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Five Ways to Move Forward on Immigration

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With the election of 2010 now behind us, and Republicans making steep gains in the House and Senate, the prospects for achieving comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) are dimming; if the Administration could not achieve CIR with a majority in both houses, it just does not seem possible now.

That being said, the fight for immigration reform is far from over, and I'd like to suggest five ways to move forward on immigration:

Pass the DREAM Act This one is a no-brainer. The DREAM Act allows for undocumented students who were brought here as children, and who complete high school and some college or military service, to become legal citizens. It is a good bill that will bring thousands of people out of the shadows, improve the education of our nation, and help our military. Harry Reid has already stated that he wants a vote on the DREAM Act during the lame duck session of Congress, so we will see what happens.

Pass the AgJOBS Bill. I've written about AgJOBS before, and I think it is a great way to facilitate more people who are here and already working to come out of the shadows, and gain (temporary) legal status. The plan does not automatically give anyone a green card, but it does allow workers to earn legalization.

Most importantly, AgJOBS is a pilot program. With some voices arguing that temporary work programs will take jobs from Americans and lower wages, the program would be a way to gain hard evidence on the actual situation, without comprehensive (and thus permanent) reform.

Fix the EB-1 Visa Category. Green Cards for employment are given out under five categories. (See the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service's website.) The first preference, known as "EB-1," is given to "people of extraordinary ability," outstanding professors and researchers, and multinational executives and managers.

With all of the talk about the need to bring more highly skilled immigrants into the country, it would make sense that the EB-1 category would be highly sought after.

And yet, the bar for qualification is impossibly high. According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, to qualify for the extraordinary ability you have to have, for example, a Pulitzer, an Oscar, an Olympic Medal; or, barring one of these achievements, a combination of factors such as a major and recognized contribution to your field, evidence of your leading role in "distinguished organizations," etc. Anecdotal evidence also suggests that even high-level scientists and researchers are turned away because, while they may be extraordinary, they are not the absolute top people in their field.

Not surprisingly, according to the most recent State Department Visa bulletin, the EB-1 category is one of the only employment-based category without a waiting list. According to Department of Homeland Security statistics in the last ten years, the EB-1 preference has been underutilized by about 6 percent (leaving roughly 95,000 visas unused by the category).

It strikes me that relaxing the criteria for this first preference would still bring the best and brightest to the United States (and would bring more of them,) without requiring an EGOT to qualify.

Fix the Bar on Material Support for Refugee Status. Current immigration law bars anyone involved in terrorism, terrorist activity, or who has provided material support to terrorists, from claiming refugee status. All well and good, except for the fact that as interpreted by the Department of Homeland Security and Department of Justice, the "material support" clause has been used to bar some victims of terrorism as well. Someone providing medical attention to terrorists, for example, even if to do otherwise would violate their Hippocratic Oath, could be considered providing material support.

No one wants to see terrorists enter the country, but our system must ensure that we are not confusing victims with perpetrators. (And this change can be made through regulation, rather than legislation.)

Eliminate the 1-year Bar on Asylum Claims. One of the more disturbing features of U.S. refugee law imposes a one-year deadline for filing an asylum claim by a potential refugee. This provision, written into the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, means that even if you fit the definition of a refugee -- someone with a "well-founded fear of persecution" -- you can still be returned to your home country simply for missing the deadline. According to a recent report by the advocacy group Human Rights First, between 1998 and 2009 over 53,400 asylum seekers were denied because of the filing deadline.

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