ISIM’s Priorities for U.S. Immigration Reform


October 21, 2015
by Martin De Leon


A panel of five public policy experts and researchers convened at Copley Formal Lounge to discuss the most urgent priorities for potential immigration reform. The panel focused on the findings of the report Priorities for U.S. Immigration Reform, published by Georgetown University’s Institute for the Study of International Migration (ISIM).   The report was assembled following a series of roundtable discussions with over 150 researchers and policymakers regarding the topics of family migration, high-skilled migration, low-wage migration, refugee, asylum and humanitarian policies, policy enforcement in the workplace, and border and interior enforcement.

Reform Priorities

IMG_5112Drawing from the report, Susan Martin, Director of ISIM, stressed, particularly on the slow pace of current policies and mechanisms designed to facilitate the immigration process. The current system contributes to long waits for admission of “high-skilled” immigrants and severe processing delays for asylum cases.

Susan Martin highlighted the need for adequate mechanisms that address child migrants. The report proposes the establishment of a “Children’s Corp by the Department of Homeland Security. The Children’s Corps would serve the same function as asylum officers but specifically equipped and trained to address child migrants’ needs, potentially preventing deportation and/or providing asylum.

Additional areas for improvement to the current system that are proposed in the report are: granting flexibility to temporary immigrant workers so they no longer need to be tied to a single employer, increasing funding for resettlement programs, either returning refugees with temporary protected status to their home countries or permanently resettling them in the U.S., and prioritizing removals of migrants that pose dangers to society.

A Realistic Approach

Instead of attempting to achieve “comprehensive” and overarching reform, Susan Martin advocated for targeted changes as the solution to achieving a “more effective and more humane immigration system.”

Philip Martin, professor at the University of California – Davis, echoed Susan Martin’s sentiments in stating that when it comes to immigration policy, “there are no solutions, only tradeoffs.” Susan Martin sees the current policies as ill-equipped to deal with changing circumstances., Focusing on “small” concessions that can be more flexibly adapted to the developing context would produce more attainable and productive policies.

Humanitarian Concerns

IMG_5115Doris Meissner, Director of the U.S. Immigration Policy Program at the Migration Policy Institute (MPI), was optimistic about the ISIM report because it addresses a facet that is often overlooked when discussing immigration reform: humanitarian concerns.

Meissner described the importance of addressing the human aspect of the issue by focusing on how much funding is required to assimilate asylum seekers rather than looking solely at the number of refugees admitted into the United States. The report also advocated for increases in funding to the Department of Homeland Security Asylum Corps to expedite asylum proceedings.


The report and roundtable discussions were made possible with funding from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Click here to view the full-report.