Online Debate Sponsored by the Los Angeles Times
Does the U.S. economy need all those illegal immigrants to stay or are they taking jobs away from Americans? All this week, Mark Krikorian, Executive Director of the Center for Immigration Studies, and Tamar Jacoby, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, debate immigration.
Monday: Secure Fence Act
Tuesday: Immigration economics
Thursday: Workplace immigration raids
Friday: Politics of immigration
Secure Fence Act
Monday, February 19, 2007
A Nieman Marcus on the border
By Mark Krikorian
The question we're starting this exchange with is, "A wall along the border: security necessity or political gimmick?"
The answer is - Both!
There's no question that for some politicians, supporting expanded fencing on our border with Mexico is little more than a ruse, designed to dupe voters into thinking they are serious about immigration control. The late Pat Moynihan called this sort of thing "boob bait for bubba." Sen. Sam Brownback is an example of a politician who sees a border fence as "boob bait" - he makes a big show of his support for a fence to deflect attention from his well-earned nickname of "Amnesty Sam," bestowed on him because of his high-profile support for the McCain-Kennedy amnesty bill.
At the same time, a fence really is an essential tool for immigration enforcement. After all, if a foreigner (whatever his intentions) can't get into the United States, he can't become an illegal alien. Although prospective border-jumpers are always going to try to climb over it, dig under it, or walk around it, those things take time and cost money, making the fenced portions of the border much less attractive for illegal crossings.
And modern border fencing has proven its effectiveness, most notably in San Diego, where an anarchic situation with hundreds of illegals rushing past the Border Patrol every night has been replaced by relative order, such that there's now actually a Neiman Marcus right up against the border there.
But while fencing is important, it's not a silver bullet for the illegal-immigration problem - if for no other reason than that fully one-third of the illegal-alien population crossed the border legally, on a visa, and then never left. So maybe another way to ask today's question is why there's so much emphasis in the political debate on border-control measures (not just fencing, but additional agents and the rest), rather than the many other things that are also needed to restore control to the immigration system.
The answer seems to be that enhanced border enforcement is the one thing that opponents of immigration control think they have to agree to, to remain politically viable. In other words, border control really is seen as a political gimmick, at least by the loose-enforcement crowd (not just Brownback, but John McCain and Ted Kennedy and their ilk, as well as President Bush himself). Immigration hawks have gone along with this because, even though they recognize that fencing is just one tool among many, it's the only thing they can get, and they've concluded that something is better than nothing.
This dynamic has been at work for many years. Early in the Clinton Administration, the Border Patrol tried new tactics that successfully diverted illegal crossings from the high-traffic corridors of San Diego and El Paso. This partial success (partial because the crossings, as expected, shifted to elsewhere along the border) was hailed by immigration hawks, because they were ecstatic to see something, anything, being done.
The result was a decade of significantly increased spending on the border, with the construction of (a little) fencing and a doubling of the Border Patrol. But at the very same time, enforcement of the ban on hiring illegal aliens came to a virtual halt, in the face of intense opposition from business, expressed through its representatives in Congress. This is important because border enforcement can help reduce the supply of illegals, but turning off the magnet of jobs is essential to reducing the demand - and we need to do both to restore order.
If there's a lesson in how the opponents of real immigration control have used border fencing as a political gimmick, it's this: Immigration hawks must insist on pairing any increased border measures with increased efforts at internal enforcement.
Stop chasing that busboy
By Tamar Jacoby
If only a wall could do the trick - and if only wishing for money could make you rich, or looking the other way could make you safe. Sure, it sounds plausible. People claim walls work in other countries. But the problem is it won't work here - our border's too long, the jobs we need done too plentiful. And yes, by and large, a wall is a political gimmick - perpetrated not, as Mark Kirkorian suggests, by immigration reformers, but by lazy legislators in both parties who want to look tough without thinking seriously about the problem.
