Tens of thousands march in support of US immigration reform on May Day

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People across America took advantage of the May Day bank holiday to march in support of immigration reform. In cities across the US on May 1st 2013, there were demonstrations with thousands of people in attendance. The largest single demonstration was held in Los Angeles where some 30,000 people marched but there were smaller demonstrations in cities big and small.

Thousands marched in Tampa, Florida. There were also demonstrations in Salem, Oregon, Montpelier, Vermont, Concord New Hampshire, Denver Colorado, and New York. The turnout for the pro-reform demonstrations while large, were not as large as similar demonstrations in 2006 and 2007.

Those demonstrating are attempting to persuade US Congressmen and women to vote in favour of the comprehensive immigration reform act that should be submitted to the vote in Congress in June 2013.

Immigration reform campaigners say that the size of the demonstrations does not indicate a reduction in support for reform but, rather, shows that immigration campaigners have changed their tactics.

Pro-reform activists out-manoeuvred in 2007

In 2006 and 2007 there were large popular demonstrations in favour or reform. President Bush had introduced a reform bill and many thousands demonstrated in favour of the bill across the US. Nonetheless, it was voted down by the Senate. Immigration campaigners later came to believe that they had been outmanoeuvred by anti-immigration activists and that this had cost them success.

They believed that, while pro-reform campaigners had taken to the streets, anti-reform campaigners had, instead, taken to the phone and fax machine and lobbied their Congressional representatives and pressured them to vote down the reform bill. The bill needed to gain the support of at least 60 of the 100 Senators in the US Senate. In the event, the bill received support from a mere 44 senators.

This time, some pro-reform campaigners believe that mass demonstrations may even be counterproductive. George Villalobos, a Spanish language radio host from Phoenix said that if large scale rallies led to arrests, this could even turn some public opinion against reform. Instead, pro-reform campaigners have formed online communities and are actively campaigning for reform from their desks.

Much of the popular support for immigration reform in the US comes from US citizens of Hispanic descent. It is estimated that there are 11m illegal immigrants living in the US and as many as 80% of these are ethnically Hispanic. The comprehensive reform bill will, if it becomes law, create a 'pathway to citizenship' for most of those illegal immigrants.

Reforms to employment-based immigration system planned

The bill will also reform other areas of the immigration system which Congressmen in both parties at Washington admit is 'broken'. The bill will also reform the employment-based immigration system. Among other provisions it will:
  • Increase the number of H-1B graduate-level, temporary work visas from 65,000 to 110,000 annually. (This figure could rise to 180,000 in economic boom times)
  • Introduce a system of penalty fees for those firms that 'are H-1B dependent'. Those firms which have a staff which is more than 50% made up of workers with H-1B temporary skilled worker and L-1A and L-1B intra company transfer visas will pay additional fees of $10,000 per visa.
  • Increase the number of permanent resident visas (or green cards) granted to highly skilled professionals
  • Create a new 'w-visa' which will allow low-skilled workers, such as agricultural labourers, to work in the US legally
  • Require all US employers to check all their new employees are allowed to work in the US using an improved 'eVerify' system – an electronic register of those with permission to work in the US.

Facebook founder supports employment-based immigration reform

Among those who will be keeping up pressure on Congress is Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook who has formed the online pressure group FWD.us. This group is lobbying for skilled immigration reform and an improved US education system. Mr Zuckerberg says that the US must have access to the brightest minds from around the world if it is to thrive in the new global information economy and therefore wants more work related green cards and H-1B visas for talented tech workers.

It was announced in late April 2013 that the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013 would be put to the vote in the Senate in June. However, there have since been calls for a delay in the vote. Some opponents of the bill such as Representative Steve King of Iowa and Senator Dan Coates of Indiana have called for delay though their opponents have called this political opportunism. They say that King and Coates are opposed to reform and will use any tool to delay or defeat the reform bill.

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