Immigration reform requires a piecemeal approach, Baker Institute expert says


David Ruth

Jeff Falk

Immigration reform requires a piecemeal approach, Baker Institute expert says
Payan: Conditions for comprehensive immigration reform may be insufficient to guarantee a truly effective immigration system

HOUSTON – (April 5, 2013) – As U.S. House and Senate negotiators approach their self-imposed targets of early April to lay out immigration reform legislation, legislators and President Barack Obama’s administration must work toward immigration reform using a piecemeal approach, according to Tony Payan, a scholar for immigration studies at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy.

Payan outlines his recommendations in “Immigration Reform: A Comprehensive vs. Piecemeal Approach,” part of a recent, wide-ranging Baker Institute report of policy recommendations for Obama’s second term.

“In spite of lower migrant flows, changing public opinion, rising Latino political power and public awareness of the personal tragedies of migrants and their families, the conditions for a grand bargain, a comprehensive immigration reform, do not exist,” Payan said. “Though there is no consensus on how to fix the system, all sides of the issue agree that the immigration system is in need of deep reforms. This suggests that resolving the immigration crisis will require a piecemeal approach. Targeted solutions for specific parts of the problem are more likely to lead to productive congressional debates on the immigration system than an attempt to resolve multiple issues in an overarching comprehensive reform measure.”

In addition, a piecemeal approach will allow Congress to address different issues in the immigration system and ease pressure on the overall crisis, Payan said. “It will also allow vulnerable members of Congress to take cover from constituents who may oppose comprehensive immigration reform. On the downside, a piecemeal approach may result in the resolution of certain complicated aspects of the immigration system but eventually leave other issues unresolved.”

Payan outlined six specific policy recommendations:

  1. Reintroduce the DREAM Act.
  2. Allow adult children of undocumented immigrants to petition for the citizenship of their parents and siblings from within the United States.
  3. Modernize the pardon process to reunify families with their deported relatives.
  4. Review the visa system to expand visa types and increase the number of visas per year.
  5. Reconceive the E-verify system within the larger visa system.
  6. Devote greater resources to immigrant processing to reduce the immigrant backlog.

His policy recommendations can be read on page 87 of the report, available online at

The Baker Institute is hosting a conference on immigration reform April 9. The conference will bring together leading United States immigration experts as well as key public policy thinkers involved in the current reform debate. For more information, visit

In addition to being a Baker Institute scholar, Payan is an associate professor of political science at the University of Texas at El Paso and serves at the graduate faculty of the Universidad Autónoma de Juárez in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. His area of study is international relations, with an emphasis on U.S. and Mexican foreign policy and U.S.-Mexico relations. He is the author of “The Three U.S.-Mexico Border Wars: Drugs, Immigration and Homeland Security” and other books.

The Baker Institute has a radio and television studio available for media who want to schedule an interview with Payan. For more information, contact Jeff Falk, associate director of national media relations at Rice, at or 713-348-6775.


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Related materials:

Payan biography:

Founded in 1993, the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy at Rice University in Houston ranks among the top 20 university-affiliated think tanks globally and top 30 think tanks in the United States. As a premier nonpartisan think tank, the institute conducts research on domestic and foreign policy issues with the goal of bridging the gap between the theory and practice of public policy. The institute’s strong track record of achievement reflects the work of its endowed fellows and Rice University scholars. Learn more about the institute at or on the institute’s blog,

About Jeff Falk

Jeff Falk is associate director of national media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.