AMERICAN IMMIGRATION POLITICS: A GUIDE (PART ONE)
DIMENSIONS OF POLITICS DIMENSIONS OF POSTS
Sector: Identity Importance: ****
Level: Supranational Scope: USA only
Period: Shortrun Process: Policy politics
MAIN TOPIC: Immigration Treatment: Commentary. Background.
KEY POINTS 1
Basic facts 1.1
Main interests 1.2
Current politics 1.3
Future prospects 1.4
Likely measures 1.5
PAST POLITICS 2
The 1965 regime 2.1
Bush’s first term 2.2
Bush’s second term 2.3
PRESENT POLITICS 3
Obama’s first term 3.1
Obama’s second term 3.2
Current issues 3.3
KEY POINTS 1
Basic facts 1.1
Of roughly 300 million Americans, about 40 million are immigrants (people born elsewhere), of whom about 11 million are “illegal” (entered or stayed illegally). Most “illegals” are from Mexico, others from Central America and Asia.
Current USA immigration rules have not met USA immigration needs legally. Instead they have produced an unregulated black market of “illegals..” Hence the need for “reform,” to align needs and rules and to align rules and enforcement.
The most practical way to make most migration legal is to expand legal quotas, which conservatives oppose. Attempting to restrict migration would deprive the USA of needed labor, much of which would still come anyway, illegally.
Currently there is little net illegal migration, because of recent weakness in the American economy, strength in the Mexican economy, and perhaps also stronger American enforcement of borders. This “lull” in illegal immigration facilitates reform.
Under reform, legal immigration could rise from the current one million a year to perhaps two or three million, if the American economy revives and if generous allowances continue for legal immigrants to bring in various types of family members.
Main interests 1.2
American BUSINESS (particularly agrobusiness) who want cheap labor would prefer the status quo to highly restrictionist reforms that deny them that labor. Some American business bring in high-skilled labor and would like to bring in more.
American LABOR wants to protect its jobs, benefits, and standards against such “guest workers.” So labor, usually Democratic, has defeated previous Democratic attempts at comprehensive immigration reform.
Many American LOCALITIES want to minimize the impact of immigrants on local budgets and culture. Some want to restrict immigration and services. Conservative local Republicans have defeated previous national Republican attempts at comprehensive immigration reform.
IMMIGRANTS want jobs, family reunification, and access to education and other services. “Illegal” immigrants want quick legalization, with some path to eventual full citizenship. Immigrants support Democrats, but for many reasons besides immigration.
Recent generous American immigration policy has been driven increasingly by liberal politicians advancing human RIGHTS. This framing of the issue provokes ideological backlash by conservatives defending Americans’ rights.
Current politics 1.3
Overall, recent American immigration politics has pitted RESTRICTIONISM against EXPANSIONISM. Most ordinary Americans are fairly restrictionist. Nevertheless American immigration policy is fairly expansionist, overall.
In the 2008 and 2012 elections, immigrants strongly supported Obama, who promised them comprehensive reform: not just the restrictionist ENFORCEMENT on which Republicans insist but also some expansionist ACCOMMODATION of immigrants’ needs.
During his first term, solving other problems, Obama failed to deliver comprehensive reform. Nevertheless he laid the groundwork by establishing a strong record on ENFORCEMENT. Now he has made ACCOMMODATION a high priority.
In the 2012 election, SOME very restrictionist Republicans cost ALL Republicans MOST minority votes. Now MOST Republicans realize that they must support SOME form of comprehensive immigration reform, in order to remain competitive in future elections.
Immigration divides both parties but, currently, Republicans more than Democrats. In the 2000s Republicans used immigration as a “wedge” issue to divide Democrats. In the 2010s, Democrats are using immigration to divide Republicans.
Future prospects 1.4
In the 2000s, several “windows of opportunity” opened for comprehensive reform. Proponents repeatedly crafted centrist proposals. One succeeded in the Senate but none in the House. Any new legislation that passed both chambers was piecemeal and restrictionist.
Now a new window has opened. However, so far, rival proposals remain at the level of principles. Specifics still need negotiation. As specifics emerge, they provoke opposition. A “deal” on reform could still be much delayed or could fail altogether.
Reform COULD be “bipartisan”: supported by both president and congress, Senate and House, some Democrats and some Republicans. Some leaders from those sides are seeking agreement, but also are maneuvering over the details and over who gets credit for what.
