'Comprehensive Reform' Backed by Brookings Panel

By Russ Doubleday on July 13, 2010

Written by intern Russ Doubleday

Adding their voices to the already crowded debate on illegal immigration, a group of panelists presenting at the Brookings Institution last Thursday, July 8th defended a liberal reform of our immigration system, both legal and illegal.

Darrell West, the vice president and director of Governance Studies at Brookings, led the panel. The event was held primarily to launch his new book Brain Gain: Rethinking U.S. Immigration Policy. The thesis, he stated, is that United States needs to enact "comprehensive immigration reform" (amnesty, plus other measures) to secure a prosperous long-term economic future.

Celinda Lake, a political strategist with the Democratic Party, as well as a lead researcher on many national issues with her firm Lake Research Partners, presented her findings from a national survey of registered voters concerning immigration. Lake and her research team claimed to find a significant amount of support for the new Arizona immigration law. However, the margin of support for "comprehensive immigration reform" was much larger than support for the new Arizona law. She claimed this stark difference in opinion was due to frustration with federal government inaction, although it may be due to the language used in the poll. (for more on the manipulation of language in immigration polling, see pp. 18-20 here.) She also found no variation in opinion on immigration by region—border states supported comprehensive reform the most of any geographic region.

An economic recovery period provides the nation with a reason to tackle immigration reform, she argued, since comprehensive reform will play a big part in who can get these new jobs.

Lake's results were based on a survey of 800 voters with an oversample of 300 Latino voters (she said they weighed the Latino group less to account for the oversample). Her polling firm, an admittedly left-leaning institution, partnered with the conservatively oriented Public Opinion Strategies group to conduct the polling.

Juan Osuna, associate deputy attorney general at the Department of Justice in charge of the Office of Immigration Litigation, spoke to the actions of his department and the steps that the Obama administration would like to take when dealing with immigration on a federal level. He believes that Congress will inevitably engage in a long, partisan battle over immigration legislation. Legislation was being crafted by Senators Charles Schumer and Lindsey Graham last year, but in the wake of the health care reform Senate Republicans like Graham are less likely to work on another divisive issue, he reasoned. The election of Scott Brown in Massachusetts also gave Republicans the power to filibuster, which dramatically changed the climate for passing an immigration bill this year.

A "comprehensive" bill would likely address four points, Osuna said. It would allow for greater enforcement at the borders and in the interior, an employment verification system similar to E-Verify, a committee to address the question of future legal immigration flows, and amnesty (a "path to citizenship") for those who are illegally in the country.

Osuna also spoke about the Justice Department's lawsuit against the state of Arizona. While racial profiling is still a concern, the full civil rights implications are not fully known, he stated. As a result, they decided to challenge the Arizona law on the basis of the Supremacy Clause since they believe it conflicts with existing federal statutes.

West believes that neither Democrats nor Republicans are happy with the status quo on immigration. Of course, where to go from here is the point of contention. The panelists made a case for a comprehensive legalization, but without the votes in Congress their voices simply represent the frustration of most elites, whose views have been consistently at odds with a majority of Americans.