American Opinion and Immigration Reform

Immigration Reform, 2013 Edition

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A bipartisan group of eight senators will unveil a framework for comprehensive immigration reform later today.  It is based on the following principles:

  • Creating a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants already here, contingent upon securing the border and better tracking of people here on visas.
  • Reforming the legal immigration system, including awarding green cards to immigrants who obtain advanced degrees in science, math, technology or engineering from an American university.
  • Creating an effective employment verification system to ensure that employers do not hire illegal immigrants.
  • Allowing more low-skill workers into the country and allowing employers to hire immigrants if they can demonstrate they couldn’t recruit a U.S. citizen; and establishing an agricultural worker program.

It’s  good thing that lawmakers are grappling with the issue, in fact, it’s long overdue.  The entire framework, available here, does a great deal to address the basic unfairness of our current immigration system and if enacted, would help move millions of immigrant workers in the U.S. out of their second-tier status and offer more opportunities.  My concern is that the plan is contingent on “secure borders.”  I’ve written extensively about the folly of this idea, that it is money wasted when there are other solutions, like temporary visas, that could address the border issue.

It is too early to criticize the framework, whatever its deficiencies.  At this point we should hope that it moves beyond framework  and debate and into meaningful legislation

Immigration, Economics, and Nativism

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This essay by Ezra Klein argues that the positive aspects of immigration on the economy outweigh the negative one.  He’ll find no argument with me on that point, however, he falls into the trap that so many pro-immigrant advocates do: he assumes that the obscure intellectual economic discussion will actually influence people who believe that immigrants are transforming their way of life.  And as idiotic as it may sound–some people would rather give up the economic benefits to live in communities where everyone speaks English, is white, and has the same cultural and aesthetic values.

I say this after years of experience working in new destination immigrant communities in the U.S.  It’s irrational, but there are a lot of otherwise good-natured folks out there who see immigrants in their community about as positive as a radioactive brownfield. 

If, as a nation, we are going to address the issue of immigration in communities, it has to be done at the local level.

There is no other way.

Polling on Arzona’s new Immigration Law

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A new Washington Post-ABC News poll finds that more than half of all Americans support Arizona’s attempt to deal with immigration. The full poll results are offered here.

Here is the overview:

American opinion is divided largely by race: on the Arizona question  68 percent of whites back the law, compared with 31 percent of non-whites. White Democrats are about evenly divided on the bill (51 percent in favor; 47 percent opposed), while non-white Democrats are broadly opposed (24 percent support, and 73 percent oppose). 

Again, much of the perception here is based on a false assumption that certain strategies, like building a wall, will work.  I want to leave my wall-building readers with a something to think about: 1) no society in the history of man has been able to keep a population out using a wall and 2) increased border enforcement has disrupted the natural (and preferred) cycle of return migration and has therefore increased the number of undocumented immigrants who live in the U.S. full-time.  You don’t have to believe me on this one, here is the proof.

Here is the full article from the Washington Pose;

Most Americans support the new, controversial Arizona law that gives police there the power to check the residency status of suspected illegal immigrants. But most also still back a program giving those here illegally the right to earn legal documentation, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.
 
Immigration has been rising in prominence as an issue and has the potential to roil party unity on both sides as Democrats and Republicans push for the upper hand in the midterm elections. Liberal Democrats are broadly against the Arizona law; moderate and conservative Democrats are more evenly split on the issue. Most staunch Republicans oppose a “path to citizenship,” while a majority of other Republicans favor such a plan. At the Texas Republican convention last week, the party splintered over the issue, with moderates proposing a legalization plan through military service, and the party ultimately adding an Arizona-like measure to its plank.

“I’m for it [the Arizona law] because it’s giving a sense of accountability and it’s making it easier to recognize who’s who,” said Terrance Hawkins, 36, a comedian who lives in Oxon Hill and is a Democrat. Illegal immigrants, he said in a follow-up interview, “just come and they stay, and they end up getting health-care coverage.”

