How to make sense of immigration lobbying


The real immigration fight is now about to begin.

As the Senate Judiciary Committee begins working on the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013, we still think the best field guide to the fight about to erupt over the 844-page bill remains our March 25 analysis, entitled “Untangling the webs of immigration lobbying” Here is the network analysis we produced back then (click for the interactive version):

Figure 1. Immigration Lobbying in Congress Click for interactive version

Click here for our interactive network guide to the most active interests, what issues they care about, and how intensely they are lobbying

Recently, news coverage has concentrated on the tech industry’s aggressive lobbying efforts to expand the high-skill visa program, including the entry of Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg via a new organization called Back in April, my colleague Alexander Furnas explained how our analysis offered “useful clues into the provisions that is likely to advocate for as it enters the influence game.”


But the new legislation ranges over a much broader range of issues. And if you wanted to predict which sections would take up the most pages, our initial analysis would have been a pretty good guide.

The two longest subtitles in the draft Senate bill – the 125-page Title III, Subtitle A on Employee Verification, and the 105-page Title II, Subtitle B on the Agricultural Worker Program – represent two of the most heavily-lobbied issues within immigration reform. To be sure, it’s hard to say whether the length of a subtitle is a reflection of lobbying interest, or the lobbying interest is a reflection of the complexity of the issue.

The current immigration bill is broken into four titles: Border Security (27 pages), Immigrant Visas (336 pages), Interior Enforcement (263 pages), and Reforms to Non-Immigrant Visa Programs (186 pages), plus some introductory material.

Below, we rank the 21 subtitles by total number of pages in the bill. Though this is an admittedly crude measure, these variable lengths can alert us to the relative complexity of these different issues and concerns. And an important part of the complexity in many cases is the need to reconcile the concerns of many different interests.

Table 1. Subtitles in the immigration bill, by number of pages

Sections pages percent
TITLE III – Subtitle – Employment Verification System 125 15.4%
TITLE II – Subtitle B – Agricultural Worker Program 105 12.9%
TITLE II – Subtitle C – Future Immigration 103 12.7%
TITLE II – Subtitle A – Registration and Adjustment of Registered Provisional Immigrant 92 11.3%
TITLE III – Subtitle G – Interior Enforcement 54 6.7%
TITLE IV – Subtitle G – W Nonimmigrant Visas 53 6.5%
TITLE IV – Subtitle B – H-1B Visa Fraud and Abuse Protections 36 4.4%
TITLE I (all) – Border Security 27 3.3%
TITLE III – Subtitle F – Prevention of Trafficking in Persons and Abuses Involving Workers Recruited Abroad 27 3.3%
TITLE IV – Subtitle E – JOLT Act 27 3.3%
TITLE II – Subtitle E – Integration 25 3.1%
TITLE III – Subtitle C – Other Provisions 16 2.0%
TITLE IV – Subtitle A – Employment-based Nonimigrant Visas 16 2.0%
TITLE IV – subtitle H – Investing in New Venture, Entrepreneurial Startups and Technologies 16 2.0%
TITLE III – Subtitle B – Protecting United States Workers 15 1.8%
TITLE III – Subtitle D – Asylum and Refugee Provisions 15 1.8%
TITLE IV – Subtitle C – L Visa Fraud and Abuse Protections 15 1.8%
TITLE IV – Subtitle D – Other Nonimmigrant Visas 14 1.7%
TITLE II – Subtitle D – Conrad State 30 and Physician Access 11 1.4%
TITLE III – Subtitle E – Shortage of Immigration Court Resources for Removal Proceedings 11 1.4%
TITLE IV – Subtitle F – Reforms to the H-2B Visa Program 9 1.1%

Now compare the above list to the list of issues that attracted the most lobbying reports from 2008-2012, when immigration reform was off the public agenda, but interested companies, associations, and advocacy groups were laying the framework.