Even if bipartisan leaders can agree on substance, they may not be able to persuade their partisan colleagues and back-home constituents. So leaders will bargain hard over MESSAGING: the exact language used and what opposition or support it elicits from whom.
Even with good messaging, immigration reform could again become highly POLARIZING. Some extremists on both sides have little to gain by supporting nationally popular measures and more to gain by opposing measures that their political base – local or group – opposes.
Likely measures 1.5
Restricters frame the issue as “legality,” persuasive to many Americans. Expanders frame the issue as “rights,” less persuasive to most Americans. Restricters claim that immigration is economically costly. Expanders haven’t clearly explained how it is economically beneficial.
To pass congress, immigration reform must contain both HARD enforcement of existing restrictions and SOFT provision of some legal status for migrants who desire to work here or are already working here illegally.
HARD measures: Stopping illegal entrants at the border, denying illegal entrants jobs, forcing entrants whose visas have expired to return home, denying “illegals” government services, denying “illegals” access to citizenship, punishing “illegals” for their illegality.
SOFT measures: A legal way for foreigners to enter the USA for temporary employment. Special paths to legal status for migrant farm workers, high-skilled workers, and children of illegal entrants. Some path to eventual full citizenship for all “illegals.”
The most difficult issue is ANY path to full citizenship for current “illegals.” Conservatives fear that would reward past illegality and encourage future illegality. A difficult question is how to agree when Enforcement is sufficient that Accommodation can proceed.
PAST POLITICS 2
Immigration politics constitute an “immigration policy regime” that persists but changes. Unexpected influences include non-immigration events and new immigration problems, presidential initiatives and populist rebellions, idealism and opportunism of politicians. Immigration politics in 2013 are a replay of recent rounds, but with variations. It is important to know the history of recent rounds, in order to identify what is similar and different about the present. (For a summary, see Rachel Weimer 130130 “How immigration reform failed, over and over” at washingtonpost.com.)
Many of the SIMILARITIES across rounds result from the fact that, after components of a policy regime become established, they persist into later rounds. These components include the objective problems involved, the framings that partisans apply to those problems, and even some of the individual politicians participating. In American politics, passing a major law can require a a decade or more of repeated attempts by determined advocates. The key players are usually the President and the chairmen of relevant committees in congress (acting through their key staff).
The DIFFERENCES across rounds result from the ceaseless evolution of both the general political environment and specifically immigration politics. Political deals and their political framings reflect general policy problems and their changes. But the deals have to be refashioned for each successive moment in politics, particularly the current political needs of the key players. These needs change according to the offices for which the players hope to run, how soon they must face reelection, and whether they face strong electoral challengers.
(The current best general political science introduction to American immigration politics is Daniel J. Tichenor 2002Dividing lines : The politics of immigration control in America. Princeton N.J. : Princeton University Press, 378 pages.)
The 1965 regime 2.1
From the 1920s to the 1960s, the USA had a restrictionist immigration regime based on quotas for particular nationalities (mostly European). In 1965, the USA switched to an immigration regime based on family unification (which most benefitted Hispanics and Asians). This new immigration regime was designed by then-dominant liberal Democrats, who claimed to expect the new regime to not be particularly expansionist. In practice, the new regime proved highly expansionist. Indeed, “the 1965 Act” redefined American identity, from dominantly European, based on national heritages, toward a broadly “multicultural” America, based on more universal ideals. Therefore it is not surprising that, since 1965, immigration has become an increasingly contentious issue that often focuses on questions of “identity”: what does it mean to be an “American” and who deserves to become an “American”?
1980s policy shifted emphasis slightly from families to refugees and slightly restricted the expansionist 1965 regime. A 1980 act reduced immigration to 270,000 annually while establishing a quota for refugees of 50,000 annually. In 1986 a “reform and control” act intended to restrict immigration by imposing penalties on American employers who knowingly hired illegal immigrants. Assuming future restriction, the act provided “amnesty” for about 3 million illegal immigrants already in the United States. The amnesty occurred but the enforcement did not, allowing the accumulation of new “illegals.” Conservatives vow never again to accept any form of “amnesty.”
1990s policy continued to shift emphasis between expansion and restriction. In 1990 an act expanded annual immigration to 700,000 and increased visas by 40 percent. Family reunification remained the main criterion, with significant increases in immigration for employment. However, in 1996, acts restricted both legal and illegal immigrants, increasing the kinds of criminal activity for which immigrants can be deported and making some types of deportation mandatory. Restrictionists attempted to limit immigrant access to government services. Latino support for Republicans dropped in the 1996 election, Republicans rolled back most restrictions. In 2000, both Clinton and Republicans offered bills to fix a technical flaw in the 1986 law, Clinton eventually signing the Republican law after Republicans won the 2000 election.
