NEW YORK FOREIGN PRESS CENTER, 799 UNITED NATIONS PLAZA, 10TH FLOOR (Virtual)
MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone, and welcome. President Biden is making immigration reform one of his top priorities. His strategy is centered on the basic premise that our country is safer, stronger, and more prosperous with a fair and orderly immigration system that welcomes immigrants, keeps families together, and allows people across the country – both newly arrived immigrants and people who have lived here for generations – to more fully contribute to our country.
Jeremy Robbins, the executive director of the New American Economy, will contextualize the current state of affairs and explain how smart immigration policies will help grow our economy and create jobs for all Americans.
The New American Economy is a bipartisan coalition of more than 500 CEOs and mayors making the economic case for immigration reform. Mr. Robbins previously worked as a policy advisor and special counsel in the office of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a judicial law clerk at the United States Court of Appeals, a Robert Bernstein International Human Rights Fellow working on prisoner rights in Argentina, and a litigation associate at WilmerHale in Boston, where he was part of the firm’s team representing six Bosnian men detained at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
This briefing is on the record, and the view expressed by our briefers do not necessarily represent those of the State Department or U.S. Government. They are their – the briefers’ own views and do not represent the U.S. Government. Participation in foreign center programming does not imply endorsement, approval, or recommendation of their views.
We will post the transcript of this briefing when it’s ready on our website at fpc.state.gov. If you publish a story as a result of this briefing, please share it with us. After Mr. Robbins’ prepared remarks, we will open the floor for questions. If you have a question, please go to the participant list and raise your hand using that feature, or submit it in writing in the chat box and I’ll read it aloud for you.
And with that, I want to welcome Mr. Robbins, and I want to turn it over to you.
MR ROBBINS: Thank you, Daphne, and thank you all for attending at a time when I know there is so much demand for your focus and attention in so many places. I promise to keep my remarks short at the top end so we can spend a lot of time on questions and delving into the specific areas that are the most of interest to your readers and to you all as well.
As Daphne mentioned, my name is Jeremy Robbins. I’m the executive director of New American Economy, the think tank and advocacy organization founded by Mike Bloomberg to make the economic case for why smarter immigration policies make our communities and our economy stronger.
New American Economy was born out of decades of frustration in the immigration movement, where the immigration issue had become an increasingly polarized topic that became the centerpiece of elections almost every single time but that legislators wouldn’t touch with a 10-foot pole once they got into office. And so for decades, even though our immigration system has been nearly universally recognized to be broken and in drastic need of modernization, there has been no serious reform efforts that have been successful. We’ve sort of worked around the margin with discrete changes.
So New American Economy was started to change that, to find a way to bridge the gulf in this increasingly partisan divide on immigration and avoid the traps that had happened in the current conversation, where you have sort of two different immigration conversations happening in America, one by immigration advocates that focused largely on human rights and another by immigration restrictionists which focused largely on security and terrorism and crime, and they were shouting past each other.
And so the idea of New American Economy was to say look, there is a way to focus these conversations together, to have people having an honest conversation of the actual impact immigrants have in the communities that we’re living in. And then if you can bring people to the table on that, then you can start finding a middle ground.
And so we’re now working in more than 100 communities across the country, almost all of which are in conservative or swing states, places where it should be really hard to have these conversations, and we’ve been having tremendous success getting communities to make very real investments in helping their immigrants succeed and integrate in the community. And in doing so, we’re taking an issue that was once really controversial and making it one communities can get behind.
I’m happy to talk about some of those, but I think today what I want to talk about is the moment we’re at in Congress. And I think because of the work that we and many others have been doing, we’re in a very different place than we’ve been in years or even decades in the immigration movement, which is at the precipice of having potentially some real reform that’ll affect millions and millions of people.
So I want to divide my short remarks today into two areas, the what and the how. So what are trying to achieve in D.C., and how are we going to get it? So let’s start with the what. What are we fighting for? What’s wrong with our immigration system that needs fixing? And for people – certainly your readers – that aren’t going to be experts in the intricacies of the – in the U.S. immigration system, what is it that this debate’s even about?
And so let’s start with one very simple statement, which I think gets lost a lot in the debate, which is that while it’s very easy to point to President Trump and his relentless attacks on immigration as the culprit of the system, wherein the truth is that the problems – the fundamental problems with our immigration system – predated President Trump and that our system has been hugely flawed long before President Trump entered the scene. And so let’s start with broad strokes about what that was before we even talk about what’s happened over the last four years.
So here are just a few things. We currently have an estimated 10.5 to 11 million people living in the United States without legal status. For new people coming in, we have far too few visas for the number of workers our companies and our economy needs. And so that means at the high-skilled end it’s much harder to compete, and for many labor-intensive industries what you’re finding is that they’ll hire people – either they’ll hire undocumented workers, or they’ll have huge labor shortages, or both. What was happening a lot is that the talent that we could get here to power our industries all over our spectrum ends up going elsewhere, even though the United States has this great competitive advantage that we are the place of choice for a huge number of people the world over, and we’re squandering that.
And then the last part, which is the security part, is that we have built this enormous immigration security and deportation mechanism. It’s so large, in fact, that the immigration enforcement agents that – that agency, it dwarfs all other federal law enforcement agencies – the FBI, the CIA – it dwarfs all of them combined in what their budget is. But we still don’t have real control over who comes here and who doesn’t, and it’s not going to be a matter of just spending more money for more border agents. We have to think about how do we fix that reality.
Add to that four years of relentless attacks at every level of the immigration system, and we’re left with a system in dire need of fixing. Over the last four years, there was an attempt to stop people from coming by attrition, right, by making it so painful and dangerous to come here that people would stop coming. But there are two points to that. One is you can’t actually do that. You can’t make America such an unappealing place that it still won’t be superior to the poverty and violence that’s afflicting so many people around the world that’s driving them, the push factors that’s driving people to come here.
