immigration

Weekly Update on Immigration: Heritage Foundation Feels Compelled to Respond to NDN's Case for Passing Immigration Reform

As noted earlier, Heritage felt the need to respond to our Case for Passing of Comprehensive Immigration Reform This Year.  We begin our week with a response to their claims:

1.  Illegal Immigration and Labor Supply

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 …"

Heritage wrote:

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.

Weekly Update on Immigration: The GOP Still Doesn't Get It

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 debateThey 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.

 

Teachers and Schools Urgently Need Immigration Reform, Too

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.

Fixing Our Broken Immigration System

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:

Blogs

NDN's Immigration Blog

2010 Highlights

Senator Robert Menendez's Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2010 Summary

NDN Statement on New Immigration Framework

Immigration Reform Enters a New Phase by Simon Rosenberg

Commentary on Arizona Bill by Alicia Menendez

2009 Highlights

Presentation: Making the Case for Passing Comprehensive Immigration Reform this Year

7 Reasons Why Congress Should Pass Comprehensive Immigration Reform this Year by Simon Rosenberg

Video: Simon Rosenberg makes his case on why congress should pass CIR

Event: Politics & Policy: What to Expect from the Immigration Debate

Video: NDN Forum on Immigration Reform

The Census and Immigration Reform by Simon Rosenberg

Senator Kennedy and CIR by Andres Ramirez

2007 - 2008 Highlights

Event: "Immigration Reform and the Next Administration" - at the DNC in Denver

Polling: Immigration Polling in battleground states

A Responsible Immigration Policy by Simon Rosenberg

Can Democrats Seize the Opportunity the Immigration Debate Offers Them? by Simon Rosenberg

Event: NDN Bicameral Event for CIR

 

Immigration is not going away as an issue. From observing the Presidential campaign in 2008 and watching the news every evening, it is clear America will be debating this issue intensely in 2009.

Swine Flu Shines Uncomfortably Bright Light on Ignorance in the U.S.

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?

NDN Backgrounder: U.S. Senate Hearing Tomorrow on Comprehensive Immigration Reform

Tomorrow the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security and Citizenship will hold a hearing, "Comprehensive Immigration Reform in 2009, Can We Do It and How?" Tomorrow's important hearing signals movement on this critical issue. 

NDN has written extensively about the need to fix our nation's broken immigration system. In preparation for this hearing, NDN would like to provide you with key background information that explains the nature of the immigration debate and why Congress can -- and should -- pass comprehensive immigration reform legislation this year:

Hopeful Signs for Immigration Reform, Simon Rosenberg, 4/15/09

NDN Backgrounder on Immigration, Simon Rosenberg, 3/18/09

Immigrants and the Economy, Zuraya Tapia, 4/27/09

Is Immigration Overhaul Vital to the U.S. Economy?, Zuraya Tapia, 4/14/09

Making the Case for Passage of Comprehensive Immigration Reform This Year, Simon Rosenberg, 2/19/09

For additional information on our work on immigration, please follow our Weekly Report on Immigration.

Weekly Immigration Update: Foreign Workers and the Debate Over Comprehensive Immigration Reform

Last week we posited that Immigration Reform is a vital component of economic recovery.  This week, we’ve seen hopeful signs in the seriousness of the immigration debate while we have also seen Republican and Democratic law makers attempt to use this pivotal policy issue as a publicity tool.  As stated by Simon in The Politico today:

The small visa programs have little to do with the central issues of the broader immigration debate, such as how to handle the 11 million illegal immigrants now in the U.S., said Simon Rosenberg, president of NDN, a progressive group seeking a broad immigration package.  But they have become the stray dogs in this political fight. “It’s irresponsible the way some members of Congress are going after this,” Rosenberg said.