During the 1990s a commission studied immigration reform. It recommended capping immigration to about 550,000 per year. It called for a shift from low-skilled toward high-skilled immigrants and for a scaling back of family admissions by establishing priorities among the types of family members to be admitted. It demanded stronger enforcement, particularly more systematic deportation of illegals. It advised stronger federal planning for international migration emergencies and clearer criteria for granting asylum to refugees. Few of the commission’s suggestions were implemented. (For the full report see 970901 Becoming an American. Washington DC: U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform, 230 pages. It is available – along with associated reports – at numbersusa.com.)
Liberal Democratic senator Edward Kennedy had played a key role in the foundational 1965 act, his biggest impact on America. In the 2000s, attempting to preserve that legacy through reform, Kennedy partnered with a series of Republican senators (Brownback, McCain, Kyl). However, as their electoral circumstances changed, those successive Republican partners withdrew from the immigration issue to avoid further antagonizing conservatives. (Brownback came up for reelection in conservative Kansas in 2002 and McCain decided to run for president in 2008.)
By around 2000, the 1965 immigration regime, as modified by President Reagan, was widely regarded as “broken.” It was not serving anyone’s interests well, creating potential support for comprehensive reform. In early 2001 the new nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute first recommended “comprehensive” reform. The MPI framed immigration as a largely economic issue, but one that required both a diplomatic “grand bargain” between the USA and Mexico and domestic legalization of migrants already in the USA. (See Demetrios Papademetriou 010214 “U.S.-Mexico migration panel unveils recommendations,” Press Briefing at carnegieeurope.eu. Also Kerry Boyd 010215 “ Conclusions of the U.S.-Mexico migration panel” at carnegieendowment.org.)
Bush’s first term 2.2
Taking office in 2001, Republican Bush endorsed the MPI proposal for comprehensive immigration reform – for diplomatic, economic, and political reasons. As governor of Texas Bush had sought support from Texas Hispanics and believed that the national Republican party must accommodate national Hispanic aspirations. Bush’s initiative soon received support from both business and labor and from leading senators of both parties (liberal Democrat Kennedy and conservative Republican Brownback).
However, the 9/11 terrorist attacks derailed that effort. The attacks gave security priority in American politics and redefined immigration issues largely in terms of security. By the end of 2001 the House had already passed a restrictionist Border Security Bill. By early 2002, advocates of comprehensive reform began repackaging their proposals as serving security. However, they would have to accept some increase in restrictionist enforcement before they could resume pursuit of expansionist reform. Accordingly, Senators Kennedy and Brownback joined with more enforcement-oriented senators to introduce a Border Security Bill in the Senate. However, a single powerful senator placed a hold on the senate bill, delaying its processing.
Then president Bush complicated matters by proposing an addition that would allow “illegals” with family or job connections to the USA to remain here while their status was being legalized, instead of having to return home and wait years for reentry. The Bush proposal alarmed both restrictionists and expansionists: restrictionists as too great an accommodation and expansionists as perhaps preempting more comprehensive reform. The Border Security bills eventually became law, but the delay in its passage allowed restrictionists to establish their “anti-amnesty” theme as a permanent part of American immigration politics. Later efforts have not been framed as collaborations with Mexico and the “grand bargain” required has been not diplomatic but domestic, between diverse American interests.
In mid-2002, with the Border Security bill passed, immigrant advocates hoped to resume their efforts at comprehensive reform. However, president Bush again complicated matters, this time by proposing the merging of many government agencies into a huge Department of Homeland Security. That reorganization would include the Immigration and Naturalization Service, so political struggle refocused on the substantive implications of that administrative reorganization.
In spring 2002, liberal Democratic senator Dick Durbin and conservative Republican Orin Hatch had co-authored a bill called the Dream Act, to make it legal for states to offer in-state tuition to students brought to the US by their parents illegally as children, and to grant legal status to those undocumented students after they graduated from college. Eligible students could eventually attain citizenship after completing college or two years of military service. Despite attempts in successive congresses, the Dream Act has never passed. Nevertheless, just before the 2012 election, president Obama implemented many of its provisions by executive order.