But Nancy Thomas, 58, a Democrat who is a bodywork therapist in Annapolis, criticized the law, which she worried could result in racial profiling. “It leans too much on somebody’s appearance, and it doesn’t really depend on an action somebody does,” she said.

A further challenge for Democrats is that public disapproval over how President Obama is dealing with immigration has edged higher, with 51 percent of all respondents — and 56 percent of political independents — giving him negative ratings on the issue.

One unifying immigration concern is the widespread perception that the federal government is not doing enough to keep illegal immigrants from coming into the country. Overall, 75 percent of those polled fault border enforcement, and 83 percent support using National Guard troops to patrol the U.S.-Mexico line.

Views about the government’s performance on the border relate directly to assessments of the Arizona law: 67 percent of those who see inadequate federal action on the border favor the new law, compared with 31 percent of those who see sufficient enforcement along the 1,954-mile frontier. In all, 58 percent of Americans say they are supportive of the new law.

Several respondents said the scarcity of jobs was a factor in their support of the law.
“They’re affecting all the tool-bag trades,” said Robert Sawyer, 42, an electrician in Poquoson, Va., who is a Republican. Sawyer strongly supports the Arizona law, he said, in part because he thinks illegal immigrants are contributing to the unemployment woes some of his friends are suffering. “They’re good workers and all,” he said of illegal immigrants, “but they’re taking all the jobs that Americans do.”

There is a steep racial divide on the Arizona question: 68 percent of whites back the law, compared with 31 percent of non-whites. White Democrats are about evenly divided on the bill (51 percent in favor; 47 percent opposed), while non-white Democrats are broadly opposed (24 percent support, and 73 percent oppose).

At the same time that a majority of Americans back the Arizona law, most say they support a program allowing illegal immigrants already in the United States the right to live here legally if they pay a fine and meet certain requirements. In the new poll, 57 percent support the option, close to the level in spring 2009 at the 100-day mark of Obama’s presidency.

“I think we should at least give them a chance to pay their dues; don’t spit them out,” said Tillie Braswell, 77, a retiree in Bristol, Va. ,who opposes the Arizona law and supports a path to citizenship for people here illegally. “We should treat them with respect, the way I’d want to be treated if I were in their country.”

But Braswell, a Democrat, also thought border patrols should be beefed up, perhaps by the National Guard. “Post them up and down, but don’t let them be shooting them,” she said.

The poll was conducted June 3-6 among a random sample of 1,004 adults contacted by conventional and cellular telephone. The results from the full poll have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points.

A slim majority who see a lack of effort on the border say states should be allowed to make and enforce their own immigration laws, while other respondents prefer continued federal control by a ratio greater than 2 to 1. But the main divide on this question is ideological, with 83 percent of liberal Democrats and 34 percent of conservative Republicans preferring exclusive federal jurisdiction.

Why does inaction trump problem-solving on Immigration?

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Ever wonder why more people don’t ask this question?

I think there are several reasons why Washington has overlooked dealing with our immigration problem. The first has to do with politics. The second has to do with will.

This article in today’s Washington Post examines the benefits of the recently proposed comprehensive immigration reform measures.The multifaceted approaches proposed by Senators Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), which would deploy new personnel and technology to the border, coupled with employment verification and a path to eventual legal status for undocumented immigrants already here. Their legislation remains in draft form, and will stand no chance unless they are successful at attracting a few Republican votes. Today that seems unlikely.

That’s too bad, because the approach they proposal, while has its admitted shortcomings, offers a reasonable approach to addressing our immigration problems. The Schumer bill (Mr. Graham has since withdrawn his support) extensively outlines how the law would tighten enforcement and allegedly stop the entry of undocumented immigrants.  This includes more Border Patrol officers would keep an eye on the nation’s frontiers, and more agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement would battle smuggling and check workplaces. The Pentagon would be called on to deploy equipment to shut down illegal crossings, along with helicopters, speedboats, night-vision equipment, unmanned drones and high-tech surveillance systems. These efforts, while seen by too many as the only way to win support for any immigration reform, comes close to creating U.S. equivalent of the Berlin Wall.  This insanely wasteful use of resources is believed to be the necessary compromises to attract the small number of GOP senators whose support is needed to pass the bill.

