PSU prof appointed to national immigration task force

Portland State University professor Barry Edmonston was recently named a member of the U.S. Immigration Task Force. The group will meet over the next year to examine American immigration policy and how it is affecting our economy and way of life.

The task force was formed by the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations (CCFR) in response to concerns about the lack of discussion about immigration policies.

“Since September 11, it’s come to be more of a security issue,” Edmonston said. “There has been relatively little discussion on issues such as illegal immigrants and improving the time to process applications” for visas and other international requests.

Edmonston estimates that Chicago is losing at least one major international conference per week simply because people outside the United States can’t get permission to come in and attend. Conferences nationwide are increasingly being held in Europe and Asia because of visa delays, drawing millions of potential dollars out of America’s economy.

As an example, Edmonston cited a recent conference for which the keynote speaker was the finance manager of Pakistan.

“Two days before the conference, he still wasn’t allowed into the United States. It took a U.S. senator to make a phone call and get approval for him,” he said. “If it takes this long for a speaker, imagine how long it takes for a student.”

According to Edmonston, universities nationwide are beginning to experience problems with student enrollment because of delays issuing student visas.

“They can’t get students approved in time to register for classes,” Edmonston said. He also estimated that visa delays affect people trying to come into the United States for medical operations or other personal reasons, such as marriage.

Edmonston cited a situation in which an American woman became engaged to a British man. They contacted the INS to ask about getting him into the United States so they could marry and were told it would be at least two years before they could process the required forms. While waiting for the INS dragging its feet, the couple went to Toronto, Canada, married and returned to their respective countries. The couple rendezvous periodically and hope that, with the help of a lawyer, they might be able to cut the processing time down to 18 months.

The couple’s situation illustrates the difficulties businesses encounter when trying to draw international attendees to conferences or events.

“Businesses often plan on a two-month basis rather than two years, and they don’t want to wait” that long for approval by the INS, Edmonston said.

In addition to Edmonston, the task force is composed of 30 to 40 businesspeople, educators, labor leaders and other academics, primarily from the Chicago area. The group has held one meeting already and will convene as often as every two weeks in Chicago, Mexico City, Ottawa and Washington, D.C.

All of Edmonston’s travel to and from meetings is paid for by the task force. The group is funded by the Carnegie Foundation and the CCFR, as well as donations from several large companies. Former INS commissioner Doris Meissner, Illinois Gov. Jim Edgar and the president of a large Chicago-area food company will head the task force.

Panel members include the retired president of Bank One, editor of the Chicago Tribune, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, the vice president of Rolls Royce and the Episcopalian bishop of Chicago. As Edmonston puts it, they’re not lacking in people with either connections or money.

The task force plans to issue a report next summer detailing its recommendations for changes in U.S. immigration policy. Those recommendations will be examined by the Immigration and Naturalization Service and incorporated into future decisions.

Edmonston is director of the Population Research Center and teaches in the urban studies and planning department at PSU. He has been with the university since 1997 and has written several books on immigration reform.

The Population Research Center at PSU consists of four faculty members and administrative staff. It serves as a data center for the state of Oregon and is an affiliate of the U.S. Census Bureau. The PRC makes yearly population estimates for the state on a county-by-county basis that are used for tax purposes, and also serves as a population and geography resource.