Following the November 2002 election, a new two-year congress convened in early 2003, providing a “window” for legislative initiatives. New immigration bills arose on both left and right: on the radical left, a proposal to legalize “illegals,” on the moderate right an innovative “guestworker” bill granting migrant workers temporary visas that would allow them to move from job to job, instead of being tied to one particular employer. Meanwhile, liberal Democratic advocates of comprehensive reform had difficulty reviving coordination between business, labor, and immigrant advocates. All three of these efforts eventually failed. But one of the three moderate Arizona Republicans who proposed the guestworker bill (Jeff Flake), reintroduced moderate guestworker legislation in the House in 2007 and, now in the Senate, remains an active participant in 2013 immigration politics.
In the Fall of 2003, liberal Democratic efforts at comprehensive reform continued. To attract a Republican co-sponsor, the bill would have to include a temporary worker program, which alarmed the liberal Democrats’ labor allies. Though some unions publicly appeared to support comprehensive reform, in private the main union lobbyist derailed it by forcing senator Kennedy to choose general labor support instead of the guestworker provision. Democrats’ efforts at comprehensive reform stalled again.
In early 2004, Republicans seize the initiative, leaving Democrats in disarray. President Bush called again for comprehensive immigration reform, possibly to attract Hispanic support in the 2004 presidential election. Bush’s proposal included the 2003 moderate Republican guestworker plan. Another bipartisan reform proposal quickly failed (by Republican Hagel of Nebraska and Democrat Daschle of South Dakota ). Nevertheless, even the possibility of such reform stirred populist opposition, fanned in particular by Republican Tom Tancredo from Colorado. In the 2004 elections, the two moderate Republican congressmen from Arizona who had originally proposed the guestworker plan were reelected, but only after severe primary challenges from populist radical Republicans opposing any form of additional immigration, not to speak of anything that could be regarded as “amnesty.” Meanwhile, three million Hispanic votes were pivotal to president Bush’s 2004 reelection.
Bush’s second term 2.3
In Spring 2005, Kennedy and McCain again co-sponsored comprehensive immigration reform. This was the first “grand bargain” bill ever introduced into congress on a bi-partisan, bi-cameral basis. In 2005 senate Republicans unsuccessfully offered their own more conservative version of comprehensive reform (sponsored by John Cornyn of Texas and John Kyl of Arizona). In late 2005, the conservative Republican House passed an extremely restrictive anti-immigration bill. Among many restrictive measures, the bill required constructing walls on heavily trafficked sections of the border and strengthened detention of any “illegals” apprehended. The bill raised illegal presence in the USA from a civil offense to a criminal felony and made it illegal for any other Americans to assist “illegals” to remain in the USA. This House bill never passed the Senate, but many of its provisions reappeared in later restrictionist legislation. For example, the mandate to build fences reappeared in the Secure Fence Act of 2006 and was reiterated in the 2012 Republican platform. (SeeThe Secure Fence Act of 2006, a Fact Sheet at georgewbush -whitehouse.archives.gov and the relevant article in Wikipedia.)
The restrictive House bill provoked widespread demonstrations by immigrants against it. By May 2006 it also provoked the Senate into passing a more expansionist alternative: most of the 2005 Kennedy-McCain bill, now formally sponsored by Republican Arlen Specter, the chairman of the senate judiciary committee. This was the first comprehensive reform bill ever to pass either chamber of congress. The Senate bill could have passed the House too, with bipartisan support (most Democrats, some Republicans). However, House Republican leaders refused to bring up a bill that was not supported by a majority of the Republican majority. So a minority of the House blocked the bill. (On the relevance of 2006 to 2013, see Ronald Brownstein 130131 “On immigration, what Obama can learn from Bush's failed efforts” at nationaljournal.com.)
In the November 2006 elections, Democrats captured control of both chambers of congress. That again raised liberals’ hopes for comprehensive reform of immigration. In early 2007 the Democratic majority leader of the Senate (Harry Reid) introduced a bill that had been drafted by a dozen senators, including Kennedy and McCain. The main new Republican input came from president Bush and senator Kyl, who wanted to shift immigration from accommodating immigrants to promoting economic development, through a point system that favored educated English speakers, without regard to family connections or (illegal) migrant status. This guest worker proposal offended both pro-labor and pro-immigrant Democrats on the left and anti-immigrant Republicans on the right. Enough conservative Republican senators opposed the bill to prevent it from getting the sixty votes necessary to bring it to a vote. (On the complexities, see Jonathan Weisman 070518 “Deal on immigration reached” and Jonathan Weisamn 070629 “Immigration bill dies in Senate,” both at washigntonpost.com.)
