AILA Issue Paper on Opportunities in U.S./Mexico Discussions for Immigration Reform

THE ISSUE: The current discussions between the United States and Mexico offer an historic opportunity to achieve needed reforms in our immigration system. Such reforms will contribute to our national security, respond to worker shortages that remain a critical issue because of long-term demographic, economic and education trends, and reunify families. 

Needed reforms should be comprehensive and would include opportunities for work authorization and legal status through a regularization program for undocumented people living, working in, and contributing to the U.S., and opportunities to bring in essential workers through a reform of current programs and the development of a new temporary workers program that differs from existing and past models, and allows workers to enter the U.S. safely, legally, and expeditiously. In addition, reforms should reduce backlogs in family-based immigration and delays in business-based immigration. 

BACKGROUND: Our current immigration system has failed in many ways and needs to be fixed. Employers in several sectors (health care and construction especially) are unable to get the workers they need, and as the economy pushes ahead other employers will experience worker shortages, families remain separated for years due to bureaucratic processing delays and long backlogs, hard-working tax-paying people who contribute to our economy are undocumented and forced to live an underground existence, people are losing their lives trying to cross the border, and smugglers are profiting from this trade in human lives. The United States needs to reform its immigration system to recognize the contributions that immigrants have made and their continued importance to our national well-being. These factors will only intensify as the U.S. emerges from the current economic slowdown and from the shadows of the September 11 terrorist attacks. The U.S./Mexico discussions have internationalized the issue of immigration and have led to a vast broadening of the policy debate in Washington, D.C.

CURRENT STATUS: Along with its focus on national security, the Bush Administration continues to affirm the importance of the U.S./Mexico bilateral efforts, with the U.S./Mexico working teams officially meeting on a regular basis to continue the discussions that had been disrupted by the September 11 terrorist attacks. 

AILA’s POSITION: AILA believes that the U.S./Mexico discussions offer our country the chance to initiate long-needed reforms in our immigration system. The principles noted below are central to successful immigration reform. 

  1. Approaching Immigration Reform in a Comprehensive Manner: The United States’ current immigration system needs to be reformed to reflect current needs and realities. The status quo is unacceptable, especially in a post-September 11 world in which enhanced security becomes a higher priority, as does the need to balance our security with the continued flow of people and goods. As a result of our current system, families are separated for long periods of time and U.S. employers cannot bring in needed workers. People are forced to live an underground existence in the shadows, not making themselves known to the government for fear of being separated from their families and jobs. The current enforcement system has failed to prevent illegal immigration and precious resources that should be spent on enhancing our security are wasted on stopping hard-working people from filling vacancies in the U.S. labor market. Border enforcement efforts that do little to enhance our security have led to people losing their lives, while current laws make it difficult for many to enter legally. Our immigration system needs to be reformed so that legality is the norm, and immigration is legal, safe, orderly, and reflective of the needs of American families, businesses, and national security. While discussions between the U.S. and Mexican governments naturally focus on the issues facing the two countries, migration issues are best addressed in a “Mexico-plus” manner that would not preclude remedies for nationals from other countries. 
  2. Implementing Immigration Reform as an Important Component of our Enhanced National Security. Immigration reform that legalizes hard-working people already here and that creates a new temporary program will help the U.S. government focus resources on enhancing security, not on detaining hard-working people who are filling vacancies in the U.S. labor market or seeking to reunite with their close family members. In addition, reform that includes a new legalization program and a temporary worker program will encourage people to come out of the shadows and be scrutinized by our government. The legality that results from these initiatives will contribute to our national security.
  3. Developing a Regularization Program for People in the U.S. Without Authorization: People who work hard, pay taxes, and contribute to the U.S. should be given the opportunity to obtain permanent residence. This legalization would stabilize the workforce of U.S. employers, encourage people to come out of the shadows to be scrutinized by our government, and allow immigrants to work and travel legally and be treated equally. Many have been here for years, are paying taxes, raising families (typically including U.S. citizen and lawful permanent resident spouses and children), contributing to their communities and are essential to the industries within which they work. In order to unite families and keep them together, liberal and generous waivers must be made available for grounds of admissibility and deportability. It is neither in the best interests of the workers nor their employers for this situation to remain unaddressed.
  4. Creating a New Temporary Worker Program: Current immigration laws do not meet the needs of our economy for short- and long-term employees in those sectors currently experiencing worker shortages and others that are expected to experience shortages when the economy rebounds. A new temporary program would give workers the opportunity to work in areas of the country where they are needed and would give employers experiencing shortages the workforce they need. Current programs often have proven unusable by both employees and employers, and do not accommodate employers facing longer term, chronic labor shortages. The framework for a new temporary worker program must significantly differ from existing programs, and must respect both the labor needs of business as well as the rights of workers.
  5. Opening Up Legal Channels for Family- and Business-Based Immigration: Our immigration system has been characterized by long backlogs in family-based immigration and long delays in business-based immigration. Illegal immigration is a symptom of a system that fails to reunify families and address economic conditions in the U.S. and abroad. To ensure an orderly future process, it is critical to reduce bureaucratic obstacles and undue restrictions to permanent legal immigration. Developing an increased legal migration flow will make immigration more orderly and legal. It also will allow more people to reunite with their families and work legally in the U.S., and would facilitate fair, equitable, and efficient immigration law, policy, and processing. It is essential to make legal future immigration that otherwise will happen illegally.
  6. Adequately Funding Immigration Reform Initiatives: Immigration reform must include adequate funding to implement reform. Congress frequently passes new immigration laws without including adequate funding. Lack of adequate funding has contributed to the long backlogs and ineffective, inefficient and unfair services that currently characterize the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). Whether funds are directed to the INS or other entities to implement reform, any changes in the law must be accompanied by adequate funding, in the form of direct congressional appropriations.


Cite as AILA Doc. No. 02053000.