August 13, 2014
The Honorable Barack H. Obama
1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20500
Dear Mr. President:
We write on behalf of Immigrants' List. Established in 2006 in the wake of Congressional inaction on immigration reform, Immigrants’ List is a 501(c)(4) organization and a Political Action Committee established to advance pro-immigration public policy and elect members of Congress who are pro-immigration. IL works to elect representatives who support reform and to defeat those who use fear and misinformation to stop the reform America needs. Since its founding in 2006, Immigrants’ List has provided support to members of Congress from both parties who view immigration to our nation as a significant benefit and who wish to improve our immigration system. We at Immigrants’ List believe that your decision to act on immigration matters in the face of congressional intransigence is the right decision and not inconsistent with your obligations under the Constitution.
We know that you have received many individual, detailed suggestions for how you should exercise your executive prerogative on immigration, both grand and minute. However, your decision to move forward should be driven not by the minutia of these proposals but by broad public policy principles that the American people understand and support. We believe those broad principles are national security and the need to make the current immigration system more effective and efficient.
1. National Security as a Basis For Your Actions
National security demands that we not only secure our borders, but that we also know who is already in our country. National security also requires that we not keep people in the shadows; that we not treat them as an underclass which only builds resentment and division; that we hold them accountable for their actions; and that we require them to live up to the obligations that every hard-working U.S. citizen understands. As you know, in poll after poll, the people of our country have repeatedly decided that the undocumented should be allowed to remain in the United States as long as they participate in the obligations that all Americans share---paying taxes, not receiving government benefits improperly, and bearing their part of the burdens of citizenship. Because we believe these principles are embedded in our national security, proposals you have received to incrementally grant benefits to only some undocumented are misplaced. Granting these benefits, for example, only to the parents of DACA-eligible children will result in cries on the right of “bootstrapping,” and viewed on the left as half-hearted. If national security requires that we know who is here, then we cannot limit regularization of status by category or an arbitrary date. The specific administrative mechanism that you use (whether parole-in-place or deferred action) is secondary to ensuring the broad coverage required to further our national security interests. Persons who have committed serious criminal offenses rendering them deportable need not be included because they are already known to the government, but eligibility must not otherwise be restricted if we are to know who is within our nation’s sovereign borders. Other criteria should be consistent with full participation in our system including the payment of taxes in the future and even some form of community service. But the date needs to be consistent with reaching all those who are already in the country. As your administration and past administrations have recognized in granting Temporary Protected Status, the only effective date is the date that the program is announced. This diminishes the incentive for future people to enter the country, while recognizing our interest in knowing who is here now.
Any announcement of these benefits must be coupled with a clear statement that your administration will develop strategies to stop the smuggling of people into our country in the future. Building a wall at the border is not the answer; nor is it consistent with our values as a nation. Smuggling must be stopped at its source through additional resources that address the root causes of smuggling, the attraction of people to our country, and through additional deterrents to entry. We applaud your efforts to meet with the Presidents of the three principal countries in Central America that are the source of substantial migration to the U.S. We believe that closer cooperation with our Caribbean and other Southern neighbors is a necessary element in developing a strategy for success in stopping the unlawful entry of people to our country. Similarly, the pull factor of employment into the United States requires enhanced enforcement of our employer sanctions laws, our labor laws, and our criminal laws regarding fraudulent documentation to ensure that no employer benefits from illegal or unfair use of foreign labor or the exploitation of trafficked labor. Your administration has substantially increased the prosecution of employer sanctions cases. We believe that you can and should do more administratively. The creation of a special enhanced unit within Immigration and Customs Enforcement that places special emphasis on those who traffic in fraudulent identification/documents is a necessary step toward eliminating unauthorized employment. ICE should also be given additional resources to redouble efforts to prosecute those who knowingly violate employer sanctions laws. The Department of Labor should also establish a special unit devoted exclusively to the investigation and prosecution of persons involved in trafficked labor including RICO violations for companies that obtain an unfair competitive advantage through the use of unauthorized employment.
Enforcement must also include the expeditious resolution of removal proceedings. This can be accomplished by taking the one billion dollars we currently spend to physically incarcerate non-citizens during removal proceedings and use those funds to allow alternative forms of custody coupled with a substantial increase in the number of immigration judges and staff with specific completion deadlines for removal cases except in the most unusual circumstances.
2. Immigration Efficiency as a Basis for Your Actions
There is a national consensus that our immigration system is broken. Although you cannot make many of the systemic changes that are needed in our system, you can make the system more efficient and effective. There are numerous small changes that others have provided as proposals which should be adopted. However, we believe that any public proposal must concentrate on those changes which will have a dramatic impact on the current system.
The most obvious change, which has broad consensus, is a change in how we address substantial backlogs in our quota system. The two pillars of our immigration system have been family unity and enhancing our economy. Both have suffered in part due to counting derivative family members as part of the quota. The statutory language counting derivatives as part of the quota is ambiguous. You have the authority to change administratively the current practice. The effect would be immediate and substantial. It is estimated that eliminating derivatives when counting the world wide quota would result in doubling the numbers of visa available.
Establish a package of proposals that would make our business immigration system more competitive. Secretary Johnson has been provided many of these proposals, including expanding time periods of optional practical training for all foreign students, giving spouses in all business categories the ability to obtain employment authorization, expanding the acceptable methodologies for employment creation in the EB-5 program, increasing the entrepreneurial opportunities of L visas by broadening the time they may be start-ups and H-1b holders by allowing employees to own their own businesses, expanding the concept and execution of national interest waivers, eliminating restrictions on foreign travel for all categories of applicants, allowing for revalidation of visas in the U.S., and not counting unlawful presence during appeals and motions to reopen.
Similarly, a package of family and refugee based changes should include expanding the definition of extreme hardship to recognize that family separation is per se extreme hardship, revising the harsh criteria under 212(h) to more liberally apply waivers in cases of family unity, allowing for the preadjudication of all waivers in the U.S., more broadly defining “social group” to include those who cooperate with the U.S. government and persons fleeing gang violence, expanding the exceptions to the one year deadline for filing, allowing persons who are granted withholding to seek residency through other means, and broadly defining humanitarian parole to permit family unification where family based petitions have been approved.
We are confident that your decision to focus your efforts on national security and immigration efficiency will be decisive in persuading the American people that your proposed changes are necessary and proper.
Ira J. Kurzban, Director,
cc: Hon. Jeh Johnson
Hon. John Kerry
Hon. Eric Holder