Immigration Across The Nation 11/19/2008

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►E-Verify Amended to Promote Small Business Interest

The problematic E-Verify program, an electronic system which allows businesses to verify the identity and legal status of workers before employment with the aid of federal databases, has been altered to ease the load on participating employers, who complained that the database was too unreliable and burdensome, especially for small businesses. The latest amendment extends the grace period for enrolled contractors to actually use the system from 30 to 90 days, and introduces more ways for employers to employ their desired workers with less hassle. The program is currently mandatory for government agencies and contractors, and optional for private sector companies.
The E-Verify program faces possible cancellation from the new legislature in March.

►Will Barack Obama’s Government Make Immigration a High Priority?

Former Mexican President Vicente Fox issued a statement to the Associated Press last week that even in the current economic climate, Barack Obama can’t ignore immigration as one of the nation’s top issues in the years to come. He restated that building a fence would not be constructive to US/Mexican relations, and pointed to the defeated McCain/Kennedy bill as one the legislature should have adopted to ensure immigrants had a useful path towards citizenship and social integration.

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Immigration does not appear to be at the top of President Elect Obama’s list, however. A recent Wall Street Journal article noted that he has not selected any immigration experts to his cabinet, though he should be fairly well versed in immigrant issues himself, being the son of an immigrant and being a senator from Illinois – it is the state with the largest Latino immigrant population which does not share a border with Mexico.

The new administration will have more leverage to enact pro-immigrant legislation, as at least nine congressmen (probably ten, after a Virginia vote recount is completed) from the Immigration Reform Caucus lost their seats in the November 4th election. The Immigration Reform Caucus is a congressional organization that opposes citizenship for undocumented immigrants currently in the country. Also, its founder, Rep. Tom Tancredo (R – Col.), is retiring. But economists and immigration activists alike believe that, as in the presidential campaign, economy issues will trump immigration issues through the early months of 2009.

However, the economy and immigration are closely related. The stability of the current economy relies on immigrant workers, and the number of visas issued is linked to the number of immigrant workers the private sector wishes to employ. As we noted last issue, the high-tech industry is pushing for more visas, including permanent work visas for immigrant engineers and scientists. One immigration analyst, Kara Calvert of the Information Technology Industry Council, has suggested that the agriculture industry may make a similar push for an increase in visas, which would benefit Latino immigrants especially. Furthermore, more immigrant workers results in more immigrant citizens and, eventually, immigrant voters, and pending economic legislation is going to have to keep immigrants in mind if it is going to succeed in blue collar, immigrant heavy states like Illinois and Virginia.

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The string of closed-border advocating senators and congresspersons voted out of office on November 4th was not mere coincidence. America’s Voice, a pro-immigration group, found that in 20 races in which the candidates were fundamentally opposed on the subject of immigration, closed-border and “border enforcement only” advocates lost in 18. Many were incumbents, including the long serving Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R – NC), whose sharp anti-immigrant stance, together with racial slurs by campaign aides, greatly affected her re-election bid and she lost her seat by a wide margin. Meanwhile, the lead pro-immigrant Republican – Senator John McCain – is already working hard to rebuild some of the bridges with pro-immigrant Democrats he was compelled to burn during the hard-fought presidential campaign.

The coming months may well bring change for immigration in America. What that change may be remains to be seen.

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