivera (R-Fla.), offers young immigrants living in the country illegally a chance to be granted non-immigrant status for five years if they meet certain criteria. They must have entered the U.S. before they were 16, have lived in the country for five consecutive years, earned a high school diploma and been accepted to a 4-year institution of higher learning.

The bill is meant as an alternative to Sen. Dick Durbin's (D-Ill.) Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, which provides a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants provided they have demonstrated good moral character and are working toward completing a degree at a college or university or serving in the military. Sen. Marco Rubio, a fellow Florida Republican who is friends with Rivera, plans on introducing an alternative to Durbin's bill by the end of the summer.

Rubio's bill would provide non-immigrant visas to the children of illegal immigrants provided they attend college or serve in the military. Unlike Durbin's bill, Rubio's bill will not provide a path to citizenship.

"The STARS Act would allow undocumented students who arrived here at a young age, graduated from high school and are accepted into a university, to apply for a five-year conditional non-immigrant status," Rivera said in floor remarks.

According to an aide, Rivera has had discussions with Rubio over their proposals.

"Congressman Rivera has had discussion about the STARS Act with Sen. Rubio, but the congressman recognizes that the House and Senate each have their own legislative process," the aide said. "The STARS Act is meant to start the conversation in the House of Representatives in the hopes of achieving some sort of immigration reform in the 112th Congress."

Durbin and other Democrats have expressed openness to working with Republicans to pass some kind of immigration reform legislation but it's unclear how successful that effort would be given the opposing views over granting citizenship.

Rubio's legislation could be an effort to appeal to Hispanics in order to help Mitt Romney. Rubio is often mentioned as a top prospect for the vice presidential spot on the 2012 Republican ticket. Romney has said he is "studying" the proposal as it's crafted but is yet to endorse it.

Romney has said, if elected, president, he would veto Durbin's DREAM Act.

Students Press for Action on Immigration

New York Times (Article by Julia Preston):  Young illegal immigrants, saying President Obama has done little to diminish the threat of deportations they face despite repeated promises, have started a campaign to press him to use executive powers to allow them to remain legally in the country.

The campaign is led by the United We Dream Network, the largest organization of young immigrants here illegally who would be eligible for legal status under a proposal in Congress known as the Dream Act.

The young people are among the most visible activists in a growing immigrant movement. Their push to focus pressure on the White House reflects deep frustration with Congress for its lack of action on the legislation and with the administration for continuing to deport illegal immigrant students, although Mr. Obama says he supports them.

This week student leaders presented White House officials with a letter signed by more than 90 immigration law professors who argued that the president has clear executive authority to halt deportations of illegal immigrants who might benefit from the student legislation. The professors, from universities across the country, pointed to several measures the president could take under existing laws to defer deportations and permit young immigrants to stay temporarily.

On May 17 the students held small-scale actions to publicize their demands in 19 locations around the country, including at the Obama re-election campaign offices in Miami. Gaby Pacheco, a leader of the student network, said Wednesday that they were preparing larger protests for mid-June if the White House did not respond.

"They say all the time that Dreamers shouldn't be deported," Ms. Pacheco said, referring to the young immigrants. "We've heard a lot of talk, but we have not seen action."

The students escalating actions could be a problem for Mr. Obama, who is counting on strong support from Latino voters to win again in several states that supported him in 2008, particularly Colorado, Florida, Nevada and New Mexico. Polls show very high support among Latinos for some version of the Dream Act, including 91 percent in the 2011 National Survey of Latinos from the Pew Hispanic Center.

The law professors letter, which reads like a legal brief, was intended as a response to administration officials who have said Mr. Obama does not have the authority to issue a reprieve for large groups of illegal immigrants. One measure they cite was used by President Jimmy Carter to admit thousands of Cubans to the United States in 1980, during the mass exodus known as the Mariel boatlift.

"We did not want doubt about the president's legal authority to muddy the waters of the debate," said Hiroshi Motomura, a law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, who was an author of the letter.

Young illegal immigrants say they are impatient because each year more of them graduate from high school and cannot attend college because of high tuition rates and barriers to financial aid they face because of their status. More recently, students who did attend college are graduating and facing larger obstacles because they cannot legally work in the United States.

