I have a new op-ed running on the Huff Po home page. Check it out and let me know what you think. A version can also be found below:
Immigration Reform Is Very Much Alive
Contrary to recent news accounts, we are closer to passing a meaningful immigration reform bill than at any point since John McCain and Ted Kennedy introduced their bill in 2005. Consider:
The Senate passed a bill with 68 votes, the most any immigrant reform bill has received since this process began. The last time an immigration bill passed the Senate it was in 2006, and it received just 62 votes.
The House, whose last major vote on immigration reform was in 2005 and called for the deportation of the 11 million unauthorized migrants in the U.S., has already passed five immigration and border related bills out of committee. Last week Speaker John Boehner said he believed the House needed to do something on immigration reform this Congress, and next week Republicans are having a public hearing on the DREAM Act.
While much has been written about the need Republicans have to support immigration reform to get back in the game with Latino voters, I think an equally compelling reason why the House is already taking significant strides towards passing an immigration reform bill is the pressure they feel to meet the very high bar set by the Senate "Gang of Eight" framework. Their framework will give the country a better legal immigration system, one more based on bringing growth producing skilled labor. It will close some of the holes in our interior enforcement system, build on the significant gains made in border security in recent years and make the border region even safer. It will make needed investments in 47 ports of entry with Mexico, facilitating more trade and tourism, creating more jobs on both sides of the border. It creates an arduous but achievable path to citizenship for the 11 million unauthorized immigrants already in the country. And remarkably, it will grow the economy, create jobs and lower the deficit by a $1 trillion over 20 years.
In a time where Americans have so little faith in their government to meet the emerging challenges of our time, the Gang of Eight framework is a bit of a political miracle: incredibly thoughtful public policy, broad bi-partisan support, a deep and diverse political coalition backing it. It just is very hard for the House Republicans to walk away from all that too.
And they haven't. In the last few months the House Republicans have passed bills relating to border security, interior enforcement and changes in the legal immigration system. They are talking about the DREAM Act and a "path to legalization." The Border Caucus is floating smart proposals to invest in our ports of entry, something that could help bring border state Republicans along. Some House Republicans have even said they expect a bill with citizenship to eventually pass and be signed into law.
The characterization of the House Republicans as standing in the way of immigration reform is only half right. They are, as the Founders intended, moving this issue through their chamber at their own pace. This is to be expected, frankly. Unlike the Senate the House hasn't really debated the issue since 2005, and there are many new members particularly in the Republican Conference. There just isn't a lot of institutional knowledge about the issue. Institutional bluster, perhaps, but not a lot of knowledge or understanding. So they need time.
Another reason the House Republicans need time to work through the issue is the House chamber's unique history with immigration reform. Just a few months after Senators McCain and Kennedy introduced their thoughtful bill in 2005, the House voted to arrest and deport the 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. In 2006 when the Senate passed McCain-Kennedy, the House refused to even consider it. The default position for many in the House GOP -- that the solution to the 11 million is for them to all leave the country -- was in the platform of the Republican Party in 2012, and carried by its nominee. While there have been immigration reformers like Bush and McCain in the GOP over the past decade, much of the Republican Party has strongly held views that what the unauthorized immigrant population did by jumping the immigrant line was wrong, and that as a matter of policy, the nation cannot reward bad behavior. Getting those who hold this position to change is not, and was never going to be, easy. If dozens of Republicans are to sign on to a bill that has provisions they have said they will never support and deeply oppose, that too will require time.
As someone who has worked on immigration reform since the summer of 2005, I don't think the immigration bill is dead -- it is very much alive. You can see the outlines of an eventual deal. The House will likely accept much of the Senate enforcement framework, dropping the expensive and reckless border surge but adding to the interior enforcement provisions. Dems might have to accept more W low skilled visas to get the House to go along with the Senate vision for the new skills-based legal immigration system. Adopting some of Senator Cornyn's savvy proposals on border infrastructure investment could help bring him back to the table, and entice more border and growth oriented GOPers to sign on.
