Congressional Hearings on Immigration

Apr 08, 2004

1.)"Securing Our Borders Under a Temporary Guest Worker Program"

U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary
Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security, and Citizenship

On Thursday, April 1, 2004 the Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security, and Citizenship of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary convened in a hearing chaired by Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) concerning the issues of border security and immigration reform. Witnesses at the hearing concurred that "Immigration reform is a national security reform, but we must look at it in a new and creative way," as attorney Margaret D. Stock, American Immigration Lawyers Association, explained.

The need to approach immigration reform and anti-terrorism as separate issues was central to the discussion. While the panelists acknowledged a relationship between national security and immigration reform, they stressed that it was an imbalanced relationship in which vast resources that could be devoted to counter-terrorism are currently being employed to regulate and deter the passage of non-threatening migrants who want to enter the country simply to work. The witnesses contended that rather than assume that all foreigners are potential terrorists and focus on controlling the United States' physical borders, more resources should be dedicated to improving intelligence and identifying actual terrorists.

Witness Dan Griswold of the Cato Institute testified that of the total foreign nationals entering the country each year, 95% are not migrants, but visitors – and that not one of the terrorists of the 9/11 attacks entered the country as a migrant or by crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. It is not feasible that a terrorist would seek to enter the U.S. via the most heavily monitored border in the world when there are far easier means of entrance. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) remarked that the weakness in immigration security is not with U.S-Mexico migration, but the current visa waiver program that allows travelers from 27 countries to enter the U.S. without visas through which terrorists have entered the U.S. in the past. Moreover, as Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) pointed out, legal crossings of the U.S.-Mexico border in both directions have huge economic and cultural benefits for both sides.

Witnesses at the hearing testified that a guest worker program would be an effective means of reducing the excessive resources spent monitoring the U.S.-Mexico border by legalizing the entrance of a needed workforce and keeping track of those entering and leaving the country. Establishing a regular program for the temporary entrance of migrant workers to the U.S. would allow Mexicans to come to the U.S. for a period of up to three years in order to work in jobs that there are not Americans to fill. During this period, the guest workers would be issued the documents necessary to move easily across the U.S.-Mexico border, facilitating the migrants' ability to visit their families and maintain cultural and economic links in their home countries, encouraging their return home after their work contract is completed.

Members of the subcommittee expressed their concern for maintaining the rule of law and acknowledged that current migration policy is so flawed that it does not effectively reduce the number of illegal migrants entering the country each year. A guest worker program that would legalize the entrance of these workers for a specified period of time could help to greatly reduce the number of illegal entrances to the U.S. Subcommittee members also raised the issue of whether or not a guest worker program would provide amnesty to those already residing illegally in the United States. The current guest worker proposal would not offer amnesty, but require workers with illegal status in the U.S. to apply for legal status in line with those waiting to enter the country. On the whole, subcommittee members sounded receptive to the idea of a guest worker program as a means of legalizing and monitoring migration across the U.S.-Mexico border. They were enthusiastic about the new USVISIT system and the possibility of adopting other biometric identification devices, although they expressed frustration at the slow implementation of certain new security reforms (including foreign passports with biometrics and the installation of fingerprint reading machines at airports).

Subcommittee Hearing attended by: Sen. Chambliss (R-GA), Chairman; Edward Kennedy (D-MA); Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL); Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX); Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA); Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL).

2.) "U.S. & Mexico: Immigration Policy & the Bilateral Relationship"

U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations

The Senate Committee on Foreign Relations assembled on Tuesday, March 23, 2004 to discuss the overall relationship and the prospects for immigration reform. Senators Richard Lugar (R-Indiana, chair), Chris Dodd (D-Connecticut, ranking member), and Chuck Hegel (R-Nebraska) were emphatic about their concerns that the administration has not been active in promoting immigration reform since the announcement of President Bush's initiative in January. Senator Dodd asked administration officials to think of additional ways to develop the Partnership for Prosperity and to think creatively about promoting economic development in both countries; Senator Lugar was concerned about energy cooperation.


3.) "Evaluating a Temporary Guest Worker Proposal"

U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary
Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security, and Citizenship

The U.S. Senate opened hearings on immigration reform on February 12, 2004 to further understand how to proceed on the President's announcement of immigration reform. Previous to this, at least five bills have been introduced into the U.S. Congress during this session to address immigration reform. All have Republican sponsorship and three have Democratic sponsorship as well. Two bills have some potential for further debate this year: the Agricultural Jobs bill brokered by Senator Craig (R-ID) and Rep. Berman (D-CA), which would provide temporary visas to agricultural workers with the possibility of achieving residency after four years; and the Dream Act, sponsored by Sen. Hatch (R-UT) and Sen. Kennedy (D-MA), which would provide in-state tuition and the possibility of residency for undocumented youth who were brought to the United States by their parents and want to pursue university studies. The remaining three bills closely parallel President Bush's proposal, although two include a mechanism for immigrants who obtain temporary visas to adjust to permanent status eventually.

Experts & Staff