The second is: Why would you want to do that? Immigration has been an enormous engine of growth for America. Immigrants or their children founded 40 percent of our Fortune 500 companies. Just think about that. The American brands that are famous the world over that are existing in every country – immigrants were behind or their children were behind more than 40 percent of that. They’re behind more than 75 percent of patents at our top universities. They’re the only reason our agriculture, hospitality, construction, landscaping, domestic care, meat processing, so many other industries are able to stay afloat. And they’ve added a tremendous amount to American culture and society. The United States simply wouldn’t be the United States without immigration.
So we have a big problem which I have completely overgeneralized but we can delve into, and we just haven’t – even before the last four years, we have not been able to fix it. So the Biden administration has done something that has not been done in a very long time, which is that they’ve recognized the urgency of this challenge and they have made immigration reform one of their top priorities in the new administration. And I say that, I guess, since the last administration made it a priority too but in a very different way.
But in just the first three weeks in office, the Biden administration has already taken on many of these challenges, sort of, and I’ll – they led with a flurry of executive orders beginning on day one that so far have included – and bear with me, this is a hugely long list, but I’m just going to give you some of the toplines of the stuff they’ve done, and note that this is not exhaustive.
They’ve affirmed protections for DREAMers, so the immigrants that were brought to this country as children and lack legal status. They set up a task force to reunite children who have been separated from their families at the border. They’ve ended President Trump’s Muslim and Africa travel bans. They’re reviewing Trump’s public charge rule, which is a rule that effectively said that if you were poor or likely at any point to need benefits, to likely be poor in the future, you couldn’t get a green card to come here. You think about the story of American immigration, of people coming here with literally nothing and then making a hugely profound impact on our society. They’ve reviewing that rule to a T.
They’re raising the number of refugees we admit every year. So by the end of the Trump administration, the cap on refugees had been cut all the way down to 15,000 for the cap that they were going to admit at a time when the global refugee crisis is greater than it’s ever been, right. 70 million people around the world are refugees. So President Biden has now said they’re going to try and raise it by year two to 125,000. So that’s going to be a real effort to build (inaudible) agency.
They’re stopping construction of border wall. They are making sure the census counts every resident. They are pausing all deportations to review enforcement priorities and making sure that we’re going after the people we want to go after and we’re not creating – wreaking havoc in neighborhoods. They’re ending new enrollments in President Trump’s “remain in Mexico” policy, which is also known as MPP, or the Migrant Protection Protocols, which effectively said if you’re coming here to seek asylum, which you have a legal right to do, you don’t have to wait, but wait in Mexico until your case is heard. And what that does, it’s stranded tens of thousands of people in incredibly precarious and dangerous circumstances.
The Biden administration is – they’re reinterpreting who is eligible for asylum generally, trying to figure out who can be considered as persecuted because of their membership in a particular social group. They’re developing a strategy to address the root causes of migration by partnering with foreign governments to increase asylum options closer to home, so people don’t even take the treacherous journey to get to the United States. They’re focusing on – they’re relaunching a Task Force on New Americans to developing a strategy for the federal government to help people after they get here. How do we make sure they succeed? And they’re creating a task force on legal immigration to say, all right, why are we have – why are wait times so long for people who have a right to be – to get green cards and be a citizen, and what are the barriers standing in their way?
So it’s a lot. Now, I mean, but in reality all of that, that flurry of activity, is just a down payment on all that needs to be done and all that the Biden administration itself wants to get done. So on top of the work they’ve done in the first three weeks administratively and what they’re sort of setting out and charting the course there, they’ve also sent a bill to Congress to overhaul the immigration system writ large, because a lot of the changes that we really need to fix our immigration system are going to come through Congress.
And so some of the major items in their bill, or the pillars or the tent poles of their bill, are a pathway to citizenship for that 10.5, 11 million undocumented immigrants; a bunch of measures to keep families together, families that are being separated for a whole host of reasons in our immigration system that we can talk about, things like the three and ten-year bars which are – which say that if you can here illegally, even if you have a right to become a citizen, you marry someone who is a citizen, you actually would have to leave for three or ten years until you can do it. There are several other barriers that are on keeping families separated.
Their bill does a lot to increase the number of employment-based green cards so we can get more of the key workers we need – STEM workers and workers in other key industries. There’s funding for immigrant integration in order to help people succeed when they get here. There’s an effort to increase the numbers of people we’re drawing from diverse parts of the world to say that we are stronger when we are a pluralistic country that draws people from all over. They’re piloting – they want to pilot new programs, so just letting individual communities take some ownership over our immigration system and say, hey, maybe in west Texas in the Permian Basin where we need oil workers, or maybe we need farmers – I mean, whatever each region would need, they’d have some say to do that.
And they also – there are measures on border security as root causes of immigration.
So that’s essentially the what that we’re dealing with, which is a huge landscape, and we’ll delve into all that in questions. But I’ll close very quickly with the how we’re going to get it, specifically on Congress, because I think that’s where the biggest obstacles are.
As it likely obvious to even the most casual observer of our government, our Congress is less than its optimal in functioning right now. Like there are historically small margins in both houses of Congress, which means to pass anything you either need bipartisanship, which is really hard to come by right now in general, and even harder after the attempted coup in our Capitol, or you need every Democrat to vote for any measure for things to pass.
And so, but even that though is not likely enough in the Senate, which I’m sure many of you know, where our Senate rules around what’s called the filibuster, effectively meaning that no piece of legislation can pass without 60 votes, which means you’d need 10 Republican people – rogue senators – to vote for.
So there are two paths forward for any immigration big legislative change. One is to find a small segment of these reforms that can buster 60 votes in the Senate. That likely means the DREAM Act and maybe something around farm workers, high-skilled workers, maybe a few other discrete measures. Or there will need to be a way to pass an immigration bill with 50 votes in the Senate, and there are a bunch of ways to do that that are either by ending the filibuster or by something called reconciliation, which is the process President Biden is currently using for his COVID bill, but that’s the trickier process. We can talk about that as well.
