Wild rabbit in the meadow.jpgWinston Churchill, whose mother was American (Jennie Jerome of Brooklyn), could just as well have been speaking about the components of comprehensive immigration reform.  Instead he was commenting on the Allies’ post-World War II plans for world governance when, in the summer of 1942 with the war yet unwon, he said:

I hope these speculative studies will be entrusted mainly to those on whose hands time hangs heavy, and that we shall not overlook Mrs. [Hannah] Glasse’s Cookery Book recipe for the jugged hare—”First catch your hare.”  — The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill: Defender of the Realm, 1940-1965,  by William Manchester and Paul Re.

This quote came to mind as I pondered two recent developments, one widely reported and the other probably unseen by most.  The first involves the various and sundry cart-before-the-horse discussions in the House and Senate and at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue about essential elements of comprehensive immigration reform (CIR). The second is a Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) press release announcing the filing of a civil complaint against a promoter and two LLCs alleging a scam involving over 250 Chinese investors reportedly duped into entrusting a total of $155 million in the hopes of gaining U.S. permanent residency under the EB-5 employment-creation immigrant visa category.

What’s the connection?  Well, as everyone knows, Congress, the White House and the pro- and anti-immigration advocacy groups are busy arguing the pillars of immigration reform: border security, employment-based visa reforms, a path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants, and future flows of legal immigrants and sojourners.  Given much less, if any, attention, however, is whether the government’s immigration bureaucracy can competently manage, regulate and enforce all these laws.  Are the immigration bureaucrats, judges and police up to the task?  

To answer that elemental question, first consider the wisdom of Jim Collins in Good to Great who maintains that leaders of organizations that “go from good to great”:

. . . start not with “where” but with “who.” They start by getting the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats. And they stick with that discipline—first the people, then the direction—no matter how dire the circumstances.

I submit — as I’ve argued elsewhere and often in this blog — that:

  • The immigration agencies need more of the new breed of leaders who are just as passionate about customer service in the immigration-benefits sphere as they are about border security and the integrity of the system (“boarding the right people onto the bus”);
  • The heel-draggers and naysayers among the immigration bureaucracy, the cultists of “No,” the feather-bedding careerists, and the power-mongers — all must be exited (“getting the wrong people off the bus”); and, especially important,
  • Our immigration leadership must be deployed strategically and intelligently (“putting them in the right seats on the bus”).

So what’s this got to do with the SEC’s civil suit against some reputed EB-5 scammers? Everything; because it illustrates fundamental structural problems with the way Congress established the architecture for immigration management and oversight.  

The SEC has expertise in enforcing the securities laws, a statutory scheme developed to protect investors from unscrupulous promoters.  The agency’s professionals understand capital formation and are far more adept (the Madoff fiasco notwithstanding) than USCIS at determining whether adequate disclosures are made and representations about investment opportunities are grounded in fact or fantasy.  Similarly, the Department of Commerce understands business, entrepreneurship, start-ups and the promotion of America’s goods and services.

The Departments of Homeland Security and State, on the other hand, are expected to apply and enforce the Immigration and Nationality Act. Until recently, with the advent of the Entrepreneurs in Residence program, they have had precious little training in the ways of business. Indeed, near-term history has shown that the DHS and State Department components tasked with determining whether individuals and businesses qualify for immigration benefits or should be debarred from participation or admission to the U.S. — U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and U.S. consular officers in State, respectively — have no special expertise in assessing legitimate or illegitimate business practices.

For examples in the EB-5 context see:

If the immigration adjudicators have neither training nor expertise in business analysis, why then do the immigration reformers in Congress, acting with the professed intention to spur business activity, job creation and economic prosperity, continue to entrust business-related issues arising under the immigration laws to USCIS adjudicators and American consular officers? Witness, as two examples among many, the allocation of power in recent employment-based immigration initiatives:  The StartUp Visa Act and the Startup Act 2.0.  These legislative proposals ask the Homeland Security Secretary to determine whether capital has been invested and jobs have been created.

The StartUp Visa Act asks DHS to decide if “a qualified venture capitalist, a qualified super angel investor, or a qualified government entity . . .has invested” at least $100,000 on behalf of a “qualified immigrant entrepreneur . . . whose commercial activities” in two years will “create not fewer than 5 new full-time jobs in the United States,” and “raise not less than $500,000 in capital investment in furtherance of a commercial entity based in the United States; or . . . generate [at least] $500,000 in revenue.”  

Similarly, the Startup Act 2.0 expects DHS to assess whether a “qualified alien entrepreneur . . . [has] register[ed] at least 1 new business entity in a State; . . . employs. . .  at least 2 full-time employees  . . . , invest[ed], or raise[d] [a] capital investment of, not less than $100,000 in such business entity; and . . .  during [a]3-year period . . . employ[ed], at such business entity in the United States, an average of at least 5  full-time employees . . .”

I propose that Congress re-visit the Homeland Security Act and determine whether it makes sense to house USCIS in the Homeland Security Department, rather than in the Justice Department, given that justice is a better alignment of USCIS’s mission in terms of weighing the scales and meting out a fair decision grounded in facts and law.  

As for business and investment cases, particularly the EB-5 immigrant and E-2 nonimmigrant categories, decisions about investment sufficiency, investor protection, and job creation prospects should be vested in the Commerce Department or a similarly qualified department or agency of government. See, “Economic Prosperity – The Missing Immigration Mission,” and February 19, 2010 Memorandum of the Alliance of Business Immigration Lawyers  to Alejandro Mayorkas, Director, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Headquarters (USCIS) Re: “Employment-Based Immigration Proposals for Inclusion in Comprehensive [Immigration] Legislation”:

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. 

If and when Commerce or another qualified federal component approves the business-based facts as warranting immigration benefits prescribed under the immigration laws, only then would USCIS, DHS’s immigration inspectors and State’s consular officers determine the question whether the individual investor or family member is or is not admissible to the United States.  In other words, USCIS’s role would be to run the security screens, document biometrics, keep out the unwelcome, and issue fraud-proof plastic green cards and work permits to deserving recipients under the employment-based immigration roles.

For this to occur, however, Congress must really think big.  It must create a new cabinet post, the Secretary of the Department of Immigration, charged with overarching authority to harmonize and reconcile immigration law and policy among the other federal departments and agencies, and accorded a budget and staff adequate to the task.

Quoting another famous Brit, John Lennon, who likely would likely have become an American had he not been murdered before qualifying for naturalization, “you may say that I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.”  For as Winston Churchill also said:

We shall not fail or falter, we shall not weaken or tire. Neither the sudden shock of battle, nor the long-drawn trials of vigilance and exertion will wear us down.