Schumer’s proposal also proposes a new high-tech Social Security card that would include biometric data to be used exclusively to check employment eligibility. Employers, who theoretically constitute the most effective checkpoint in terms of shutting down undocumented immigration, would no longer be able to use the excuse of ignorance or a porous system to justify their hiring of people who are in the country illegally. The problem here is that there are inadequate penalties for employers who DO hire undocumented workers. This was a major problem with the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, and has been largely ignored in every immigration reform measure since.

The best news here is that the measure would clear the backlog of some 2.6 million relatives of U.S. citizens who are awaiting visas — a process estimated to take eight years — and stop a self-defeating brain drain by offering visas to highly educated immigrant scientists, mathematicians and engineers who receive advanced degrees from American universities.

In addition, undocumented immigrants in this country who registered and passed background checks would be allowed to stay and work in the country. They would have to wait until the backlog was cleared and the border security benchmarks were met before they could apply for permanent resident status. While this may seen like a problem for many immigration advocates, I think offering temporary visas to the current undocumented is a great way to undercut the labor market’s strong desire for
undocumented labor.

In this midst of all this sane, reasoned approach to immigration, what have we initiated?

This gets me back to my first question: why are we more likely to do nothing than something that will actually address our immigration problem? (answers soon)

As I blogged yesterday evening, the Obama administration has initiated a massive increase in border security, which is discussed in this article in the NYT:

The President has decided to deploy up to 1,200 National Guard troops to bolster security at the Mexican border, and in my opinion, is pandering to the nativists and wasting an opportunity to attempt reform a-la Schumer.

The administration has said that the troops are being sent ONLY to combat drug smuggling, and in part because of the recent murder of an Arizona rancher who was murdered by narcos.  By focusing on border security, however, the president may be undercutting his own efforts at immigration reform by:

“giving up his best leverage for winning approval of broader but more politically contentious steps to address the status of the millions of immigrants already in the United States illegally, and the needs of employers who rely on their labor.

“I’m trying to reconcile the stated belief of this president when he was a candidate, what he has said publicly — as recently as a naturalization ceremony last month — and what his actions are,” said Angela Kelley, vice president for immigration policy at the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning organization that is a close ally of the Obama administration. “I think there’s a big gap there.”

Mr. Obama’s decision to send the National Guard focused attention on the intense political pressures facing him as he wades into the issue during this midterm election year. Republicans are demanding that he improve border security before they cooperate on an immigration bill. Some moderate Democrats facing difficult re-election races are also demanding tougher action at the border. 

There is no doubt that many have questioned the President’s intentions regarding immigration reform.  Although I can see why border enforcement *may* help win the support of some Republicans, I have to ask: Has the President be paying attention during the last two years?  Has he not seen that they’re willing to fight him on just about everything simply to deny him a victory?

I think that increasing border security works to mollify the nativists and others who are simply freaked out by the changes they’ve seen in their communities regarding immigration.  Enforcing the border gives some of fellow citizens the false sense of security that they can “take back America” from the newcomers.  This is complete fiction, certainly, but it makes them feel better. 

I also think that Democrats need to have some political will to actually fight this fight.  They may lose. That would be terrible.  But if our leaders refuse to have a rational debate about the issues, including issues of racism and nativism that are so prevalent and yet so rarely acknowledged, addressed, or even called out, the nation is bound to continue on the path of believing that throwing enough people and money at the border will somehow take us back to the 1950s.

Dream on.