That doesn't mean we don't need to get control - we do. No one, right or left, who thinks seriously about immigration thinks the current illegality is acceptable - and that includes reformers like President Bush, John McCain, Sam Brownback, Mel Martinez and others, Krikorian's invective notwithstanding. The current illegality undermines the rule of law. It endangers our security. It hurts American workers, undercut by foreigners afraid to bargain for their rights. It's even bad for business: few employers who hire illegal immigrants save much in wages - most immigrants make more than the minimum wage - but it's hard to run any kind of shop with an unreliable, unstable supply of labor. The only people who benefit are the smugglers and forgers and the relatively small number of employers who deliberately exploit their illegal workforce.
The question is how to get control, and the hard truth is it's going to take a lot more than a wall. Yes, we need some physical barriers, particularly in border cities where the distances are short and the immigrant traffic tends to be concentrated. Yes, we need a virtual fence - more men, more lights, more cameras, more sensors, more aerial drones, more computerized coordination, as well as more judges, more lawyers, more detention beds - along more remote sections of the frontier.
But the most effective way to get control of illegal immigration isn't on the border; it's in the workplace. It's about ensuring that every available job - every job for which an employer can't find an American worker - is filled by a legal immigrant. Because once we do that - once illegal immigrants can't find work in the U.S. - there will be little or no incentive for them to make the long, difficult trip from their home countries.
So Mark Krikorian and I agree up to a point: the trick is to "remove the jobs magnet." Where we disagree is whether or not you can do that simply by cracking down in the workplace. Mark believes we can. I say that cracking down only works if the law you're trying to enforce bears some relation to reality. It was all but impossible to enforce Prohibition. It would be all but impossible to slow traffic on the interstate to 25 mph. And it's all but impossible for government bureaucracies to fight the laws of supply and demand - to fight the global economic forces generating today's immigrant influx.
Besides, why would we want to? By and large those global economics are working to our benefit. What we need to do is stop resisting and start managing those forces more effectively - managing them so that we reap the maximum benefit (the economic growth and the immigrant vitality) without the costs (the illegality). How to go about that? The place to start is with realistic laws - immigration quotas more in line with our labor needs.
Not only is that the key to control, it will also be far more effective than any fence in reinforcing our security. I'll never forget the veteran immigration agent, working undercover on the border in Arizona, who asked me: "What if another 9/ll happens and it happens on my watch because I'm so busy chasing your next busboy or my next gardener that I don't have time to look for potential terrorists?" More realistic immigration quotas would take care of the busboys and gardeners, freeing agents like him to the job we need him to do.
Mark Krikorian likes to call himself a hawk and make fun of immigration reformers, but the truth is there's only one way to get control - not with a fence, but with more realistic quotas, combined with much tougher enforcement in the workplace. And if Mark and other "hawks" were serious about control, they'd recognize this.
Tuesday, February 20, 2007
Wanna work hunched over in a field? Knock yourself out!
By Tamar Jacoby
Of course, we need immigrant workers - and most Americans don't need an economist to explain it to them. Does anyone reading this want to spend the next several decades - because remember, this isn't just summer work, these are full-time, year-round, lifetime jobs - hunched over in the fields, or busing tables, or standing at a dirty, dangerous assembly line in a meatpacking plant? Do you know anyone raising their kids to do any of those jobs, or anything like them? I doubt it, because very few Americans do. In 1960, half of all American men dropped out of high school to look for unskilled work. Today, fewer than 10 percent do - but we still need those kinds of jobs filled.
And immigrants don't just keep the economy going, they grow it, making us all richer and more productive. You can't grow a business without new workers - and not only do most native-born workers already have jobs, but with most of us having smaller families and baby-boomers retiring en masse, the native-born workforce will soon be shrinking - shrinking dramatically. So without a robust supply of new immigrants, our economy, too, would soon be shrinking. In fact, if there'd been no immigrants in the past decade, the U.S. economy would have grown by less than half as much as it did. Think about it: half as many new houses built, half as many businesses opened, half as many new jobs created, half as much new tax revenue collected - and much less economic vitality.
