Boundless spoke with Bloomberg Law’s Andrew Kreighbaum about his experience covering immigration and the biggest issues facing immigrants in the U.S. today.
What immigration issue currently fires you up?
Lately, a topic that comes up again and again is finding ways in which the immigration system connects to broader issues in the economy. We have a serious labor shortage in the U.S.. There are not a lot of easy answers, but it seems like one of them could be getting more immigrants to the U.S. But there are all sorts of challenges, obviously, that get in the way of that, whether it’s backlogs or the annual caps on the H -1B program for one. So I think understanding how policy is a real barrier to immigration as a solution is pretty interesting.
How do you find your stories?
It’s a mix of looking through the dockets every morning, following the Federal Register and the rules and regulations coming out, getting on the phone with immigration attorneys who work in this space as well as advocates. It’s trying to develop those human sources and doing a lot of reading as well.
What do you think the single biggest issue is facing U.S. immigrants today?
It depends partly on the kind of immigrant we’re talking about — whether it’s someone who’s trying to come here on an employment-based visa or a family-based visa, because you’re going to be facing a different set of challenges. But generally, one of the most pressing issues is the backlog and the general dysfunction in the system that’s gotten worse and worse the last few years. Everyone knows that there hasn’t been comprehensive reform since the 1980s. But I think you can have a broken immigration system and then you can have an even more broken immigration system. And it seems like that’s where we are right now.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has announced numerous measures to try to modernize the agency and their operations. How optimistic are you that those are actually going to make a difference in reducing the backlog?
I can only go off what some of the experts and attorneys I’ve talked to have told me. There’s a lot of frustration with the premium processing rule, for one, and that it’s going to take years to roll out some of those new options. But I know there’s hope that the new rule increasing automatic extensions for EAD renewals would make a big difference for a lot of folks. There are some things that USCIS can do, such as filling all these open jobs, and that should make a difference. But if they really want to move the needle here, they would take a look at cutting down some of these immigration forms and making the application process shorter. So it seems they are doing things that are slowly making a difference but it’s a bigger question whether that’s going to accomplish everything that folks hoped it would.
Do you think there’s a chance that significant immigration reform might happen before the midterm elections?
There is a new bipartisan coalition [Alliance for a New Immigration Consensus] and they’ve been pressing lawmakers to do something on a smaller scale that would address DACA recipients, TPS holders, and agricultural workers. There’s a lot of skepticism that Congress will pass it and the general expectation is the closer you get to an election day, especially in a midterm year, the less likely it is that serious legislation is going to get passed.
Can you tell me about a recent story you covered that you found especially interesting or important?
I’ve written stories about the EB-5 [immigrant investor] program that I think were notable in that they showed the dysfunction in the system, where you have these thousands of green cards pending for months because this visa program had its congressional authorization lapse. Congress eventually got around to passing a bill to restart the program as part of this larger spending package, and the expectation in the industry was that by mid-May, this program is going to be up and running again, and these regional centers are going to be able to start taking funds from new investors. But USCIS has put up this guidance that’s throwing everything into doubt, saying existing regional centers have to be re-approved essentially. And there’s been one lawsuit filed already over the guidance that I’ve covered. So I think it shows how broken the system is, where Congress actually passes something, but then the agency itself seems to take this position on the legislation and how it should be interpreted.
Did anything surprise you that you didn’t know before you started covering immigration?
It’s interesting just how many agencies are involved in some programs like H-2A [temporary agricultural workers], H-2B [temporary non-agricultural workers] for example, you have DHS [Department of Homeland Security] and of course, USCIS, which is part of that agency, and DOL [Department of Labor] — they all play pretty key roles in issuing those visas. I think another is learning how the available visas every year are so far outstripped by the demand from employers and from immigrants. That all just really illustrates how out of date the system is.