Canada's points system suddenly appeals to Americans as model for overhaul
May 15, 2007 04:30 AM
WASHINGTON–It was less than a year ago that Republican elders were railing against Canada's "liberal" immigration policy and talking of building a wall along the northern border.
Now, the U.S. Senate could be on the verge of a historic overhaul of American immigration policy, one forged by Republicans extolling the virtues of the system north of the border.
If there is a breakthrough on an issue that has bedevilled successive Congresses it will be because this one will end a four-decade-old system that gives preference to family unification and brings in a points-based merit system in effect for years in Canada.
"It was amazing to me that they talked last year about a comprehensive immigration plan and never even considered what they're doing in Canada, which is clearly a merit-based system," Alabama Republican Senator Jeff Sessions, a proponent of such a plan, told CNN last week.
Sessions said the Canadian experience is one followed by developed nations around the world because "it evaluates applicants based on who can best enjoy the Canadian experience.
"It only makes sense to me."
For a consensus to take hold, majority Democrats will have to make clear that family members will still have the ability to join their kin here, or risk a backlash from the key American Latino voter block.
Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat and key negotiator on a proposed overhaul, said his party has accepted the point system, but a so-called skilled immigrant would get a further edge if he or she already has family in the United States.
Plaudits for a major pillar in the Canadian immigration system here comes as a bit of a jolt.
In the wake of last June's terror arrests in Toronto, Peter King of New York, then the Republican chair of the Homeland Security committee, attributed Canada's "large Al Qaeda presence" to its lax immigration rules.
Tom Tancredo of Colorado, a Republican presidential hopeful, has long been a champion of fencing in the U.S. on both its southern and northern borders.
But the points-based system has its critics and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has made it clear that the time is tight to forge a last-ditch immigration compromise and he wants something brought for debate quickly, perhaps as early as today.
Bill Hing, an immigration expert and professor of law at the University of California, said Congress would be making a mistake if it brought in more merit-based immigrants at the expense of family unification immigrants. "There is no evidence that those family members are not helping us financially or socially," he said. "The U.S. does need more people with high skills, but those making the argument are implying that family members who arrive in this country do not work and that is not true."
Indeed, Steve King, a Republican from Iowa, the ranking member of the House judiciary subcommittee on immigration, said last week he favours the point system because if the U.S. opens its borders to family members and illegals who are then granted amnesty, "then you've handed your immigration policy to foreign lawbreakers. That's just utterly stupid."
Under the Canadian point system, prospective immigrants are graded on six criteria, including education, their facility in the two official languages, work experience, age, arranged employment and "adaptability."
In Canada, 55 per cent of immigrants are admitted under the skilled program, with 30 per cent admitted under the family class. The remainder are refugees or other categories. The U.S. system of family-based preference for immigrants has been in place since 1965.