At President Obama’s signing ceremony for the JOBS Act last week, White House guests slapped high fives with bipartisan glee. They came to the Rose Garden to help “Jumpstart Our Business Startups,” as the new law’s title optimistically promises to do. With pen in hand, the President joined in the merriment, observing that it’s not about blather but action:
One of the great things about America is that we are a nation of doers -- not just talkers, but doers. We think big. We take risks. And we believe that anyone with a solid plan and a willingness to work hard can turn even the most improbable idea into a successful business. So ours is a legacy of Edisons and Graham Bells, Fords and Boeings, of Googles and of Twitters. This is a country that’s always been on the cutting edge. And the reason is that America has always had the most daring entrepreneurs in the world. . . . [M]aybe one of them or one of the folks in the audience here today will be the next Bill Gates or Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg. And one of them may be the next entrepreneur to turn a big idea into an entire new industry. That’s the promise of America. That’s what this country is all about.
With an eye to November and an 11% approval rating, members of the House and Senate are trying at last to rebrand themselves as a “done-something” Congress. Would it were so with the DREAM Act or with urgently needed reforms to our antiquated system of legal immigration whose last major enactment occurred in 1990. Regrettably, when it comes to immigration, the American people get claptrap not high fives.
Three years ago the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) issued a bipartisan report and recommendations on U.S. immigration policy, the work of a task force study led by Florida Governor Jeb Bush and Thomas F. "Mack" McLarty III, former White House Chief of Staff to President Clinton. Last month, another bipartisan CFR task force, this one headed by Condoleezza Rice, former Secretary of State under the second President Bush, and Joel Klein, ex-Chancellor of the New York City education department and Counsel in the Clinton White House, issued its study and suggestions to improve U.S. national security by reforming education.
Taken together, these reports sound a clarion call for immediate legislative action on legal immigration.
As the Bush-McLarty report proposed:
The Task Force recommends that the United States tackle head-on the growing competition for skilled immigrants from other countries and make the goal of attracting such immigrants a central component of its immigration policy. For decades, the primary goal has been to ration admission; in the future, recruiting the immigrants it wants must be the highest priority.
The Rice-Klein study on education reform and national security concurs:
Too many schools have failed to provide young citizens with the tools they need to contribute to U.S. competitiveness. This, coupled with an immigration system in need of reform, poses real threats to the prospects of citizens, constrains the growth of the U.S. talent pool, and limits innovation and economic competitiveness.
The epicenter of the logjam on immigration bipartisanship – at least in the Senate – is Iowa Republican, Chuck Grassley. Although he voted “Yea” on the bill that became the JOBS Act, Sen. Grassley is an immigration obstructionist, seemingly blind to the links between employment-based visas, U.S. prosperity and job creation for our citizens.
Despite passage in the house by a 389 to 15 vote margin, he has held up a vote on the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act — a bill that would eliminate the per-country caps on employment-based immigrants and thus allow foreign workers born in China, India and other quota-backlogged countries to obtain a green card more quickly. Sen. Grassley has also blockaded a proposal pushed by fellow Republican Senator, Scott Brown, which would give Irish citizens parity with Australians in receiving E-3 visas.
The Iowa senator worries that “flooding the employment market with foreign workers when high-skilled Americans are seeking jobs at unprecedented levels, just doesn't square with improving the home-team advantage, let alone fostering a level playing field.”
Even more worrisome to Sen. Grassley are immigration fraudsters who steal jobs from Americans. He sees them everywhere, much like the young boy, Cole Sear, in the 1999 film, The Sixth Sense, who sees dead people all around:
Cole Sear (played by Haley Joel Osment): I see dead people.
Malcolm Crowe (played by Bruce Willis): In your dreams? [Cole shakes his head no]
Malcolm Crowe: While you're awake? [Cole nods]
Malcolm Crowe: Dead people like, in graves? In coffins?
Cole Sear: Walking around like regular people. They don't see each other. They only see what they want to see. They don't know they're dead.
Malcolm Crowe: How often do you see them?
Cole Sear: All the time. They're everywhere.
Sen. Grassley wants to place even more rigid controls on the H-1B visa (for Specialty Occupation Workers) and the L-1 visa (for Intracompany Transferees). The senator would inflate the wages that U.S. employers must pay skilled foreign workers (even though the law of supply and demand is producing that result already without an act of Congress), require feckless labor market testing of workers in occupations with low unemployment rates, and give even more authority to the Labor Department to send disruptive auditors to the worksites to investigate the supposedly ever-present fraud that he perceives.
And as Congress dawdles on legal immigration, Sen. Grassley has been a one-man lightning rod, jolting the immigration agencies under the W and Obama administrations and intimidating them so that they jump to his bidding.
Under pressure from Sen. Grassley, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and the Department of State have denied and revoked visas and work petitions, while sending ever larger legions of immigration gumshoes from the USCIS Fraud Detection and National Security Directorate (FDNS) on unannounced and repeated visits to worksites around the country.
Not content to engage in officious intermeddling with an Executive Branch immigration agency, Sen. Grassley has also been busy tasering the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Inspector General (IG) into issuing breathless reports based on unscientific measurements that unpersuasively document "evidence" of perceived fraud (links available here, here and here). It's not as if the IG has nothing to do; rather, he should be spending more time investigating DHS's internal operations.