All that is to say it’s an uphill climb to get these legislative victories, but it’s also a priority. So the next few weeks are going to tell us how possible they are. Last week Senator Dick Durbin, a Democrat, and Republican Senator Lindsay Graham introduced a version of their DREAM Act, which is a bill to help the kids who came here when they were young and would give them a path to citizenship. It would help – I can’t remember the (inaudible) this current version, but most versions help around 2 million people.
The House is also likely to pass its own version of the DREAM Act called the Dream and Promise Act that they passed last Congress, and they’re going to do so probably before March 12th for procedural reasons we can discuss, if people want, that make it easier to move bills, if you can do it quickly, if you’re moving a bill that you passed in the last Congress. So that’s going to be a conversation-forcing moment, and hopefully we can go from there.
So that’s where we stand. Before I go any further, let me pause and take questions. Daphne, thank you for the opportunity to present today. Thank you all for joining, and I’m eager to hear where your questions are and talk it all through.
MODERATOR: Well, thank you very much, Mr. Robbins. We really appreciate that, those introductory remarks. The questions I expect are going to come in – they are coming in fast and furious. When I call on you, please identify yourself by a full name as well as your outlet. Let’s go ahead. Is Azem on the line?
QUESTION: Yes. Yes, hi. Thank you for the briefing. I have two questions. I will start from where you actually ended, and that’s connected to DACA. So my question is how can the U.S. – the current administration put policies in place that when you have a new administration they cannot be revised in a way that was done with DACA and the promises that were not fulfilled for them?
And the second question is about undocumented immigrants. And you said that we have around the number approximately between 10.5 and 11 millions. And we know that a lot of undocumented immigrants actually pay also taxes. So could you elaborate more on that? And also, how do you see – you think about for legalization of their status could happen, and how this could help the U.S. economy further?
And my name is – I’m not sure if I said it. My name is Ibtisam Azem from AlAraby Aljadeed daily newspaper. It’s a pan-Arab newspaper. I am a correspondent at the UN and New York. Thank you.
MR ROBBINS: Thank you. That’s an excellent, excellent question. So two various quick questions. Let me take them in order. Actually, no, let me lie and take them backwards.
Undocumented immigration generally – when you say that undocumented immigrants pay taxes, people tend to miss that, right? They think that people here, they’re all working off the books, they’re not – undocumented immigrants pay an enormous amount in taxes. So let me – I’m going to drop something in the search bar, in the chat bar for all of you. Here is a – here’s some of the data. We have a think tank, and we study the amount that immigrants contribute and pay benefits and everything else, and we’ve broken it out for undocumented immigrants here too, if you all – if you want (inaudible).
For everyone else who’s not quickly in front of it, I just want to give you some of the data on this. There are – 88 percent of undocumented immigrants are of working age, which is – it’s about 60 percent for the native-born. So you think about people who are coming here, they are coming here to work. Like, despite all the rhetoric you see, the vast, vast majority of people who are coming here are coming because they want to do better for themselves and their families, and they’re coming here because there are jobs for them that we need in huge industries. So they’re working.
Through that work, they are paying taxes. They are consuming goods, where they’re paying taxes. And so undocumented immigrants pay more than $30 billion a year in taxes, and they have over $200 billion that they inject back into the economy through their consuming. These are enormous numbers. More than 800,000 of them have started businesses, whether it’s a local landscaping business or a restaurant. There are a huge number of – there’s a huge amount of economic activity. And when you talk about 11 million people in a country of 330 million, right – you’re talking about something where like 3 out of every 100 people are undocumented. So you walk down the street; you are interacting with people who are immigrants. So that impact is huge.
How do you get them status? And this goes to the DACA question too, is that you need – there’s stuff you can do by executive action, but the reality is you can’t give anyone a visa or citizenship by executive action. You need to be able to have Congress act for that. And one, that’s just if you can get that, then it’s much more resilient. President Trump was not able to unwind DACA despite his attempts, right? He tried and – but the fact that it was brought – that DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the program that gave young DREAMers sort of the deferral to their deportation and work status, was done by executive action, and so it can be unwound. The Trump administration wasn’t able to do it because they couldn’t articulate a – they have to (inaudible) good reason, and it just can’t be, like, a bad reason. And they couldn’t articulate one that was legally feasible, but had they had a second term they absolutely would have been able to do it. And so to give longevity, you need Congress to do something.
So that’s hard. I mean, if you’re talking about a world, as I mentioned, where you only need 50 votes to do it, then you absolutely can do that, right? That every Democrat will vote for a bill to give 11 million people legal status, and you’d have a couple Republicans if you could do that. At 60, it’s much harder. And so you have to start with the discrete pieces, like DREAMers, like maybe people on temporary protective status, like farm workers. That’s when we do it.
Another way to do it is for essential workers. More than half of undocumented immigrants are working in the essential industries that are keeping us safe and keeping our economy working, right, whether it’s the cashiers, the delivery people, the people picking our fruits and vegetables or processing our meat. And so we are going to pass two bills in Congress. One is – right now is going to be on stopping the virus, and the second is going to be about how do we build back.
In the second one there’s going to be a huge effort to give some version – I’ve seen estimates of up to 5 million undocumented immigrants legal status because of the role they’re playing on the front lines. That’s a bill that will only need 50 votes to move. And so if it stays in that bill, I think it is certainly passable.
So I hope that answered your question. If not, I’m happy to —
MODERATOR: Thank you so much. Let’s go to Nikhi. Nikhi, please state your full name and your media outlet. Thanks.
QUESTION: Sure. Hi, I’m Nikhi, Nikhila Natarajan from Indo-Asian News Service. It’s a news wire based in India. I’m in the U.S. It’s often that we hear terms like, all right, there’s an administration, new administration, so how will this change or that change? But the way things are done, and the way immigration especially has been tied up with duct tape and string and everything else together across so many agencies, it’s hard to undo, and especially because some of it is regulation, some of it is executive orders. The orders are easier to undo; the regulations are harder. Some of it is hidden and sitting inside the Federal Register, and so on. You know how this works.
