Ron DeSantis’ Martha’s Vineyard Stunt Might Help Migrants Stay in the U.S. on Special Visas

“Salazar certified that the migrants flown to Martha’s Vineyard were the victims of a crime. “Based upon the claims of migrants being transported from Bexar County under false pretenses, we are investigating this case as possible Unlawful Restraint,” Salazar said in a statement to GBH News. Under the Texas penal code, unlawful restraint, or restricting someone’s movement without consent, includes actions that involve “force, intimidation, or deception.” Salazar noted that his office had “submitted documentation through the federal system to ensure the migrants’ availability as witnesses during the investigation.”
The sheriff’s certification move is notable because it clears the way for the migrants to apply for a U visa, which is devoted to victims or witnesses of crimes, through U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). “Once certified, the crime victim can apply to USCIS for a U visa, which, if approved, allows them to remain in the US in nonimmigrant status and eventually can lead to Lawful Permanent Residence,” said immigration attorney Rachel Self, who has been assisting the migrants legally.

But backlogs spell a lengthy process for migrants who hope to obtain U visas. There were over 285,000 U visa petitions pending as of FY 2021, per USCIS data. According to a March report by the Niskanen Center, it would take more than 17 years for the government to process all U visa applications at its current pace. What’s more, Congress caps the number of visas at 10,000 annually. But as Politico notes:

“Once the Venezuelans submit their applications, they will likely be allowed to work and protected from deportation. Last year, the federal appellate court that covers Massachusetts ruled that a Honduran man could not be removed from the country while his U visa application was pending.””

“This development in DeSantis’ Martha’s Vineyard stunt speaks to how counterproductive showy immigration enforcement schemes can be. Often done in the name of fiscal responsibility, moves in Texas and Florida have racked up massive bills at taxpayers’ expense. The Martha’s Vineyard flights have also landed DeSantis in the Treasury Department inspector general’s crosshairs: The governor is now under investigation for potential misuse of federal COVID-19 funds to cover the flights.”

English Tests Are Just an Excuse To Block Immigrants From Licensed Professions

“Taiwanese student Ti “Joyce” Chun-Shan demonstrated English proficiency daily when she came to the United States at age 39. She took college classes in English, maintained good grades and earned a certification in ESL.
Chun-Shan, who finished a massage therapy program and earned an associate’s degree at Chandler Gilbert Community College in Arizona, also spoke English with clients as part of her training.

Nobody complained about a language barrier. Yet when Chun-Shan applied for an occupational license—a formality for most of her classmates—the Arizona Board of Massage Therapy singled her out for extra scrutiny.

State law requires massage therapists who are not native English speakers to demonstrate “communication proficiency.” So regulators told Chun-Shan, who grew up speaking Mandarin, that she would have to take an English test and exceed board-imposed standards in four sections: reading, writing, speaking and listening.

The board sets minimum standards outrageously high. Scores must exceed the median for all groups of test takers, including native English speakers and college graduates. Rather than waste her time and money—up to $325—Chun-Shan refused to take the test.

Other states lay similar traps, sometimes indirectly. Licensing programs and exams, for example, are often available only in English. Washington, D.C., added another barrier to those who don’t speak English fluently in 2016, when the district decided that daycare providers must have an associate’s degree in early childhood development or a closely related field.

The law says nothing about English proficiency, yet a 2018 analysis showed that all qualifying programs at nearby colleges were taught exclusively in English. As part of the coursework, aspiring daycare providers must earn credit in language-intensive subjects like public speaking and composition.”

“Florida passed sweeping licensing reforms in 2020. And Utah has passed several bills in recent years to ease the regulatory burden on service providers. Among other reforms, Utah has exempted hairstylists from cosmetology licensing and reduced the training hours necessary to perform limited massage therapy.

Connecticut is moving in the opposite direction. In 2019, the state restored an abolished licensing requirement for manicurists, an occupation dominated by Vietnamese immigrants. Meanwhile, Louisiana and Oklahoma have dug in—following lawsuits from the Institute for Justice—to protect licensing requirements for eyebrow threaders, an occupation dominated by South Asian and Middle Eastern immigrants.

Unnecessary regulations like these that prevent immigrants from being able to make a living are wrong in any language.”