And that economic growth isn't just good for employers - it's good for all Americans, whatever they do. Imagine a young couple that wants to open a restaurant. How could they if they couldn't find folks to bus the tables and wash the dishes and do the scullery work in the kitchen? But if they can find those low-skilled employees - and most likely they will be immigrants - then they can also hire waiters and managers and hostesses and a chef, and chances are, many of those jobs will be filled by native-born Americans. Not only that, but once the couple opens the restaurant, that will mean more work for local farmers, local produce truckers, the construction company they hire to build the restaurant, the people who furnish and decorate it, a bank, an insurance company, an ad agency, and lots of other businesses up- and downstream from all of these - most of which employ more relatively skilled Americans than immigrants. The moral of the story: immigrants aren't stealing American jobs. On the contrary, they're creating them - they're growing the pie for all of us.
But what's crazy is that under the current immigration system, there's no legal way for these needed workers to enter the country. Not only do we need the eight million illegal workers already here to stay on. Just imagine how many businesses would shrink or collapse if they left. (Remember, we're at what economists call "full employment" - virtually no workers to spare.) But we also need a continuing supply of new workers to keep the economy growing.
As is, that growth generates about 500,000 new unskilled jobs every year, but there are only 5,000 visas for foreigners who want to do full-time, year-round, unskilled work. No wonder people are breaking the law - there's no other way to square that circle. It's not okay that they do - no one thinks it is. But we need a better answer - a system that allows these needed workers to enter the country lawfully.
We shouldn't have to choose between immigration and legality. We need to fix our broken immigration system so that we can have prosperity and the rule of law too. And frankly, I don't understand you, Mark. Why on earth are you opposed to that? Wouldn't you rather see a system that is lawful and controlled. As is, you're just an apologist for our hypocritical, nudge-nudge-wink-wink failure - unrealistic law that we can't possibly make stick and that benefits no one but the smugglers and a few unscrupulous, bottom-feeder employers.
Bring in all the Bangladeshis, why don'tcha?
By Mark Krikorian
Oh, Tamar - there you go again.
You say that the economy "generates about 500,000 new unskilled jobs every year, but there are only 5,000 visas for foreigners who want to do full-time, year-round, unskilled work."
But your basic assumption is wrong - there is no economically "correct" level of immigration. Yesterday you used the analogy that today's immigration laws are like a 25 mile-an-hour speed limit on an interstate highway. They're both unrealistic, and both need to be brought into line with reality.
Sounds plausible enough, but the problem is that a highway is engineered for a particular speed. In other words, traveling 55 mph, let alone 25, is unrealistic on an Interstate because it was made for 70 mph travel - the angle of the curves, the width of the lanes and the shoulders, the on- and off-ramps, the signage, etc.
An economy, on the other hand, has no such design criteria. A flexible, dynamic economy like ours can accommodate itself to various levels of immigration, high or low. It's true that a higher level of immigration would result in higher overall economic growth. It's also true that the goal of government policy is not simply to make the economy bigger, but to improve the lives, and incomes, of Americans already here. If we simply wanted a bigger economy, we could just import the whole population of Bangladesh - more people would mean a statistically larger economy, after all.
Today's large-scale importation of a rural peasantry into our modern society creates a very small net economic benefit - but, as the congressionally chartered National Research Council has concluded, the benefit comes from reducing the wages of America's poor and distributing it to the rest of society.
To see how minute the benefit to better-educated Americans is, look at the Labor Department's calculations, which show that giving farmworkers a 40 percent raise - which would, trust me, draw in new legal workers, as well as provide an incentive for farmers to increase mechanization - would cost the average American household an extra $8 a year. You wouldn't even notice the difference, though poor American workers sure would.