This of course leaves us with the 11 million, and legalization and citizenship. My own read of the situation is the House Leadership knows it must do something here, that leaving the 11 million or even a large potion of the 11 million in limbo just won't fly. As we saw in the Senate process the GOP was willing to trade and deal on citizenship. With the House GOP talking about DREAMers, Ag workers and legalization the elements of an eventual deal are on the on table. The Washington Post's Greg Sargent reported yesterday that the bi-partisan "gang" in the House has worked out a path to citizenship, adopting a new trigger process, recasting the early stages of the path, and making it longer. So it is possible to for House Republicans to craft a citizenship path that the president and the Dems can support if all the parties can sit down and work it all out.
Reports of the death of immigration reform are premature. The Senate Bill may be dead in the House, but immigration reform isn't. What the House comes up with will be different than the Senate, but that's why we have conference committees. I don't think the differences between the two chambers are as great as many believe; the Senate bill provided an extraordinary framework to build from; and the House needs time to work through it in their own way. Of course it is possible that the House conservatives block any progress on immigration reform this year, but I think their arguments will weaken over time, not strengthen. Why? Simply, they just aren't very good, and the politics of recent years has made them jarringly obsolete. Being on the side of fixing the broken immigration system, creating jobs and reducing the deficit is just better politics than once again doing nothing about a very challenge facing the country -- even if it means citizenship for the 11 million.
Something will pass the House this year. Whether it is good, and can become something signed by the president will depend to a great degree on how well our leaders work together to bring this tough process to conclusion. But a deal is out there to be made. I hope the tribes of Washington can seize this moment and give America a far better immigration system than we have today.
October 18 Update - Rep. Bob Goodlatte's recent floating of the idea of "no special path" for undocumented immigrants is a promising development. By allowing qualified undocumented immigrants legalization and then the ability to apply for a green card and legal permanent residence as any other immigrant, it shows the House GOP might be able to get to a place that allows legal status and citizenship for most of the 11m undocumented immigrants.
Again, looking at this through a negotiator's eye, the House GOP has moved, is playing ball, and one can see a deal struck between the two parties this fall. Byron York's new article reports that the House GOP leadership is working on a bill despite the fallout of the shutdown fight. The House Democrats came closer to the House GOP's approach by smartly dropping the border surge in their new leadership bill. And with 87 House GOP Members choosing a different path than the House radicals, it is further evidence that with the right kind of patient leadership, a deal could be struck.
It is that time of year again for friends of NDN/NPI – the time we come to you and ask for your financial support of our path-breaking work.
Over the next few weeks on this site and through other means we will explaining what we’ve done these past few years with the money our supporters have generously given to us, and what we intend to do going forward. We are proud of what we have contributed to the national debate here in the US, and we are confident that, with your support, we can keep making a difference during a time of significant global transition and change.
We write now because this is the time of year we most need your support. Our generous supporters keep us well-nourished and in the black throughout the year. But to avoid that summer cash-flow lull – as many head out on vacation – it is important that we raise $100,000 before August 2nd.
I hope you will help us by contributing what amount you feel comfortable - $15, $25, $50, $100 or more.
You can make a secure, online donation here, or learn how to use other means of payment. We know that you have spent time with us recently, and we hope that experience will move you to contribute today. It will certainly set off some celebratory and seasonal fireworks here if you do!
Thanks again for your interest, and support, of our important work here.
Today, we join in celebrating the passage of the Senate immigration reform bill. As we’ve written before, we believe the bill at its core is ambitious, bold and super smart. It improves the legal immigration system, strengthens border security and interior enforcement, puts unauthorized immigrants on a path to citizenship and makes prudent investments in our ports of entry with Mexico which will create jobs on both sides of our border.
As the CBO noted last week, the bill will also accelerate economic growth in the US, create jobs and reduce the deficit by as much $1 trillion over the next two decades. Politically, it has gained votes as it moved through the Senate legislative process and passed today with a veto-proof super majority. Given what little good has come from Washington in recent years, both the integrity of the bill and its broad political support are truly remarkable accomplishments for the original Gang of Eight.
This is not to suggest the legislation as it comes out of the Senate is perfect. In the months ahead we will be advocating that there is a much better way to throw money at the border than the one imagined by the Corker-Hoeven amendment. Adding more fencing and doubling the border patrol is bad policy. It is incredibly expensive while promising little return on investment, damaging to border states and communities, and is sure to antagonize our Mexican neighbors and other allies throughout Latin America. As a matter of policy, having far more troops on our friendly border with Mexico than we do on the North Korean border is a global embarrassment for the US. Given the huge security gains along the US-Mexico border in recent years, and the ambitious border provisions already in the Senate bill, this massive “surge” simply isn’t needed (see my recent op-ed for more on this).