Most Americans Say Immigrants Make the U.S. Better. So Why Don’t Politicians Do Anything About It?

“At a time when the American economy could use more people, restrictions on immigration continue to trap a lot of unused talent in low-productivity countries. To unleash it, the United States could simply let these immigrants in and let them work. They’d become a productive part of the system that makes this country so wealthy. But politicians are getting in the way.”

“Today, many U.S. industries are having a hard time finding workers, leaving production lower than it should be. That means fewer goods and services to raise our living standards. It’s so bad that unfilled jobs in the manufacturing sector could cost the U.S. economy $1 trillion annually.
This highlights that our problem isn’t too many immigrants. Instead, we admit too few people who want to come here to work, often leaving them with no good choice but to try anyway.

I understand that some Americans feel uneasy about allowing in more immigrants who are less educated than most of our population. But you don’t have to be a highly educated engineer, surgeon, or entrepreneur of the caliber of Elon Musk to add net value to the U.S. economy. In fact, so much of our country is functioning so well precisely because of so-called low-skilled workers.

Think back to the many months of the pandemic when the economy was closed except for those businesses labeled “essential.” Who do you think kept supermarkets open by stocking shelves and driving supplies from warehouses to stores? Who collected garbage, planted vegetables, and raised chickens? Who prepared the takeout meals you ordered on Uber Eats or other platforms? Who cleaned your home or renovated your patio? Who worked in elder care facilities? It was the workers we dismissively call “low-skilled.””

Biden issues new rule to protect program for young immigrants

“The regulation, which takes effect on Oct. 31, is meant to protect DACA by codifying the program and replacing a 2012 memo that first created it. The Obama-era program currently offers work permits and protection from deportation to more than 600,000 undocumented immigrants.”

“Biden went on to directly call on Republicans on Capitol Hill to move for a legislative solution.”

“the future of DACA remains uncertain after years of legal challenges.
The Trump administration tried to end the program for years but was eventually rebuffed by the Supreme Court. Ultimately, a federal judge in Texas struck down the program, finding it to be unlawful, just months after Biden took office last year.

Since then, the Biden administration has been blocked from approving new applications for DACA, which has granted work permits and deportation protection for its recipients. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals could rule on the program’s legality any day now.

Homeland Security specified that the final regulation would apply only to DACA renewal requests as the current injunction still blocks the administration from approving new DACA applications.”

Are Ron DeSantis’ Migrant Flights Legal?

“Two big legal questions are germane to the stunt: one relating to how migrants were induced to board flights and the other relating to using state funds. Legal experts, lawmakers, and the architects of the flights are now debating what was and wasn’t legally permissible about the scheme.
DeSantis, for his part, has said the migrant flights were “clearly voluntary.” Taryn Fenske, a spokesperson for DeSantis, shared with Axios a redacted consent form for the flight. That form mentions a “final destination of Massachusetts” and holds “the benefactor or its designated representatives harmless of all liability” incurred during the journey, which it says is meant to transport the signatory “to locations in sanctuary States.”

Though much of the form is translated into Spanish, the mention of Massachusetts as the final destination is not. The only mention of Massachusetts in the Spanish portion of the redacted document is a handwritten abbreviation: “MA.”

Three of the migrants flown to Martha’s Vineyard filed a lawsuit against DeSantis..alleging that Florida officials “made false promises and false representations” that if they “were willing to board airplanes to other states, they would receive employment, housing, educational opportunities, and other like assistance upon their arrival.” The lawsuit notes that a woman “gathered several dozen people…to sign a document in order to receive a $10 McDonald’s gift card.” Per the suit, the woman didn’t explain what the consent form said. Migrants interviewed by NPR also explained that the same woman promised they would be flown to Boston and receive expedited work papers if they boarded the flights in San Antonio.

With this background in mind, some commentators have suggested the flight scheme may have run afoul of Texas law. Under title 5, chapter 20 of the Texas penal code, the crime of “unlawful restraint,” or restricting someone’s movement without consent, includes actions that involve “force, intimidation, or deception.” An unlawful restraint offense is a misdemeanor, except when the victim is under 17 years old—then it’s a state jail felony. At least some of the migrants DeSantis sent to Martha’s Vineyard were children.