Overall, in the early and mid-2000s, evidently liberals were slow to recognize the extent of populist opposition to immigration, which became one of the origins of later populist Republican conservatism. At the same time, conservative Republicans were beginning to launch the primary challenges against moderate Republicans that gradually shifted the Republican party to the right. Those challenges gradually entrenched the competition between the relatively moderate national Republican establishment and radical populist local Republican insurgents that continues today.
(This summary of 2000s immigration politics draws on summaries of twelve feature-length documentaries that brilliantly chronicle those events. See the Story Guide (under Series) at howdemocracyworksnow.com.)
PRESENT POLITICS 3
Running for president in 2008, Obama promised comprehensive immigration reform. (See the section on Immigration at barackobama.com.)
Obama’s first term 3.1
In 2009 and 2010, Obama’s agenda was dominated by combating the Great Recession, promoting reforms of health and finance, and managing two wars. Nevertheless, Obama sketched a comprehensive reform of immigration that would strengthen both external and internal enforcement, adapt visa allocations to economic needs, and accommodate migrants, both through legalizing their status and helping them adjust to life in the USA. (See Comprehensive Immigration Reform at immigrationamerica.org.)
Meanwhile, Obama paved the way toward accommodating immigrant needs by vigorous enforcement of restrictionist measures mandated by congressional legislation and begun under Bush. Obama invested more in border security, increased border apprehensions, and deported “illegals” who had committed crimes. However, as conservative critics complained, Obama chose not to regard a single illegal entry itself as a crime requiring vigorous deportation.
(See Peter Slevin 100726 “Deportation of illegal immigrants increases under Obama administration” at washingtonpost.com. Also Suzy Khimm 120827 “Obama is deporting immigrants faster than Bush. Republicans don’t think that’s enough” and Suzy Khimm 130129 “Want tighter border security? You’re already getting it,” both on Wonkblog at washingtonpost.com. Also Elise Foley 130131 “Obama deportation toll could pass 2 million at current rates” at huffingtonpost.com. On the huge buildup of enforcement, see Doris Meissner+ January 2013 Immigration enforcement in the United States: The rise of a formidable machinery: The report in brief. Washington DC: The Migration Policy Institute, 27 pages, available online at migration policy.org.. For a critique, see Jessica Vaughan 130110 “New report offers deceptive assessment of immigration enforcement” at cis.org.)
In 2010, two leading senators tried to initiate comprehensive reform (Democrat Charles Schumer from New York and Republican Leslie Graham from South Carolina). The effort collapsed when the senate leader (Democrat Reid from Nevada) tried to accelerate the process, alleged to promote his own reelection. (On the initiative, see Spencer S. Hsu 100318 “Senators draft plan to rework U.S. immigration policy.” Also Schumer & Graham 100318 op ed “The right way to mend immigration.” Also Shailagh Murray and Anne E. Kornblut 100428 “Reid amends his pledge for fast action on immigration.” All at washington post.com.)
In May 2011 Obama issued a detailed set of principles for comprehensive reform of immigration.
As a basis for further reform, the report cited progress in border security, interior enforcement, and legal immigration. The report framed reform as an economic issue: Immigrants create jobs and pay taxes. Creating a more effective legal immigration system would strengthen the USA’s economic competitiveness. The report reaffirmed that securing borders was a federal not state responsibility, presumably to discourage state intervention. Businesses that hire “illegals” should be held accountable for both undermining American workers and exploiting undocumented workers. To avoid deportation, illegals themselves must take responsibility: by paying back taxes, paying a penalty for having broken the law, learning English, and passing criminal background checks. Having done that, they should be allowed to get in line to apply for citizenship. On the basis of those 2011 principles, Obama again promised comprehensive immigration reform when running for reelection as president in 2012. (Search Building a 21st Century Immigration System at whitehouse.gov.)