"It's not a question of whether the president can or can't," said Lorella Praeli, 23, a student from Peru here illegally who also is a leader of the immigrant student network. "It's a question of whether he will or he won't."

Administration officials said this week that Mr. Obama was not likely to take sweeping action on illegal immigrant students before the election. Officials fear an angry reaction from Republicans in Congress, who have warned the White House against what they see as an amnesty by fiat. The officials fear Republican opposition would ruin any chance for future legislation.

In a speech this month at an immigration forum in Washington, Cecilia Muñoz, the director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, referred to more limited actions Mr. Obama had already taken to avoid deporting students. "It is unreasonable to expect that these tools, no matter how faithfully applied, can fix what is broken about our immigration system," she said.

A senior administration official added on Wednesday, "The main focus needs to be on Congress, because only legislation they pass can provide Dream students with a permanent solution, which is what they deserve."

The current proposal of the Dream Act would give legal status to foreign-born high school graduates who came to the United States illegally as children, if they complete two years of college or military service. Mr. Obama pushed Congress to pass the legislation in 2010. It passed the House, but was blocked by Republicans in the Senate.

Opposition to the measure has since grown among Republicans, and the party's presumptive presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, has said he would veto some versions of it.

Last month Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, said he was preparing a new bill that would give temporary status to illegal immigrant students, but might not include a path to citizenship. Details of Mr. Rubio's proposal remain unclear because he has not yet submitted a written bill.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

New Web Tool Helps Citizens in Training

Minneapolis Star Tribune (Article by Allie Shah): I've been to many naturalization ceremonies and have always enjoyed watching the excitement of newly minted U.S. citizens as they recite the Oath of Allegiance.

That proud moment comes only after they've passed the required citizenship test. The oral exam requires basic knowledge of U.S. history and government and enough English to communicate. To help aspiring citizens get ready for the test, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and the Smithsonian Institution recently launched an interactive website.

Called "Preparing for the Oath: U.S. History and Civics for Citizenship," the site is at www.americanhistory.si.edu/citizenship.

It uses videos and other multimedia tools to display relevant artifacts from the Smithsonian Institution's collection. Information on the site covers 15 themes, including symbols and holidays; voting; U.S. geography; the president; the courts and Congress.

"It brings to life the country's history through objects and illustrations and other engaging visuals," said Daniel Cosgrove, a USCIS spokesman. "It really does a great job in going beyond rote memorization and allowing people to really learn the history."

The civics portion of the citizenship test includes 100 questions from which the officer administering the test can draw.

A person applying for citizenship will be asked 10 questions and must answer six of them correctly in order to pass, Cosgrove explained. The new Web study aid incorporates information from those 100 questions.

The launching of the Web tool is the latest effort by the USCIS to demystify the process of becoming a citizen. An estimated 8 million people in the United States are eligible for citizenship and have not applied.

"The citizenship test was never designed as a barrier to U.S. citizenship," Cosgrove said. "It was designed as a tool for people to learn about our history and civics to help them integrate better. In other words, it gives them a stake."

Smith, Griffin Seek to Ease Path for Highly Skilled Foreign Workers

CQ (Article by David Harrison): Signaling a possible détente on a narrow slice of the immigration debate, House Republicans are planning an election year effort to make more visas available to highly skilled foreign graduates.

Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, and committee member Tim Griffin, R-Ark., are working on a bill that would shift up to 50,000 green cards from a visa lottery open to countries around the world and funnel them to highly skilled workers. Their proposal is one of several that have surfaced in recent weeks from both parties and in both chambers to grant more visas to foreigners who earn science and technology degrees from U.S. universities.

Employers say that not enough Americans are earning master’s or doctoral degrees in science, technology, engineering and math — known as the STEM fields — forcing them to recruit foreign students. But there aren't enough green cards to meet the demand, consigning many of these recruits to work for years on temporary work permits that forbid them from changing jobs.

Technology companies have been pushing Congress to lift some of the visa restrictions, saying current law puts the United States at a competitive disadvantage for recruiting top talent. While lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have been receptive, the question of green cards for highly skilled workers often gets swept up in the debate over a broad immigration overhaul that has bitterly divided the two parties.

