How to fix the nation's broken immigration system?

As can be expected with a new administration in Washington, there has been a stream of reports, studies, and recommendations on how to fix the nation's broken immigration system penned by think-tanks, NGOs, advocacy groups and the like since President Obama took office in January.

Among the latest, most sweeping studies, out July 8, is a task force report by the Council on Foreign Relations.

Co-chaired by Jeb Bush, a former Republican governor of Florida and George W. Bush's brother, and Thomas McLarty, President Bill Clinton's first White House chief of staff, the bipartisan task force gathers former politicians, bureaucrats and law-enforcement types with human-rights advocates, academics, and attorneys to exhort President Obama that immigration reform must be a "first-tier" priority to ensure national security and maintain America's advantage in the world.

With a struggling economy, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and health-care reform already at the top of the list, some government insiders don't expect much movement this year on immigration reform, but it could happen next year. Rahm Emanuel, Obama's chief of staff, recently said as much before a White House meeting on immigration with lawmakers last month.

By way of introduction, the task force states what many already know: The current immigration system is a mess. But it goes on to highlight that immigration policy is no longer just a domestic issue; it has wide-ranging foreign policy implications as well. The U.S., the report points out, leads the world with about 25 percent of all immigrants.

The task force thinks that the "basic logic" that the 2006 and 2007 bills set forth to overhaul the immigration system was sound, and the logic is that reform needs to be another "grand bargain" that deals with three issues. Those are:

1. Fix the legal immigration system to make it more efficient and appropriately responsive to labor needs and competitiveness.

2. To restore integrity in the system, enforcement must discourage employers and employees from using undocumented workers.

3. Find and implement a "humane and orderly way" for many of the 12 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. to "earn" the right to live here legally.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, chairman of a Senate immigration subcommittee that is taking the lead on reform legislation, was quoted by the Washington Post that the recommendations track his plans for the bill, particularly the "biometric" document verification system. "Their basic principles are similar to ours," Schumer said in a statement, ". . . but there are lots of details that must be filled in."

In related news, the Obama administration announced today that it strengthened employment eligibility verification by supporting a regulation that requires potential federal contractors to participate in the E-Verify program.

Other highlights and recommendations of the Council on Foreign Relations include:

• Toss out nationality quotas for skilled workers seeking to be legal residents, otherwise known as green card holders, allow for more unskilled workers to enter with the option of pursuing legal resident status, and expand the seasonal worker program while creating a mandatory employment eligibility verification program that has tougher sanctions for employers who don't comply. The task force does not explicitly call for a guest-worker program.

• Pass the DREAM Act, which would give undocumented college students access to federal student loans and provide a pathway to citizenship.

• Create a program that lets illegal immigrants earn their way to become legal residents without the broad stroke of amnesty.

• Leave enforcement of immigration laws, for the most part, to the feds.

• Expand recruiting of noncitizens into the U.S. armed forces.

• hire more people to reduce backlogs in determining immigration status.

The report singles out Mexico and the importance of sending a signal to our Southern neighbor when it comes to fixing the nation's immigration policy.

The task force recommends that the president and Congress establish another independent commission – one of these seems to sprout every decade or so – to exam U.S. immigration laws and regulations. But it also suggests a major reconsideration of some of the harsher and more stringent laws, policies and regulations used within the past 15 years, such as detaining asylees and certain other immigrants who face deportation.

Among the authors are Robert Bonner, the former head of US Customs and Border Protection and a past administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration; Raul H. Yzaguirre, a past president of the National Council of La Raza; Kathleen Campbell Walker, a past president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association; and Frances Fragos Townsend, who chaired the Homeland Security Council under the younger Bush's administration.

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