This week, after the Obama administration again delayed implementing a rule requiring federal contractors to use the E-Verify system (an Internet tool that checks the validity of employees’ Social Security numbers) Rep. Lamar Smith argued this constituted "an insult" to "legal immigrants and Americans."  The rule originally was to go into effect in February, but the Obama administration delayed it until May 21, and now until June 30.  What Rep. Smith fails to highlight is the significant error rate in this system, which is designed to check a social security number against a name for determining benefits, not as an immigration database. 

The same tone was taken in discussions over legal foreign workers.  Even though labor organizers themselves recognize the need to deal with the issue of future flow, we’ve seen debate over comprehensive immigration reform stop at “how many?” instead of answering the essential question: “how” do we fix our broken immigration system?

There is something very wrong when our immigration “system” is comprised of 70,000 legal immigrant workers and an estimated 400,000 undocumented workers each year.  How do we create a fair, safe, effective, and productive immigration law?  An immigration system should ideally:  1) serve as a record-keeping mechanism that allows a government to know who is within its borders, 2) achieve this by putting incentives on the side of legal flow, not by attempting to stop flow, 3) help reflect a country’s values, and 4) generate revenue through an effective and speedy application process. 

Is the purpose of reform solely to legalize those currently here? Or is the goal to develop a comprehensive, forward-looking plan to effectively end undocumented immigration?  In a 21st century globalized world, with a globalized economy, it is naïve – at best – to argue that people won’t come to the U.S. because the economy is not doing so well, because they’re not welcome, or because we don’t want them to. 

They will come; the bottom line is: do we want them here legally, or illegally? Do we repeat the mistake of 1986 and pass reform arguing that we look after all those currently in the shadows, many of them in abusive conditions, but leave the rest in ambiguity?  Turning a blind eye towards the plight of legal immigrants currently in the country and to the undocumented that are on their way as they cross over illegally and in inhumane conditions? Only those who have had to undergo the increasingly expensive and irresponsibly drawn out process of legal migration can understand how the existing policy has of its own design dictated how much easier it is for individuals to fall out of legal status or come to this country illegally. We do not advocate “open borders,” we argue for justice and the rule of law – the rule of a just law that responds to reality, that encourages legality instead of exacerbating illegality. 

A piece in today’s Wall Street Journal by Jason Riley contends that President Obama will “be pressured by advocacy groups” to focus on a legalization program as part of a proposal for comprehensive immigration reform – I disagree with this contention as it is presented because it implies that this is not already the President’s position.  President Obama has been a longtime supporter of the essential components of comprehensive reform (CIR):

1.   Enhanced border security,
2.   Bring people out of the shadows
3.   Work with immigrant-sending nations
4.   Improve the legal immigration system
5.   Remove incentives to enter illegally

Despite this week's news articles, the legalization of the estimated 12 million undocumented individuals in the U.S. will prove equally or more controversial than fixing our legal immigration system. A true immigration reform proposal must include all the above elements, supported by the President.

Foreign H-1B workers are the most recent subject of much of the anti-immigrant sentiment.  The argument that H-1B workers bring down wages and “displace” U.S. high skilled workers could be equated with positing that women are unfair competition to their male counterparts because all the studies and statistics demonstrate that we make less than our male counterparts in the same position.  Instead of doggedly insisting on making foreigners “the boogieman” of this economic recession, let’s focus on fixing the inequities and flaws that do exist in the broken legal immigration system. We can't ignore the fact that many of these "foreign workers" are educated in the U.S., have been long-time residents of the U.S. and as such have strong ties here.

Additionally, we can’t forget that just as we receive foreign workers, other countries receive U.S. workers, too.  As highlighted in Gebe Martinez’s piece today:

Goldman Sachs has about 200 H-1B employees, Blankfein said at a recent meeting of the Council of Institutional Investors. “But we have 2,000 employees who are working overseas and pay U.S. taxes. Do we want to invite other countries to take punitive measures against us?”