Legal experts surveyed by Politico suggested that federal criminal trafficking statutes weren’t relevant unless migrants were transported against their will. If coercion was involved, the legality becomes much murkier. “If someone is told, ‘Hey, get on the bus. We’re going to Chicago because we have a job for you’ and it’s not true, that person has been victimized,” said Steven Block, a Chicago lawyer and former assistant U.S. attorney who dealt with trafficking and corruption cases.

The matter of state funds is at least slightly easier to distill. Florida’s 2021–2022 budget set aside $12,000,000 to implement “a program to facilitate the transport of unauthorized aliens from this state consistent with federal law.” Funds that weren’t spent in 2021–2022 rolled over to be used for the same purpose in 2022–2023. This is the pot through which DeSantis financed the Martha’s Vineyard flights, and the governor says he’ll spend “every penny” of it to “make sure that we’re protecting the people of the state of Florida.”

The 2022–2023 spending bill explicitly provides money for transporting migrants “from this state.” That would seem to indicate an origin in Florida. But the Martha’s Vineyard flights originated in San Antonio, which DeSantis acknowledges. Florida Democrats are now questioning whether this rendered the flights illegal. They are attempting to block funding for the relocation effort. A potential sticking point is that the flights were routed through Crestview, Florida, before reaching Martha’s Vineyard, ostensibly to refuel.

Geography aside, the migrants’ immigration status may also clash with the Florida budget language. State Sen. Aaron Bean (R–Jacksonville) stated in March that the relocation scheme wouldn’t apply to people who had requested asylum in the U.S. after fleeing communist or socialist countries since “they are here lawfully.” Further, the 2022–2023 budget specifies that the relocation scheme only applies to people who are “unlawfully present” in the country.

After crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, the migrants now suing DeSantis—all recent immigrants from Venezuela—turned themselves over to federal immigration officials, the lawsuit explains. Each has “active federal proceedings to adjudicate their immigration status,” which authorizes them to stay in the United States unless their immigration court proceedings determine otherwise.”

When Republicans Talk About Immigration, They Don’t Just Mean Illegal Immigration

“The distinction between legal immigration and illegal immigration is often not clear-cut, though. Consider that only a minority of unauthorized immigrants, 38 percent, entered the country without proper documentation in 2016, according to research conducted by the Center for Migration Studies. Instead, the majority of unauthorized immigrants who entered the U.S. that year, 62 percent, overstayed their temporary visas, meaning they initially arrived in the U.S. legally but proceeded to remain illegally with expired paperwork. Moreover, the Pew Research Center looked at 2017 data from the Department of Homeland Security and found that almost 90 percent of those who overstayed their visas were from neither Mexico nor Central America.
Regardless, this doesn’t change the fact that a lot of media attention remains focused on illegal immigration, especially in the context of the southern border. Republicans are also still probably more concerned over illegal immigration than over legal immigration. When Gallup asked Americans in March how personally worried they were about illegal immigration, 68 percent of Republicans said “a great deal” — 27 percentage points higher than the overall share of Americans who said they were worried a great deal and 50 points higher than the share of Democrats who said the same.

And it’s this overwhelming concern around illegal immigration — regardless of its accuracy — that helps explain why Republican politicians still give the topic so much oxygen in their campaign materials. They know illegal immigration is a huge flash point for their voters — at the very least, this is something I’ve found in researching the platforms of various Republican primary candidates running for state and federal office. And yet, I’ve also found that when you look at the actual immigration policies Republican politicians have successfully enacted, efforts to curb legal immigration have been much more successful than policies meant to restrict illegal immigration.

Take former President Donald Trump. While illegal immigration was a central pillar of his campaign, especially in 2016, his administration proved much more adept at implementing policies that limited legal immigration than illegal immigration. A week after he took office, he notoriously signed an executive order that initially limited immigration from seven majority-Muslim countries. Moreover, throughout his four years in office, Trump also pursued a number of measures to uproot the process for asylum seekers, from banning certain situations in which people were eligible for asylum to introducing new protocols that made the asylum process longer. And later, the coronavirus pandemic unleashed a series of travel restrictions from the Trump administration in early 2020 that contributed to an 18 percent decrease in the average number of monthly green cards and a 28 percent decrease in non-immigrant visas compared with President Barack Obama’s second term. Meanwhile, Trump’s early campaign promises to collect and deport all undocumented immigrants never panned out, and his infamous wall — at least how he envisioned it — has yet to be built.