Obama’s second term 3.2
After reelection, in early 2013 Obama has again issued general principles for comprehensive immigration reform. Politically, Obama now has the upper hand in several respects. He convincingly won reelection with the support of expansionist voters and over the opposition of restrictionist voters. American political demography is gradually increasing the number of expansionists while decreasing the number of restrictionists. Obama announced his immigration proposals in Nevada to underline that Democrats intend to continue moving that formerly Republican state toward Democrats. Obama has reoriented the Democratic party away from conservative lower-class whites and toward progressive multicultural voters, so he does not have to fear that the immigration issue will split his emerging new coalition. Conversely, whether Obama intends so or not, immigration is a “wedge” issue that divides nationally-oriented moderate Republicans from locally-oriented conservative Republicans. Finally, as regards policy, Obama can now “lead from above”: enunciating principles while observing congressional initiatives. If they do not go well, he can submit his own more liberal legislation, meanwhile holding conservatives accountable
(About Obama’s strategy, on politics see Chris Cillizza 130129 “Why President Obama went to Nevada to talk immigration reform” on The Fix at washingtonpost.com. Relatedly, see also Alexander Burns 130124 “Democrats launch plan to turn Texas blue” at politico .com. On policy see Fawn Johnson 130128 “Can Obama make history on immigration?” at nationaljournal.com. Also Julia Preston 130129 “Laying out broad principles, but leaving recourse open” at nytimes.com. Also Zachary A. Goldfarb 130129 “President seeking to balance bully pulpit with negotiations in immigration debate” at washingtonpost.com.. Also Ezra Klein 130129 “Why Obama won’t get specific on immigration — at least not yet” on Wonkblog at washingtonpost.com. Also Michael D. Shear and Mark Landler 130130 “On immigration, Obama assumes upper hand” at nytimes.com.)
(For contrasting views on Obama’s proposal, from immigrant advocates, see the section on Immigration under Issues and Programs at nclr.org – the website of the National Council of La Raza, the main Hispanic lobbying organization. From critics, see the blogs of Mark Krikorian and others at the skeptical Center For Immigration Studies, at cis.org.. CIS is “pro-immigrant, low-immigration,” seeking “fewer immigrants but a warmer welcome for those admitted.” On the situation of immigrants, see Pew Hispanic Research Center 130129A nation of immigrants: A portrait of the 40 million, including 11 million unauthorized at pewhispanic.org.)
Meanwhile, immediately after the November 2012 election, Republican senator Graham phoned Democratic senator Schumer to resume their 2010 initiative. Again, a few key players are pivotal. Others include two past presidential candidates: liberal Democrat Obama and the man he defeated for president, moderate Republican John McCain. At least one possible future presidential candidate is also pivotal: newly elected Republican senator Marco Rubio from Florida, a Cuban-American with great appeal to Republican conservatives as a future bridge to Hispanic immigrants. (On senate strategy, see Julia Preston 130128 “Senators offer a bipartisan blueprint for immigration” at nytimes.com. Or Manu Raju 130128 “Senate group reaches immigration deal” at politico.com Also Brian Bennett and Lisa Mascaro 310202 “How a discordant Senate band got back together on immigration” at latimes.com. On key players see Manu Raju 130128 “Chuck Schumer, John McCain: Immigration's odd couple” at politico.com. Also Carrie Budoff Brown and Kate Nocera 130129 “President Obama, John McCain, Marco Rubio begin immigration dance” at politico.com. Also Beth Reinhard 130129 “How Marco Rubio evolved on immigration reform” at nationaljournal.com.)
The senate group had planned to make their proposal public in February, but advanced their announcement to Monday 28 January to precede Obama’s speech on immigration policy on Tuesday 29 January. The Senators wanted to avoid any appearance of following Obama’s lead and to avoid any association with liberal proposals that he might make but they didn’t. Senate Democrats can’t sponsor too liberal a package or they might lose the support of moderate Democrats seeking reelection in conservative states in 2014. Overall, Republics are clearly more amenable to comprehensive immigration reform in 2013 than they were in 2007. Nevertheless, the bipartisan Gang of Eight will not get bipartisan support from all of their senate colleagues. The senate still contains twenty-two Republicans and eight Democrats who voted against the similar 2007 initiative. Some of those senators have already begun speaking out against the 2013 proposal, mostly on the issue of “amnesty.” (See Kate Nocera 130131 “Complicating matters: Pryor, Landrieu and Baucus all are up for reelection in 2014" at politico.com. Also Aaron Blake 130129 “Many big GOP voices changing their tune on immigration” on The Fix at washingtonpost.com. Also Manu Raju and Kate Nocera 130129 “Senate GOP raises eyebrows at Gang of Eight plan” at politico.com.)