So tell us about employment-based immigration, legal employment-based immigration as such. Do you see any changes that are realistic? And if it’s not happening at the federal level, simply because of the filibuster, are we going to see some change at the state level? Is that something that people are looking at? I heard about this from Karthick Ramakrishnan of AAPI Data. But do tell me what you see.
MR ROBBINS: Thank you, Nikhi. Those are great questions as well. Yes, absolutely, things are – I don’t think it’s an if/or. I think absolutely we should be pushing for things to happen at the state level and at the federal level. And you saw that specifically during COVID. One of the things we did was we worked with seven governors to change their licensing laws during COVID so more immigrant health care workers could practice on the front lines. Because we needed doctors, we needed nurses, we needed specialists, and we had all these people who were trained in wonderful places and wonderful universities in places like India, but they couldn’t – they hadn’t gotten their degree recertified, or they couldn’t get (inaudible). And so I think there’s a real role around things like licensing and support that they can do.
But immigration is at base a federal question. So who gets to come through the door is at base mostly an issue for the federal government. There is for – you’re right. I mean, for the getting changes that happen that actually filter all the way down is a nightmare. I mean, I think even the Obama administration they wanted to do – just as an anecdote but I think that is very illustrative, they wanted to do stuff to encourage immigrant entrepreneurs to come. And there’s no visa to come here and start a business, which is an absolutely crazy thing no one believes. And so often they’ll come, especially tech entrepreneurs, on the H-1B visa. But the H-1B visa is for high-skilled workers, and so if you own your company, it’s really hard to show that you’re the worker. So you have to, like, sell half your company so you’re not an owner, and you have to pay yourself a living wage, which people who are bootstrapping to start their company don’t want to do, and then they would apply. And, like, they’re – the Obama administration was like, “Okay, well, we’ll just – we’ll be looser about how we interpret that so we can encourage all these people to come and we’ll re-interpret what that means.” It never – getting down to, like, the street-level decision makers was always the biggest challenge.
So you would hear stories about people who are starting cloud computing companies and they would apply for the visa and they’d get their Request for Evidence back saying, “Well, you haven’t told us where your warehouse is and you’re a storage company, and so you don’t get the visa.” It’s like, well, that’s what a cloud – all right, so there’s a lot of that that has to go into it.
Having said that, there is going to be a huge effort on high-skilled immigrants both administratively and in Congress, and so there are a bunch of things that that means. In Congress, the biggest thing, especially as it impacts India – which I’m sure I’m telling you something that you already know, but – are the country caps. So there – one of the big facets of immigration law is that there are country caps which say that no more than 7 percent of any green card can go – of all green cards can go to any specific country.
Well, a third of the world comes from India or China. And if people who come here – green cards are for people who are coming here permanently in an attempt to become citizens. But people who come here temporarily, which make up the vast majority of people who could get the green cards, people who come here on these H-1B temporary visas, are disproportionately from India and China. So we have – what happens is that people come in, and right now if you’re getting a green card from India or China, your wait time could be 10 years. But if you’re getting an H-1B today or a temporary visa and you’re getting in the line behind this huge and growing bottleneck, your expected wait time from India can be up to 150 years. That is not functional.
So there’s a bill called the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act that passed – actually different versions passed each house of Congress last year, so there’s going to be an effort around getting rid of those country caps. There’s going to be an effort, and it’s already in the Biden plan, to allow spouses of H-1B holders to work. So smart people marry smart people. So if my wife were to come here and I were to go with her, I would want to work too, and so the ability to do that.
For innovation, the Biden bill has some version of what is called – what’s called the STAPLE Act, where they essentially say if you’re getting a Ph.D. in STEM – in science, technology, engineering, and math – from an American university, you’re going to get a green card. We’re not going to count you against the – against the caps. The other thing they do is they – right now we have 140,000 employment-based green cards a year, which is not that many, but it becomes far fewer when you realize that because of a way that we’ve interpreted the statute, which may not even be correct, right now your spouse and your children count as well. So of those 140,000, fewer than 70,000 are actually going to the worker who is coming for that employment reason. So the Biden bill would stop counting that way, and so it effectively would double the number of green cards that way. So there are a bunch of things around that that I think they could do.
They could also do it – some of it administratively. One of the last things the Obama administration did on this was a regulation that said, look, we can’t give you a green card if you’re on an H-1B in this line, but we can effectively make it so that you are acting like you have a green card. So we can make it easier for you to change your job, make it easier for you to leave the country and come back so you’re not tied while you’re in this bottleneck. You can go, like, basically do most of the things you would do if you had a green card.
And so I think there’s a lot of effort to – going to be a lot of effort to make – to do that, like, if we can’t – until we can get Congress going to do things around the edges to make it easier for – but the first thing they have to do, which they have not announced yet but I think is coming, is they have to stop the ban. So one of the things that was put in during COVID is that you actually like – they stopped issuing H-1B visas, and so they need to figure out how to do that. So I think that’s coming. They’re definitely working on it. There is a lot of interest in both – in Congress and in the administration.
And one thing you’ll see, which is really interesting, is that the Biden administration, they put immigration people basically everywhere. So unlike past administrations, where someone who had worked on immigration for years who knew this issue would be put in a role to do immigration, it just so happens that from their campaign, there are so many people that are in that movement, that there are people on the Domestic Policy Council, there are people in the offices of state and local government, there are people sort of everywhere that are working on this in the agencies in Department of Justice, and Department of Homeland Security, and the State Department. And so I think you will see lots of – lots of efforts to do this.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR ROBBINS: Thank you, Nikhi.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Let’s go to Adam next. Adam, please introduce yourself and your outlet.
QUESTION: Hi. I’m Adam Roberts with The Economist. I’m based in Chicago but I’ve written about immigration for quite a while. Jeremy, thanks for the presentation so far. It was great.