Particularly conservatives advocate a merit-based society, yet these are the same individuals that – like Sen. Grassley – have been suggesting to companies like Microsoft that H-1B workers be laid off before qualified Americans.  How about we let companies let go employees based on their individual contributions, regardless of nationality? [Microsoft General Counsel Bradford Smith responded that the company complies with civil rights law and does not base its compensation decisions in the U.S. on an employee’s citizenship.]

If President Obama is to be more successful than the previous administration when it tried to reform immigration, he must remain cognizant of the reasons behind the failure of the last major immigration reform legislation enacted in 1986 (IRCA).

IRCA focused on the legalization piece and border enforcement enhancements, and did not address the issue of future flow of immigrants.  It merely designed a system of what was desired future flow, not a system based on reality and actual demand.  It’s no news that the border enhancements over the past two decades haven't hampered the illegal flow whatsoever, they have merely made it more profitable to smuggle human beings across the border.  But that hasn't stopped immigration restrictionists from calling for still more security measures.

As contended by Mr. Riley in the WSJ today:

The 1986 amnesty was never going to solve the problem, because it didn't address the root cause….Illegal immigration to the U.S. is primarily a function of too many foreigners chasing too few visas.  Some 400,000 people enter the country illegally each year -- a direct consequence of the fact that our current policy is to make available only 5,000 visas annually for low-skilled workers.  If policy makers want to reduce the number of illegal entries, the most sensible and humane course is to provide more legal ways for people to come.

It's unfortunate that the "no amnesty" crowd has been able to suck up so much oxygen in this debate. Immigration hysterics on talk radio and cable news have used the term effectively to end conversations. And restrictionists in Congress have used it as a political slogan to block reform. But from a public-policy perspective, the fate of the 12 million illegals already here...will solve itself over time if we get the other reforms right.

As in 1986, our economy and society have already absorbed most of these illegal workers. Many have married Americans, started families, bought homes, laid down roots. If their presence here is a problem, it is a self-correcting one. In time, they will grow old and pass on with the rest of us.....

Past experience shows that economic migrants have no desire to be here illegally. They will use the front door if it's available to them, which reduces pressure on the border and frees up homeland security resources to target drug dealers, gang members, potential terrorists, and other real threats.

We need to improve existing legal channels and provide more pathways.  This could be done by creating new – more inclusive – visa programs or increasing green-card quotas or both.  The end should be to create more legal channels for workers and family members. The 1986 legislation did not create realistic legal pathways, which is why we now have the problem of 12 million undocumented immigrants (who have incidentally already been absorbed by the U.S. labor market).  If we don’t think and act globally, then we will all suffer the penance of our own short-sightedness.

The WSJ goes on to highlight points NDN has discussed before:

Granted, this will be a hard sell at a time when growing numbers of Americans are out of work. Even in good times, zero-sum thinking -- the notion that what is gained by some must be lost by others -- dominates discussions about immigrants and jobs. But the schooling and skills that the typical Mexican immigrant brings to the U.S. labor market differ markedly from the typical American's, which is why the two don't tend to compete with each other for employment. Labor economists like Richard Vedder have documented that, historically, higher levels of immigration to the U.S. are associated with lower levels of unemployment. Immigrants are catalysts for economic growth, not job-stealers.  There are plenty of ways and plenty of time to deal with the country's undocumented millions in a fair and humane manner. But we'd do better to focus first on not adding to their numbers.  If the fate of this group instead drives the policy discussion, we're more likely to end up with the status quo or faux reforms like amnesty that dodge the real problem.

Hopeful Signs for Immigration Reform This Year

Over the past few days there have been signs, hopeful signs, that Washington just might take up immigration reform this fall.  NDN recently released a report, Making the Case for Passing Comprehensive Immigration Reform This Year, which succinctly lays out our case for why we should move this year.  Let me review a couple of the key observations - ones that are new to the debate this year:

1) In tough economic times, we need to remove the "trap door" under the minimum wage.