And even the tiny economic benefit created by immigration is swamped by the extra social service costs. The problem here is not one of laziness or scheming by immigrants - they're not coming here to rip us off. But they are essentially 19th century workers in a 21st century economy and cannot help but be poor and uninsured and thus place large burdens on government spending.
So, today's immigration system is beggaring the poor and burdening taxpayers to benefit certain corporations and those who employ servants. How can this be morally defensible, let alone good policy?
Wednesday, February 21, 2007
None dare call it amnesty
By Mark Krikorian
Our discussion of amnesty should begin at the beginning, and in the beginning was the word - "amnesty." You and other proponents of an amnesty for illegal aliens bristle at the term, and for good reason - the National Council of La Raza did focus groups in 2001 to prepare for Mexican President Vicente Fox's amnesty push and found that Americans didn't like the word at all. So amnesty supporters developed an array of euphemisms, including "legalization," "regularization," "normalization," "earned adjustment," "comprehensive reform," and "path to citizenship" - there must be others, but I can't keep track.
One of Jimmy Carter's economic advisors found himself in a similar position, having been forbidden to use the word "recession" because it scared people; so, he called it a "banana" instead, as in "Between 1973 and 1975 we had the deepest banana that we had in 35 years." When the banana farmers complained, he changed it to "kumquat."
But whether President Bush and John McCain and Ted Kennedy want to call their proposal a banana or a kumquat, the substance is the same - regardless of the hoops they'd have to jump through, the illegal aliens would get to stay here legally, and that's an amnesty.
Now, maybe an amnesty is a good idea, in which case your side should make the case for it honestly, without obfuscation.
But, of course, it's not a good idea. In fact, it shouldn't even be a topic for discussion until after we regain control of our immigration system. We tried your approach in 1986, combining amnesty for illegal aliens with promises of a new commitment to enforcement in the future. Naturally, those enforcement promises were abandoned as soon as the illegals got their amnesty.
An old Russian saying tells us, "Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me."
Having been burned by this 1986 experience, congressional Republicans last year insisted on an "Enforcement First" approach, demanding that real enforcement measures be implemented, funded, and shown to be working before any discussion of amnesty for the illegals already here would go forward. As Thomas Sowell wrote: "It will take time to see how various new border control methods work out in practice and there is no reason to rush ahead to deal with people already illegally in this country before the facts are in on how well the borders have been secured."
You and President Bush and others have disagreed, claiming that immigration cannot be controlled without an amnesty and huge new guestworker programs. This is an assertion untethered to any evidence - in fact, other than beefing up our still-inadequate effort at the border itself, we've never seriously tried to enforce the immigration law, so how can you know it won't work?
On the contrary, the Center for Immigration studies has used the government's own statistics on churn in the illegal population to estimate that we could reduce the number of illegal aliens by about half in five years, mainly by using ordinary law-enforcement techniques to persuade more and more of them to give up and deport themselves. We have seen this work in certain short-lived instances where the government summoned the gumption to stand up to the elite interests that support open borders.
Applying that lesson consistently - "comprehensively"! - nationwide would test which of us is right: if the illegal population were to keep growing rapidly, despite a years-long, muscular, across-the-board effort at enforcement, then I would be open to considering amnesty for those already here and huge increases in future legal flows. But you know as well as I that the result would be quite different; a comprehensive enforcement strategy would shrink the illegal population significantly. Even Homeland Security Secretary Chertoff admitted last week that stepped up border-enforcement efforts (launched by the White House to garner congressional votes for an amnesty later this year) are actually starting to work, deterring people from sneaking across the border.
Why wouldn't we keep that up, along with real worksite enforcement, better ID standards, full implementation of the check-in/check-out system at border crossings, better coordination among federal agencies and between the feds and state and local police - in other words, why not try a comprehensive enforcement strategy before declaring surrender and passing an amnesty?
Who can afford a war of attrition?