No knowledgeable observer would deny the existence of immigration fraud. I see its victims often among the immigrants who seek my counsel after having been bamboozled not just by a few unscrupulous lawyers but also by the larger ranks of incompetent and dangerous consultants and notarios – a population still coddled by the Labor Department even though USCIS, quite laudably, has mounted a campaign against them. And of course, some percentage of employers will bend or break or simply misunderstand the befuddling “rules” that the immigration agencies have written (or failed to write) in response to the existing crazy-quilt of laws passed by Congress since at least the 1950s. Despite the massive aggrandizement of law-enforcement resources to guard the immigration system since September 11, little evidence exists to show that visa fraud is widespread or that it occurs at any greater rate than in other federal programs.
We can electrify and fortify our borders, and send in the immigration drones and detectives, but we still need law-abiding sojourners and immigrants to reinvigorate our economy and uplift our people.
As much as NationOfImmigrators assails the wrongdoing of the immigration agencies, this blogger knows nonetheless that they are peopled mostly with patriots trying to do the right thing (as a USCIS Service Center Director correctly reminded me last week and as the USCIS’s Fiscal Year 2011 Highlights Report confirms).
They make mistakes, to be sure, and engage in insincere Washingtonian wordsmithing. Take for example the oft-repeated conceit that FDNS site visits are merely cleverly surprising methods to insure integrity in immigration petitions and are not law-enforcement actions subject to Fourth Amendment protections.
The veil’s been lifted on that falsehood, however, with the issuance of a March 30, 2012 federal court order in a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) suit by the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) against USCIS and DHS. AILA’s lawsuit seeks release of three USCIS documents, viz., its H-1B Benefits Fraud Compliance Assessment Report (BFCA), H-1B Petition Fraud Referral Sheet and H-1B Compliance Review Worksheet. Although the suit continues, the court generally affirmed for now USCIS’s assertion that its actions in refusing disclosure are justifiable under the FOIA exemption found at 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(7)(E). This section protects records or information compiled for law enforcement purposes from disclosure “to the extent that the production of such law enforcement records or information . . . would disclose techniques and procedures for law enforcement investigations or prosecutions if such disclosure could reasonably be expected to risk circumvention of the law.” The agency relies on exemption 7E because the requested records, as USCIS’s own pleadings assert, have been “withheld to preserve the integrity and effectiveness of certain techniques and operations of current law enforcement significance.”
On what are these “techniques and operations of current law enforcement significance” based? The court’s order offer’s a tantalizing snippet:
The final page of the BFCA Report identifies several primary fraud or technical violation(s) indicators: (1) firms with 25 of fewer employees have higher rates of fraud or technical violation(s) than larger-sized companies; (2) firms with an annual gross income of less than $10 million have higher rates of fraud or technical violation(s) than firms with annual gross income greater than $10 million; (3) firms in existence less than 10 years have higher incidences of fraud or technical violation(s) than those in existence for more than 10 years; (4) H-1B petitions filed for accounting, human resources, business analysts, sales and advertising occupations are more likely to contain fraud or technical violation(s) than other occupational categories; and (5) beneficiaries with only bachelor’s degrees had higher fraud or technical violation(s) rates than those with graduate degrees.
Ironically, many of the same putative indicators of fraud or technical immigration violations are attributes that describe the precise traits of “Business Startups” – the very entities which bipartisan supporters in Congress hope to “Jumpstart” by passing the JOBS Act. Newly established businesses typically employ less than 25 workers at the outset, initially gross less than $10 million per year, by definition have been in existence less than 10 years, and, just like larger firms, may choose the H-1B visa category to hire accountants, HR specialists, business analysts and workers in sales and advertising jobs for persons who hold only a bachelor’s degree.
Clearly, USCIS and its FDNS unit are now running scared by Sen. Grassley’s gassy harrumphing, and see fraud where the President and most members of Congress, including the Senior Senator from Iowa, see opportunities for job creation.
The solution is to debunk the notion that American job losses are caused by increased legal immigration; rather, as the National Foundation for American Policy has shown, more employment-based immigration creates more jobs for U.S. workers.
One true believer in the power of immigration, Steve Case (former AOL founder and now venture capitalist), who was instrumental in gaining the votes for the JOBS Act, says, "[m]omentum begets momentum." Case now has set his sights on passing job-creating immigration laws before the November election (a controversial subject among some immigration proponents who believe that only a comprehensive solution, including remedies for the undocumented, will rectify America's immigration dysfunctions).
Perhaps with the help of Steve Case and other business leaders, Sen. Grassley may yet be persuaded to spend less time calling the President “stupid” and, instead let his love of job-creating startups push him to transform his antipathy into appreciation for employment-based, legal immigration reform.
Angelo A. Paparelli is a partner of Seyfarth Shaw LLP. Mr. Paparelli, with a bicoastal practice in Southern California and New York City, is known for providing creative solutions to complex and straightforward immigration law problems, especially involving mergers and acquisitions, labor certifications and the H-1B visa category. His practice areas include legislative advocacy; employer compliance audits and investigations; U.S. and foreign work visas and permanent residence for executives, managers, scientists, scholars, investors, professionals, students and visitors; immigration messaging and speech-writing; corporate policy formulation; and immigration litigation before administrative agencies and the federal courts. He is frequently quoted in leading national publications on immigration law. He is also President of the Alliance of Business Immigration Lawyers, a 30-firm global consortium of leading immigration practitioners. Paparelli?s blog and a comprehensive list of his many immigration law articles can be found at www.entertheusa.com. He is an alumnus of the University of Michigan where he earned his B.A., and of Wayne State University Law School where he earned his J.D. Paparelli is admitted to the state bars of California, Michigan and New York.