Now, though, some consensus is forming on the narrow question of green cards for STEM graduates. The legislative focus on the relatively small pool of foreigners is an acknowledgement that another attempt at a comprehensive overhaul won’t happen anytime soon.

“"For a good part of the last decade, there was the all-or-nothing campaign — comprehensive or nothing,"” said Bruce A. Morrison, a Connecticut Democrat and former chairman of the House Judiciary Immigration subcommittee who now works as a lobbyist. "“I never thought that was a good idea myself, but it was governing the politics. I think it'’s all broken down.”"

Sens. Chris Coons, D-Del., and Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., introduced a measure (S 3192) this month that would increase the overall number of green cards and award them to STEM graduates. A separate bill (S 3217), sponsored by a bipartisan group of five senators, would produce a similar effect.

In another sign of a thaw, Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, said last week that he is ready to drop his hold on a bipartisan House bill (HR 3012) that would lift the per-country limits on green cards. That would reduce the backlog of green card applicants from countries where demand for the visas is high, such as India or China.

Grassley said he was able to include language tightening the requirements for temporary work permits known as H-1B visas. But two other Republican senators oppose the legislation and could block it should Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., attempt to bring it up.

"Even though many of the Senate bills have bipartisan support, they are unlikely to progress far because they increase the overall number of green cards available, something that GOP immigration hawks will not accept." Griffin said increasing the net number of green cards awarded "“would be more difficult to sell, and I don’'t think it’'s necessary.”"

Rather than add to the visa pool, his measure would swap the lottery visas --  also called diversity visas — for green cards for STEM graduates. The diversity visas, which originated in a 1990 immigration law, are granted to 50,000 applicants drawn at random every year who need only a high school diploma or equivalent work experience. Republicans have been skeptical about the visas. Last year, Rep. Robert W. Goodlatte, R-Va., introduced legislation (HR 704) to eliminate the diversity visa program.

"As originally envisioned, the House proposal would have applied only to foreign students who earn a doctorate from American universities, but it was expanded to include master’s graduates as well," Griffin said.

"While the two House members have yet to release any legislative language, “I would hope we would make some decisions within the next month,”" Smith said.

They have been working with Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who this month introduced a version of their bill (S 3185). Cornyn said he pre-empted his House colleagues "because “it wasn't moving as fast as I would like.”"


Attracting Democrats

Griffin and Smith say they want Democrats in both chambers to sign off. So far, none have made their views clear.

Charles E. Schumer of New York, the Senate’s No. 3 Democrat and chairman of the Judiciary Immigration subcommittee, helped write the 1990 law that created the diversity visas when he was in the House. He did not sound optimistic last week about the prospects for a deal.

"“We'’re trying to work out some kind of compromise with the Republicans in the House, but they've been pretty intransigent, as have some of the Republicans on this side,”" Schumer said.

Morrison, however, said he expects Democrats would eventually sign on after negotiating some sort of agreement.

A House Democratic aide said Democrats would oppose simply trading one form of visas for another.

According to a Senate Democratic aide, Democrats would demand that such legislation be “balanced.” They would like to remove limits on the number of green cards available to spouses and children of current legal permanent residents. Right now, those visas are capped, creating a backlog of applicants and forcing families to live apart for years.

Democrats and Republicans struck a similar deal on last year’s bill lifting the per-country caps on green cards. The parties agreed to also increase the caps for family-based visas, which would reduce the amount of time that relatives of green-card holders from certain countries would have to wait before being allowed to move to the United States.

No matter how the negotiations turn out, observers say it’s unlikely that any measure will be enacted before the end of this Congress. Floor time is limited, and any immigration bill is likely to attract a slew of amendments, complicating passage. The election also makes it more difficult to strike deals.

But lobbyists say the flurry of activity over the past few weeks could set the stage for action early in the next Congress.

Griffin, for his part, said he doesn't see his legislation as a marker to jump-start a future discussion.

"“We’'re not interested in making a point,"” he said. “"We want to get this passed.”"

Romney's Birth Certificate Evokes His Father's Controversy

Reuters: Finally, there is definitive proof: The presidential candidate was born in the United States, and his father was not. 