One of the first acts of the new Democratic Congress back in 2007 was to raise the minimum wage, to help alleviate the downward pressure on wages we had seen throughout the decade even prior to the current Great Recession.  The problem with this strategy is that the minimum wage and other worker protections required by American law do not extend to those workers here illegally. With economic times worsening here and in the home countries of the migrants, unscrupulous employers have much more leverage over, and incentive to keep, undocumented workers. With 5 percent of the current workforce - amazingly one out of every twenty workers now - undocumented, this situation creates an unacceptable race to the bottom, downward pressure on wages, in a time when we need to be doing more for those struggling to get by, not less.   

Legalizing the 5 percent of the work force which is undocumented would create a higher wage and benefit floor than exists today for all workers, further helping, as was intended by the increase in the minimum wage two years ago, alleviate the downward pressure on wages for those struggling the most in this tough economy.  

Additionally, it needs to be understood that these undocumenteds are already here and working.  If you are undocumented, you are not eligible for welfare.  If you are not working, you go home.  Thus in order to remove this "trap door," we need to either kick 5 percent of existing American workforce out of the country - a moral and economic impossibility - or legalize them.  There is no third way on this one.   They stay and become citizens or we chase them away. 

Finally, what you hear from some of the opponents of immigration reform is that by passing it all these immigrants will come and take the jobs away of every day Americans.  But again, the undocumented immigrants are already here, working, having kids, supporting local businesses.  Legalization does not create a flood of new immigrants - in fact, as discussed earlier, it puts the immigrant worker on a more even playing field with legal American workers.  It does the very inverse of what is being suggested - it creates fairer competition for American workers not unfair competition.  The status quo is what should be most unacceptable to those who claim they are advocating for the American worker.  

2) In a time of tight budgets, passing immigration reform will bring more money into the Federal Treasury.  

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 US tax-paying system.  When immigration reform legislation passed the Senate in 2006, the Congressional Budge Office estimate that accompanied the bill projected Treasury revenues would see a net increase of $44 billion over 10 years. 

3) Reforming our immigration system will increasingly be seen as a critical part of any comprehensive strategy to calm the increasingly violent border region

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 towards calming the region will be to take decisive action on clearning up one piece of the problem - the vast illegal trade in undocumented migrants.  Legalization will also help give these millions of families a greater stake in the United States, which will make it less likely they contribute to the spread of the cartels influence.  

This is certain to come up during President Obama's trip to Mexico this week.  

4) Fixing the immigration system will help reinforce that it is a "new day" for US-Latin American relations.     

To his credit President Obama has made it clear that he wants to see a significant improvement in our relations with our Latin neighbors.  Just as offering a new policy towards 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 US will go a long way to signaling that America is taking its relations with its southern neighbors much more seriously than in the past.  

5) Passing immigration reform this year clears the way for a clean census next year.  

Even though the government is constitutionally required to count everyone living in the United States every ten years, the national GOP has made it clear they will block efforts for the Census to count undocumented immigrants.  Conducting a clean and thorough census is hard in any environment.  If we add a protracted legal and political battle on top - think Norm Coleman, a politicized US Attorney process, Bush v Gore, Tea Parties - the chance of a failed or flawed census rises dramatically.  This of course would not be good for the nation.  

Passing immigration reform this year would go a long way to insuring we have a clean and effective census count next year. 

6) The Administration and Congress will grow weary of what we call  "immigration proxy wars," and will want the issued taken off the table.  

With rising violence in Mexico, and the every day drumbeat of clashes and conflicts over immigration in communities across America, the broken immigration system is not going to fade from public consciousness any time soon.  As it will be front of mind, those on the right, will put this issue on the table in the first place, will continue to try to attach amendments to other bills ensuring that various government benefits are not confered to undocumenteds.  We have already seen battles pop up this year on virtually every major bill Congress has taken up, including SCHIP.  By the fall I think leaders of both parties will grow weary of these proxy battles popping up on every issue and will want to resolve the issue once and for all.  Passing immigration reform will become essential to making progress on other much needed societal goals like moving towards universal health insurance. 