Trump’s policies may present obvious examples, but the former president is not the only one proposing policies that limit legal immigration. Republicans in Congress have also started to take up legislation that whittles down such pathways. For instance, when Republicans controlled the Senate in 2019, Sens. Tom Cotton and Josh Hawley and then-Sen. David Perdue reintroduced the RAISE Act, which proposed restricting family-based immigration policies in addition to instituting a host of other caps. (An earlier version, which specifically outlined halving the number of green cards issued annually, had previously failed to come to a vote in 2017, when Cotton and Perdue first proposed it.)

The bill also explicitly linked legal immigration to the economy with its focus on highly skilled immigrants, which it defined as immigrants who could help with “improving the fiscal health of the United States” without jeopardizing jobs that could otherwise be held by American citizens or as “protecting or increasing the wages of working Americans.””

55% of America’s Top Startups Were Founded by Immigrants. Why Won’t Congress Let in More?

“Immigrants are 80 percent more likely than native-born Americans to found a firm, according to a study released this May by researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. But more than that, a report released this week by the National Foundation for American Policy (NFAP) indicates that immigrants are disproportionately responsible for starting high-value companies.
According to the NFAP, a nonprofit that researches trade and immigration, immigrants have started 319 of 582, or 55 percent, of America’s privately-held startups valued at $1 billion or more. Over two-thirds of the 582 companies “were founded or cofounded by immigrants or the children of immigrants,” notes the NFAP. For comparison, approximately 14 percent of America’s population is foreign-born.

Together, the immigrant-founded companies are valued at $1.2 trillion and employ 859 people on average. Elon Musk’s SpaceX has the largest valuation at $125 billion, employing 12,000 workers; Gopuff, a food delivery service valued at $15 billion, has 15,000 employees; Stripe, a payment platform valued at $95 billion, employs 7,000; and Instacart, a grocery delivery service valued at $39 billion, has 3,000 workers.

These findings are notable, the NFAP points out, since “there is generally no reliable way under U.S. immigration law for foreign nationals to start a business and remain in the country after founding a company.” A large share of the immigrant startup founders came to the country as refugees, on family-sponsored green cards, or through employment-based pathways for other companies.

“Our employment-based pathways for immigrant entrepreneurship are so poorly designed, migrant businesses are often associated with non–employment based pathways,” points out Sam Peak, an immigration policy analyst at Americans for Prosperity. Peak notes that refugees “have the highest rates of entrepreneurship of any other immigrant group,” and family-based migration, “especially among siblings, is also strongly tied to new business formation.”

Lawmakers have introduced a number of measures this year meant to bring more entrepreneurial and highly educated immigrants to the United States, but many of these have been included in—and eventually stripped from—larger bills.”

America Needs More Foreign STEM Talent To Produce Semiconductors. The CHIPS Act Won’t Fix That.

“”The U.S. currently does not produce enough doctorates and master’s degrees in the science, technology, engineering and math fields who can go on to work in U.S.-based microchip plants,” write Brendan Bordelon and Eleanor Mueller for Politico. “The U.S. now produces fewer native-born recipients of advanced STEM degrees than most of its international rivals.”
According to a report from Eightfold AI, which runs a work force artificial intelligence platform,* the U.S. would need to fill between 70,000 and 90,000 fabrication jobs in order to have the numbers necessary for critical applications. And chipmakers are already struggling due to the insufficient availability of workers—the Taiwanese Semiconductor Manufacturing Corporation had aimed to open a new chip fabrication facility in Arizona this September, but had to delay the opening by six months due in part to a labor shortage.

Though the CHIPS Act carries a hefty price tag, it’ll do little to solve the underlying labor shortage that’s stymying domestic production in the short term. All 17 of the semiconductor experts surveyed by the Government Accountability Office noted the need to implement work force development policies, and many specifically suggested immigration reform. The CHIPS Act’s proponents argue that key provisions would help encourage native-born Americans to enter STEM fields and boost the semiconductor labor force down the road. But lawmakers intent on boosting chip manufacturing in the near future would be foolish to neglect foreign talent—much of which is already on American soil.