Yes, Republican Mitt Romney appears eligible to be president, according to a copy of Romney's birth certificate released to Reuters by his campaign. Willard Mitt Romney, the certificate says, was born in Detroit on March 12, 1947. 

His mother, Lenore, was born in Utah and his father, former Michigan governor and one-time Republican presidential candidate George Romney, was born in Mexico. 

So on a day when real estate and media mogul Donald Trump was trying to help Mitt Romney by stirring up a new round of questions about whether Democratic President Barack Obama was born in the United States, Romney's own birth record became a reminder that in the 1968 presidential campaign, his father had faced his own "birther" controversy. 

Back then, George Romney - who died in 1995 - was a moderate who was challenging eventual President Richard Nixon in the Republican primaries. 

With Texas win, Romney secures delegates to win nomination 

Records in a George Romney archive at the University of Michigan describe how questions about his eligibility to be president surfaced almost as soon as he began his short-lived campaign. 

In many ways, they appear to echo today's complaints that Trump and some other conservative "birthers" have made about Obama while questioning whether Obama - whose father was from Kenya and mother was from Kansas - was born in Hawaii. 

 In George Romney's case, most of the questions were raised initially by Democrats who cited the Constitution's requirement that only a "natural born citizen" can be president. 

As early as February 1967 - a year before the first 1968 presidential primary - some newspapers were raising questions as to whether George Romney's place of birth disqualified him from the presidency. 

By May 1967, U.S. congressman Emmanuel Celler, a Democrat who chaired the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee, was expressing "serious doubts" about George Romney's eligibility. 

The next month, another Democratic congressman inserted a lengthy treatise into the Congressional Record in which a government lawyer - writing in a "personal capacity" - argued that George Romney was ineligible for the White House because he was born outside U.S. territory. 


Deja vu 

In what today might seem like deja vu, eminent legal authorities soon were queuing up to argue in favor of George Romney's eligibility. 

The New York Law Journal published a lengthy argument by a senior partner from Sullivan & Cromwell, one of Manhattan's elite law firms, arguing that the fact that both of George Romney's parents were U.S. citizens clearly established him as a "natural born citizen" who was eligible to be president.

George Romney himself was unequivocal. 

"I am a natural born citizen. My parents were American citizens. I was a citizen at birth," he said, according to a typewritten statement found in his archives. 


Mitt Romney takes on Las Vegas 

At one point, the Congressional Research Service - an arm of the Library of Congress that is supposed to provide authoritative but impartial research for elected members - advised that its analysts agreed with George Romney, according to a congressional source. 

In a paper in November aimed at clarifying presidential eligibility, the Congressional Research Service declared that the practical, legal meaning of "natural born citizen" would "most likely include" not only anyone born on U.S. soil but anyone born overseas of at least one parent who was a U.S. citizen. 


Romney's dance with Trump 

Mitt Romney has tried to avoid getting caught up in Trump's focus on Obama's birthplace. 

"Governor Romney has said repeatedly that he believes President Obama was born in the United States," said Eric Fehrnstrom, a senior adviser to Romney. 

However, the presumed Republican nominee has not distanced himself from Trump, creating what some analysts said seems to be a quiet endorsement of Trump's efforts to raise questions about Obama among voters. 

Michael Cohen, special counsel to Trump, said that Trump and Romney never talk about issues Trump has raised elsewhere regarding Obama's birth certificate. Instead they talk about jobs, the economy and other matters of public policy. 


Romney plays with fire in Trump association

Asked whether Trump sees any double standard in going after Obama when Romney's father faced similar questions about his presidential eligibility, Cohen told Reuters: "I don't think (Trump) has ever thought about Mitt Romney's father's birth certificate." 

Cohen said Trump recently revived the issue of Obama's birthplace because journalists asked him about the issue after a right-wing website published an old blurb for an Obama book that suggested that Obama was born in Kenya. The literary agent who wrote the blurb subsequently said it was written in error. 

Cohen said Trump believes "the president of the United States should be the single most transparent human being on this planet. This president lacks that transparency."

