The Obama Administration announced last week that it would expand the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program for foreign students. Under the OPT program, foreign students are authorized to work in the U.S. under certain conditions: during annual vacation or other times when school is not in session; In particular, foreign students benefit from the ability to work following the completion of their degree because they do not have to obtain an additional work visa, such as an H-1B, which would require a sponsoring employer and certification from the Department of Labor.
Foreign students, who some experts believe already enjoy an advantage over Americans as a result of OPT, will gain an even greater advantage than they already have due to the expansion. According to David North of the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), businesses do not have to pay Social Security or Medicare taxes when they hire foreign students under the OPT program.
President Obama Declares the Border is Secure
In a speech given in El Paso, Texas, President Obama told Americans the border is secure. The President quickly followed these remarks by declaring that it is now time for Congress to pass “comprehensive” immigration reform.
“Over the last two years” he said, “thanks to the outstanding work of [Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano] and [Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Alan Bersin] and everybody who's down here working at the border, we've answered those concerns…. We have gone above and beyond what was requested by the very Republicans who said they supported broader reform as long as we got serious about enforcement. All the stuff they asked for, we've done.”
Having stated that the border is sufficiently secure, the President made the case that it was time for Congress to pass “comprehensive” immigration reform. He told his audience that granting amnesty to illegal aliens is a moral and economic imperative. America, he said, is defined as a “nation of immigrants – a nation that welcomes those willing to embrace America’s ideals and America’s precepts.” Ignoring the long-established rule of law on which citizenship is gained, the President said that “in embracing America, you can become American.”
The President outlined a four-step approach to tackling comprehensive immigration reform. First, he said, the government has to take responsibility for securing the borders. He reiterated that the Administration believes this first task has already been successfully accomplished. Second, the President said that businesses must be held accountable if they exploit undocumented workers. Third, illegal aliens must “get right with the law,” meaning illegal aliens must pay their taxes, pay a fine and learn English. Finally, President Obama promoted expanding legal immigration so that it is “easier for the best and brightest to not only stay here, but also to start businesses and create jobs here.” .
The Presidents’ speeches last week are an indication of how important immigration reform measures and the Latino vote will be in the 2012 election. As part of his campaign, the President will be attempting to cater to the Hispanic voters who overwhelmingly favored him in 2008, as well as political independents who want stronger border security
House Subcommittee Holds Hearing on Improving Visa Security
Last week, the House Immigration Subcommittee held a hearing on Judiciary Chairman Rep. Lamar Smith’s (R-TX) Secure Visa Act The Secure Visa Act aims to close loopholes in the current visa regulations to keep terrorists from entering and remaining in the country in two key ways: First, the bill clarifies the Secretary of Homeland Security’s explicit authority under the 2002 Homeland Security Act to issue and revoke visas; and secondly it increases number of Visa Security Units (VSUs) in “high-risk” consular posts. The bill also eliminates judicial review of visa revocations.
Obama Hosts Celebrity Amnesty Meeting; Continues to Push DREAM Act
Last Thursday, President Obama held a meeting in the White House’s Roosevelt Room with celebrities from the Hispanic community to discuss “comprehensive immigration reform. Notable attendees included actresses Eva Longoria and America Ferrera, television hosts Jose Diaz-Balart of Telemundo (the brother of U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL and Maria Elena Salinas of Univision, Emilio Estefan (husband to singer Gloria Estefan), and Voto Latino Executive Director Maria Teresa Kumar. Senior White House aides Valerie Jarrett and David Plouffe also attended the meeting
Following the closed-press discussion, actress Eva Longoria spoke to reporters and indicated the meeting focused heavily on the DREAM Act. “We will be reintroducing that next week and hopefully get it to pass,” she said of the legislation aimed at granting amnesty to roughly two million illegal aliens. (White House comments on the meeting also confirm that the DREAM Act was front and center during the talks: “The President reiterated his deep disappointment that Congressional action on immigration reform has stalled and that the DREAM Act failed to pass in the U.S. Senate….”) “The President reiterated his concern that we educate the best and brightest but then ship that talent overseas or expel talented young people who have grown up as Americans and want to further their education or serve in our military,”
One day after the celebrity meeting, President Obama continued to push for the DREAM Act while delivering the commencement address at Miami Dade College in Florida. He told the audience, “I know that several young people here have recently identified themselves as undocumented….And I will keep fighting alongside many of you to make the DREAM Act the law of the land.” “Whether your ancestors came here on the Mayflower or a slave ship; whether they signed in at Ellis Island or they crossed the Rio Grande—we are one people,” he said