Can I get you to drill down a bit more on the sort of (inaudible) of the politically possible? You talked about getting to 60 in the Senate, and I think you’ve highlighted the way you might possibly see some movement on getting to 60 is with the DREAMers, with protected workers, and with farm workers. Can you unpack those a bit more and maybe tell us a bit where on the Republican side you might see willingness to cooperate? Because it’s obviously very hard to see that right now.
MR ROBBINS: Yeah, no, I think that’s right. I mean, look, it depends, and it depends who the champions could be, right. And two, you have two different types of champions among the Republican Party. You have people who come from very immigrant-heavy states, so you think of the – of Texas or Florida or people who don’t get it from their constituents, and you saw that actually in the 2020 campaign. Like when Senator Cornyn was running for re-election, he was running around Texas talking about his interest in protecting DREAMers, all he had done behind the scenes trying to urge the Trump administration to not deport DREAMers. And so I think there’s some just generic pressure coming that way. And then you have a lot of members of Congress who come from places that don’t typically have a lot of immigrants, but they get it because the immigrants they have are hugely important.
And so one area that doesn’t get talked a lot about is doctors. There is a – and especially during COVID, I think this will get more prominence. But one of the interesting projects and parts of our immigration law is something called the Conrad 30 program. So if you’re a doctor and you come here on – you usually come here on a J visa, which is a temporary visa, you come here for a few years and you have to go home. The exception to that is if you actually go someplace that is an underserved community, you get to stay.
And so what that means is that if you go to places like West Virginia, you go to places like North Dakota, you go to a lot of rural-heavy states where there’s been a significant amount of brain drain and there’s a real (inaudible) medical shortage, that medical shortage is being met hugely by immigrant health care professionals. I mean, 60 percent of the counties in the United States lack a single psychiatrist. I mean, you think about, like, what our health care shortage is. Whereas I’m calling this in from Brooklyn, you’re in Chicago, we don’t have nearly as great a shortage. But if you go three hours away from either one of us, you all of a sudden do.
And so you have these places where you actually see the role of immigrants in a really, really in-your-face way because these are largely homogeneous places, but the medical – so I think doctors is another one.
How do you get to 10? I mean, it’s going to take some leadership, and I think some people bring others, right? If you – it was always – and if you look at the 2013 bill, during 2013 there was an effort to get – and they had a few people that started a gang, which is what I think they’re going to try and do again, and they had four Republicans and four Democrats. And it wasn’t obvious at all if this would even get out of committee, much less out of the Senate. And it went to committee and they were like, “Are we going to get a single vote other than the people who wrote the bill from the Republican Party?” And Orrin Hatch ended up being that vote, and that was the signifier that got it to the floor and it ended up getting 14 Republicans on this bill, so it ended up having 68 Republicans. It was an enormous immigration bill that ended up going to the House and it didn’t move.
But I think – so the question is: Who’s going to be that champion now? We don’t know yet. I mean, I think if you look – if you go back to 2018, the last time there was a real – in the Trump administration there was an attempt to sort of broker this protection for DREAMers when it looked like he was going to be able to end DACA, and you had all of these unlikely people who had never been real leaders on the Republican side. They had been a yes vote, maybe, but they – but bringing to these meetings trying to find a solution. And so I think a lot of those people who were active in the 2018 talks will be back.
I don’t know. I mean – and I think – look, I mean, one other thing on immigration is that so much of this is bound up into broader political forces. So are they going to end the filibuster to do immigration reform? No, they’re not going to end the filibuster to do immigration reform. Are they going to end the filibuster for other reasons, in which case then immigration would happen? I have no idea, but like, that is possible. Similarly, are they going to get to 60 votes on this? That depends a lot on are they going to get to 60 votes on anything. Like, are people – in the place where they’re legislating, are people looking – what’s happening there?
And so we’ll see. I mean, I think there are certainly – one of the interesting things I’ll tell you – and this is a little bit of a digression, but having worked on this issue now for 11 years, when I started working on this issue and I would go spend all my time talking to Republicans on the Hill and – for the Republicans on the Hill, if you want to count the number of Republicans on the Hill that believe as a policy matter that we should give citizenship to undocumented immigrants, you can probably count it on one or two hands. There – it wasn’t there.
If you go now, it’s basically everyone. The policy fight is done on this. People realize – people who have been here for 10 years, they’re working – that people who are not committing crimes, who are members of their community that we’re not going to deport – that we shouldn’t have this reality of people living without any status, living in fear every day; like, there should be – it’s good for everyone (inaudible) having a safer, coherent society if people are integrated.
But the political problem has gotten a little more profound. I mean, one thing that’s happened is – and this is actually a really interesting thing that I think is happening all over the world – is that more and more people are sympathetic. We are winning the argument with a broader portion of the public than ever before that think that immigration is good. If you look at Gallup and Pew, they do a poll every year and they say, “Do immigrants hurt the country or help the country?” And they have never – in the history of Gallup polling has never found – when we started 11 years ago, it was 50/50. It was a total coin flip. Half the country thought they’re bad, half they’re (inaudible). It’s now almost 80/20, right? They have never in the history of their polling found more support. However, the people that oppose it, the ferocity of their opposition, has just increased. And so I think it’s becoming that kind of issue. So it’s – so the policy matter is largely done. The political matter is harder. And so what we’re going to need is some champion to get up there and give space for the next person and the next person.
Will we get 60? I don’t know, but I’m optimistic, and we’re certainly pushing for it.
QUESTION: All right. Thank you.
MR ROBBINS: (Inaudible.)
MODERATOR: Thanks, Jeremy. Next up is Martin. Martin, please introduce yourself and your outlet.
QUESTION: Yes. Hi, Jeremy. My name is Martin Burcharth. I’m with the Danish daily Information, the U.S. correspondent. I am in this country.
