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Kondracke: Congress Should Reform Immigration to Honor Kennedy

“Unless the United States has a more sensible and efficient system for admitting legal migrants who come to take advantage of work opportunities, no reasonable level of enforcement is likely to resolve the illegal immigration problem,” the panel said.

It added, “that for much of the last decade roughly 800,000 migrants could come to the United States illegally each year and find jobs is a clear indicator that the legal migration system has not remotely reflected market demand.”

The role that Kennedy played as chairman of the immigration subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee has now been taken on by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who has vowed to get a bill written this year.

Schumer could well advance the cause by holding a high-profile hearing featuring Jeb Bush as a key witness along with others from the 19-member task force, also co-chaired by Thomas F. McLarty, former President Bill Clinton’s first White House chief of staff.

The task force’s principal message was stark: “If the United States continues to mishandle its immigration policy, it will damage one of the vital underpinnings of American prosperity and security, and condemn the country to a long, slow decline in its status in the world.”

The panel made an especially strong case that immigration reform is necessary to keep the U.S. economy growing — and that robust growth, especially in high technology, is necessary for national security.

Immigrants will enlarge the workforce, help finance U.S. retirement programs, fill low-end jobs that Americans don’t want and prevent the U.S. from faltering in global economic competition, the panel said.

The task force recommended significant expansion and simplification of the H2-A agricultural worker program, the H2-B program for temporary, generally low-skilled workers and H1-B visas for the highly skilled.

While family reunification should continue to be the dominant principle of legal immigration policy, the task force said, more emphasis should be placed on economic immigration.

The panel made an especially strong case for attracting and keeping foreign students and graduates and high-skilled workers.

“Immigrants are especially important in science, technology and engineering, which are so critical to US economic competitiveness,” the report said, noting that more than half of U.S. scientists are foreign-born.

Other countries are now intensively competing for scientific talent, while limited H1-B quotas and other restrictions keep thousands of students and researchers from coming to the United States.

The task force recommended that “foreign students who earn graduate degrees from American universities be presumptively eligible to remain in the United States and receive employment-based visas” and that no quotas should apply.

The task force declared itself encouraged that the Obama administration has promised to make immigration reform a top priority.

Despite repeated assurances to restive pro-reform groups, however, it remains to be seen when and how hard President Barack Obama really will push to repair a system that practically everyone agrees is badly broken.

Obama campaigned in 2008 promising that comprehensive immigration reform would be on his first-year agenda, but during a trip to Mexico this month, he said it had to be put off until 2009, an election year.

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