In case you didn't read it, this week's Washington Post op-ed on Immigration by Lee Hockstader:
By Lee Hockstader
Sunday, July 19, 2009
The Obama administration, moving gingerly toward what the president has said will be a far-reaching overhaul of the nation's broken immigration system, is trying to show at the outset that it is serious about enforcing existing laws.
A glimpse of the president's strategy came earlier this month, when Department of Homeland Security officials said they would scrap a Bush administration initiative, tied up in the courts, that would have used Social Security information to force employers nationwide to fire millions of unauthorized workers. Instead, DHS said it would require federal contractors to use a separate government database to verify that their employees are authorized to work here. At about the same time, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said the government would put new limits on local police who have been deputized by the feds to help deport undocumented immigrants.
Immigration advocacy groups scowl at such efforts to front-load enforcement before an overarching reform effort is undertaken, one that would grant legal status to millions of undocumented immigrants and expand the supply of visas for future immigrant workers. Many Republicans in Congress, meanwhile, want much tougher enforcement measures, while opposing any strategy that smacks of what they consider amnesty for illegal immigrants. They are all gearing up for a new battle as early as this fall.
The ingredients of the debate are familiar from the failed Bush-era attempts to fix immigration, including the rhetorical excess of all sides. And while the administration's early, tentative moves have been attacked from both sides, in fact they are modest and reasonable steps that may set the stage for the fight ahead.
Take the employee verification program, known as E-Verify, that the Obama administration would require for federal contractors. Business and civil liberties groups dislike it, insisting that inaccuracies in the electronic data make reliance on such systems unfair. In fact, E-Verify is surprisingly accurate. Of 1.8 million E-Verify checks on workers made by employers between October and December last year, less than 0.5 percent of the system's initial responses were reversed on review, according to an outside audit commissioned by Homeland Security. And in Arizona, where businesses initially objected to the nation's broadest law requiring employers to check new hires through E-Verify, the state Chamber of Commerce, to its surprise, now acknowledges the system is working relatively smoothly and accurately. The federal government is correct that there's nothing inherently unreasonable about requiring companies to confirm that their employees are authorized to work in this country.
Then there is the federal program to deputize local police to help deport undocumented immigrants. Advocates of immigrant rights are correct that it has led to racial profiling and deepened mistrust between police departments and immigrant communities. But the DHS move last week aims to minimize abuses by forcing police to pursue all criminal charges that prompted an arrest in the first place; that should dissuade cops from slapping handcuffs on people suspected of no more than lacking valid documents.
It is tempting to think that the nation's economic anemia has sapped the immigration debate of its urgency. Given the pain of rising unemployment, why worry about legalizing undocumented workers, let alone clearing a path for still more immigrants to cross the border on the up and up? Why not just fine-tune enforcement, as the government is doing, and leave the rest for later?
The answer is that the government's moves, even if they tend to rationalize and improve on Bush administration policies, are essentially a diversion. Ditto the ongoing efforts to reinforce personnel and fencing along the Mexican border. Any serious solution to the nation's immigration mess will have to do more than make employers toe the line or dissuade police from following their worst instincts. The fact remains that enforcement by itself is only part of the problem, and it will not magically make 12 million undocumented immigrants disappear, provide a realistic framework for future immigrants or settle a noxious debate that has raged in virtually every state legislature in the country. As Congress gets set to tackle the immigration mess, the administration will need deft politicking, and a broad strategic lens, to push for a comprehensive solution.
E-VERIFY - DHS reported today that starting Sept. 8, the E-Verify system, an online tool that checks a worker's Social Security number and immigration status, will be mandatory for all contractors and subcontractors and their employees assigned to federal contracts. Moreover, these contractors and subcontrators now have to run all employees - not just new hires - though the system.
Soon after the announcement, the Senate approved by voice vote an amendment to the FY10 Homeland Security appropriations bill offered by Sen. Jeff Sessions that would make the soon-to-expire – and increasingly criticized – E-Verify program permanent.
A lesser-known provision was inserted by Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy to permanently authorize the EB-5 visa program, which enables foreigners who invest at least $500,000 in the United States to obtain a green card (yes, a fact unknown to most Americans is that you CAN buy a legitimate green card…if you can afford it).
The Senate also voted 54-44 to adopt an amendment from Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), that would require the department to build up to 700 miles of fencing along the Southwest border (because those taxpayer dollars have been SO well spent until now) – nice way for those Republicans to “cut back unnecessary spending.”
