There aren’t many issues in America these days that incite as much intense passion on all sides as immigration. Among the many unfortunate consequences is the damaging effect on efforts to make reasonable progress on border security and feeding this country’s ravenous hunger for technological and scientific talent via H1B visas.
Fortunately, last week’s Supreme Court decision upholding Arizona’s law providing tough sanctions against businesses that hire illegal immigrants holds out hope for a reassertion of common sense on these matters.
The Arizona law requires businesses to use the federal e-Verify system to determine the immigration status of employees and imposes harsh fines on firms convicted of hiring illegal immigrants. Opponents said the law was an usurpation of federal immigration law, and they appealed to the High Court after the liberal Ninth Circuit in San Francisco unexpectedly upheld the Arizona statute.
Writing for the majority in the 5-3 decision that followed, Chief Justice John Roberts said “Arizona has taken the route least likely to cause tension with federal law. It relies solely on the federal government’s own determination of who is an unauthorized alien, and it requires Arizona employers to use the federal government’s own system for checking employee status.”
The immediate effect of the ruling,according to Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer is that “all states are now free to take down the ‘Help Wanted’ signs for illegal aliens.” Indeed, the most difficult challenge of the immigration issue has always been trying to reconcile the needs of employers looking for cheap labor on the one hand with long-standing laws barring the hiring of illegal immigrants on the other. Affirming state use of the e-Verify system and penalties on noncomplying firms means those who genuinely wish to come to America now will have to do so through legal channels. It will also dramatically reduce the incentive to cross into this country illegally, making it much easier for U.S. officials to address the national security aspect, which is border security. In the post-9/11 world, we must know who is coming and going across our borders.
With the court having thus taken a big step toward restoring the primacy of the legal immigration process, Congress should follow up by greatly increasing the number of H1B visas made available annually from the current level of 65,000. These are visas granted to individuals possessing particular skills, usually in high-tech, engineering, architectural, educational, medical or scientific jobs for which there is a shortage in this country.
Thousands of foreign students come here for advanced education degrees. While many stay in America, growing numbers of them return to their homelands, believing they will find greater opportunities there and thus depriving the U.S. of any benefit from having facilitated their career training. Thousands more skilled professionals in vital industries would come here if they were allowed to do so. Congress should move quickly to make that possible.