Legal immigration is at crossroads in America

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NEW YORK – Legal immigration is at crossroads in America. There’s a slow but steady disruption for legal immigrants. The Trump administration has put in a slew of new rules and policies that’s making it hard to emigrate legally, and making life tough for those already here, waiting for a Green Card. Trepidation has increased manifold; there’s worry if a work permit will be extended or not; if employers will buckle under the pressure of ‘America First’, let go of immigrants whom they have sponsored for permanent residency.

The National Law Review reported on August 3, that the rate of requests for evidence (RFEs) and denials issued for H-1B and L-1 petitions by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is up considerably, citing a report by the National Foundation for American Policy.

“The findings, which are based on data released by USCIS, corroborate what many employers had already suspected—that it is getting harder to secure work authorization for foreign nationals, even those that are highly-skilled. The report suggests that the increased scrutiny on H-1B and L-1 petitions began shortly after President Trump issued his “Buy American and Hire American” (BAHA) executive order and has only been reinforced by subsequent policy initiatives that USCIS has implemented,” the Review noted.

The statistics are disturbing for skilled immigrants: USCIS issued more than double the number of RFEs for H-1B petitions in the fourth quarter than it did in the third quarter. The number of RFEs USCIS issued in the fourth quarter alone was nearly equal to the total number of RFEs it issued in the first, second, and third quarters combined.

According to the report, the denial rate for L-1B petitions in the first quarter of fiscal year 2018 was approximately 30.5 percent and 29.2 percent in the second quarter.

“This trend seems likely to continue given the series of policy initiatives that have been adopted by USCIS in furtherance of BAHA, all of which seem designed to make it harder for foreign nationals to not only secure immigration benefits, but also to retain them,” noted the Review.

It’s not just skilled and well-to-do legal immigrants who are facing the heat. Lower income households too are in the throes of fear.

CBS reported that the Trump administration’s immigration crackdown may be leading to an unintended consequence: a drop-off in benefits enrollment among legal Hispanic immigrants.

An immigration program called Secure Communities, which was rolled out during the Obama administration, is linked to a lower take-up of benefits such as food stamps and health care enrollment, according to a recent study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research. The researchers found Hispanic households were particularly hard-hit, even those with legal immigration status.

No study has been undertaken so far on similar impact on the Indian diaspora, but it’s likely it will closely mirror the Hispanic community’s dilemma. Family reunification Green Cards bring in mostly unskilled immigrants who avail of benefits to survive.

“We find evidence that our results may be driven by deportation fear rather than lack of benefit information or stigma,” wrote Marcella Alsan of Stanford Medical School and Crystal Yang of Harvard Law School in the paper.

Mixed-status households — or families with citizens as well as legal and illegal immigrants — suffered from lower take-up of benefits when Secure Communities was in effect, the researchers found. That could signal that legal Hispanic immigrants as well as Hispanic citizens may be worried that signing up for social services like food stamps could alert authorities about their family members without legal status, reported CBS.

While the study examined data from 2008 to 2013, some social service groups have reported similar trends since the Trump administration started targeting immigrants. The Spanish Catholic Center in Washington, D.C. told the Tribune News Service that food stamp enrollment has fallen in half from a year ago, the report said.

The Secure Communities program ran from 2008 to 2014 and was administered by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE). The program allowed ICE to check the immigration status of people arrested by local police, which resulted in more than 380,000 deportations.

Huff Post reported last year that President Trump had repeatedly expressed his ire of immigrants who avail of benefits.

In June of 2017, Trump, in a speech at Cedar Rapids, Michigan, said: “Those seeking admission into our country must be able to support themselves financially and should not use welfare for a period of at least five years.”

In August, Trump, had indicated his intentions on how to curb welfare for immigrants, saying: “The RAISE Act prevents new migrants and new immigrants from collecting welfare and protects U.S. workers from being displaced. They’re not going to come in and just immediately go and collect welfare. That doesn’t happen under the RAISE Act. They can’t do that.”

Huff Post noted that President Bill Clinton had signed such a bill over 20 years earlier, in 1996: The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, or “IIRIRA.” Congress legislated that not only would undocumented immigrants not receive welfare, but legal immigrants wouldn’t get benefits such as food stamps, Medicaid or money for child assistance until they’ve lived here at least five years and even seven years after their arrival.

However, the difference today is fear of deportation is high in the immigrant community, as laws are being rigidly enforced.

While the vilification of legal immigration is going on unabated, a study in Indiana, released this week, shows why it would be wrong to target legal immigrants: they greatly benefit the local community they reside in. make it prosperous.

The Journal Gazette reported on a study co-sponsored by Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership, Associated Churches of Fort Wayne and Allen County and Welcoming Fort Wayne, entitled “New Americans in Fort Wayne and Northeast Indiana: A Snapshot of the Demographic and Economic Contributions of Immigrants in the Region.”

At 22,228, immigrants in the area in Indiana make up nearly 5 percent of the region’s population. Most of the area’s immigrants come from Mexico, Myanmar, India and China. The region has about 8,400 undocumented immigrants, the study found.

Among the study’s other findings: nearly one-quarter of the region’s growth between 2011 and 2016 came from immigrants; more U.S.-born residents, 30.1 percent, than immigrants, 22.3 percent, received Medicaid or Medicare health insurance in 2016; the region’s immigrants are more likely to hold advanced degrees than U.S.-born residents, and immigrants are nearly on par with  U.S.-born residents in having a bachelor’s degree or higher. About 9.3 percent of immigrants over age 25 have an advanced degree compared with 7.5 percent of U.S.-born residents; nearly 61 percent of the region’s immigrants owned their own home, compared with 69.2 percent of U.S.-born residents.

The region’s immigrants in 2016 earned more than $634 million and paid more than $161 million in federal, state and local taxes. Immigrants make up more than their expected share of the working-age population, the report said.

(Sujeet Rajan is Executive Editor, Parikh Worldwide Media. Email him: sujeet@newsindiatimes.com Follow him on Twitter @SujeetRajan1)

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