Immigration mattersThe right approach to legal immigration // by Ben Frankel

Published 6 May 2010

The problem with the debate about what to do about illegal immigration in the United States is that until it is resolved, nothing can be done about addressing the necessary reforms in the laws governing legal immigration; it is difficult to think of a law that needs more reforming than the current U.S. immigration law; there are many reasons for this, but the most important one is this: the law as currently written undermines the U.S. economic welfare and national security

One of the major problems with the on-going debate in the United States about illegal immigration is that until it is resolved, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to reform the laws governing legal immigration into the United States.

It is difficult to think of a law that needs more reforming than the current U.S. immigration law. There are many reasons for this, but the most important one is this: the law as currently written undermines the U.S. economic welfare and national security.

The current law, reflecting the preoccupations of the 1960s — attention to the needs of non-European countries, the struggle against communism, and the like — is unsuitable to the needs of an advanced economy. The U.S. economic welfare, national security, and homeland security — indeed, the maintenance of the U.S. position of global scientific, technological, and economic preeminence — require that individuals with scientific savvy and technological aptitude who want to move to the United States be welcomed with open arms. The United States should not only welcome such individuals: it should go on a global recruiting mission to bring these talented people here to help American technology companies, currently starving for scientific and engineering talent (see “Growing demand for H-1B visas signals improving outlook for skilled pros,” 2 December 2009 HSNW; “U.S. hi-tech companies brace for new squeeze on high-tech visas,” 31 March 2008 HSNW; “Bill would double cap on H-1B visas,” 17 March 2008 HSNW; “High-tech companies want separate discussion about legal immigration,” 29 October 2007 HSNW).

The current law, archaic in its emphasis and outdated in its preferences, makes all this nearly impossible. It was thus good — very good — to see a new proposal being developed in the Senate which addresses these very concerns. The proposal’s prospects of coming up in the Senate this year are dim, after a tough immigration law in Arizona further polarized the national debate and with President Obama saying last week that the time might not be right.

The New York Times’s Julia Preston writes that many lawmakers and advocates say that the outline, with many game-changing measures that would broadly redesign the system bringing immigrants to the United States, is likely to be the centerpiece of the immigration discussion this year, whether or not it comes to the floor of the Senate.

The “conceptual proposal,” as the senators called it, is an outline, not a draft of legislation. No Republican signed on to it, not even Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who worked for months with Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, shaping sections of a potential bill.

Schumer’s (and Graham’s — up to a point) conceptual proposal contains many controversial clauses (see, for example, “Proposed bill calls for ID card for U.S. workers to curb illegal immigration,” 10 March 2010 HSNW), but at the core of the proposal is a sea-change in emphasis and preference. Preston writes that:

The proposal opens the door wider than ever before to high-skilled immigrants. It would offer permanent-resident status, with a document known as a green card, to every foreigner with an advanced degree in science or technology from an American university. It would make it much easier for foreign students in the sciences to stay in the United States after they graduate, and eliminate numerical restrictions that have kept highly educated immigrants from India and China waiting for many years before becoming residents.


The outline would make it possible for the spouses and other close relatives of legal green-card holders to come immediately to the United States, reuniting many thousands of families and eliminating a wait that now stretches to eight years. It would create a commission to monitor labor markets and determine when the supply of foreign workers should be raised or lowered.

This is the right spirit, this is the right approach.


Ben Frankel is editor of the Homeland Security NewsWire