7) Finally, in the age of Obama, we must be vigilant to stamp out racism wherever it appears.  

Passing immigration reform this year would help take the air out of the balloon of what is the most virulent form of racism in American society today - the attacks on Hispanics and undocumented immigrants.  It will be increasingly difficult for the President and his allies to somehow argue that watching Glenn Beck act out the burning alive of a person on the air over immigration, "left leaning" Ed Schultz give air time to the advowed racist Tom Tancredo on MSNBC or Republican ads comparing Mexican immigrants to Islamic terrorists is somehow different from the racially insensitive speech that has gotten Rush Limbaugh kicked off Monday Night Football, or Don Imus kicked off the radio.   

So for those of us who want to see this vexing national problem addressed this year, it has been a very good week.  But we still have a long way to, and a lot
of work ahead of us if we are to get this done this year.

Weekly Immigration Update: U.S. Citizens Increasingly the Victims of the Broken Immigration System

I. Growing media market, forum for immigration discussion - This past week, we discussed the role of ethnic media. The fact that immigration reform is an issue of top concern to immigrants, naturalized Americans, and their U.S. born descendants; combined with this type of media's growing market share makes it an important space for discussion of the latest news pertaining to immigration reform.

II. Illinois 5 - We also touched on the recent election in Illinois to fill Rahm Emmanuel's seat and its impact on immigration reform.

III. What Part of "Illegal" Don't They Understand?  U.S. citizens are also victims of the broken immigration system - More and more cases  are surfacing of U.S. citizens being illegally detained for extended periods of time. The latest cases demonstrate that event with the best intentions of the current Administration to shift enforcement priorities, the "boots on the ground" are often still the same from the raid-quota Bush era, and legal residents and citizens will continue to get caught in the cross-fire until we pass comprehensive immigration reform.  The absence of CIR only exacerbates discriminaton against immigrants and non-immigrants alike.  This has been evidenced in Arizona, where three of every four immigrants are considered "criminals."

In a drive to crack down on illegal immigrants, the United States has unlawfully locked up or deported many of its own citizens over the past eight years. A months-long AP investigation has documented 55 such cases, on the basis of interviews, lawsuits and documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. These citizens are detained for anything from a day to five years. Immigration lawyers say that there are actually hundreds of such cases, based on their caseload.

It is illegal to deport U.S. citizens or detain them for immigration violations. Yet citizens still end up in detention because the system is overwhelmed, acknowledged Victor Cerda, who left Immigration and Customs Enforcement in 2005 after overseeing the system. The AP reports, the number of detentions overall is expected to rise by about 17 percent this year to more than 400,000, putting a severe strain on the enforcement network and legal system.

Most at risk are Hispanics, who made up the majority of the cases the AP found:

"The more the system becomes confused, the more U.S. citizens will be wrongfully detained and wrongfully removed," said Bruce Einhorn, a retired immigration judge who now teaches at Pepperdine Law School. "They are the symptom of a larger problem in the detention system. ... Nothing could be more regrettable than the removal of our fellow citizens."

And our fellow citizens are getting caught in the cross-fire of anti-immigrant fervor, a few examples:

1) Frank Ponce de Leon, a U.S. citizen and native of Mexico who lives in La Puente, Calif., spent almost three months in immigration custody - all the while insisting he was a U.S. citizen. "I knew they couldn't hold me forever, and sooner or later they would see it my way because I had every right," he said.

2) Renninson Castilo, spent almost eight months illegally detained. 

3) Pedro Guzman, a mentally disabled U.S. citizen living in Lancaster was taken by U.S. immigration officials and shipped to Tijuana in May 2007 from the Men's Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles. He was being held on a misdemeanor trespassing charge. The Los Angeles native, then 29, spent three months rummaging for food in dumps and sleeping in the Mexican borderlands as his mother, a fast-food cook, searched for him in hospitals, shelters, jails and morgues.  Eventually Guzman was reunited with his family in the border town of Calexico.