If Congress is so interested in throwing money at the border there is a better way – investing in modernizing our 47 ports of entry with Mexico and adding more customs agents at all our air, land and sea ports of entry. Given the enormous amount of trade and tourism now flowing through these ports due to rising standards of living around the world, modernizing our ports of entry has become one of the most important infrastructure investment priorities for the nation.
Take trade with Mexico, for example. In 2009 total trade with Mexico was $300 billion. In 2012, it had grown to $536 billion and is on track to hit close to $600 billion this year. Mexico is now our third largest trading partner in the world, and our second largest export market. We trade more today with Mexico than we do with the UK, Germany and Japan combined, and Mexico now buys twice as much from the US as China does. In recent years the trade relationship between our two countries has evolved into one of the most important binational trade relationship between any two countries in the world. Estimates are that fully 6 million American jobs now depended on this trade, a number which is going to increase as the trade flows grow in the years ahead.
The infrastructure which facilitates this exploding trade relationship, however, was designed for an era of trade much less robust than what we are seeing today. Wait times on the Mexican side of far too many ports are unacceptable today, let alone what they may be in 5 to 10 years as Mexico continues to grow and modernize.
The US needs a more aggressive plan to ensure that the economic opportunity these trade flows offers our businesses and workers can be realized. Doing so is going to require investment. Investment in ports will provide significant return by creating millions of jobs on both sides of the US-Mexico border, something that new border strategy of the Senate bill threatens rather than supports.
There are at least three things Congress can do with the $40-$50 billion of new spending on the border that would be far more beneficial to the US than the current Senate plan:
First, Congress can increase the number of customs agents from the proposed 3,500 to an additional 10,000. These agents will help facilitate the increased levels of trade and tourism while providing more security at all our ports. Second, Congress can provide $10 billion over 10 years to the port of entry infrastructure grant program in the current Senate bill. Third, Congress can adopt Senator John Cornyn’s thoughtful proposal to open up ports to public-private partnerships, deploying private capital to help grow and maintain this vital national infrastructure.
The original Gang of Eight Senate border and immigration bill was one of the most impressive legislative accomplishments of the Obama and Bush eras. It is a good bill, bipartisan to the core, ambitious while also creating jobs and reducing the deficit. Whether the rest of Congress can keep the integrity of this bill as it moves forward in the coming months remains to be seen. We remain hopeful, but have no illusions how about much work needs to be to ensure that President Obama signs not just an immigration bill later this year, but a good one.
Part of the joy of running an organization is seeing people grow, learn and then move on to new challenges and opportunities. This week we send off two really good members of our team to exciting new positions. Chris Bowman, who has been a terrific assistant to me, moves into the Congressional office of Mike Doyle, a home state Congressman for him. Kristian Ramos, who has been a high-impact and vital member of our team for three years now, takes on an important new assignment as the Communications Director of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
Kristian also joins an important club, alums of NDN's pathbreaking Hispanic work, a wonderful club which includes Joe Garcia, Sergio Bendixen, Maria Cardona, Jimmy Learned, Alicia Menendez, Fernand Amandi, Andres Ramirez and Gil Meneses. Over the 11 years of our project few have done more to advance a greater understanding of the changing demography of the US and advance immigration reform than this intrepid and wonderful group. I am proud of what we have done together, and for what they continue to do every day to make our politics more modern and responsive to the challenges our country faces today.
Stepping up to become Policy Director of our 21st Century Border Initiative is Emma Buckhout who has already been a welcome and talented addition to the project. Emma comes to us from the Latin America Working Group, where she worked on their Mexico and Border program. Prior to moving to DC, she spent two years on the other side of the border working on community development with Incarnate Word Missionaries in Mexico City. She graduated Summa cum Laude in International Relations from the University of Pennsylvania.
So please join me in saying thank you and good luck to Kristian and Chris, and welcome to Emma.
