The eyes of many Americans have focused of late upon the absurdly harsh consequences that immigration law inflicts on people after they have satisfied comparatively modest penalties imposed under the criminal laws.
The New York Times’ Linda Greenhouse (who has followed the Supreme Court for many years) notes correctly in a recent blog posting that “today’s harshly anti-immigrant legal regime applies not only to the undocumented, but to permanent legal residents as well.” While recognizing that immigration law is largely a creature of statute, Greenhouse worries that in “this nation of immigrants and their descendants, we have become so obsessed with rooting out, locking up and packing off those whom we decide should not be permitted to remain among us that we are in danger of losing a moral center of gravity.”
This same “harshly anti-immigrant legal regime” also applies, as another Times columnist, Tom Friedman, has noted with passion and panache, to individuals and businesses seeking to invent, innovate and produce high-value jobs:
I am a pro-immigration fanatic. I think keeping a constant flow of legal immigrants into our country — whether they wear blue collars or lab coats — is the key to keeping us ahead of China. Because when you mix all of these energetic, high-aspiring people with a democratic system and free markets, magic happens. If we hope to keep that magic, we need immigration reform that guarantees that we will always attract and retain, in an orderly fashion, the world’s first-round aspirational and intellectual draft choices.
Sadly, however, no authority within the federal government has as its primary mission to promote, facilitate, encourage, and remove obstacles in the path of, business- and employment-related immigration. To be sure, there are many federal agencies who peripherally exercise authority over the subject. Yet, the promotion of immigration as an engine of prosperity all too often yields to other competing missions:
The Department of Homeland Security: “We will lead the unified national effort to secure America. We will prevent and deter terrorist attacks and protect against and respond to threats and hazards to the Nation. We will secure our national borders while welcoming lawful immigrants, visitors, and trade.”
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services: “USCIS will secure America’s promise as a nation of immigrants by providing accurate and useful information to our customers, granting immigration and citizenship benefits, promoting an awareness and understanding of citizenship, and ensuring the integrity of our immigration system.”
The Department of Labor: “[DOL] fosters and promotes the welfare of the job seekers, wage earners, and retirees of the United States by improving their working conditions, advancing their opportunities for profitable employment, protecting their retirement and health care benefits, helping employers find workers, strengthening free collective bargaining, and tracking changes in employment, prices, and other national economic measurements.”
The Department of State: “[State will create] a more secure, democratic, and prosperous world for the benefit of the American people and the international community.”
You might reasonably surmise that the Department of Commerce, given its mission, would play a leading role in standing up for legal, business-based immigration policies:
The historic mission of the Department is “to foster, promote, and develop the foreign and domestic commerce” of the United States. This has evolved, as a result of legislative and administrative additions, to encompass broadly the responsibility to foster, serve, and promote the Nation’s economic development and technological advancement.
But your surmise would be wrong, if the experience of immigration bar associations is any guide. Take the leading national immigration bar, AILA. Mistake or oversight are not the reasons that AILA’s “Agencies and Liaison” page on its website does not list the Commerce Department. Truth be told, Commerce has not been a player in the immigration policy debate and has not stepped in to object when anti-business bills and regulations are proposed by Congress and by its sister Departments.
As Cyrus Mehta, Laura Danielson, Steve Clark and yours truly have urged on behalf of the Alliance of Business Immigration Lawyers in an ABIL white paper on comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) to the leadership of USCIS, America needs a federal agency whose focus is on the job-creation and export-promotion capability of legal, business-related immigration:
An Agency to Support and Protect the Economic Benefits of Immigration Should be Created within the Department of Commerce or Another Suitable Department.
Existing Executive-Branch Departments protect and promote important national interests: foreign policy (State), Homeland Security (DHS), Labor (DOL). No Department performs a similar function to support and defend the economic benefits of immigration as a means of fostering innovation and prosperity. “Fortress-America” policies and those that go too far in protecting domestic labor interests without recognizing the job-creating capabilities of employment-based immigration do a disservice to important national interests. CIR should create within the Department of Commerce or another suitable department an agency to support and protect the economic benefits of immigration. Meantime, USCIS should take steps to espouse, protect and defend encroachments on the job-creating power of business-related immigration laws.
Mission statements are made for good reasons:
A mission statement defines in a paragraph or so any entity’s reason for existence. It embodies its philosophies, goals, ambitions and mores. Any entity that attempts to operate without a mission statement runs the risk of wandering through the world without having the ability to verify that it is on its intended course.
Worse than operating without a clear mission, pursuing mixed missions, as immigration history has shown, creates huge problems. The time has come for one agency to speak forcefully, consistently and solely on behalf of legal, business- and job-generating immigration policies.