In 2010, there was a 67 percent earnings gap between naturalized citizens and noncitizen immigrants, according to a report from the Migration Policy Institute. Even after stripping out differences in education, language skills and work experience, naturalized citizens earned at least 5 percent more.
Nearly two-thirds of the 5.4 million legal immigrants from Mexico who are eligible to become U.S. citizens haven’t done so, according to a Pew study released in February. Their rate of naturalization is half that of legal immigrants from all other countries combined. The barriers to naturalization cited by Mexican nonapplicants include the need to learn English, the difficulty of the citizenship exam and the $680 application fee.
How do immigrants who are in the U.S. without permission fit into the nation’s jobs picture?
In 2010, about 8 million were working in the U.S. or trying to get work. They made up about 5 percent of the labor force, according to Pew. Among U.S. farm workers, about half are believed to be in the country illegally, according to the Government Accountability Office.
Business groups want a system to legally bring in both more highly skilled workers and more lower-skilled workers such as agricultural laborers. The idea is to hire more when Americans aren’t available to fill jobs. This has been a sticking point in past attempts at immigration overhaul. Labor groups want any such revamped system to provide worker protections and guard against displacing American workers. Current temporary worker programs are cumbersome and outdated.
The Senate bill would establish a agriculture worker visa system and create more visa programs for high- and low-skilled workers. Farm workers already here illegally would be able to qualify for green cards after five years if they'd already worked in agriculture in the U.S. for two years and if they kept working in the industry.
Current law requires employers to have their workers fill out a form that declares them authorized to work in the U.S. Then the employer needs to verify that the worker’s identifying documents look real. But the law allows lots of different documents, and many of them are easy to counterfeit.
The government has developed a mostly voluntary employment verification system called E-Verify, which has gradually gotten better. But so far just 10 percent of employers are using it, according to the Migration Policy Institute. The system is now required in varying degrees by 19 states.
The Senate proposal would require all employers to implement it within four years.
FAMILIES VS. JOBS
A big question in the immigration debate centers on how much priority to give to the family members of U.S. citizens and permanent residents.
Under current law, the U.S. awards a much larger proportion of green cards to family members than to foreigners with job prospects here. About two-thirds of permanent legal immigration to the U.S. is family-based, compared with about 15 percent that is employment-based, according to the Migration Policy Institute. The rest is largely humanitarian.
Some policymakers think employment-based immigration should be boosted to help the economy. Advocates for families want to make sure any such action doesn’t come at the expense of people seeking to join relatives in the U.S.
The Senate plan would prevent citizens from bringing in siblings and would allow them to sponsor married sons and daughters only if the children were under 31. It would raise the cap on visas for high-skilled workers, create a startup visa for foreign entrepreneurs, and set up a new merit visa that would award points to prospective immigrants based on their education, employment, length of residence in the U.S. and other factors.
For all the attention being devoted to immigration right now, it’s not the top priority for most people, even for most Hispanics. It ranked 17th on a list of policy priorities in a recent Pew Research Center poll. Among Hispanics, one-third said immigration was an extremely important issue to them, behind such issues as the economy and jobs, education and health care.
A VIEW FROM THE SOUTH
Is life actually better in the U.S.? A little more than half of Mexican adults think so, according to a 2012 Pew Global Attitudes poll. Thirty-eight percent said they'd move to the U.S. if they had the chance. Nineteen percent said they'd come even without authorization.
Sources: Pew Hispanic Center, Migration Policy Institute, Department of Homeland Security, Census Bureau, Government Accountability Office, Population Reference Bureau, Encyclopedia of Immigration.Continued...