The vote on the e-verify amendment presented the first break between Franken and the Senior Senator from Minnesota, Amy Klobuchar (Dem leadership and Franken voted against the amendment, Klobuchar voted in favor). It is these kinds of New Dems who will have to be whipped into shape (figuratively) to recognize the urgency and need for immigration reform.
HOW TO CONVINCE THEM? – Many of us who study the issue of immigration on a daily basis are fully aware of the economic and social net benefit that reform will bring to all Americans. Luckily, today's developments coincided with the release of a bipartisan task force report that said overhauling the nation's immigration system and giving millions of undocumented workers a path to legal citizenship is critical to America's national security and economic interests. Comprehensive legislative changes should be "a first-tier priority for the Obama administration and Congress," said the report, released by a Council on Foreign Relations task force led by former Florida Republican Gov. Jeb Bush and Thomas (Mack) McLarty, who served as President Bill Clinton's chief of staff.
The authors of the report essentially reiterated what I wrote in my Weekly Update on Monday: "The United States, a country shaped by generations of immigrants and their descendants, is badly mishandling its immigration policy, with serious consequences for its standing in the world," the report said.
Among other things, McLarty disputed the notion that giving undocumented workers now in the country a path to citizenship would be akin to giving them amnesty. They would have to first pay fines, learn English, assimilate and wait behind current applicants, McLarty said.
President Obama's remarks today show that his commitment to comprehensive imigration reform has not wavered. The President's speech is consistent with what he has said all along -- that he supports fixing our broken immigration system.
For additional background information, NDN released new video, presentations and background on immigration reform, including video of yesterday's presentation and more:
Recent Polling on Immigration Reform, Benenson Strategy Group, 6/2/09 - Since a previous America's Voice poll in November, Pete Brodnitz of the Benenson Stratagey Group finds that support for comprehensive reform has been stable (and high), but increasing numbers of voters see the economic benefit of passing comprehensive immigration reform. The poll is consistent with NDN polling by Bendixen & Associates in its affirmation of overwhelming public support for immigration reform.
The GOP's Impossible Dream: Republicans Can't Win Without Latino Support in Millennial Era, Mike Hais, 6/10/09 - NDN Fellow Hais writes that on his fivethirtyeight.com Web site, Nate Silver recently raised the possibility that the Republican Party could more effectively compete in the 2012 and 2016 elections by turning its back on Hispanics and attempting to maximize the support of white voters in enough 2008 Midwestern and Southern blue states to flip them red. The Republican Party rode similar exclusionary strategies to dominance of U.S. politics during most of the past four decades. But America has entered a new era.
Latinos Vote in 2008: Analysis of U.S. Presidential Exit Polls (PDF), Andres Ramirez, 1/18/09 - I provide an overview of the Hispanic electorate in key states from the 2008 presidential election. The analysis concludes that Hispanics participated in record numbers in this election cycle, increasing their turnout from the 2004 election; Hispanics significantly shifted towards the Democratic nominee in 2008, reversing trends from the 2000 and 2004 presidential election cycles; Hispanics played a key role in Obama’s victory in Colorado, Florida, Nevada and New Mexico; Hispanics are poised to make other states competitive in future elections; and if these trends continue, the national map will continue to get harder for Republicans. National Survey of Hispanic Voters on Immigration Policy, Bendixen & Associates, 5/18/09 - Bendixen & Associates conducted a poll for America's Voice that comprehensively documents Hispanic voters' view on immigration policy.
For those wanting to learn more about and discuss the compelling issue of how to best fix our broken immigration system, please join us today at noon either here at NDN or online for an event, "Immigration Reform: Politics, Public Opinion and Legislative Prospects." For more information or to rsvp go here.
NDN argues that, "Legalizing the five percent of the work force that is undocumented would create a higher wage and benefit floor than exists today for all workers …"
Legalization absolutely would create a flood of new immigrants. The 1986 immigration reform granted amnesty to 2.7 million illegal aliens and sent the message that we are not serious about enforcing our immigration laws. By 2006 the number of illegal immigrants in this country had risen to 20 million.