Piggybacking on Adam’s question, I wanted you to elaborate a bit on these hundred offices that you and, under the aegis of Bloomberg, have established in conservative states, you said. I presume – I heard you saying something about making sure that immigrants can integrate into their communities and they can be accepted and tolerated by the wider community.
This is an important question, obviously, from a political perspective, because it’s entirely possible that in four years there will be another Republican president, and that letting in a lot of low-skilled workers who work for very cheap wages will be seen by Trump or Republican voters as depressing wages for them. And in particularly – in particular, I think that with COVID and the crisis and the very high unemployment we have now in this country, there will be a lot of jobs that Americans will be looking for and they will be competing, especially low-skilled workers, with immigrants if they start coming over the border in a higher number.
So I think there’s definitely a concern there that I wanted you to address. And in particular, in Europe, it’s not really the way I think most Europeans look at immigration the way you described from this Pew opinion research results worldwide. Actually, in Denmark, there’s an incredible – a lot of resistance to immigration. It’s really, really a very, very difficult situation in Europe in general. So I look forward to your —
MR ROBBINS: Yeah, no, that’s – it’s a fabulous question. And I don’t want to overstate the matter on the support, because the support – what we have is hugely broad. But if you look at when people are going to vote, they’re not voting on immigration. The people who are supportive aren’t voting on it, and the people who are in opposition, they are. And so that’s a problem, is that we have increasing breadth and they have increasing depth over a much smaller group of the population, where if you look at polls, I think, from 2018, I saw a bunch of polls where immigration was the number-one or number-two issue for Republican voters in North Dakota. There are virtually no immigrants in North Dakota, but it has become this salient issue that is driving it, and which gets at the broader point which you’re getting at and I’ll come back to the hundred communities we’re working in.
But it’s all based on this realization, which is that if you look at the social science data – and certainly, this has been borne out through our experience – where the most anti-immigrant sentiment is is not where the most immigrants are. Places that have lots of immigrants tend to be very tolerant. The places that have anti-immigrant sentiment tend to be places where either there are no immigrants but you’re next to a diverse place, or you’re starting to see immigrants, right. They go from 2 percent to 6 percent in your local community, and all of a sudden, you go to the grocery store and you hear a different language and there’s some items there that seem unfamiliar to you and you interact with some person who doesn’t speak English, and that’s scary; it’s jarring to a community.
And so for us, when we set out our strategy, it was to target those places. We don’t do a lot of work in New York City or Miami. It was how do we go to Sioux City, Iowa, the home of Steve King, the most anti-immigrant member of Congress – former now – and try and change the narrative there. And that work is all about trying to nip this in the bud before it starts. So it’s going and saying we’re not going to talk about the political football of should we let more people in or not. That’s not this conversation.
This conversation is here are people in your community; if you can make them integrate into society so they’re going to interact with people who are different than them, they’re going to see them and – for the person they are, you’re going to know them, then all of a sudden it’s a question about your own community. If you’re not and they’re siloed, then it’s going to seem very threatening, and that’s when immigration goes bad. And so that’s what our work is. It’s about going into these communities, getting the mayors, the business leaders, the nonprofits, the faith leaders together and saying we need a plan that has really concrete actions that we can take to make sure that when immigrants are coming in, we’re not having this race war or this culture war, but we’re investing in this as a community together. So it’s some softer things like that – every community’s plan is different. Some of them come up with really hard programs and policies, like they’ll set up an office of new Americans in their city hall so that every – there’s someone in city government making sure that any new program can be accessible to the immigrant community. Some are softer, so just putting more immigrants on community boards so people interact.
And what you’re seeing is huge changes in those communities. Now, it’s not enough for a huge country, but in those communities, if you look at Steve King’s district that I was talking about, they’ve now set up – they’ve written a strategic plan that has dozens of things they’re going to do. It includes everything from they want to track more immigrant entrepreneurs and they know that specifically for Muslim immigrant entrepreneurs there are some real problems with getting Sharia-compliant business loans. They’re trying to figure out Sharia-compliant business loans. And the idea that that could be happening in Steve King’s district is crazy. They’re using – we did a – you do a lot of arts and culture work.
So they got immigrant, native-born artists together to do work on what it means to be American, not even about immigration, just about what it means to be American. And it showed at the – for four months at the local community center, and then they brought Trump voters and non-Trump voters together to have dinner and talk about it. And it’s just this – so that kind of bridge building work that they’ve now been doing for years, it has a direct feedback to Congress, because now when they’re lobbying Congress and the businessmen, when all the businesses of Siouxland, that general area, come to Congress, they’re lobbying on immigration. But even locally, it just meant that the idea of intolerance is less palatable. And so when Steve King ran for re-election this time, the business community said, “Enough is enough,” and they didn’t back him and he lost. It would have been an incredibly secure district for him.
And so we’re in 100 communities, we’re at different stages of this investment. In some places like Texas, where we have 12, 14 projects, that’s now enough of a nexus that we can actually have real influence at the state level. In other places, we’re not there yet. But that’s what we’re investing in, and it has been for the last six or seven years, and the theory that this movement is that it was always gone bottom-down, where it needs to go – or no, no, top-down – it needs to go bottom-up. And I do think that you see, I mean, so much of like anti-immigrant sentiment is a fear of a change to my culture, is why am I getting left behind, why am I not the hero. If you look at polling and other data, what drives people crazy, it’s – they might say it’s they’re taking our jobs or they’re committing crimes. But when you drill down in focus groups and you really look at the data, what drives people the craziest is when they call the helpline, and it says, “Oprima dos para hablar en espanol,” and it’s like, well, wait, I’m losing my language, I’m losing my religion, and it feels scary. In three miles per hour in Hispaniola, it’s like, well, wait, I’m losing my language, I’m losing my religion, and it feels scary.
And so the way to break that down is to make people part of the heroes of that story, that to change how they think about who their community is, so it’s not just people who look like them. So that’s the theory of the work that we do. And hopefully, I mean, it’s a long time coming. I mean, I think it’s not linear. But that that’s how I think eventually, hopefully, we’ll get immigration reform.