Meanwhile, moderate Republican House leader John Boehner has indicated optimistically that the House too has had a bipartisan group working on immigration reform for several years. Boehner claims the group has now reached basic agreement, though not yet a draft of legislation. In that group, a leading participant from the far right is conservative Republican representative Raul Labrador, a longtime immigration attorney from Idaho. A leading participant from the far left is liberal Democrat Luis Gutierrez from Illinois, chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus’s immigration task force. The group hopes to issue draft legislation just before president Obama’s State of the Union address to congress on 12 February. (Russell Berman 130126 “Boehner says bipartisan group 'basically' has deal on immigration reform” at thehill.com. Also Lois Romano 130130 “House group secretly crafts immigration plan” at politico.com. Also Ashley Parker 130202 “House group works to present its own immigration plan” at nytimes.com.)
If nothing else, this group should help define what immigration reforms can and cannot pass the house. As in 2006, the House might well not accept reform as comprehensive as the senate proposes. Relative to 2006, in 2013 even more House Republicans come from districts that are mostly white and contain no natural pressure groups favoring immigration reform. Of 233 House Republicans, 133 come from such districts. (Of 200 House Democrats, only 31 come from such largely white districts.) Much may depend on whether Republican Speaker Boehner will apply or suspend the Republican rule that a Republican House will not consider bills not supported by “a majority of the majority” of Republicans. (See Scott Bland 130130 “Why immigration reform could die in the House” at nationaljournal.com.)
Overall, politically, immigration is important to minorities, particularly Hispanics. Nevertheless, Hispanics oppose Republicans and support Democrats for many reasons besides immigration, such as Republicans’ restrictive view of the role of government. So Republicans cannot count on gaining many Hispanic votes through immigration reform alone. Moreover, struggle within the Republican party over immigration can still produce conservative language that can still harm moderates with Hispanics, even if the moderates prevail in actual legislation. In any case, not only Hispanics but also most Americans want immigration made more functional and more fair. (Michael Catalini 130130 “Why immigration reform won't cure the GOP's struggles with Hispanics” at nationaljournal.com. Also Dylan Byers 130129 “The fight on the right over immigration” at politico.com. Also Fawn Johnson 130130 “Taming the Tea Party on immigration” at nationaljournal.com. Also Cameron Joseph 130130 “Republican party fears losing war of words on immigration reform” at thehill.com.)
In sum, despite many difficulties, 2013 looks somewhat promising for comprehensive immigration reform. (For a crisp summary, see Niraj Chokshi 130130 “Why now is the right time for immigration reform” at nationaljournal.)
Current issues 3.3
As of this week (130127-130202), the two main immigration reform proposals on the table are the plan of the eight bipartisan senators and the principles recently announced by Obama.
The SENATORS begin by declaring the present system “broken.” They then announce four “pillars” for immigration legislation:
Create a tough but fair path to CITIZENSHIP for unauthorized immigrants currently living in the United States that is contingent upon securing our borders and tracking whether legal immigrants have left the country when required;
Reform our legal immigration system to better recognized the importance of CHARACTERISTICS that will help build the American economy and strengthen American families;
Create an effective employment VERIFICATION system that will prevent identity theft and end the hiring of future unauthorized workers; and,
Establish an improved process for admitting future WORKERS to serve our nation’s workforce needs, while simultaneously protecting all workers.
The body of the report elaborates on each of these pillars. (Schumer+ 130128 “Bipartisan framework for immigration reform” at nytimes.com.)
The next day OBAMA presented his own“commonsense” principles for comprehensive immigration reform, mostly similar (my caps and bracketed notes):
First, continue to strengthen our BORDERS. [external enforcement]
Second, crack down on COMPANIES that hire undocumented workers. [internal enforcement]
Third, hold UNDOCUMENTED immigrants ACCOUNTABLE before they can earn their CITIZENSHIP; this means requiring undocumented workers to pay their taxes and a penalty, move to the back of the line, learn English, and pass background checks.
Fourth, streamline the LEGAL immigration system for families, workers, and employers. Together we can build a fair, effective and commonsense immigration system that lives up to our heritage as a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants.
Again, the body of Obama’s remarks elaborated those four principles. (See Ezra Klein 130129 “President Obama’s immigration proposal” on Wonkblog at washingtonpost.com.)
Analysts identify five points of agreement in principle between the Senate and Obama plans.
(See Ezra Klein 130129 “Immigration reform: Five places where Obama and the Senate agree” on Wonkblog at washingtonpost.com.)
First, American BORDERS need to be as secure we can make them. However, the USA may already have done about 90% of what it can do, even though USA control of the border is only about half effective.
