TCIA Calls for Congress to Address Nation’s Broken Immigration System

Immigration policy has been a long-standing topic of discussion within political and social circles in the United States. The complexity and intensity of the debates often mirror the vast array of interests and opinions involved. In the current climate, both comprehensive and piecemeal immigration reforms are under consideration.

Although comprehensive immigration reform seems a distant prospect, smaller-scale legislative pursuits may bear fruit. With Republicans and Democrats locked in debate on how best to move forward, the business community, including TCIA, recently launched the LIBERTY Campaign (Legal Immigration and Border Enforcement Reform This Year Campaign) to urge congressional action on legislation that garners bipartisan support – efforts that seek to combine subsets of policies to improve border security with policies that will improve the operation of our legal immigration system.

Brief overview of the immigration debate

There are several elements of immigration reform that must be addressed in any comprehensive immigration-reform package. Republicans are demanding border-security funding and enforcement to handle the historic number of migrants coming to and crossing the southern border. In FY22, Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) reported more than 2.2 million encounters at the border. This does not include the number of migrants who were able to cross undetected. Democrats, on the other hand, demand a pathway to citizenship for “Dreamers,” or migrants who came to America at a very early age and have since lived in the U.S. as model citizens.

Other concerns span the bipartisan spectrum, with policymakers advocating for improved legal immigration processes. Such improvements are envisaged to address the significant worker shortages plaguing employers across the country, a crisis that persists in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 9.6 million job openings unfilled by the end of March 2023. This problem is especially pronounced in physically demanding industries such as commercial arboriculture. To alleviate the worker shortage, many policymakers are advocating for changes to immigration laws and regulations, including the introduction of new visa programs and the modification of existing ones to bring more workers into the country.

Simultaneously, there also are significant concerns about our asylum processes. The system right now is overburdened with hundreds of thousands of migrants claiming asylum. Detention centers are overcrowded, forcing the U.S. to release hundreds of thousands into the U.S. interior to await their court dates. Further complicating the situation is the expiration of Title 42 on May 11, 2023 – a policy implemented by the Trump administration and extended several times by the Biden administration that allowed the federal government to immediately expel illegal immigrants caught at the southern border due to the threat they pose as a public health risk.

With these factors converging – the escalating number of immigrants, the pervasive worker shortage, the end of Title 42 and the upcoming 2024 presidential election – the pressure to act on immigration reform, either comprehensively or incrementally, is intensifying.

The LIBERTY Campaign

Finding workers has been a long-standing challenge for members of the tree care industry. While working in arboriculture can be a rewarding career that pays a solid living wage, the physical challenges and inherent dangers of an arborist’s life are not for everyone.

As the domestic labor market alone cannot meet our industry’s workforce needs, many TCIA members have hired immigrant workers here in the U.S. on Temporary Protected Status (TPS). TPS is a program that provides temporary permanent-resident status to individuals from countries experiencing extraordinary and temporary conditions. These would be conditions such as ongoing armed conflict or an environmental disaster. Some TCIA members also rely on the H-2B visa program for temporary, legal guest workers to meet economic demand when American workers cannot be found. While these programs support the continued growth of the industry, termination decisions for TPS designees and flaws in the H-2B visa program create significant uncertainty. This is why TCIA has long called on Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform.

Because congressional efforts to confront America’s immigration challenges continue to stall, TCIA joined the LIBERTY Campaign, comprised of more than 430 organizations, to call upon Congress to enact measures this year to improve the border and our legal immigration system. In a letter to Congress, the campaign outlined several policy areas that could form the basis for bipartisan cooperation and legislation.

These include:

  • Increasing resources along the southern border and at ports of entry.
  • Reforming asylum laws.
  • Instituting employment-verification
  • reforms.
  • Increasing annual quotas for
  • employment-based visas. Expanding the scope of essential-worker programs.
  • Creating new visa options for high-demand workers, including international students and entrepreneurs.


In May, Representatives Mariá Elvira Salazar (R-FL-27) and Veronica Escobar (D-TX-16) introduced the Bipartisan DIGNIDAD (Dignity for Immigrants while Guarding our Nation to Ignite and Deliver the American Dream, or DIGNITY) Act H.R.3599. This legislation addresses numerous issues underlined by the LIBERTY Campaign. The Dignity Act includes key provisions such as ending illegal immigration by allocating $25 billion for border security and expedited asylum processing, and implementing mandatory E-Verify. It plans to bring dignity to undocumented immigrants by offering a seven-year temporary legal status to those passing a background check and paying a fine.

In order to protect American workers, it proposes a fund for worker training and requires immigrants to train or retrain at least one American worker. To stimulate economic growth, it plans to increase high-skilled visa opportunities, improve ports of entry, support American agriculture and make changes to legal immigration.

The Dignity Act also caters to workforce demands by providing solutions for those under the H-2B visa program and Temporary Protected Status. It excludes returning H-2B workers from the visa cap and allows TPS designees with five years of continuous presence in the U.S. to transfer to Lawful Permanent Resident status.

While the original legislation was unsuccessful, Salazar and others revamped it to accommodate concerns from both Republican and Democrat members. The proposal is among a few bipartisan immigration bills introduced since 2013’s Comprehensive Immigration Reform efforts, marking the first proposal to present a citizenship path for adult undocumented immigrants, as well as changes to the legal immigration channels often obstructing visa attainment. However, the bill’s journey toward becoming law may be challenging, as House Republican leaders have stipulated they won’t consider immigration legislation until a border-security plan has successfully passed both chambers.


The multifaceted landscape of immigration reform in the United States presents a complex challenge. It requires a balanced approach, one that respects both the humanitarian aspects of immigration and the practical necessities of border security and economic viability. As the debate continues, TCIA will continue to advocate for collaborative and innovative solutions that may yet bring about much-needed change – whether comprehensively or in a piecemeal fashion.

Josh Leonard is a legislative assistant with Ulman Public Policy, TCIA’s Washington, D.C.-based advocacy and lobbying partner.

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