By Tamar Jacoby
Oh c'mon, Mark, surely even you know there are some limits to wishful thinking? Can't you see that your attrition strategy is a fantasy - and an ugly fantasy at that?
I don't mean to be glib about this. The 12 million illegal immigrants here in the U.S. pose a difficult moral challenge. I don't want to reward people who have broken the law. I don't want to encourage others to imitate them.
But the fact remains: these 12 million people live and work here - that's almost as many people as live in the state of Pennsylvania. Some are recently arrived and transient. But many have been here for a decade or more. They own homes and businesses. They're married to Americans. They've given birth to U.S.-born citizen children. Many no longer even think of the countries they come from as "home." And we aren't going to solve the problem of illegal immigration until we come up with some answer for them.
You say all we have to do is enforce the law, and half or more will disappear. But will they? Remember, many of them risked their lives to get here. They already live on the wrong side of the law. And most already put up with a kind of fear you and I can hardly imagine - fear that keeps them from visiting doctors and having meetings with their kids' teachers. Do you really think you can drive them out by "coordinating" our enforcement or, as you've written elsewhere, making it harder for them to get drivers' licenses and bank accounts?
Yes, of course we need to enforce the law in the workplace - there's no excuse for our negligence in that department. But we're not going to succeed in doing so until we bring the law more into line with reality - until we admit we need these workers and adjust our quotas accordingly. And in the meantime, if anything, rather than driving people out, your attrition strategy is only going to force them further underground - further into the arms of smugglers, document forgers and unscrupulous, exploitative employers.
The truth is, Mark - admit it - you have no solution for the 12 million. You pillory every other idea as "amnesty." But you're just pretending the problem will solve itself.
The real answer starts with recognizing that most of these people aren't going anywhere and that for our own sake - the national interest - we've got to figure out some way to bring them out the shadows. Most of them are going to live out the rest of their lives in this country: a vast underground America - people whose names we don't know, who have never undergone a background check and who by definition can't begin to assimilate. This is an unacceptable affront to the rule of law and an unthinkable security risk. It's also a shameful blot on our democratic values.
I'm happy to sit down with you or anyone else and talk about what price we want these millions to pay - what hoops exactly we need them to jump through in order to make up for the past. Yes, by all means, let's insist that they pay fees and fines, that they prove they're working, that they learn English, that they wait their turn in line. And I'd be open to other, more stringent requirements if the American people don't feel these conditions are tough enough. But the one thing we cannot do is go on pretending they don't live here - or that it's all right for them to spend the rest of their lives as they are, a permanent worker class living forever on the margins of our society.
Call it amnesty if you like. I think amnesty is something you get for free. And nobody who thinks seriously about immigration is suggesting these people get anything for free.
What about the employers - and what about the rest of us? Haven't we all encouraged this breaking of the law with the hypocritical charade we call our immigration policy? That's a fair question, and the answer is of course, we have. Not only that, but we've all profited, rich and poor alike, from the lower prices and the doubled economic growth and the vitality immigrants are bringing to America. What to do about that larger culpability? There's no good answer except to fix the law now. As is, our very way of life is based on millions of people, foreigners and the native born, breaking the law, day in, day out. Isn't it obvious - that's intolerable, and it's way past time that we changed it.
Workplace immigration raids
Thursday, February 21, 2007
Raids can't change economics
By Tamar Jacoby
Today, with our immigration system all out of whack - with virtually no way for the workers driving our economic growth to enter the country legally - there isn't much hope of getting control with workplace raids. After all, even the biggest raids, like the one today targeting a Nevada-based cleaning contractor, net no more than a few hundred illegal workers - out of the eight million currently employed in the U.S. And because of what's wrong with the system, busting a business on the wrong side of the law is like closing down a speakeasy during Prohibition: before the raid is over, another illicit operation will likely pop up not far away.