Our response: 1) It is telling that instead of citing Census data, GAO reports, Congressional research service, or other neutral and accurate sources of data, Heritage cites itself as the source for the “20 million” number of estimated undocumented immigrants in the country. The Census and other Government sources have admitted how difficult it is to project a statistic of undocumenteds and are careful to highlight that we have only estimates. Yet the confidence with which Heritage throws out numbers gives the impression that it has gone over every inch of the U.S. and been able to magically locate each and every single immigrant to provide such an unequivocal assertion. Even if this assumption of a number were true, that only helps us make the case for the urgency of CIR. The more people we have in this country that are unknown to our government, the greater the security threat, the greater the number of individuals we need to bring under the protection of U.S. labor laws and tax laws, and the greater amount of revenue we will generate through taxes if we bring these people out of the shadows.
2) Yes, the 1986 law did provide amnesty. The CIR proposal being discussed today allows no such amnesty. To become legalized, individuals would have to pay fines, pay taxes, undergo background checks, and a series of other requirements before they could begin the process.
3) Yes, the 1986 law failed to adequately deal with future flow of immigrants, setting unreasonable quotas and limited legal channels, thus making it easier and much, much less expensive for immigrants to come here illegally rather than legally. That is why we propose broadening legal channels for immigrants, not limiting them. The absence of accessible, cost-effective legal channels for workers or immigrants in 1986 did not deter people from crossing illegally then, so what makes us think it will suddenly deter immigrants in the future?
2. Illegal Immigration and Federal Deficits
In response to our contention that putting the undocumented population on the road to citizenship will also increase tax revenue in a time of economic crisis, as the newly legal immigrants will pay fees and fines, and become fully integrated into the U.S. tax-paying system, Heritage writes:
This assumes that these individuals will not take anymore social services than they do as illegals. But with an unemployment rate of 8.5% it is difficult to assume that people that are largely high-school dropouts would be able to get jobs with millions of Americans looking for work. In reality, they are more likely to be on unemployment. Furthermore, statistics that are used to show they would bring more money fail to recognize the cost of providing entitlements like Social Security and Medicare to 11 million more people—already broken systems. Overall, amnesty will cost taxpayers at least $2.6 trillion.
First – unless I missed something, it is not looking like those unemployed GM assembly-line workers in Detroit are on their way down here to rural Virginia to pick apples and tomatoes. There are jobs to do – Americans just don’t want them. Furthermore, the 2.6 trillion is another number that was just pulled out of the Heritage hat. In fact, if Heritage were interested in data, they might have read the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimate for that same bill they cite (S.1348). Including the legalization provision, the CBO score for S.1348 stated [emphasis added]:
CBO and JCT estimate that enacting this legislation would: • Increase federal direct spending by $10 billion over the 2008-2012 period and by $23 billion over the 2008-2017 period. • Increase federal revenues by $15 billion over the 2008-2012 period and by $48 billion over the 2008-2017 period. That increase would stem largely from greater receipts of Social Security payroll taxes, which are classified as off-budget.
Thus leading to a net gain of at least $30 billion. Heritage is concerned about Social Security – in fact, there is something called the “Earnings Suspense File” (ESF) held by SSA. The ESF holds the funds from all the people who pay into the system because it is deducted from their paycheck, but cannot claim those benefits. For example, undocumented immigrants who use a false or stolen SSA number pay into SSA with each paycheck, but cannot retrieve that money. The ESF is currently at over $520 billion.
3. Illegal Immigration and Border Violence
NDN wrote: Tackling the growing influence of the drug cartels in Mexico is going to be hard, cost a great deal of money, and take a long time. One quick and early step toward calming the region will be to take decisive action on clearing up one piece of the problem — the vast illegal trade in undocumented migrants. Heritage commented:
We do need to reform our immigration system. But not through an amnesty which is what most of the left calls “comprehensive immigration reform.” We need to 1) secure the border and enforce workplace laws (2) support economic development and governance reforms in Latin America (3) reform USCIS (4) strengthen citizenship and (5) improve legal worker programs.
Thanks Heritage, for supporting our argument. Everything mentioned here by Heritage WOULD BE INCLUDED in our recommended CIR legislation and supporting administrative policies.
4. U.S.-Latin American relations
NDN believes that just as offering a new policy toward Cuba is part of establishing that it is truly a “new day” in hemispheric relations, ending the shameful treatment of Latin migrants here in the United States will go a long way in signaling that America is taking its relations with its southern neighbors much more seriously than in the past. Heritage commented:
A fundamentally dishonest immigration policy that claims to legalize only those illegal aliens now here is no way to start a “new day” with Latin America. Building a real US-Latin America Partnership takes patience and time.