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Vermont Now Part of Feds' 'Secure Communities' Program

Associated Press (by Wilson Ring):  A federal program aimed at identifying illegal immigrants who are arrested for crimes expanded to Vermont on Tuesday, touching off opposition from advocacy groups for immigrants. 

Those groups say the Secure Communities program was implemented by the federal government in the state without consulting state officials, and they fear it will help destroy a trust that most of the state's law enforcement community has worked to build with the immigrant community. 

The program enables police to check the immigration status of suspected illegal immigrants by sharing their fingerprints with the Department of Homeland Security. 

The group Migrant Justice planned a Burlington protest Tuesday afternoon outside the Vermont campaign headquarters of President Barack Obama. 

The advocates say the program could result in the deportation of people stopped by police for offenses as minor as a broken tail light. "For our communities we know it's going to make a big difference," Migrant Justice organizer Natalia Fajardo said. 

The Department of Homeland Security says the program is designed to identify people who have already been arrested for serious crimes. Under the program when state and local law enforcement agencies send fingerprint records to the FBI to check for criminal histories those records will be shared automatically with Homeland Security. 

Vermont Public Safety Commissioner Keith Flynn said the state didn't have a choice about participating in the program, but concerns about people being caught up after minor brushes with the law were unfounded.

 "This is only going to come into play when it results in an arrest when fingerprints are taken," Flynn said. "The ordinary car stop wouldn't result in fingerprints." 

And he said the state's participation in the program wouldn't affect the state police's policy of "bias free" policing, in which troopers don't ask about the immigration status of people they come in contact with unless there has been criminal activity. 

 "It's very important the inroads we have made with the immigrant community and we want keep that momentum going," Flynn said. 

Last month, Homeland Security modified the way the program works so that suspected illegal immigrants arrested on minor traffic violations and who have no criminal histories will only be considered for detention if they are later convicted of those offenses. 

Homeland Security says that since the Secure Communities program was implemented in its first jurisdiction in 2008, more than 135,000 illegal immigrants convicted of crimes have been deported. Of those about 49,000 of those were convicted of violent crimes such as murder, rape and the sexual abuse of children. 

The program has been implemented in 2,990 jurisdictions in 49 states and Puerto Rico. Maine is now the only state where it has not been implemented.

Report Sees Economic Drag in Immigration Policies

Wall Street Journal (Article by Amelia Harris):  New York City's main business group is calling for revamped federal immigration policies to maintain the U.S. role as a global magnet for talented employees. 

In a report released Tuesday, the Partnership for New York City claims that immigration laws have failed to keep up with the country's economic needs. The report, co-written with the Partnership for a New American Economy, describes current immigration policies as irrational and undirected, citing low limits on visas and bureaucratic obstacles to hiring. 

The 48-page paper argues that the U.S. faces a stalled economy and shortage of workers in growing innovation industries like science, technology and engineering without changes. Immigration roadblocks in the U.S. send entrepreneurs to other countries, who are quick to welcome them, the report said. 

Elsewhere, countries like Australia, Canada, Ireland and Singapore have prioritized economic needs over politics by streamlining immigration procedures for highly qualified workers and international students. Canada and Ireland, in particular, have succeeded in attracting immigrant investors and entrepreneurs. 

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, speaking at the New York Forum where the report was launched Tuesday morning, blamed politics for blocking needed immigration reforms. 

"It's crazy if you think government's job is to look to the future for America's economy and our society and education," he said. "It is not crazy if you think government's job is to keep their own party in power and to pander to the public."

"We have walked away from our future because political leaders are focused on being re-elected," Bloomberg added. "We are not looking at the benefits of immigration. We have walked away from what made this country great."

The mayor rehearsed New York's long history of growth fueled by those born overseas. He said the city would be first in line if the U.S. adopted a regional strategy like Canada, where states can target the workers required for specific industries. 

"We will take as many [immigrants] as we can get," Bloomberg said. 

The report outlined six recommended changes, including awarding more green cards based on economic needs and scrapping the 65,000 cap on high-skill H1B visas. 

Approximately 15% of green cards are awarded based on employment needs, but the report claimed that about half of those go to spouses and children. In contrast, the report said, a quarter of Canadian visas were for economic reasons; in Australia the figure is more than 40%.