This fall when the President signs a new immigration bill into law in a beautiful Rose Garden ceremony we may look back on the border deal announced yesterday as the savvy compromise which paved the way. I hope that is the case. But I am not convinced that what happened yesterday was strategically advantageous for the cause of reform. While the Democrats received nothing new in the “deal,” the Republicans achieved something very significant – they got the Democrats to buy into one of the big lies of the anti-reform movement, a big lie which is now part of the bill and will be part of the life of the nation for years to come.
I refer to the idea that the border is so unsafe that we would need to put as many armed troops on it as we have on the North Korean border today. As I have written elsewhere, the US Mexican border is if anything a remarkable success story, far safer and better managed today than it has been in years. Violent crime is one third of what it was a decade ago in the largest border cities; the flow of unauthorized migrants is a quarter of what it was a decade ago; meanwhile trade with Mexico will have doubled in just the past four years, turning Mexico in our third largest trading partner and second most common destination for American exports. While troubles remain, the governments of two countries along with many local partners has made the border far safer than it was a decade ago, while dramatically expanding the flow of trade through the 47 ports of entry along the border itself.
Some have described the border strategy agreed to yesterday as a “surge.” But what exactly is our government going to surge against? Net flow of unauthorized migrants between our two counties is now zero, and the CBO said the border provisions in the Senate bill pre-surge would drop that number even further. The Wall Street Journal reports today on another reason the flow is not what it was – Mexico is growing, modernizing and producing far more jobs for its people than it did during previous decades. Border cities are already are among the safest in the country, net flow is zero, we are close to the goal of a 90% apprenhension rate in 4 of the 5 high traffic corridors, the average patrol border patrol agent has seen their annual apprenhension rate drop from 300 to just 17, or one every three weeks...so why a "surge?"
In my work along the border these last three years I have heard regional leader after leader tell the same story – the exaggeration of the violence along the border by conservative politicians has brought great economic harm to the region. Tourism has dropped off, investments end up in other places. It was this economic threat that caused the business community in Arizona, for example, to recall from office the sitting state Senate Majority Leader and architect of the virulent anti-immigrant “SB1070 style politics of recent years. These communities, among the safest in the whole nation now, are desperate to move beyond this perception which has done so much harm to their economies. What these leaders want more than anything else is more investment on border infrastructure and customs agents, something that will create more jobs on both sides of the border and modernize our ports staining under the explosion of trade with Mexico we've seen in recent years.
But this new compromise, crafted by three Senators not from the border region, institutionalizes the big conservative lie about the US-Mexican border. We have now accepted as fact and policy that the threat posed by the US-Mexican border requires a response similar to what we did in Afghanistan and Iraq, and equal to what we are doing today to defend against North Korea. It is all out of proportion to what is actually happening in the border region today. Remember, the Senate bill, which passed out of Judiciary Committee with broad bi-partisan support, a bill which has been characterized as the toughest border bill even written, called for no new border patrol agents. Not a single one.
Consider these statements by John McCain in the last several weeks:
“I have been on the border in Arizona for the last 30 years, to somehow say there have not been significant advancements in border security defies the facts.”
“The fact is that we can get this border secured, and the answer, my friends, as is proposed in the Cornyn amendment, that we hire 10,000 more border patrol is not a recognition of what we really need,” McCain said. “What we really need is technology.”
At a strategic level, the wall of reasonableness erected by the Gang of Eight to keep the crazy politics of the anti-immigrant right out of the Congressional immigration reform legislative process was breached yesterday. The timing of this breach of course is unfortunate, for the next step in this process is to move the bill to the House, where anti-immigrant forces are much stronger, and their ideas much crazier. This “deal” accepted by the Senate Democrats established a precedent of accepting crazy conservative ideas in this tough debate, one which the other side is surely going to exploit in the weeks to come.
As someone who has fought for immigration reform for eight years now, I hope I am wrong. I hope the border deal will in fact be the moment which enabled us to get this deal done. But where I sit, today, I am not convinced it was worth it. And I know the tens of millions of Americanswho live in the border region, tired of the mis-characterization of their communities and proud of the hard progress which has been made in recent years, share my concern.