Absolutely, we don’t believe that only tackling the plight of those who are already here is a solution (more will inevitably come). NDN argues that CIR must put in place a realistic system for future flow, to serve as a first step in building a partnership with immigrant-sending nations. President Barack Obama believes working with immigrant-sending nations is a key component of CIR as well.
5. A Clean Census
On this, NDN believes passing immigration reform this year would go a long way to ensuring we have a clean and effective census count next year. Heritage:
The census does need to be cleaned up. But cleaning up the census isn’t an excuse for amnesty.
Easy response: NDN AND ADVOCATES FOR CIR DO NOT SUPPORT AMNESTY (see response number 1). Glad Heritage agrees that the Census must be a clean one.
Having established that no one is for "amnesty," if Heritage is against the plan to provide those who are currently undocumented with a path to citizenship, even once they have had to undergo a series of background checks and fulfilled a number of requirements, then Heritage is in the unpopular spot supported by approximately 2/10 of voters. And what would Heritage propose? Would Heritage propose deporting the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants? The status quo does not work. Keeping people in the shadows or blanket deportation won't work for several reasons:
1. As we mention in "Making the Case," legalization is an untapped source of revenue in a time of economic crisis. 2. It would be impossible to deport the estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants. If legalization would cost $23 billion, DHS has reported that deportation would cost taxpayers over $100 billion (DHS's entire budget is around $35 billion), not to mention it would take around 200 years to carry out that many deportations. 3. About 2/3 of families with undocumented immigrants are mixed status, meaning they also include U.S. citizens. As such, deportation of immediate family of citizens, or citizens themselves not only brings serious human rights issues to surface, it can bring about a series of legal challenges.
Let me begin by saying that I have a great deal of respect for Joe Scarborough as one of the few more sensible, moderate Republican voices out there nowadays. However, Scarborough and Ed Gillespie's appearance on Meet the Press yesterday demonstrated that the Republican party is either unable or unwilling to step back and take an honest look at the main reason behind its current unpopularity. Republicans are unwilling to accept that it is precisely their conservatism - their social conservatism - that has caused their demise. There is no "big tent" any longer when it comes to the GOP.
MR. GREGORY: But, Joe, it seems like the fundamental question is, what does the party want to be, right?......Ron Brown, seen in his column this week in the National Journal, talks about the party being more monochromatic, more conservative regionally and in terms of the voters. And he talked to Tom Davis of Virginia who said this, "…Tom Davis of Virginia, who chaired the Republican--the National Republican Congressional Committee, calls Specter's defection a `devastating blow' that will send a `bad signal' of ideological intolerance to the moderate white-collar suburbanites the party must recapture if it is to threaten the Democrats' congressional and Electoral College majorities. `The dilemma for Republicans is, are we--what are we going to become, a coalition or are we going to be a private club?'" MR. JOE SCARBOROUGH: ….So there's always a back and forth. But the bigger question is, what does the Republican Party need to be? We keep hearing that it's too conservative. You know, it depends on how you define conservative. MR. GREGORY: Right. MR. SCARBOROUGH: Over the past decade we've spent too much money, we've spread our armies across the globe, we've, we've changed rules on Wall Street that allows, you know, that allowed bankers to leverage 40-to-1. That's not conservative, that's radical. And we have to understand that and be truly conservative.
MR. GREGORY: [On the Economy] You say independents are with Republicans on this. Obama advisers say just the opposite, that he's in the high 60s in terms of approval among independents, much more trust for Obama than for Republicans on the economy. And, and this from the ABC/Washington Post poll: Who do you trust to do a better job handling the economy? It's Obama 61 percent, Republicans in Congress 24 percent. ................ MR. GREGORY: "The Last Best Hope: Restoring Conservatism and America's Promise." And then look at the headline from The New York Times this week: "GOP Debate: A Broader Party or a Purer One?" Both of you address this question. Should it be broader? Should it be purer? MR. SCARBOROUGH: That's a false choice, though. Ronald Reagan was about as conservative as you can be. Ronald Reagan said, you know, the government that governs the least governs best. Thirty years ago you had Margaret Thatcher, 30 years ago this month, coming into power. Again, Thatcher, a hard-core conservative on economic issues, especially. We need to be conservative, but like Reagan.
