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Taskforce condems US immigration system
By Caroline Daniel and Jeremy Grant
Published: June 10 2004 22:11 | Last Updated: June 10 2004 22:11

The US immigration system is "broken" and needs to be overhauled in order better to address threats to national security, tackle lengthening visa delays for US corporations and help undocumented workers gain legal status, according to a new report.

The report, based on findings of a taskforce created by the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations, seeks to put immigration reform at the heart of the presidential campaign and urges the next president to make comprehensive immigration reform a priority in 2005. The system is "failing to meet the social, economic and security demands of the nation," it concludes.

"This report is a call for leadership and action, and in particular a plea for presidential leadership," said Doris Meissner, former US immigration commissioner and co-chair of the taskforce.

The report concludes: "Without action the contradictions and pressures will only increase, as the undocumented population grows, more people die at the border, families remain separated, processing backlogs increase, workers are exploited and certain industries decry labour shortages, and potential terrorists try to take advantage of systemic vulnerabilities."

The setting up of the taskforce was prompted by the economic and social tensions caused by rapid immigration into the midwestern states. "Immigration is often discussed as a coastal phenomenon. This mistakenly overlooks the heartland of the country," said the co-chairs of the taskforce, Jim Edgar, a former governor of Illinois, and Alejandro Silva, president of Evans Foods, and Ms Meissner.

They noted that over the last decade 21 per cent of the Midwest's population growth has been caused by immigrant arrivals.

Nine of 12 Midwest states had foreign-born populations that grew faster than the national average during the 1990s, while several grew at more than double the national average.

It jumped by 164 per cent in Nebraska, 130 per cent in Minnesota, and 114 per cent in Kansas.

This influx is causing significant integration problems for state and local governments.

The report cites Minneapolis/St Paul and its 60,000 Hmong immigrants from Laos, the largest urban concentration of Hmong refugees in the US and the fastest growing segment of Minnesota's population.

"Their numbers are expected to increase, as 15,000 more have been granted refugee status. . . many of the Hmong have faced great difficulty in learning English and becoming self sufficient," it says.

The economic impact of immigration is also a critical concern. Ms Meissner said: "50 per cent of new entrants into the US labour market in the last decade have been new immigrants, not native Americans."

The report calls for more resources to address the backlog of immigration-related applications, which have now reached 6.2m. "This is undermining credibility in, and support for, the immigration system. They separate families for years or even decades," it says.

It also estimates that there are more than 9.3m established undocumented persons in the US, of whom about 6m are working.

"The fact that undocumented workers continue to gain entry and employment despite a decade of heightened border enforcement demonstrates a mismatch between domestic demand and supply. . . The mechanisms of the US immigration system are out of touch with current realities and unable to adjust to economic and demographic trends."

Mr Edgar said: "it is important that these 9m come above ground, and we think, post-9/11, we should know who they are. We also need justice for these individuals so they don't have to live in the shadows."

The taskforce calls for reforms, including visa portability to reduce employer control, an earned legalisation approach that enables the existing undocumented population to gain legal status in the US, and a lifting of the cap on business visas.


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