Immigration Reform: Let the States Lead the Way

Alex Nowrasteh, Los Angeles Times, June 16, 2015

Texas and California are trying to reform legal migration on their own. The politics in these two states couldn’t be more different, but legislators in both states recently proposed running their own guest-worker visa programs to get around the federal immigration reform gridlock. Relying on states to create their own migration systems may well be the solution to America’s immigration woes.

One-size-fits-all national immigration laws aren’t working. Federal reform efforts have repeatedly failed, so why not let states take a crack at it? States experiment with education, welfare and drug policies–immigration should be next.

A state-based guest-worker visa seems like a radical idea because immigration rules generally fall under federal jurisdiction in the United States. However, Canada and Australia–which like the U.S. are continent-spanning, economically diverse countries with traditions of federalism–each have such programs.

In a recent report, Canada called its Provincial Nominee Program a success; 96% of the program’s immigrants to Manitoba, British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan were employed within a year, many filling niche rolls in the labor market.

If the U.S. government followed that example and relinquished some migration powers to state governments, we’d see a proliferation of different visas regulated in various ways.

California might create a state visa for high-tech workers and agricultural laborers, while Texas might create visas for agriculture, construction and high tech. Michigan could create one for real estate investors in Detroit. There could be hundreds of different visas all tuned to local economic demands rather than just one or two temporary federal visas forced to fit the needs of the entire U.S. economy

Texas and California could be the first to succeed with pilot programs. Texas’ brief legislative session saw three bipartisan bills introduced to create a state-based guest-worker visa program. The California Assembly just passed a guest-worker visa bill authored by Assemblyman Luis Alejo (D-Salinas).

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In both states, the bills require that the federal government grant a waiver or permission to run their own programs. That has been a stumbling block for Kansas, Utah and Colorado, which have also tried to establish their own guest-worker programs in recent years. The waivers weren’t forthcoming, but Washington would have a much harder time ignoring politically powerful California and Texas, which have the two largest economies in the United States.

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