4) Thomas Warziniack was born in Minnesota and grew up in Georgia, but immigration authorities pronounced him an illegal immigrant from Russia. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has held Warziniack for weeks in an Arizona detention facility with the aim of deporting him to a country he's never seen. His jailers shrugged off Warziniack's claims that he was an American citizen, even though they could have retrieved his Minnesota birth certificate in minutes and even though a Colorado court had concluded that he was a U.S. citizen a year before it shipped him to Arizona. McLatchy reports:

"The immigration agents told me they never make mistakes," Warziniack said in an earlier phone interview from jail. "All I know is that somebody dropped the ball."

According to available data, workplace arrests rose from 517 in fiscal year 2003 to 6,274 in 2008. Julie Myers, former Homeland Security assistant secretary overseeing ICE, said agents quickly sort out which workers are citizens during raids. But the raids have already led to several lawsuits.

5) In 2007, 114 U.S. citizens and permanent residents sued after a raid on Micro Solutions Enterprises, a computer printer equipment recycler in Van Nuys, Calif. They alleged illegal detention and sought $5,000 damage each.

6) In 2008, the union representing workers at six Swift & Co. meatpacking plants sued on behalf of eight citizens and legal residents caught up in raids.

7) In one case, three citizens and nine others, all Hispanic, sued after ICE agents raided their New Jersey homes as part of what was dubbed Operation Return To Sender. The lawsuit alleges that an immigration agent pulled a gun on one of the citizens, a 9-year-old boy.

8) Ricardo Martinez, born in McAllen, Texas - like so many others - lived in Mexico between the ages of 5 and 17. He was stopped last year on his way back to Texas from visiting Mexico:

Martinez's stepfather, Florentino Mireles, said in a Feb. 27, 2008, affidavit that he called border inspectors to ask why they had taken Martinez's documents. The response, he said: An officer didn't believe Martinez was a U.S. citizen because he didn't speak English.

On top of the unfounded detention, the Customs officials threatened that if Martinez did not admit to being in the country illegally and sign such an affidavit, he'd go to jail. Like so many other legal immigrants and citizens, he signed his own order for deportation.

Attorney Lisa Brodyaga discussed the report, "I've been doing this for 30 years and I've seen bureaucratic bungling. This is more than that," she said. "This is an atmosphere of suspicion and hostility, particularly for Mexican-Americans on the border."

What is clear is that immigration detentions - including those of citizens - have soared in recent years. Largely thanks to the political climate since 9-11 that encouraged a tough stance on illegal immigration. The inability to pass immigration reform legislation almost three years ago has only exacerbated this problem.

Before 2007, just seven state and local law enforcement agencies worked with ICE officials under 287(g) agreements that empower localities to an extent to enforce immigration aw. By last November, more than 950 officers from 23 states had attended a four-week program on how to root out and jail "suspected illegal immigrants."

IV. No doubt, this zealousness in enforcement is largely fueled by some of the most shocking displays of racism our country has seen - What is most shocking is how the demonization of Hispanics and bigotry, when directed at people thought to be immigrants, is somehow acceptable. Examples this week: 1) Glenn Beck - hating on all things, period. 2) Betty Brown, a Republican state representative, is facing numerous demands that she apologize for having said that voters of Asian descent should adopt names that are "easier for Americans to deal with." 3) In your neighborhood - A Washington Post piece yesterday by Jonathan Mummolo noted how recent arrest data in Prince William County further questions the contention that "illegal immigrants" are only detained once they have committed a serious crime. The data concludes that about 2 percent of the people charged with major violent crimes in Prince William County last year were illegal immigrants.

V. Do We Want Immigrants? - Last week we discussed growing news reports on how H-1B workers and the U.S. itself are increasingly affected by policies that are anti-immigrant, at best. See this interesting editorial piece in the New York Times that asks, "Do We Need Foreign Technology Workers?" and today's piece in the CQ, on the H-1B visa debate.

 

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