The Outcomes of 'Comprehensive' Reform

By Jerry Kammer and Jerry Kammer on May 10, 2011

In her appearance on C-SPAN this morning, Hispanic Federation president Lillian Rodriguez Lopez made it clear that her organization and its allies continue to press President Obama and the Congress for the massive pinata of comprehensive immigration reform.

"We should have comprehensive immigration reform, or immigration reform, that really looks at some of the key elements around the Dream Act, and AgJobs, and visas, and quotas and how we're managing the system so we can make sure that we're getting all the outcomes we want," she said on the Washington Journal program.

A reasonable person might ask, "Outcomes that WHO wants?" And someone reasonably well informed about the dimensions of the "comprehensive" approach would respond that the outcomes are eagerly sought by ethnic interest groups; the employers of unskilled, low-wage immigrant workers; and the Democratic organizations whose platforms appeal to those whose low wages make them depend upon the social safety net.

Ms. Rodriguez Lopez's organization serves the needy immigrants whose numbers would be greatly expanded by comprehensive reform. The Hispanic Federation's website says this: "The Hispanic Federation provides grants to a broad network of Latino non-profit agencies serving the most vulnerable members of the Hispanic community and advocates nationally with respect to the vital issues of education, health, immigration, economic empowerment, civic engagement and the environment."

The "comprehensive" immigration reform package that advocates have long been promoting is another example of the privatize-profit/socialize-loss politics that often prevail on Capitol Hill with regard to many issues, not just immigration. Politically powerful and well-organized interest groups persuade lawmakers to design policy systems that concentrate benefits among the politically active and disperse the costs among the unwilling but unaware American public.

We have seen this approach in the financial reforms that in the 1980s set the stage for the savings and loan debacle and that more recently have enabled Wall Street to plunder Main Street. We have seen it in the profligate system of earmarks that have institutionalized corruption among lawmakers, lobbyists, and earmark recipients. And we have seen it with the steadily expanding distribution of green cards that confer the right of permanent residence and a path to citizenship.

"Comprehensive immigration reform" is public policy driven by the profligate spirit of the politics of pork. It is a heckuva way to design the nation's demographic future.

As Harvard sociologist Christopher Jencks wrote in 2001: "The 'green cards' that allow people to reside permanently in the United States are worth a lot to recipients and their relatives. Since the 1970s Congress has learned to treat these permits like other forms of political pork. Legislators who work to expand the number of green cards win friends. Legislators who work to reduce the number make enemies. Unless that changes, immigration will keep expanding no matter what the polls show."