Table 2. 20 most active issues and their top sectors (2008-2012)

Issue Total Gini Top Sector #2 Sector
Agricultural Jobs 510 0.953 Milk & dairy producers, 132 Farm organizations & cooperatives, 94
Dream Act 504 0.945 Schools & colleges, 173 Minority/Ethnic Groups, 63
Science & Tech workers 372 0.902 Computer software, 49 Computers, components & accessories, 45
General employer responsibility 359 0.935 Chambers of commerce, 68 Computer manufacture & services, 63
Seasonal businesses 320 0.945 Florists & Nursery Services, 63 Hotels & motels, 33
Homeland security 263 0.902 Transportation, 31 Lodging & tourism, 23
General enforcement 247 0.921 Minority/Ethnic Groups, 38 Chambers of commerce, 19
H-2A Visas 241 0.963 Milk & dairy producers, 95 Farm organizations & cooperatives, 59
E-verify 233 0.964 Chambers of commerce, 55 Computer manufacture & services, 51
Border enforcement 231 0.882 Minority/Ethnic Groups, 33 Meat processing & products, 26
Defense funding 223 0.897 Computer manufacture & services, 23 Lodging & tourism, 20
H1-B and L-1 217 0.925 Computer software, 30 Electronics manufacturing & services, 27
Border funding 217 0.955 Chambers of commerce, 34 Computer software, 18
Uniting Same-sex Families 217 0.968 Gay & lesbian rights & issues, 55 Minority/Ethnic Groups, 35
High- Skilled Immigration 206 0.922 Computer software, 29 Computers, components & accessories, 20
Reuniting Families 169 0.954 Minority/Ethnic Groups, 40 Human Rights, 16
Criminal justice 158 0.957 Computer software, 19 Minority/Ethnic Groups, 13
Healthcare funding 151 0.926 Computer software, 23 Online computer services, 8
Travel / extended stay 144 0.959 Lodging & tourism, 51 Minority/Ethnic Groups, 18

(numbers for each sector represent bill mentions in that issue area)

Certainly, the categories do not match perfectly. But we can still make a few observations.

The Senate bill devotes the most ink to expansion of the E-verify system, which allows employers to verify the legal employment status of potential employees. In our original analysis, we found substantial interest in E-verify and general employer responsibility issues, led by the well-heeled Chamber of Commerce and the computer and software industries. The existing bill expands the E-verify system, a move that is supported by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. However, civil libertarians have raised concern over this expansion, particularly its move into “photo-matching.”

The second most ink in the bill is devoted to the Agricultural Worker Program subtitle. This was one of the most heavily-lobbied immigration issues in the lead-up to the bill, and a dispute over the visa allowances between agricultural businesses and labor stalled legislation from moving forward for a little bit.  Questions over how and how many agricultural workers should be eligible for blue cards (which provide permanent residence after five years) continue to generate controversy. While it’s hard to know where the final compromise will wind up, what we can say is that between 2008 and 2012, the immigration sub-issue that appeared in the most lobbying reports was agricultural jobs, with milk & dairy producers and farm organizations being the most active sectors.

Meanwhile, the visas for high-skill workers, with heavy lobbying from the high-tech industry, make up 67 pages, spread across three subtitles: TITLE IV – Subtitle B – H-1B Visa Fraud and Abuse Protections, TITLE IV – subtitle H – Investing in New Venture, Entrepreneurial Startups and Technologies, and TITLE IV – Subtitle C – L Visa Fraud and Abuse Protections.

On the other end of the spectrum, reforming the H2-B seasonal visa program takes up only nine pages of the Senate bill, the least of any sub-title, and has generated little media attention. Over the years, however, the status of this program attracted substantial lobbying interest from a range of seasonal businesses.

If past is indeed prologue, seeing the resources that different sectors have historically devoted to different sub-issues within immigration can continue to offer a valuable guide to who will care about what in this round – and how much energy they are willing to devote to getting their way.

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