Thursday, February 18, 2010
President Obama has named Alan K. Simpson, a former Senate Republican leader, and Erskine B. Bowles, a top official in the Clinton White House, to chair a special commission to solve the nation's budget problems, administration officials said Tuesday. I truly wish them much success on tackling this important issue. But I cannot help but be reminded of Alan Simpson's long history attacking family immigration.
From the early 1980s to 1996, the leading voice attacking family immigration, especially the sibling category, was Republican Senator Alan Simpson of Wyoming. Simpson had been a member of the Select Commission on Immigration and Refugee Policy that issued a report in 1981 calling for major changes in the immigration laws. After the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA) was enacted to address the issue of undocumented migration through employer sanctions and legalization, Simpson turned his attention to legal immigration categories. At the time, although 20 percent of preference categories were available to labor employment immigrants (54,000), when the unrestricted immediate relative immigration categories were added to the total number of immigrants each year, fewer than 10 percent of immigrants who were entering each year were doing so on the basis of job skills.
In fact, soon after the Select Commission report, Senator Simpson proposed the elimination of the sibling immigration category. At the core of what became a long crusade, Simpson’s complaint was that brothers and sisters are insignificant relatives for immigration purposes – that in U.S. culture, the sibling relationship is simply not close enough to justify providing an immigration preference. He ignored the many experts who testified in hearings before the Select Commission stressing the importance of family reunification – including between siblings – over employment-based visas. Demographer Charles Keely testified that:
We, as a nation, cannot only accept, but are enriched in countless ways, by traditions which honor the family and stress close ties not only within the nuclear family of spouses and children but also among generations and among brothers and sisters. Attacks on family reunification beyond the immediate family as a form of nepotism are empty posturing.
The Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, the League of United Latin American Citizens, the U.S.-Asia Institute, and others testified in favor of retaining the category. One organization opposing Simpson’s proposal, The American Committee on Italian Migration, noted:
For Italians and for many other ethnic groups, brothers and sisters, whether or not they are married, are an integral part of the family reunion concept. Elimination of this preference category would violate a sacrosanct human right of an American citizen to live with his family according to his own traditional life style.
Arizona Democratic Senator Dennis DeConcini, also a member of the Select Commission, added his voice to the debate:
Proposals have been offered to eliminate the [sibling] preference. It is felt by some to be too generous, as it refers to horizontal rather than a vertical family concept. . . . But to deny that brothers and sisters are an integral part of the family is to impose upon many ethnic groups a narrow concept of family and one that especially discriminated against the Italian-Americans. We also should stress the rights of U.S. citizens by allowing them to bring their families to America. This view should precede the technical notion that we need certain types of specialist and skilled workers.
In fact, the Select Commission overwhelmingly had endorsed the policy of keeping brothers and sisters as a preference category. Proposals to eliminate family categories created by the 1965 amendments were to be rejected.
The reunification of families should remain one of the foremost goals of immigration not only because it is a humane policy, but because bringing families back together contributes to the economic and social welfare of the United States. Society benefits from the reunification of immediate families, especially because family unity promotes the stability, health and productivity of family members.
Simpson did not relent and in the late 1980s, at a time when legal immigration continued to be dominated by Asians and Latinos even after “diversity programs” were being implemented to aid non-Asian and non-Mexican immigrants, he wanted the family immigration numbers reduced or at least managed. His legislation, S. 358, was approved by the Senate in July 1989, which would establish a ceiling of 630,000 legal immigrants for three years. Of the total, 480,000 would be reserved for all types of family immigration and 150,000 would be set aside for immigrants without family connections but with skills or job-related assets. After numerous markups and hearings, the House of Representative passed Democratic Congressman Bruce Morrison’s H.R. 4300, a rather different bill, on October 3, 1990. This bill actually would reduce family immigration more dramatically – thereby reducing the number of Asian and Latino family immigrants, providing 185,000 family-based visas and 95,000 employment-based visas annually.
The Morrison bill was attacked for its wholesale elimination of temporary work visas for professionals. The concern was that the spigot actually might be closed on foreign workers. Also, the possible elimination of H-1 nonimmigrant status for certain professions outraged immigration lawyers, who called it a “must-kill” provision. Another one of Morrison’s more controversial suggestions was to tax employers who use alien employees. One early proposal required businesses to pay 15 percent of an alien’s salary into a federal trust fund used to train U.S. workers. As introduced, the bill would impose a flat user fee dependent on the size of the company. After furious negotiations, especially with fellow Democratic Congressman Howard Berman from Los Angeles, Morrison agreed to drop proposals that would have reduced the number of family-based visas, persuaded by Berman’s argument: “To cut back on the ability of new Americans to be with their family members betrays the core American value and tradition of emphasizing the integrity of the family.”
As passed, H.R. 4300 would increase the number of legal immigrants to 775,000 a year from the prior 540,000. It would also speed the process of uniting families, attract more skilled workers, and create a new diversity category for immigrants from countries whose nationals have largely been excluded in the past. After passing the bill, the House changed the bill number to S. 358 to enable it to go to a joint House-Senate conference. However, many Senate conferees were opposed to the more liberal House bill and negotiated to cap legal immigration and place new measures to control illegal immigration, including tougher provisions against criminal aliens. The House conferees insisted on a sunset cap in the bill and wanted extra visas to go to relatives rather than to skilled workers. But Senator Simpson refused to agree, leading the Wall Street Journal to dub him a “one-man border control” and “Stonewall Simpson.” Eventually compromises were reached and Congress passed S. 358.
Enacted on October 26, 1990, the compromise bill would allow 700,000 immigrants from 1992 to 1994 and 675,000 annually in subsequent years. For the time being, proposals to cut back on family immigration were defeated, and the Immigration Act of 1990 had responded to lobbying efforts by American businesses. The Act was a significant, and to some a revolutionary, revision of the focus of U.S. immigration law. After passage of the Act, although the main thrust of immigration law continued to be family immigration, highly skilled immigrants would be deliberately encouraged to resettle in the United States more than ever before. In the long run, the annual number of employment-based visas would nearly triple from 54,000 to 140,000 per year.
Although Simpson was disappointed that he failed to reduce the Asian- and Latino-dominated family categories in 1990, he was able to install an overall numerical cap. Furthermore, for Simpson, the new employment categories and expanded diversity programs could attract real American stock – those who were not Asian or Latino: “we [now] open the front door wider to skilled workers of a more diverse range of nationalities.”
Up to his retirement in 1996, Senator Simpson fought to eliminate the sibling category. On the eve of the 1996 presidential election, Congress enacted rather heinous immigration reform relating to deportation, asylum, and procedural issues. Until the late spring 1996, the threat that the immigration legislation also would include cutbacks on legal immigration categories was real. Congressman Lamar Smith and Senator Simpson again took aim at the siblings-of-U.S.-citizens category as well as the category available to unmarried, adult sons and daughters of lawful resident aliens (category 2B). Their efforts ultimately were not successful, so the 1996 legislation did not reduce family immigration.