U.S. Sees Other Countries Luring Expatriates to Return

New York Times (by Julia Preston): The United States is facing intense competition from foreign countries, especially China, that are seeking to persuade highly skilled citizens who have settled in this country to return home to start businesses there, according to a report released Tuesday by an immigration group led by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York. 

China is proving the most aggressive and ambitious among the United States economic competitors in seeking to reverse a brain drain and lure back their scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs, the report by Mr. Bloombergs group, the Partnership for a New American Economy, found. 

The report was broadly critical of the American immigration system, which it said is slow, inflexible and not synchronized with the nations labor needs. Self-inflicted economic wounds caused by the system, the report says, discourage foreigners from investing and block foreign students with advanced degrees from American universities from remaining here. The report was prepared by Mr. Bloomberg's group and the Partnership for New York City, a business organization. 

Two years ago, China started a program focused on talent development to draw in Chinese who studied or worked abroad, according to the report. China is offering bonuses equivalent to about $158,000 to experienced university professors and researchers, particularly in the sciences and technology, who return to teach. 

Returning scholars and business people are offered housing subsidies and tax exemptions to locate new enterprises in government-designated districts. One program is designed to attract Chinese expatriates who hold overseas patents in specialized science fields, the report found. China is also recruiting Chinese managers in high-level positions in non-Chinese companies. 

A review of the results of the Chinese program showed that 55 percent of Chinese who returned under its auspices came from the United States. 

Last year, the study found, about 160,000 students from China were enrolled in American universities, more than from any other country, and they were far more likely than Americans to be studying engineering, science or technology. While the growth of American students in those fields is among the lowest of any academic category, the analysis reported, about 60 percent of foreign graduate students in this country in 2010 were enrolled in those subjects. 

Limits on residence visas for foreign students graduating from American universities has forced thousands to leave in recent years, the study finds. The United States has no visa for foreign entrepreneurs with novel ideas for starting businesses here. 

But Canada and other countries are also vigorously recruiting highly skilled foreigners trained in the United States who are frustrated with the cumbersome immigration system here, according to the report. 

Singapore gives a one-year visa as well as matching funds to foreign entrepreneurs who invest $50,000, with the possibility of renewal. Chile offers work visas and subsidies up to $40,000 to technology entrepreneurs who go there to start businesses. 

Mr. Bloomberg has been an outspoken advocate for immigration, saying it has been vital to the continued growth of New York. The report dismissed as a short-term challenge the lingering high unemployment in this country that has generated forceful resistance to expanding immigration in Congress. 

In a move Tuesday that showed progress in the American system but also highlighted its inefficiencies, Citizenship and Immigration Services, the agency that grants immigration documents, started a Web site where for the first time foreigners can apply electronically. Until now, all procedures have been done on paper. 

Alejandro Mayorkas, the agency's director, called the Web site a significant milestone in its history. 

"For now, though, the site will handle only one type of application, for temporary visitors who want to stay longer. The agency hopes all documents will be processed electronically within the next few years," said Christopher Bentley, an agency spokesman.

Senate Immigration Bill Creates Two New Visas to Encourage New Talent

National Journal (Article by Juliana Gruenwald):  A bipartisan Senate immigration bill introduced on Tuesday would create two new types of visas to attract and keep immigrants skilled in the fields where the United States is weakest: science, technology, engineering, and math. The bill is designed to follow on the success of the Jobs Act in helping start-ups get capital. 

Technology firms have increasingly complained that without changes to the current immigration system, they may be forced to move research and other projects offshore so they can hire the high-skilled workers they need. 

The legislation, known as the Start-up Act 2.0, would create a new visa for foreign students who receive graduate degrees from U.S. schools in science, technology, engineering, or math fields. 

Those foreigners could eventually obtain permanent residency as long as they remain active working in the so-called STEM fields for at least five years. It would also create a new entrepreneurs visa for 75,000 skilled legal immigrants a year who start a U.S. business, employ Americans, and invest or raise capital in the United States. 

The bill, a revamped version of a measure senators offered late last year, includes tax incentives to help new start-ups and would authorize research and development focused on helping universities bring research to market. 

