New Task Force Takes Up Immigration Debate

May 05, 2005

As the debate over immigration policy and legislation heats up, the Migration Policy Institute announced today that it is convening a bipartisan panel of prominent leaders from key sectors concerned with immigration to generate sound information and workable policy ideas.

Former Senator Spencer Abraham (R-MI) and former Congressman Lee Hamilton (D-IN) will serve as co-chairs of the Independent Task Force on Immigration and America's Future. The panel's work will be directed by Doris Meissner, the former Commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

"Immigration issues are complex and wide-ranging in their consequences," noted a background document outlining the scope of immigration issues the Task Force will tackle. It said the lack of progress in immigration reform is, in part, because "immigration policy debates are often poorly informed, polarized and narrow."

Abraham and Hamilton said the Task Force will be a working group in which influential parties with different views and interests can search for common ground. It will focus on four major policy areas: the growing unauthorized immigrant population, immigration enforcement and security issues, labor markets and the legal immigration system, and integrating immigrants into American society. The panel will issue a series of reports and issue briefs, beginning as early as this summer, leading to a comprehensive set of recommendations next spring.

The approximately 25 task force members include high-ranking members of Congress who are involved in shaping legislation; leaders from key business, labor and immigrant groups; and public policy and immigration experts. MPI's partner institutions in the project are Manhattan Institute and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

"Neither national security nor individual liberties can be properly safeguarded in the United States without sensible and effective immigration laws," said Hamilton, who was Vice Chair of the 9/11 Commission. "This task force will not only evaluate what is broken in the current system, but outline what kind of immigration policy best supports our national interests in the years ahead."

"The Task Force has an ambitious agenda, but there is a great deal that needs to be addressed," said Abraham. "We intend to foster a balanced, informed dialogue on issues of central importance to America's success as a nation. The comprehensive changes that are needed must be achieved through bipartisanship in the spirit this Task Force represents."

The roadmap document the panel released today said, "There is a growing gap between our official immigration policies and realities on the ground." The paper noted the scope of the subject, saying immigration issues span "individual rights, the rule of law, the way our cities and labor markets operate, American competitiveness, national security, and the unique character of the United States in the world."

The roadmap focuses on four key policy areas:

  • The Unauthorized Population: This large and growing population "represent a fundamental breakdown in the rule of law…." Most of the adult unauthorized population is working and living in households with some members who have legal status. They have a profound economic impact on U.S. labor markets, communities and their home countries to which they send billions of dollars annually.
  • Immigration Enforcement and Security: "Tough border enforcement has not been equal to the task of stopping the flow [of illegal immigration]." Current policy "invites people to take great personal risk to defeat border controls for the payoff of ready access to the U.S. labor market."
  • Labor Markets: "Using immigration effectively will be a key ingredient for America's long-term economic prosperity and competitiveness. It will require some fundamental changes in existing immigration criteria."
  • Immigrant Integration: "The nation's immigrant integration policies are ad hoc, fragmentary, underfunded and fall largely to state and local governments." The most pressing issues relate to the large numbers coming in, geographical concentration and dispersion, skill and education levels, child poverty, the capacity of institutions that have historically played a role in integration, and the status of the social safety net.


"As a nation, we need to build a broader public consensus on how to reform our immigration system, because the status quo encourages lawlessness, exploitation and economic distortions," said Doris Meissner. "The disconnect between current policy and reality in the United States has reached a point where new, bipartisan solutions are imperative. This Task Force represents an opportunity for a diverse group of leaders from key vantage points within the body politic to discuss, debate and advance sound policy ideas for immigration reform."

Spencer Abraham, now a Distinguished Visiting Fellow at the Hoover Institution, served as Secretary of Energy during President Bush's first term. In the Senate, he was the Chairman of the Immigration, Border Security and Citizenship Subcommittee of the Judiciary Committee. Lee Hamilton is President and Director of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. He served as Vice Chair of the 9/11 Commission and as a member of Congress, where he was Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Representatives. Doris Meissner, an MPI Senior Fellow, was Commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service from 1993 to 2000 and a senior official in the Department of Justice during the Ford, Reagan and Carter administrations.

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The Pew Hispanic Center released a new report, "Unauthorized Migrants: Numbers and Characteristics." Building on a previous report, this recently released data reveals migrants' current status in the United States, dispelling some stereotypes. The report was developed as a briefing paper for the Independent Task Force on Immigration and America's Future

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The Migration Policy Institute is an independent, nonpartisan think tank dedicated to the study of the movement of people worldwide. Migration Policy Institute

The Manhattan Institute is a think tank that develops and disseminates new ideas that foster greater economic choice and individual responsibility. Manhattan Institute

The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars is a nonpartisan institution that commemorates the ideals and concerns of President Woodrow Wilson by uniting the world of ideas to the world of policy through supporting pre-eminent scholarship and linking that scholarship to issues of concern to officials in Washington. Woodrow Wilson Center

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