Immigration ’09

Today, Krikorian and Jiménez discuss the future of immigration reform. Previously, they debated the Real ID law, weighed the positives and negatives of tougher enforcement, assessed the presidential candidates' immigration credentials and determined whether restrictionists have reason to be satisfied with their efforts. They'll conclude their debate tomorrow by discussing the future of immigration reform.

Enforce the law, then we'll talkBy Mark Krikorian
Tomás:

Will Congress enact your preferred policies next year when there will be a larger Democratic majority and a pro-amnesty president?

Don't hold your breath.

When President Bush came into office seven years ago, the smart money was on amnesty passing in short order. But even before 9/11, it had run into a wall.

Then when the Senate passed an amnesty in the spring of 2006, veteran Washington hands all said the fix was in. But the House balked and nothing happened.

When the Democrats took control of Congress a few months later, they and the White House again assumed amnesty would roll through quickly. But they couldn't even get it through the Senate.

Meanwhile, border and worksite enforcement is taking on a momentum of its own. Half of the additional fencing mandated by Congress will be completed by the end of this year, and I can assure you that Republican lawmakers and advocacy groups will keep a close eye on further progress. Employing illegal immigrants will continue to become more difficult, as more and more firms sign up for the E-Verify system, including all federal contractors, and as the Social Security "no-match letter" program goes into effect after it overcomes legal challenges.

All this means that when the new president and Congress take office next January, they will not likely want to make legalizing illegal aliens their first priority. Clinton or Obama would be much more likely to use their honeymoon with Congress to try to move forward on health care, while just yesterday McCain pledged (for whatever that's worth) that he would not move forward on amnesty until there was "widespread consensus" (whatever that means) on the success of border enforcement.

Blogger Mickey Kaus has theorized — rightly, I think — that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton would be the least likely or able to move an amnesty through Congress as president. Not only is her rejection of driver's licenses for illegal aliens a sign of greater caution, but anything she champions would be vehemently opposed by a united Republican bloc in Congress, something that would not happen with Sen. John McCain in the White House.

And, in fact, Rep. Rahm Emanuel, former Clinton White House official (Josh Lyman played him in "The West Wing") and architect of the 2006 Democratic takeover of the House, has said that amnesty would not be taken up until Clinton's second term.

This doesn't mean there won't be plenty of wrangling over immigration. Sens. Ted Kennedy and Arlen Specter are likely to want to keep pushing a big McCain-Kennedy-style amnesty. Smaller immigration measures will come up and could pass, like the DREAM Act, the AgJobs bill or higher caps for certain indentured labor programs like the H1-B or H2-B visas. And there will always be reminders of the consequences of lax enforcement, like the controversy over the past couple of weeks about whether illegal immigrants should get checks from the stimulus package.

But tough enforcement measures could also pass, notably Democratic Rep. Heath Shuler's SAVE Act, a bipartisan measure with more than 140 co-sponsors that may even get a vote this year. Most importantly, this bill would phase in mandatory electronic verification of all new hires, institutionalizing the tools needed to help turn off the magnet of jobs.

If there's one underlying theme that will shape immigration politics and policymaking over the next few years, it is credibility in enforcement. Only after the political elite has shown a willingness to enforce the law — and proven that willingness through significant reductions in the illegal population — will the public be ready even to debate proposals for amnesty.

Mark Krikorian is executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies and author of the forthcoming book, "The New Case Against Immigration, Both Legal and Illegal."


Restrictionists are out of touchBy Tomás R. Jiménez
Dear Mark,

I certainly will not be holding my breath. The likelihood of the next Congress and the eventual president passing a sensible, comprehensive immigration reform package is indeed small. Our next president — Obama, Clinton or McCain — will not be terribly eager to champion immigration reform, knowing full well that the hangover from any such debate might compromise the political goodwill needed to move on other pressing agenda items.

What are we left with?

On the economic front, the economy will continue its slide, taking with it lots of jobs in sectors that rely on undocumented immigrants. Many immigrants will head home, and others won't bother to make the dangerous journey because the faltering economy will neutralize the job magnet that attracts them. Those who favor enforcement-only (or enforcement first) will claim victory and tell us that enforcement works, ignoring the fact that labor markets have a mind of their own.

At the grassroots level, restrictionists will continue to paint over an immensely complicated issue with the comfortable colors of simplicity. Terms such as "amnesty" (which, Mark, you use nine times above) and "open border advocates," and bromides such as "illegal means illegal," will remain popular on their palette. The picture is much easier to comprehend from this perspective, but it does nothing to address the problem. It only makes photo ops in front of border fences go down a lot easier than smart, sophisticated policies that address the economic and social realities of immigration.

Along the border, some migrants will continue to make the journey, risking life, limb and their savings for a chance to work in the United States. As the walls go up, migrants and their smugglers will become more daring and creative in the methods they use to get across the border. The price for coyotes will continue to climb, and so will the death toll along the border.

Inaction at the federal level will continue to spur policy action at the state and local levels. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, as of Nov.16, 1,562 bills related to immigrants or immigration had been introduced among the 50 state legislatures, and 244 had become law in 46 states. The overwhelming majority of these policies fall on the restrictionist side.

But others will look beyond the border and to the future. Illinois continues to implement a comprehensive immigrant integration policy, aimed at helping America's newcomers become fuller participants in society. The policy includes English language classes, citizenship drives and welcome centers. New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine has signed an executive order to create a high-level panel that will begin work on a similar program in his state. Our own federal government is even getting involved in integration, launching a website that includes a wealth of information for immigrants and where people can soon find free online English classes. The U.S. Office of Citizenship is holding training sessions on how to teach English and civics classes for teachers connected to local organizations and community colleges. Hopefully, folks on Capitol Hill will put as much energy into expanding these programs as they do into building fences.

The theme coming from the vocal extremists may be enforcement first, but the rest of America has a different view. According to a nationwide Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll taken last December (PDF), 60% of all registered voters (including 64% of Republicans and 63% of Democrats) favor a proposal to "allow illegal immigrants who have been living and working in the United States for a number of years, and who do not have a criminal record, to start on a path to citizenship by registering … paying a fine, getting fingerprinted, and learning English, among other requirements."

While you and a few vocal activists may continue to beat the drum of enforcement only, it appears that the large majority is marching to the beat of a different drummer. Congress and the White House might want to march along.

Tomás R. Jiménez is an assistant professor of sociology at UC San Diego and a fellow at the New America Foundation.

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