American Rage? It’s not all about Health Care

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For many months I have been writing about the disproportionate rage that has been expressed by people, particularly here in Northern Virginia, but also around the nation regarding immigration and immigrants. More recently, I’ve been watching the response to the health care debate with s similar curiosity. Surely this cannot be about increasing health coverage for 30 million Americans. And c’mon folks, we all know that the call Social Security “social” because it is a form of wealth redistribution, or (heaven help us) socialism.

This Op-Ed from the NYT is one of several posts that I’m going to post here today that addresses the issue of rage and it causes. As I have long speculated, the author argues that the recent eruptions are based more on white America’s fear of being replaced as the majority population.

Where America Stands on Immigration Reform

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Something to think about while you’re mulling over the possibility of immigration reform in 2010.  This is a great report by by Scott Keeter, Director of Survey Research, Pew Research Center.  

Recently the Obama administration announced that it will push for legislation next year to overhaul the nation’s immigration system. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said that the administration will argue for what she called a “three-legged stool” including stricter enforcement, a “tough and fair pathway to earned legal status” for undocumented immigrants already in the U.S., and a more efficient process for legal immigration.

How is the public likely to react to this new push? Since 2007 when the Bush administration failed in its effort to build a coalition in support of comprehensive reform, the issue has been relatively dormant. Pew Research polling has found significant public support for both tougher enforcement and the so-called “path to citizenship,” but several factors suggest that the debate could be a difficult one.
First, if the experience of 2007 is any guide, opposition to setting up a process for undocumented immigrants to achieve citizenship may be more intense — even if less widespread — than support for it. Second, the nation’s economic situation is significantly worse than it was when the issue was debated in 2006 and 2007. Some Republican lawmakers reacted to Secretary Napolitano’s speech by raising concerns about the competition for jobs posed by foreign-born workers. More generally, partisan differences on the issue have grown since two years ago, potentially making it more difficult to achieve a consensus in Congress. And third, as the debate over health care reform has shown, there is considerable public anxiety right now about the scope of the federal government’s activities and its capacity to undertake major policy changes.

How Important is Immigration Reform to the Public?

Immigration has been a low- to mid-tier issue with the U.S. public for the past three years. In January this year, just 41% said that dealing with illegal immigration should be a “top priority” for the new president and Congress to deal with, down 10 points from January 2008 and 14 points from 2007, when Congress was considering legislation on the issue. Even among Republicans, who placed more significance on the issue than did Democrats, illegal immigration was not among their most important priorities.

Immigration also was not a key issue in the presidential election, other than for a brief period during the campaign for the Republican Party’s nomination. Pew Research polling during fall 2008 found just 49% saying that immigration was a “very important” issue in their vote — 11th on a list of 13 issues probed. By comparison 91% said the economy was very important, 80% said jobs, 78% said energy and 77% said this for health care.
Immigration was a low priority in the election not only for the public as a whole but for Latinos as well. Both before and after the election, Latinos surveyed by the Pew Hispanic Center rated immigration as significantly less important than issues such as jobs and education. In December, just 31% said it was an “extremely important” issue for the new president to deal with.

One reason for the relatively low profile of the immigration issue may be the very high profile of other issues, most notably the economy and health care reform, not to mention the war in Afghanistan. But the potential power of the issue was in evidence on Sept. 9 when Rep. Joe Wilson shouted “You lie” at President Obama during his address on health care; that shout was in response to the president’s statement that: “There are also those who claim that our reform efforts would insure illegal immigrants. This, too, is false.”

Another reason for the low profile of the immigration issue could be that the flow of immigrants into the U.S. has slowed. According to Pew Hispanic Center analyses, migration from Mexico has dropped substantially over the past three years. At the same time, there is no clear evidence that migration out of the U.S. and into Mexico has risen during this time. And, of course, Mexico is not the only source of immigration into the U.S. So there are still many unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. — approximately 11.9 million in 2009, according to the Pew Hispanic Center’s senior demographer, Jeffrey Passel.