QUESTION: Okay, Jeremy, just – there’s the question you didn’t answer was: The fact of the matter is that it would be a lot of (inaudible) work.
MR ROBBINS: (Inaudible) – I’m sorry.
QUESTION: And there’s the danger – then the whole question of suppressing wages. I mean, there’s a lot of studies and research on that, and I don’t think there’s (inaudible) on that, but in any case —
MR ROBBINS: Yeah. Yeah, no, that’s a great question. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to avoid that. (Inaudible.) The – so there a couple things about that. One is that the best thing that you can do in terms of making immigrant – native-born workers not be undermined by people who can make less is empowering undocumented immigrants who are here who are working to have legal status so that they can compete, they can act like Americans. The more people have a path to stay here and they’re making investments here, they’re buying homes, the more that they’re going to be willing to – and that they’re less exploitable that actually will help wages.
In terms of competing, look, there are going to be some areas where immigrants I’m sure compete with American-born, but if you look at the demographic profile of who immigrants are and who native-born are, the reality is it is far more complimentary. The labor market isn’t a zero-sum game. And I understand in terms of political sentiment, if people are struggling, it’s really easy to point to immigration. But the way to create jobs is to have a dynamic economy where people work, and if you look at – we did a study about North Carolina and farms. So after the last recession, trying to understand what happened, we did a study of like, okay, look at North Carolina. North Carolina does something that very few – that no other states do, which is that there’s a temporary visa called an H-2A visa for farmworkers. And the argument has always been from people who – farmers has been: There won’t be Americans who are going to work these jobs. This is not getting cheap labor to hire. It’s like Americans – these are hard jobs, they’re low education but they’re not low skilled, and there’s no amount we could pay where Americans would work them and we’d still be able to sell in a world where you can get your fruit from Chile or from any other country.
And they got a real test of that, because what North Carolina does, usually the farm applies for the H-2A visa. But in North Carolina, the farms get together and do a collective, and they apply together. And so – and to get the visa you have to show that you’re recruiting American workers, anyone who comes you have to hire, any American worker who comes you have to hire. And so you have this trove of data, which you can see during boom times and bust times, like recessions and growth periods, and what the data showed was that they had 6,500 jobs to fill in the worst of the recession, the worst of – when there’s 10% employment in every county where these jobs were or in the county next to us. So there are definitely people there who need jobs. They advertise, they pay, they pay a – the wage. They got 260 people to apply for these 6,500 jobs. They hired everyone. A third didn’t show up the first day and only seven people, seven people made it the whole growing season.
And so there is at some level, like you’re right, because we have that as a huge political problem that we face. But the economic reality is different from the political reality, which is to say that, like, if you – and COVID was obvious for, like, the people are not working. But if you look who the essential workers are, I mean, all of you at some point have to go outside. And like it is –there’s a real case about like, what’s – the glue that makes us economy work. It’s not just immigrants, but they’re playing a disproportionate role in holding the rest of the economy afloat. And so I think that’s the case we have to make. But you’re right, the political headwinds are enormous because it’s easy for people to scapegoat and say your problem is because of immigrants undermining you.
And so I think that’s what we know. But if you look at this thing, going back to the first point, those arguments don’t work in communities where there are lots of immigrants. So the places where there are lots of immigrants, people don’t, I mean – only in – like, if you live in New York City, those arguments work really well in parts of Staten Island, which are neighboring immigrant communities, but they don’t work well in the in the communities where immigrants are. And so I think that’s where we – and it’s not that liberal communities are perfect or integrated communities are perfect, they’re not. But I do think that the more that we can break down the silos, the easier it is to disarm those arguments. Like, we’re not going to disarm them with facts, we’re going to disarm them with people’s experience.
QUESTION: Thank you very much. I appreciate you.
MR ROBBINS: Thank you.
MODERATOR: Thanks. The next question comes in the chat room from Pearl Matibe. She writes for NewsDay of Zimbabwe. She would like to know: “What does the Biden administration plan to do about the massive backlog of asylum seekers already? My understanding is that we’re already right now behind on the adjustment of status to citizenship. Additionally, what positives will there be for southern Africans?”
MR ROBBINS: Yeah, it’s a great question. So there are a bunch of different ways to think about this, and there are a bunch of different problems wrapped up in that one question.
So one is what are they going to do for people who are newly coming for asylum, and the answer is that they’re – they’ve already announced they’re going to revisit determinations who’s going to be eligible, right. And so it used to be they – one of the things that happened is you have to show well-founded fear of persecution, and what that means has changed, right. I think as the world has changed from persecution being you had a head of state or an office that was essentially persecuting to a world where, like, there are sort of failed states or gangs and how do you think about that.
And one of the things the Trump administration had done is they have made gang violence and domestic violence things that were much, much harder, if not impossible, to get asylum for. If you were afraid of going back because you were going to get killed because of domestic violence, before the Trump administration that would have been a viable claim. There was an attempt to stop that. So I think the Biden administration will try and unwind those type of things. They are not allowing anyone else into this migrant protection protocol where you’re forced to wait outside the country, so that is going to be different.
There are going to be a lot of efforts – but then the reality is, as I said, the top end, like – the asylum system was meant – was broken before the Trump administration. Even in a perfect world, you look at the – all the people that are coming up in caravan – that were coming in caravans or coming to the border. Most of them probably wouldn’t qualify under asylum law, but most of them are probably very sympathetic for people who are coming from a place that’s very dangerous. And so can – so the Biden administration has thought about how do we make refugee processing centers in these countries to say “All right, it’s not going to be about asylum. We’re going to make a decision there about whether you’re safe or not. We’re going to create a category of people who come in as refugees.”
