Immigration Policy Discussion at Stetson Law04/09/07 SeÃ¡n Kinane
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This afternoon at the Stetson University College of Law in Gulfport, the college’s Hispanic Bar Association hosted a panel discussion on “ Border Security: The problems and the Proposed Solutions” which addresses comprehensive immigration policy reform. WMNF’s Seán Kinane has this report.
John Ovink is an immigration attorney in Tampa. He was one of two panelists and said that any real reform with the goal of reducing the number of undocumented workers would increase the number of visas available.
“What you need to do is immediately look at how can we resolve the problem. By creating a system that would allow people to come out of the shadows and allow them to earn legal status and to create a program that makes sufficient visas available for people to work here legally, get social security numbers, and pay taxes, you resolve the problem. Until you do that the problem will continue to exist, but it’s not just undocumented workers.”
Ovink says that polls conducted by the libertarian think tank the Cato Institute concluded that the myth that immigrants are a drain on the U.S. economy is wrong. On the contrary, immigrants contribute a lot, for example by paying billions of dollars in taxes.
“They concluded in ’97 study that immigrant households paid an estimate 133 billion dollars in direct taxes to federal, state, and local government. In 2006 over 500 economists and social scientists confirmed these findings in an open letter to President Bush. Most immigrants, it’s been concluded by the same polls, have very little negative effect on the income and job opportunity of native-born Americans - annually may add as much as 10 billion dollars to the economy.”
In the comprehensive immigration reform plans currently under consideration, people will be ineligible for a path to citizenship if they have committed serious crimes. One member of the audience asked whether any of what he called “illegal aliens” would be eligible because by being undocumented they must have broken the law. But he was corrected by the second panelist, Ryan Bounds. Bounds is the chief of Staff to the Assistant Attorney of Public Policy for the Department of Justice. According to Bounds, most undocumented immigrants have not committed any immigration crimes.
“A lot of people who are here illegally may have never committed any crime, even an immigration crime. Because as I mentioned, a large portion of “illegal aliens” who are in the United States right now have overstayed a period of lawful admission, either through the visa waiver program, student visa, temporary worker visa of the H-category that Mr. Ovink was talking about. That population, if they’ve never committed any other crime, have never committed any crime. It is not a criminal offense to overstay your admission. And that is one thing that the House addressed in HR 4437 with a somewhat draconian response. But it’s in fact true for a significant proportion of this population.”
Many human rights and immigrants rights groups are strongly criticizing President Bush’s guestworker proposal. For example, last month The Southern Poverty Law Center released a report called “Close to Slavery: Guestworker Programs in the United States.” WMNF asked immigration attorney John Ovink whether a guestworker program would increase exploitation of immigrants, but he is confident that the legal rights of immigrants would improve because they will be able to hold employers accountable.”
“In order to get that visa, the employer needs to certify to the US govt that he/she will not abuse, exploit the worker and will be paid a minimum wage. And if the employer reneges, the worker can go to court and say you are not doing what you promised to do. Currently, a worker who is undocumented can not do that, an employer can say I’m not going to pay you anymore, what are you going to do?”
There is concern about the rising financial cost of getting work visas. Three year visas will cost $3,500 each time and in order to become a legal permanent resident, an immigrant WILL have to return to his home country, apply at a U.S. embassy or consulate to re-enter legally and pay a $10,000 fine. Ovink is concerned that fees of this magnitude would only allow rich people to become documented.
“I would firmly support any system that does not create a class system and is affordable to any undocumented immigrant system. If we make it unaffordable for undocumented immigrant families to become legal because the fee is too high, then you have not resolved the problem.”
WMNF attempted to get further comments from The Department of Justice’s Ryan Bounds but he said he was not authorized to speak with reporters.
Vanessa De Rosa is president of the Hispanic Bar Association and helped organize today’s panel discussion. She said she had “mixed feelings” regarding the concept of a “guest worker” program where immigrants will work in the U.S. for a certain amount of time and then be sent back to their country of origin.
“It’s better than nothing of course, to let them come here and work. And that’s what most want to do, work. Provide for their families, not have crying babies that are starving. I think that’s great that they have that opportunity and not have to sneak in. I think it’s kind of sad they do the grunt work and they’re under the sun all day every day and all of a sudden, it’s almost as if they’re disposable. ‘OK, we’re finished using you. Go back.’ I don’t know; I have mixed feelings on that issue.”
For WMNF News, I’m Seán Kinane
Hispanic Bar Association at Stetson University College of Law
Close to Slavery: Guestworker Programs in the United States
Southern Poverty Law Center