RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And that proposed point system that Senator Sessions just told us he was against is one of the sticking points that caused the Senate to deadlock on overhauling immigration. The point system is about allocating visas. It favored educationed(ph), highly skilled immigrants at the expense - critics say - of low-skilled laborers. While backers say a point system would bring the best and brightest immigrants to America, critics claim it would do little to stop the future flow of illegal immigrants from Mexico and Latin America.
NPR's Carrie Kahn reports.
(Soundbite of beeping - forklift backing up)
CARRIE KAHN: At Elpidio Gonzales'(ph) tire shop, a worker drives a forklift loaded with discarded auto rims. Gonzales buys the rims from local car dealers in Buena Park, a city about 20 miles outside Los Angeles.
Mr. ELPIDIO GONZALES (Tire Shop Owner, Los Angeles): (Spanish spoken)
KAHN: Gonzales points to all his workers - a brother-in-law drives the forklift, a cousin checks inventory and two other relatives work out back. Gonzales has been helping family members settle in Southern California since he came to the U.S. in 1985.
Mr. GONZALES: (Through translator) When I came here, I kept saying I'm only going to stay for a year and then go home. That's what we all said. But now, the whole family's here, and we're better off.
KAHN: This type of family or so-called chain-based immigration has been the foundation of U.S. policy since the 1960s. But under the compromise that fell apart last week in the Senate, family-based ties would be given less priority than education and English skills on an immigrant's visa application.
Demetrios Papademetriou of the Migration Policy Institute says for some Democratic senators, the plan's smacked of social engineering. But Papademetriou says the advantage of such a system is that the government chooses its immigrants instead of families making those decisions.
Mr. DEMETRIOS PAPADEMETRIOU (President, Migration Policy Institute): In a sense, there's a degree of greediness there, you know. Every other country on earth now, all of the rich countries seem to be entering this sweepstakes of trying to get the best and the most talented people from abroad.
KAHN: Republican backers say if the U.S. doesn't switch to the point system, it will lose its competitive advantage. Some Democrats counter that the proposal was anti-family and tried to amend the bill. But Wayne Cornelius, director of the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies, says the proposal as written wasn't anti-family since visas for minor children and spouses of U.S. citizens would have remained unlimited. The only cut would be for extended family members. Cornelius says the proposal had bigger problems.
Mr. WAYNE CORNELIUS (Director, Center for Comparative Immigration Studies): It is not likely to be an effective control for illegal immigration, particularly of low-skilled immigration because the demand for that kind of labor is likely to remain a very strong in our country, and it's simply a question of whether the demand would be satisfied legally or illegally.
KAHN: Analysis of the point system by the Migration Policy Institute shows that immigrants from Asia and India would get preference over laborers from Mexico and other Latin American countries. And since educated immigrants are less likely to fill low-paying manual labor jobs, there would still be a demand for illegal immigrants willing to the work.
Roberto Suro of the Pew Hispanic Center says on top of that, a new generation of Mexicans are just beginning to make their way to the U.S.
Mr. ROBERTO SURO (Director, Pew Hispanic Center): If those migrant streams really fully play themselves out and you get a lot of family reunification and kind of chain migration that we've seen from other parts of Mexico, then that could play itself out for another 20, 25, 30 years.
KAHN: Gauging future flows of immigrants to the U.S. is a difficult task, says Demetrios Papademetriou, so is forecasting just the right number of workers the U.S. economy will need.
Mr. PAPADEMETRIOU: So the idea that we're going to put things in concrete -whether it's the point system or what the numbers should be or anything like that today and hoping that's going to last us for a generation - is absurd.
KAHN: Papademetriou says senators must realize if they do pass the bill, it will be imperfect and undoubtedly will have to be fixed in the future.
Carrie Kahn, NPR News.
MONTAGNE: To see an interactive map tracking global migration trends, go to npr.org.
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