When you talk about Africa, there are a bunch of different ways to come from Southern Africa. One of the primary ways is through the diversity lottery program, and the diversity lottery program says for countries that don’t send a – traditionally send a lot of people to America, we will create about 50,000 visas a year that will be for people to come and get a green card. So you can apply for it. You have 20 million people a year apply for it. It is one of the biggest avenues for people from Southern Africa to come to the United States. So the Biden administration has sought to increase that number so that you can bring in more people. It’s an imperfect solution because you sort of graduate out of it. Once you send a lot of people, you stop being eligible for it, but I think that’s one way to do it.
But then you have to – what the top of that question was, which is that you have all of these people that are here, they’re in line, and the backlogs are enormous at every level of the immigration system. There are I think approaching a million people who are eligible to get nationalized, and they’re just waiting for their date, and it just – the backlogs are getting longer and longer and longer. I think right now – I read something this weekend that the asylum system, even if you just cleared the backlog, it would take an entire year the way – forget about any new cases. And so one – they’ve talked about having more immigration judges. I think that’s a first step – like, we just need more people to process it – but that’s not going to fix it either.
And so one of these – and I can’t speak for the Biden administration on this at all, but I will say from our point of view, when we look at this problem, there are a bunch of ways to do it. One ways is like how much of this do you want it to be this adversarial process, where everything – you have a lawyer, and the government fights, and you’re fighting to make your case, and how much is it – should we have experts so there – so we use both. Like, for kids, when a kid comes here unaccompanied, they don’t go into a formal court proceeding like that. They have an expert – expert in the country they come from try and make a determination is this someone who – and so the – you can play with that. There are a lot of people who are – who think that we should just move entirely to that system, that it would be more efficient than having people do it.
Those are hard questions, though, because you might have an expert doing it, but you don’t have all the rights that you would have as an asylum seeker to defend yourself. And so I think you’re going to see them wrestle with a lot of those questions. I think a lot of that will come out and I think that’s one of the reasons that you didn’t have the Biden administration come in day one and say “We’re doing X.” They came in and said, “We are going to study this. Here’s the problem we’re trying to solve, and we’re going to come up with task force and bring interagency cooperation to try and solve it.”
I hope that answers your question.
MODERATOR: I’m sure she did. I don’t think she’s part of the chat anymore, but I wanted to make sure that her question was asked.
I think that we have time for one more question if anyone has any last questions or – can also invite you to make any last remarks, closing statements.
MR ROBBINS: I will say this: If there’s something I didn’t answer or people would like to clarify, I will also put my email in chat. Please feel free to reach out at any point, and I would be delighted to chat more, get you the resources you want.
We have several resources that are specifically tailored towards journalists to try and tell the story. One is on the data side. If you go to – I’m going to put this in the chat too – if you go to maptheimpact.org, we built this interactive map, which I’m very proud of. It took us two years to build. And what it does is you can put in any state, you can put in any congressional district, you can put in any county as long as there’s enough data in the county – place that have very few immigrants, there won’t be – you can put in any metro area, and it will give you a comprehensive list of, like, here’s the – here are the immigrants who are there. Here’s the amount they’re paying taxes, the businesses they’re starting, what industries they’re in, what their economic profile is, how many voters there are. And so it’ll give you some highlight data, and then you can click through for more. And so that is a – that’s a very good way to get the resources.
But the other one very relevant for your story is to put a heartbeat on the data, we have a team of storytellers who are freelance journalists who compile compelling immigration stories. So if you’re working on a story about agriculture in Texas, or the public charge rule, or DACA, and you want to find a DACA recipient who’s a health care worker in COVID, we work with those people all the time and so we have tons and tons of stories, and if we can, we can help you find them. And so if you’re looking for sources for a story to fill out an angle on it, please do reach out and we can certainly help with that.
MODERATOR: We do have one more question, if that’s possible.
MR ROBBINS: Is – yes, I can’t tell – I see one about the I visa.
MODERATOR: Yeah, I was going to ask, Eva, if you could go ahead and ask your question.
QUESTION: (No response.)
MODERATOR: Maybe she is not with us anymore. Let me just go ahead and ask it. Yes, it has to do with changes in the I visa.
MR ROBBINS: So I’m – I can’t tell if she was asking about the I visa or the L visa, and it wasn’t capitalized, but I will say the I visa I don’t have expertise in. The L visa I will speak about quickly, which maybe is what they were asking – what she was asking, which is the L visa is the visa for inter-company transfers. So if you think of an H-1B visa as someone is coming here to – with a high-skilled worker to come work at my company, think of an L visa as oh, I have this great worker at my company in another country who I want to bring here, or I want to bring here to start a U.S. arm of my company. It’s a very inefficient, difficult system, and so I think like the H-1B visa, there is a lot of focus on trying to make that easier and for – make it so companies want to move more of their operations here.
QUESTION: I’m sorry, can you hear me now?
MR ROBBINS: Yes.
MODERATOR: Hi, Eva. Go ahead.
QUESTION: I didn’t have unmuted. We talked about a proposed change to the I visa so it would be limited to 240 days, so you had to reapply every 240 days as opposed to five years, as it is now. Is —
MR ROBBINS: That’s a great question. I don’t have – and I don’t want to give misinformation. I’m not an expert and I know a lot of the foreign media use it. I don’t actually know what the Biden administration is planning to do on it, but I can try and find out.
QUESTION: Thanks. It’s not an immigrant visa. I know that’s a bit off-topic, so that’s why I’m asking you at the end of the session. Thank you.
MODERATOR: And I will be sure to also re-share your email address and some of the links that you provided when I follow up with all of our journalists. So I think that concludes today’s briefing. I want to thank you so much, Mr. Robbins, for all of this information. I have gotten a lot of – you see the folks commenting the chatroom saying they also appreciate your time today and thought it was very valuable.
Today’s briefing was on the record. The transcript will be posted on our website as soon as it’s available, and I want to wish everyone a happy afternoon. Thanks very much.
MR ROBBINS: Thank you all so much. Thank you for having me.
MODERATOR: Thank you.