Updates: Some good analyses on the border proposals have come out in the past few days. See this Economist article, "Secure Enough: Spending Billions More on Fences an Drones Wil Do More Harm Than Good." Also see this excellent piece from Bob Ortega of the Arizona Republic, this one from the Los Angeles Times and this one from Josh Gerstein at Politico.
Update: In an Op-Ed I wrote in the Hill on Wednesday, i argued that if more money were to spent on the border it should be for border infrastructure, which would help create more jobs on both sides of the US-Mexican border.
The new CBO report is a bit of a political game changer for the immigration debate. While it has been long argued that the Senate Immigration Bill would do many things – improve border security and interior enforcement, resolve the issue of the 11 million undocumented immigrants living and working here in the US, improve the legal immigration system, smartly invest in expanding our trade with Mexico – we now know that it will also help improve the US economy, create jobs and significantly lower the budget deficit.
The bar for the opposition to the Senate immigration bill just got higher. Already specious arguments that already effective and ambitious Senate border security goals don’t go far enough are no longer sufficient for opposing this bill. To oppose the Senate bill means one is now for increasing the deficit, slowing growth and reducing the number of jobs created in the US in coming years.
Finally, it needs to be understood that the new attack by House Republicans on what is known as “prosecutorial discretion,” a provision they have attacked in both the recent King Amendment and in the just passed SAFE Act, would result in the elimination of the current government policy of prioritizing criminal migrants for deportation. Thus, it can now be said of those House supporters of the SAFE act today that they are voting to eliminate the prioritizing of criminals from removal of the country, and for increasing the deficit and reducing US economic growth.
How exactly the House GOP found itself in these tortured set of policy positions is one of the great mysteries of the current immigration debate.
“Today, the House Republicans declared their independence from Comprehensive Immigration Reform. The self-deportation/attrition movement, which captured the Republican Party’s nominee in 2012, has re-asserted itself in American politics. While the House deferred action vote was regrettable, the newly introduced Goodlatte-Gowdy Enforcement Bill (HR 2278), which calls for among other things, guns and body armor for ICE agents, is as true an expression of self-deportation/attrition as one will ever find in Congress.
Rather than reaching out, the House GOP is digging in. Those who want to see the Senate immigration bill signed into law this year have a tougher job ahead of them today than we did a few days ago.”
"After the Senate Judiciary Committee passed S.755 with a strong bipartisan majority yesterday, we remain optimistic that Congress will be able to pass a good, comprehensive border and immigration bill this year.
The thoughtful and ambitious Gang of Eight Senate framework held through weeks of a spirited markup, and even improved in certain regards. The Schumer-Hatch Compromise Amendment which fixed some issues with the H1-B Visa was particularly important, making this part of our legal immigration system much more workable for those companies using these visas properly and as intended. We also celebrate the passage of Feinstein Amendment 10, which would establish a grant program “to construct transportation and support infrastructure improvements at existing and new international border crossings necessary to facilitate safe, secure, and efficient cross border movement of people, motor vehicles, and cargo." If realized, this addition could do a great deal to help create good paying jobs on both sides of the border in the years ahead.
The Senate has set a high bar for the House. If the House is to produce a different bill, or approach, it will have to justify why it rejected the well-negotiated, publicly tested and bipartisan approach of the Senate bill. Given the progress the Senate has made it is time for the House to get going, and start their process as soon as possible.
Finally, the thoughtful, bipartisan and very public nature of the Gang of Eight-led process which produced the Senate bill is one all in Washington should applaud. Let's hope it is a model for how we tackle future issues, finding common ground, working through tough problems, and producing a set of solutions equal to the challenge in front of us. The Senate Gang of Eight deserve commendation for both the ambition of their bill, and the integrity of the process which has driven us this far. "
I started the original NDN back in 1996 with a simple idea - more needed to be done to invest and nuture new leaders, ideas and institutions if the center-left was to repel and defeat what I have called the conservative ascendency.
Over these many years the investments we've made have helped build a better politics for the nation. Many of our political allies have moved on to powerful positions of influence, ideas and strategies we've promoted have modernized the nation's politics, and institutions we've helped start have grown and are adding value every day. I look back at this time and our our investments, and I have to say that I am pleased. Together, we have made a difference.