Paired with the access to capital is access to talent, Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., said at a news conference with the bills other cosponsors, Sens. Chris Coons, D-Del.; Jerry Moran, R-Kan.; and Marco Rubio, R-Fla. "We are in a global competition for talent. And if we had the immigration policies back in 90s and 80s that we have today, I'm not sure we'd see the tremendous innovation explosion that took place in America in the 1990s."

He and others pointed to research from the Kauffman Foundation that found most of the new jobs created in the United States in recent decades were generated by companies that were less than five years old. Echoing the concerns of tech companies, President Obama has endorsed calls to make it easier for firms to keep talented foreign students in the United States after they graduate. Obama's likely GOP presidential challenger, Mitt Romney, also said he supports allowing foreigners with STEM degrees from U.S. schools to remain here. 

So far, however, efforts to reform skilled immigration policies have been weighed down by the politics surrounding broad immigration reform. 

The senators acknowledged the difficulty of moving any bill, particularly one connected to the hot-button issue of immigration during an election year. But its sponsors say they hope their bill can generate the same momentum that helped propel the Jobs Act, which was signed into law in April. 

"We're of the opinion that now is the time, not the lame-duck session. Now is the time, not 2013," Moran said.

After the news conference, a handful of tech lobbyists approached Senate aides and asked them what they can do to help move the legislation. Michael Petricone, the Consumer Electronics Association's senior vice president, told National Journal that the legislation is something the vast majority of senators agree makes sense and is low-hanging fruit. 

In addition to CEA, many other tech groups and firms support the bill, including Google. "As a onetime start-up that now employs thousands of Americans and continues to hire many more each year, we are proud to support Senators Moran, Warner, Rubio, and Coons' Start-up Act, former Rep. Susan Molinari, R-N.Y., who is now Google's vice president of public policy," said in a statement. "Small businesses often use Google to grow, expand, and thrive online; and helping these businesses succeed is a key to our success."

A handful of other bills have been introduced in the Senate and House that also would make it easier for U.S. companies to keep high-skilled foreign workers in the United States. A bill that would remove per-country quotas on work visas offered by Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, passed the House late last year but has stalled in the Senate.

Senators Beckon Immigrant Entrepreneurs and Workers with Startup Act 2.0

Washington Post (Article by J.D. Harrison)A bipartisan group of senators has introduced legislation to help American companies hire immigrant workers, particularly those with hard-to-find math and science expertise but the bill faces a tough battle on the Hill. 

Startup Act 2.0 would essentially create two new types of visas, one for foreign students who obtain graduate degrees in science-and math-related fields from American universities, and another that offers permanent residence to immigrants who start successful companies and create jobs in the United States.

Similar legislation failed earlier this year after it got caught in larger questions about immigration policy, and complaints that the non-natives could squeeze Americans out of well-paying jobs. 

Freshman Senators Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.) worked across party lines on the new bill, which would also eliminate caps on the number of work-based visas allotted to each foreign nation, further easing the path for skilled immigrants who want to bring their talents and business ideas to the United States. 

"Startup Act 2.0 will help solidify America's position as the worlds most entrepreneurial nation," Steve Case, co-founder of AOL and member of President Obama's Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, said in a statement. "Winning the global battle for talent is essential if we are going to keep our entrepreneurial economy moving forward."

The United States is currently falling behind in that battle, according to research published the same day by The Partnership for a New American Economy and Partnership for New York City, which shows a widening gap between the supply and demand of American graduates educated in the so-called STEM fields of science, technology engineering and mathematics. 

Right now, the number of job openings requiring such degrees is increasing at three times the rate of the rest of the job market; however, college students majoring in non-STEM fields still outnumber their math- and science-minded counterparts 5-to-1, according to the National Science Foundation. Moreover, the growth rate of new STEM majors remains among the slowest of any category. 

Should the trend continue without intervention, American businesses would be looking for an estimated 800,000 workers with advanced STEM degrees in 2018 but only find 550,000 American graduates with that type of training. 

But thats where easing restrictions on immigrants can help, according to the researchers behind the report, who point to studies showing that 60 percent of foreign graduate students in the United States were enrolled in science and engineering in 2010. In addition, a study earlier this year showed that half of the nations top venture-backed companies have at least one immigrant founder, and three out of four claim at least one foreign-born executive. 

