PublishedSeptember 21, 2010

Border Security Bill Reignites Call For Immigration Reform

While prospects for Congressional action on comprehensive immigration reform this year remain bleak, there has been some action on narrower immigration bills.  CCIA has supported and continues to support comprehensive immigration reform that would address long-standing issues of inflexible visa caps and backlogs faced by skilled foreign workers and their employers.

However, one piece of legislation enacted in August illustrates how an inappropriate linking of legal immigration and illegal immigration could potentially be highly problematic.

On August 13, the President signed into law a $600 million border security bill increasing personnel and equipment on the Mexican border.  It is to be funded by increasing visa fees by $2,000 on companies with more than 50 employees and who have more than half of their U.S. employees on H-1B or L visas.

While the measure would mostly affect only the U.S. subsidiaries of outsourcing firms based in India, the underlying philosophy of having employers of legal foreign workers pay for enforcement against illegal immigration is unsettling.  Once such a basis is established, there is a danger that the payment burden could be expanded more broadly to other employers.

U.S. employers of foreign workers have seen visa fees increase over the years to fund programs such as training and education for U.S. workers.  Yet singling them out to pay for border security breaks new and disturbing ground.  U.S. sponsors of work visas are engaged in the legal process of hiring foreign workers, and fulfill the many administrative and financial requirements of that process.  They have nothing to do with border security and illegal immigration — issues completely beyond their control.

It makes no sense to penalize those engaged in legal immigration to pay the costs of illegal immigration.  It would be akin to raising taxes on authentic products to pay for enforcement against the counterfeiting of those products.

A comprehensive approach to immigration reform that addresses both legal and illegal immigration may well be the only way to solve this great issue of our time.  Such an approach invariably involves compromises between stakeholders across the varied immigration landscape, and may well require instances of give-and-take and sacrifices. However, we must take care that they do not devolve into a blurring of the line between legal and illegal.

Employers of highly skilled legal foreign workers are engaged in lawful economic activity with positive impacts in terms of entrepreneurship and innovation.  Those who play by the rules should not be made to compensate for those who do not.  It is especially nonsensical to raise the very costs of playing by the rules.  While the border security measure was narrowly targeted, we hope that this troubling philosophy is not expanded upon in future immigration initiatives.

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