The Contours of Opinion

When Congress and the president abandoned efforts to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill in 2007, public opinion was quite conflicted. A Pew Research poll found that, among those aware of the legislation, more people opposed (41%) than supported (33%) the bill being considered by the Senate, but a solid majority of 63% of the general public supported the bill’s main objective to provide a “path to citizenship” for undocumented immigrants. At the time, support for this principle was bipartisan, with nearly as many Republicans as Democrats favoring it. And even when the provision was described as “amnesty,” a majority still supported it — though by a smaller margin of 54%-39%. Republicans were evenly divided on the question when the policy was described as “amnesty.”

Pew Research has asked about the path to citizenship three times since 2007, most recently in April of this year when 63% again said they favored providing a way for illegal immigrants currently in the country to gain legal citizenship if they pass background checks, pay fines and have jobs. Unlike in 2007, there is now a substantial partisan gap, with 73% of Democrats but just 50% of Republicans in favor of the path to citizenship.
While favoring a change that would make it possible for many undocumented immigrants to remain in the U.S., the public has also generally favored stronger efforts to enforce existing immigration laws. Majorities favor increasing penalties on businesses that hire undocumented workers, beefing up border security, and allowing states to check immigration status before issuing driver’s licenses.
Underlying the public’s attitudes about specific reform proposals is a set of contradictory and conflicted perceptions and attitudes about immigrants. Numerous polls over the past several years have found that the public generally respects immigrants for their strong work ethic, good family values and for the cultural contributions they make to American society. But at the same time, pluralities or majorities believe that illegal immigrants weaken the economy by using public services, failing to pay their fair share of taxes, not making enough of an effort to assimilate and, according to some surveys, contributing to the threat of terrorism and the crime problem. And, more generally, large majorities of the public continue to favor limiting the number of immigrants entering the country (73% in April of this year).

Yet, the public’s appetite for enforcement-based solutions is not unlimited. Though most favor increasing border security, the public has been divided over the building of a security fence along the U.S.-Mexico border. Relatively few people say that deportation of illegal immigrants should have a high priority when asked to choose among different options for dealing with the issue. Indeed, just 13% of respondents in a June 2007 poll by NBC News and the Wall Street Journal said that deporting all illegal immigrants is a realistic and achievable goal.

The Prospects for Reform

President Obama campaigned on a platform that included a commitment to immigration reform in his first term. Whether or not he can build public support in pursuit of that goal depends on several factors that are difficult to forecast. The first is whether the sluggish economy and high unemployment will increase opposition to a policy that eventually leads to legal residence for millions of workers currently in the U.S. illegally. Anxiety about the job competition immigrants pose to American workers was important during the debate in 2006-2007, but polling during that period found significant majorities saying that immigrants generally take jobs American workers don’t want, rather than taking jobs away from Americans (59%-30%, in a May 2007 CBS News/New York Times poll). How much that view has changed today will affect how well the Democratic Party, in particular, can hold together a coalition in support of reform.

A second unknown is how willing Republican Party leaders will be to support a cross-party coalition in the Congress. Both John McCain and Mitt Romney encountered criticism from conservatives within the GOP during their run for the Republican nomination for president. And, of course, President Bush was unable to unify his party around a comprehensive immigration measure in 2007, despite having made it a priority for his second term. Arguably, conservatives hold more sway within the party now than a few years ago. As noted earlier, public opinion on the issue has become more partisan over this period, with Democrats expressing greater support for reform than Republicans.
Finally, there is the role of Hispanics and Latinos themselves. In 2004, Hispanics gave President Bush 40% of their votes, and Republicans were optimistic that the party could make inroads into this growing constituency. But over the next few years, Latinos shifted in a Democratic direction and gave Barack Obama 67% of their votes (to 31% for McCain). Many observers argued that the tone of the debate over immigration hurt the Republican Party in the eyes of Latinos, and many within the party worry that another heated immigration battle could further damage the party with this important group of voters.