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Landmark Report Calls for Overhaul of US Immigration Policy

report to be discussed at boston college nov.4

Chestnut Hill, Mass. (November 2, 2009)--Boston College Political Science Professor Peter Skerry has co-authored a new report recommending major reforms of US immigration policy, including a mandatory workplace verification system, eliminating or restricting certain types of visas and improving temporary worker programs.

Skerry was one of three conveners of the Brookings-Duke Immigration Policy Roundtable, a group of 20 scholars, community leaders, political and policy entrepreneurs, think tank analysts and former government officials who produced "Breaking the Immigration Stalemate: From Deep Disagreements to Constructive Proposals." The roundtable is an undertaking of the Kenan Institute for Ethics at Duke University and the Governance Studies Program at the Brookings Institution, with financial support from Boston College and other organizations. [The report will be presented at a public event at Boston College, Nov. 4. Details below.]

The report's authors hope it can play a role in the ever-divisive national debate on immigration in the US, says Skerry who notes that participants came from significantly different viewpoints and perspectives, and sharply disagreed about various aspects of the immigration issue.

The project shows that it's possible for people with strong differences of opinion to engage civilly on a contentious issue — and to hammer out solutions that can make a difference, according to Skerry.

Peter Skerry
Boston College Professor Peter Skerry

"This is an era of polarized politics, where discussions often take on the character of a food fight," says Skerry. "It's not a great environment in which to have a discussion on a major issue like immigration. Without trying to seem grandiose about it, we feel very pleased that we could have some very substantial, meaningful conversations and produce concrete proposals."

"Breaking the Immigration Stalemate" proposes six recommendations for improvement to immigration policy in America.

--The United States should dramatically reduce illegal immigration by linking workplace verification and legalization

The roundtable proposes legislation that bolsters wage and labor law enforcement and workplace inspections and audits, but also targets unauthorized workers who have been in the US for five or more years. To qualify for legalization, they would have to pay a fine, provide of evidence of current employment and steady work history, pass a background check, and meet other requirements.

--Congress should eliminate Diversity Visas, restrict eligibility for family-sponsored visas, and increase visas for skilled immigrants

The report identifies the visa system as another area needing revision, and proposes eliminating the Diversity Visa Program — in which residents of eligible nations who have at least a high school diploma or equivalent compete via a lottery for 50,000 permanent resident visas — and limiting family-sponsored visas to spouses and minor children, while increasing visas for skilled immigrants (those with a bachelor’s degree or higher).

--Congress should improve temporary worker programs and bolster labor market protections

Temporary worker programs should be overhauled as well. The report recommends replacing temporary employment visas with non-renewable, five-year provisional visas that — following an initial employment period — would be portable across employers.

--Congress should establish an independent Standing Commission on Immigration

The roundtable calls for Congress to establish an independent Standing Commission on Immigration that would report on specific recommendations on ceilings for, or any changes in the nature of, permanent and temporary admissions categories.

--Public and private sectors alike should increase efforts to assimilate and integrate new Americans

The report recommends creating an Office for New Americans that would work with state and local governments, voluntary and non-profit organizations and other entities to foster immigrants' assimilation and integration into American society. It calls for the private and public sectors to strengthen immigrants' participation in early childhood programs and to promote efforts that encourage high school retention and pursuit of higher education. Core civic principles and US history should be emphasized in the content of naturalization preparation.

--The United States should engage Mexico

The report's final recommendation urges greater cooperation between the US and Mexico not only on immigration but also in initiatives that promote economic development, law enforcement, judicial reform, and border safety and security.

Two of the conveners will present the report at Boston College at an event open to the media and the public.

WHAT: Presentation and discussion of the landmark report, "Breaking the Immigration Stalemate"

WHO: Report co-authors Peter Skerry of Boston College and Noah Pickus, Nannerl O. Keohane Director of the Kenan Institute for Ethics at Duke University; Responses from Daniel Kanstroom, associate director of the Boston College Center for Human Rights and International Justice, and Center for Immigration Studies Director of Policy Studies Jessica Vaughan.

WHEN:  November 4, 4:00-6:00 p.m.

WHERE:  Devlin Hall, Boston College, 140 Commonwealth Ave.  Chestnut Hill, MA

The roundtable was hardly a genteel academic exercise, according to Skerry, who says not all members necessarily even agreed with every facet of the final report. The report's appendix includes dissenting opinions or other comments by several members, including Skerry.

Skerry, in his statement, notes his opposition to the proposed legalization program: “While I sympathize with my colleagues' desire to alleviate the burdens on illegal immigrants," I am concerned that the proposal could spur more immigrants to "come here illegally with the expectation of legalization and eventual citizenship.

"There were a lot of considerations to balance," said Skerry. "The needs of the labor market versus concerns about national identity and security, for instance; or the idea that you need to give people a clear idea of what's expected of them versus concerns about imposing too many, or unrealistic, conditions.

"We tried to find some common ground. It’s the beginning, we hope, of a process that could — and should — happen more."

The full report is available online at

For more information, contact Jack Dunn, Director, Boston College News Office, 617-552-3351,