Second, EMPLOYERS must check the immigration status of employees. This sounds easy, but is difficult. So far, employer verification of employee status is less than 10% effective.
Third, immigrants need a genuinely possible path to CITIZENSHIP. But they will have to meet tough requirements and start from the back of the line (as in the May 2011 Obama plan outlined above, at the end of 3.1).
Fourth, the USA needs a sustainable immigration SYSTEM for the future. The question is, what should that system be? The Senate proposal includes a guest worker program, Obama’s does not. (He opposed one in 2007.)
Fifth, REPUBLICANS need Latino votes and, to earn them, they must support at least somewhat accomodationist immigration reform. Will that provoke a backlash within the party from conservative restrictionists as it did in 2007?
As these principles are specified into legislation, several difficulties may arise.
For illegals, how long and difficult should the path to CITIZENSHIP be? Current proposals call for quickly granting them some legal status. Conservatives complain that, in practice, this amounts to immediate “amnesty” and effective citizenship. Restrictionists demand that full citizenship take long yo achieve, in order to avoid rewarding “illegals” for breaking the law and to avoid disadvantaging others who are following the law.
What ENFORCEMENT needs to be achieved before accommodation can begin? Defining standards for future enforcement could be a dealbreaker. Restrictionists could demand impossible levels of perfection, thereby indefinitely delaying the initiation of a “legal path to citizenship.”
How many GUEST WORKERS should be allowed, and of what kind? In 2007 this issue provoked opposition from both left and right.
Should family reunion apply to SAME-SEX COUPLES, as evidently Obama intends? (He mentioned it in his plan but not in his speech. The Senate statement does not mention it at all.)
(See Ezra Klein and Evan Soltas 130130 “The emerging immigration consensus — and its cracks,” the top story that day on Wonkbook at Wonkblog at washingtonpost.com, with links. Also Josh Gerstein and Anna Palmer 130128 “Pitfalls that could stop an immigration deal” at politico.com. Also Rebecca Kaplan and Chris Frates 130130 “Pronouncements out of the way, immigration now faces uphill climb” at nationaljournal.com. Also David Nakamura and Zachary A. Goldfarb 130202 “In immigration debate, same-sex marriage comes to the fore” on Politics at washingtonpost.com.)
Some further notes:
On enforcement: Current proposals are for a panel of border governors to advise the Secretary of Homeland Security on the degree of enforcement at their state borders, measured according to objective standards established in advance. The Secretary would then make the final decision about whether or not enforcement was adequate. Naturally, conservatives are skeptical that a liberal Secretary would make a fair decision. In any case, some state officials do not want federal officials making such a decision. (Alexander Bolton 130202 “Senate plan would give Napolitano the final say on border security” at thehill.org.)
On high skills: So far this is proceeding as a bill separate from the rest of comprehensive reform. Labor opposition to high-skilled guest workers helped scuttle the 2007 bill, so perhaps advocates of comprehensive reform wish to segregate that issue into its own compartment, so that it does jeopardize the chances for the rest of reform. Alternatively, businesses wanting skilled employees may prefer that this narrow bill not be jeopardized by the difficulties of comprehensive reform. (See Jennifer Martinez 130127 “Technology firms holding out hope for high-skilled immigration reform” at thehill.com. Also Niraj Chokshi 130129 “Tuesday's proposed immigration bill would focus on high-skilled immigrants” at nationaljournal.com. Also Jennifer Martinez 130202 “H-1B visa cap battle looms on the horizon” at thehill.com.)
On the economics of immigration: For effective advocacy, proponents of comprehensive reform probably need to shift their emphasis from asserting immigrant rights to designing an immigration system that will benefit the USA as a whole. Here it is unfortunate that, amid partisan polemic, immigration politics has not conveyed a clear picture of the economic costs and benefits of immigration. Economists have concluded that immigration is very good for both immigrants and for the economy as a whole. It also promotes innovation. Even typical American workers probably benefit. Low-skilled American workers probably do not experience any ill effect. Another economic angle is that, as Mexico develops, it becomes less of a source for cheap farm labor. Still another is that the USA needs to expedite visa processes to facilitate tourism and associated sales. (See Dylan Matthews 130129 “Five things economists know about immigration” and Brad Plumer 130129 “We’re running out of farm workers. Immigration reform won’t help,” both on Wonblog at washingtonpost.com. Also Vicki Needham 130203 “Travel, retail groups push for White House immigration proposal provisions” on On the Money at thehill.com.)
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