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Immigration reform can be more durable than 1986 effort, says Chishti

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Immigration reform should include a commission that can adjust the availability of immigrant and worker visas based on the needs of the United States, Muzaffar Chishti of the Migration Policy Institute told a House panel on Feb. 5.

Chishti, the director of the institute's office at New York University's Law School, said that such a commission would help prevent another major wave of illegal immigration, which the 1986 comprehensive reform law did not stop.

Many Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee questioned whether it made sense to offer legal status to those in the country illegally, since that was part of the 1986 reform and yet widespread illegal immigration resurfaced not long after.

That law, the Immigration Reform and Control Act, focused too narrowly on the circumstances of the time, which was marked by a weak economy, Chishti said. When the economy strengthened in the ensuing years, there was a new demand for immigrant workers, but the 1986 law didn't provide a legal means for businesses to hire them, Chishti told the committee.

Instead, immigrants filled those jobs illegally. The 1986 law also didn't provide a means for the immediate family of many newly legalized immigrants to achieve legal status, another driver for illegal immigration, Chishti said.

"The real weakness of IRCA was it was too narrow. It just focused on the issues of illegal immigration" and didn't prepare for the future demand for visas, he added.

The law also failed because the employment verification system had loopholes, he said. Employers, for example, could hire contractors to circumvent the verification requirements.

Chishti urged the expansion of employee verification, but said it should happen in stages, in order to better handle problems that arise along the way.

For more:
- go to the hearing webpage (archived webcast and prepared testimonies available)

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