Immigration on the Hill: A preview for Skills Summit attendees

By Amanda Bergson-Shilcock, February 02, 2020

Nearly 500 state and local workforce and adult education advocates are journeying from around the United States to attend NSC’s annual Skills Summit. As attendees prepare for a day of Capitol Hill visits on February 5, we’re highlighting key immigration issues that are part of our Skills for Good Jobs Agenda. NSC members will be carrying these messages to the Hill on Wednesday!

Protection for Dreamers

National Skills Coalition has long advocated for a pathway to citizenship for the young people known as Dreamers – individuals who came to the US as children and do not have authorized status. NSC has focused in particular on ensuring that any Dreamer bill includes a pathway for those who earn postsecondary credentials such as two-year degrees, often referred to as middle-skill credentials. Many of these credentials are in demand among American employers.

The House of Representatives passed just such a bill in June 2019. The Dream and Promise Act passed with a bipartisan majority of 237-187. But the Senate has yet to act. Legislation has been introduced by Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC), but is currently stalled.

Meanwhile, the US Supreme Court is poised to rule on a key court case involving the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). Approximately 700,000 young people – a subset of the larger group of over 2 million Dreamers – have DACA.

The Court will rule no later than June 2020. If the ruling is in favor of the Trump administration, the DACA program will end, causing DACA recipients to lose protection from deportation and the ability to obtain temporary work permits.

Regardless of the Court’s ruling, only Congress is able to provide permanent protection and a path to citizenship for Dreamers. NSC is urging its members to ask the Senate to pass the Dream and Promise Act or similar legislation.

An important note: NSC coalition partners who are closely engaged on this issue include the nonprofit United We Dream, whose immigrant members have expressed a strong concern that any “fix” for Dreamers should avoid making a legislative bargain that worsens the enforcement apparatus targeting Dreamers and their families. NSC members interested in learning more about the nuances of this complex issue can visit the UWD website.

Invest in Proven Strategies for Immigrant Workforce Integration

While federal legislation related to immigrants typically focuses on immigration policy such as how many individuals to admit to the U.S. and which types of visas to make available, Congress now has a powerful opportunity to widen its focus to include the integration of immigrant newcomers into American communities.

State and local leaders – including many NSC members – have been leading the way on immigrant integration, which has been practiced informally for decades but has really coalesced as a field in the last 10 years. Workforce and adult education policies are key elements of integration.

As legally authorized immigrants become more integrated in the U.S., they earn higher wages and can contribute more to our economy. The public workforce system can support greater integration, but currently immigrants are severely underrepresented among workers served by training programs.

Congress should pass policy that supports best practices already developed by states and localities, including partnerships with immigrant serving organizations, prior learning and credential assessments that take into account credentials earned abroad, and integrated education and training classes that teach English in an occupational context.

Legislation supporting several of these priorities was introduced by House Democrats in October 2019. NSC members are encouraging Congress to advance these priorities in 2020.

A Note on Public Charge

A recent Supreme Court ruling has cleared the way for US Citizenship and Immigration Services to implement a regulation known as the “public charge” rule. The rule makes it significantly harder for millions of immigrants who are here legally to stay in the country. It is scheduled to take effect nationwide (except in Illinois) on February 24, 2020.

NSC opposed this rule, which hurts our nation’s efforts to build a skilled workforce. (See our public comment against the rule from December 2018.) The rule also creates substantial additional burdens on adult education and workforce training providers trying to help their participants comply with its provisions.

Under the rule, US officials will deny green cards to individuals who are deemed likely to be dependent on the government for support. Officials will weigh a long list of positive and negative factors via a totality of circumstances test to make this determination. These include an immigrant’s age, income, English skills, educational credentials, and use of certain public benefits, among other factors.

Importantly, participating in English, education, and job training programs will help people meet the public charge test, since those activities help them build needed skills. Unfortunately, confusion driven by news coverage has created a chilling effect, in which many immigrants are dis-enrolling from necessary services out of fear.

Now that the rule is taking effect, skills advocates should take action in two ways:

  • Disseminating accurate information to staff, jobseekers, students, and program participants. NSC has produced two fact sheets to help reduce fear and provide accurate information to advocates and participants alike. (The fact sheets were originally published in October 2019 and are still valid; they will be updated with the new effective date of the regulation shortly.)
  • Educating Hill staff about the importance of education and training programs in supporting immigrant integration. This serves two purposes: Making the case for immigrant integration legislation as described above, and helping Hill staff understand why their local district staff need accurate information about the public charge to convey to immigrant constituents who may contact them with questions. Feel free to share NSC’s fact sheets with your Congresspeople!