Over the last few days, however, the part of the job that I think has been most rewarding was highlighted to me in ways I wanted to share with all of you. Yesterday, I shared a stage with the vital and important new Senator, Michael Bennett, and a thoughful new Member of Congress, Joe Garcia, who gave an first hand account of the House immigration reform debate from his perch on the Judiciary Committee. Tuesday night, our friends at Fusion, the new ABC/Univision joint venture, announced that Alicia Menendez was joining the network as an anchor, and getting her own show.
Joe and Alicia were recent staffers here at NDN. They are two of the best, and smartest, people I have ever worked with, and are deserving of their success. Over the years we've helped an awful lot of people and ideas graduate to the next level of influence, but it is the staffers like Joe and Alicia, when they take their big leaps, which give me the most pride, and satisfaction. I am incredibly proud of both of them, and am confident in their continued success. Way to go gang!
And a big thank you to our supporters, investors, cheerleaders and allies who have made all this possible. This week we do indeed have cause to look back and be proud.
At NDN/NPI, we think a lot about the power of networks, and the role they play in creating economic prosperity and personal freedom. In the US today our economy is built on top of a series of dynamic and powerful networks which allow commerce, people, ideas and so much else to flow over and through them. Think about it - our transportation/ports of entry network, our electricity and energy network, our telcom network, our financial network (are there more?). The vibrancy, capacity and modernity of these networks are essential to the health of our country, and countries all around the world today.
In recent years, another network, the first real national network the United States ever built, the Postal Service, has struggled. There is no real confusion why. Modern telecommunications has changed the way we connect with one another, making us much less dependent on traditional mail to move information around. Some bad decisions and a lack of a real vision for how the Postal Service could modernize itself around this new information and economic landscape didn't help. Given what still moves over this network, it is critical that our policy makers get about the business of not bailing the Postal Service out but modernizing it. There is a very real risk that the Postal Service could fail if it is not modernized for a different day and different US economy.
It is in that vein that I am excited to be hosting a discussion here at our office on Monday about building a "21st Century Postal Service." It features two men who have participated in a very thoughtful, bi-partisan process of developing a new vision for the vaunted USPS. Their plan is to accept that the national postal network has already become a shared public-private one, with enormous amounts of packages already being delivered by the private sector, and "worksharing" which has allowed private sector actors to do things the USPS already does less expensively.. Their proposal would take another few pieces of this hybrid network - more back end processing, more transporting of letters and packages and a piece of the public postal services interface - and commercializes them. What would remain of the current USPS is the "last mile" feature, the letter carrier, the person we trust to wander through our neighborhoods every day, keeping an eye on things, while also working hard to get our letters and our packages to us despite rain, sleet, snow, angry dogs and so much else. The new USPS would set a price for private sector actors for use of this last mile system, and let the market do its thing (the current USPS already moves over 300 million packages for private carriers each year in this way).
To me, this seems like an eminently reasonable plan. It preserves the most important part of the traditional Postal Service, the letter carrier. It tweaks the already hybrid public-private system we have today. It will bring more access to postal and package services, something that any of us who has stood in long lines at current USPS will attest is long past due. And it will clearly create opportunities for further innovation in both the postal network, and for the businesses who operate on top of it.
For those who want to defend the current USPS, I just want to point out that all of the major networks that undergird our national economy are already some kind of public private hybrid, and the current postal network - through the growth of private package delivery and worksharing - has been a public-private hybrid for decades. What we have today is already much more a postal "network" than postal "service." In an age of enormous technological and global economic change, these networks, which hold so much value for our economy, must allow private sector financianing mechanisms to augment public investments or the public only/first approach will simply become swept aside by the pace of this change (something one could argue has already occured for the current USPS). The private sector option becomes another tool to solve a problem, and is one that for the most part has proved more nimble and responsive to the moment than the traditional bureaucracy-driven, top-down government first approach. We shouldn't fear the private option. it. In fact, in this age of great change, we almost need to guarantee private financing options for public services like the USPS in order to preserve them.
So, will this plan work? I'm not sure, but that's why we are holding this event. We want to learn more, toss these ideas into the debate, give these savvy, experienced veterans of the Postal Wars a chance to make their case. It sure seems like a smart and pragmatic upgrade to our the national treasure that is our postal network. Come join our conversation and let us know what you think.