Allowing foreign-born students educated in STEM fields at American universities to stay in the country could help alleviate the labor shortages that semiconductor firms are facing.”

Once These Legal Immigrants Turn 21, They Face Deportation

“Fedora Castelino left India when she was only four months old, eventually settling in the United States at the age of six as a dependent on her father’s H-1B visa. Now almost 19, she’s staring down a deadline: In just two years, she might have to deport herself.

Castelino is one of over 200,000 “Documented Dreamers,” dependent visa holders who were brought to the U.S. legally as children and have resided here lawfully since. If they can’t secure a work visa or sponsorship for a green card before turning 21—a process made far more difficult by extreme application backlogs and wait times—they’re forced to self-deport. “It’s so hard to realize that I’ve lived here basically my entire life—this is actually not my home,” says Castelino. “Even after finishing all my schooling in America, I’m still not in a home country, which is really hard to accept.”

“These are individuals who’ve essentially been raised and educated here,” says Dip Patel, founder of Improve the Dream, which advocates for Documented Dreamers. “This is typically the only place they’ve known.” According to a survey conducted by Patel’s organization, Documented Dreamers were, on average, just five years old when they came to the United States.

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, introduced by the Obama administration, shields undocumented “Dreamers” from deportation. Around 650,000 undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children through no fault of their own are protected. But Documented Dreamers have received comparatively little attention from politicians.”

America has an innovation problem. The H-1B visa backlog is making it worse.

“Since the early 20th century, the US has been a world leader in innovation and technical progress. In recent decades, however, some experts have worried that the country’s performance on these fronts has been slowing, even stalling.

There are many possible explanations for this phenomenon, but one has seemed especially salient in recent years: an immigration system that discourages, and often turns away, the most highly skilled and talented foreign workers.

Historically, immigrants have played a vital role in American innovation. As Jeremy Neufeld, an immigration policy fellow with the Institute for Progress, a new innovation-focused think tank, remarked to me, “It’s always been the case that immigrants have been a secret ingredient in US dynamism.” Robert Krol, a professor of economics with California State University Northridge, describes it this way: “The bottom line is that when you look at the impact of immigrants — whether you think about starting businesses or innovating patents — they have a large, significant impact.”

Multiple analyses of historical immigration patterns show that more migrants to a region correlates with a higher rate of innovation and related economic growth. By contrast, when immigration is more restricted, companies — especially tech companies and those that conduct innovative R&D work — are less successful, and growth in jobs and wages slows. Studies have also shown that immigrants tend to be entrepreneurial: Based on survey data between 2008 and 2012, 25 percent of companies across the US were founded by first-generation immigrants. Other research shows that immigrants are more likely than native-born US citizens to register patents.

As Neufeld points out, the Covid-19 pandemic might have gone much worse if immigration had always been as restrictive as it is now. A number of co-founders and critical researchers with Moderna are immigrants, as is Katalin Karikó, a pioneer of mRNA research — who, if she had tried to immigrate after the 1990 H-1B reforms to the skilled guest worker program, might not have been able to come to the US at all.

Those H-1B guest visas are at the center of the issue today, some experts say. Designed in 1990 to bring in skilled professionals to meet labor market shortages, visas through the H-1B guest workers program are sponsored by employers, who submit petitions to bring in particular foreign professionals appropriately qualified for specific, highly skilled roles. Guest workers generally need at least a bachelor’s degree in a relevant field.

According to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), there are about 580,000 foreign workers currently on H-1B visas, a small percentage of the US workforce and immigrant population. But they are disproportionately concentrated in STEM, particularly computer-related occupations, often in fields where cutting-edge technologies are being developed.

Unfortunately, the H-1B process is falling increasingly out of date and badly failing to serve its original purpose of turning on the talent tap for top innovative companies. Congress sets an annual cap on how many H-1B visa holders can come in, and that cap is now far below what the labor market demands. The crush of applications once the window opens for a given year on March 1 is so intense that, in every year since 2014, USCIS has resorted to a lottery system instead of a first-come, first-serve process. That means that year in and year out, hundreds of thousands of high-skilled workers from abroad try to come to the US and ultimately fail, so that both the prospective employee and the company hoping to hire them end up losing out on their preferred option.”