But it was not President Reagan's fiscal policies that earned him two elections and popularity - it was his character. Mr. Scarborough and most Republicans fail to understand the moment in history that we are living. Republican, Democrat, Independent voters - who might disagree on fiscal policy, tax policy, etc. - all supported President Obama because he changed the tone of the debate. They supported him because of what he stands for: empathy, conciliation, unity, progress. As stated by Simon - the key to unlocking America's 21st century electorate is to understand and embrace how the concept of race is changing in America. Fear-mongering, highly secterian, anti-gay, anti-choice, anti-Hispanic rhetoric and actions - in the name of "conservatism" - is the reason for the GOP's minority status. Case in point (also played during Meet the Press):
As demonstrated by the recent polling conducted by ABC/Washington Post and the New York Times, American voters reject these "conservative" values. Passing comprehensive immigration reform is one way for Democrats to consolidate their majority status by demonstrating to voters that they are problem solvers, and it is also a way for Republicans to begin the long road back to mainstream America.
Meet the Press ended with very fitting footage from an interview with Jack Kemp, who passed away this weekend:
(Videotape, February 9, 1997) Representative JACK KEMP: It's the single most important issue facing America at the turn of the century and the new millennium: racial reconciliation, civility. An America where you can have a dialogue over affirmative action, for instance, without being accused of being a, a racist on either way, or on either side of that issue. These are important issues that have to be addressed, and I would like to see an America in which black and white actually listen to each other. And it can't be solved with rhetoric, it has to be solved with sound, positive, progressive, inclusive policies. And I want to see the Republican Party lead that debate, because we are the party of Lincoln. And we must be an inclusionary party that says that by the year 2000, as I tried to say at Harlem one day during the campaign, I'd like to see an America where half of all black Americans are voting Democrat, but the other half are voting Republican.
Yesterday we received news that Sheriff Clarence Dupnik in Pima County, AZ is calling for all schools to answer questions that would effectively turn them into immigration police. Dupnik wants schools to ask their students whether they are in this country legally. Even though this idea has been rejected by the Arizona and U.S. Supreme court in the past, the fact that it is even being considered is dangerous. There is much at stake for teachers in stopping Dupnik and any other sheriff who supports similar measures - schools receive funding based on the number of students per school (regardless of their legal status). Consequently, the number of teachers hired by schools is based on the size of the student body (again, regardless of the students' legal status). If we begin inquiring about legal status in schools, we can expect to see panic take over families, communities, and kids will stay home. If these children stop going to school, the most hurt by this will be teachers, as state and federal funding to schools will decrease in proportion to the number of kids who stay home.
Luckily, not all Arizona border sheriffs support the idea. Santa Cruz County Sheriff Tony Estrada said schools "can't afford" to do this. It is estimated that 60,000-65,000 of the 1.2 million students in Arizona schools are not in the country legally. This translates to 5.4% of the student population. If Arizona schools lose 5.4% of the student population, their budget and resources will dimish accordingly, which will make it likely that the schools will also have to sacrifice 5.4% of their teachers.
We will continue to see localities try to grapple with dealing with our broken immigration system until the federal government passes comprehensive immigration reform.
Since 2007, NDN has a demonstrated commitment to achieving a sensible immigration system that reflects the needs of the 21st century. NDN began to fight for reform by investing in a Spanish-language radio and television media campaign designed to counter anti-immigrant campaigns. In addition to reaching out to media outlets, NDN has regularly hosted forums with members of Congress to discuss proposals to fix our current broken immigration system. Through research and polling, conducted most recently among voters in Colorado, Florida, Nevada, and New Mexico, NDN has found that a majority of Americans support a legislative overhaul to fix the broken immigration system, as opposed to passing limited enforcement measures.
Below, please find some past highlights of our work on immigration reform:
There is a saying that education is expensive, but ignorance is infinitely costlier. As highlighted by Simon and Nezua today on HuffPo, at today's hearing on immigration reform in the Senate we will surely see among the most offensive and shocking displays of anti-immigrant hate mongering to date. It is expected that the usual divisive and ignorant suspects will zoom in on the swine flu as an excuse to portray all immigrants as Mexicans, and all immigrants and Hispanics (Mexican or not) as diseased, and undesirable. What is truly shocking is how the swine flu media craze has shone a light on the profound depth of ignorance in the U.S. about Mexico. Even some of the most reputable and thorough sources in the U.S. still fail to do their due diligence and truly know the country with whom we share a long history, a border, business, trade, friends, and families. And how does this ignorance affect our business, our personal life, and our economics?