However, many foreign-born graduates are forced to return to their home countries, where they often create or work for businesses that compete against those in the United States. 

"America has always been a magnet for the world's most talented and hardest working," New York City Mayor Bloomberg said. "But we are quickly losing our edge as other countries adopt smarter economic-driven immigration policies. The future is on the line now is the time to reform the system and welcome the workers who will continue our success as the world's leading economy."

Collectively, the groups urged federal policy makers to start prioritizing the nation's economic goals ahead of their political views on immigration, beginning with legislative recommendations that nearly match verbatim those unveiled hours later in the Senate. 

"To get America's economic engine roaring once again, entrepreneurs, both American and foreign-born, must be free to pursue their ideas, form companies in the United States and hire employees," Sen. Moran said in a statement following the bill introduction. 

But with the election looming and partisan tensions running extraordinarily high, what chance does Startup Act 2.0 have in Congress? Moran said that likely depends on whether lawmakers can set aside their differences on sweeping, comprehensive immigration reform and focus on the intentions of this more targeted piece of legislation. 

"I would guess that 80 percent of my colleagues in Congress would agree with the visa provisions in this legislation," he said. "And what I would encourage is that we not take the attitude or approach that unless we do everything, we can't do anything."

4 Senators Propose Easing Visa Limits for Highly Skilled

New York Times (Article by Jonathan Weisman): A bipartisan group of four senators proposed on Tuesday easing visa limits for highly skilled immigrants and foreign students, a move that challenges Congressional leaders on their fixed positions on the issue of immigration during an election year. 

Two Democrats, Senators Mark Warner of Virginia and Chris Coons of Delaware, and two Republicans, Senators Marco Rubio of Florida and Jerry Moran of Kansas, introduced the legislation, which is a break for both parties. Democrats have traditionally held highly skilled worker visas as a bargaining chip for measures on lower-skilled immigrants that are far less politically popular. Many Republicans have opposed any expansion of visas. 

But the senators, appearing at a news conference on Tuesday, said the struggling economy necessitated steps that move past those positions. Mr. Rubio is trying to gather support for his version of legislation that would offer legal status to young illegal immigrants brought to the country as children, but he said he would not try to link his version of the Dream Act to the new high-skilled worker proposal. That has to pass on its own merits, he said. 

Senators Coons and Warner agreed, even as they reiterated their support for comprehensive immigration legislation. 

"We've" got to grow jobs, Mr. Warner said. 

"We can't let the perfect be the enemy of the good," Mr. Coons said. 

The new legislation would create a new type of visa for as many as 50,000 foreign students graduating from American universities with masters degrees or doctorates in science, technology, engineering or mathematics. Visa recipients would have to show they stayed in science and technology fields for five consecutive years before they could get permanent resident status. The proposal would also create 75,000 new visas for immigrant entrepreneurs in the science and technology field. 

The legislation would also eliminate numerical limitations on employment-based visas that use per-country quotas. And it would make tax changes that favor start-ups, including making permanent President Obama's 100 percent exemption on capital gains taxes for investments in small start-ups. 

"It's new businesses that create jobs," said Robert Litan, vice president for research and policy at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, "not necessarily small businesses."

The lawmakers are trying to build off the success they had with the JOBS Act, which focused on easing capital to small businesses. Joining them at the news conference was Steve Case, a co-founder of America Online and one of the JOBS Acts biggest champions. 

"This economy was built on risk-taking entrepreneurs," Mr. Case said. "It's important that we double down."

For decades, immigration measures have been far more controversial than straight business bills. Democrats and immigration advocates have held back visas for highly skilled workers and temporary agriculture worker programs to martial support among business groups, reasoning that once they passed, Republican allies would have secured their priorities and any effort to get a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants would lose the few Republican allies it has. 

Immigration opponents have said high-skilled visa expansions take good-paying jobs from Americans and work as a disincentive for students who should be striving for those jobs. 

Those factors make the new push for four relatively new senators an uphill climb. 

"As the new guys, we didn't get the memo that in an election year, we're supposed to take the year off," Mr. Warner said. "Clearly, China is not taking the year off."