But once we reform the system - once there is a legal way for the workers we need to enter the country - workplace enforcement will be critical. After all, the only real way to prevent foreigners from entering the U.S. illegally is to make it impossible for them to find work once they get here.
We can't do that with enforcement alone. As Prohibition showed, it's very difficult to enforce unrealistic law - in this case, laws out of sync with our labor needs. But once the law is realistic - once our immigration quotas line up with the flow generated by supply and demand - we'll need to enforce it with all the means at our disposal, including vastly increased worksite enforcement.
This is the be all and end all - the secret - of immigration law. The way to get control on the border is to get control in the workplace - even if that workplace is thousands of miles away.
Getting control on the job is a two-part process - part good-cop, part bad-cop. A big part of the problem right now is that even employers who want to play by the rules - and I believe the majority of American employers, particularly companies with brand names, would rather be on the right side of the law - have no accurate way of knowing whether the workers who apply for jobs are legal or illegal. There's no reliable computerized system to verify the names or ID cards workers provide. And if the employer asks too many questions, he can be, and often is, sued. But once our quotas line up with our labor needs, we can and should expect more from businesses, and we'll owe it to them to provide the means: a national computerized employment verification system modeled on credit card verification.
Yes, this will be expensive to set up. Yes, every new worker hired, immigrant or native-born, will have to be verified - anything else would invite discrimination. And yes, this will mean we all need to show some kind of counterfeit-proof card - whether a new "hardened" Social Security card or a driver's license or a visa or something else - in order to get hired. But that's the choice we face: either a national work authorization system or continued, uncontrolled and uncontrollable illegal immigration. There's just no other way to get a grip.
And then there's the bad-cop part of the routine: raids and fines. Once we've given well-meaning employers a way to tell the difference between legal and illegal workers, we need to crack down, and crack down hard, on employers who persist in breaking the law. Today, with our nudge-nudge-wink-wink system, in some industries, virtually every employer does the best he can and then looks the other way - that's the norm. Once we change the law - once there's a system in place that allows an owner to grow his business legally - we'll need to change those norms. And the way to force a change will be with big, high-profile busts, followed up by hefty fines.
But the key to all this is the combination: first reforming the system, then the good-cop, bad-cop two-step. We need better immigration enforcement - tougher, smarter, less hypocritical enforcement, particularly in the workplace. But we shouldn't expect it to come to much unless it's part of a package that includes more realistic quotas.
There they go again
By Mark Krikorian
"The check is in the mail."
"I'll respect you in the morning."
"With 'realistic' immigration quotas, we'll start enforcing the law."
Tamar, I don't doubt your sincerity for a minute, but no one else believes that enforcement will start happening in the future once today's illegals are legalized and legal immigration quotas are increased. Nothing in the history of immigration policy - or indeed, of modern American government - points to such a result. In fact, unless the new law meets The Wall Street Journal's standards - that paper's editorial page has repeatedly called for a constitutional amendment reading "There shall be open borders" - it is as certain as anything can be in the study of human behavior that ten years after the passage of a Bush-Kennedy amnesty we will have nearly as many illegal aliens as we have now.
Immigration advocates are already calling the current modest efforts at enforcement a "reign of terror"; they're not going to be satisfied with an extra 500,000 immigrant visas a year. Whatever standards and limits you favor (and you've said that you don't support unlimited immigration), there will always be demands for higher numbers and looser standards. It's economic gibberish to claim that our economy has some sort of fixed "labor needs" that will be satisfied if only quotas are increased a little, or even a lot; the demand for immigration to the United States is, for all practical purposes, unlimited, and doubling immigration to 3 million a year, or quadrupling it to 6 million a year, will quickly stimulate large parallel flows of new illegal immigration. Then we'll be right back where we started, with you arguing for more "realistic" quotas and again promising to enforce them in the future.
Thus the logic of your position leads inevitably to open borders - or, as President Bush put it in 2004, allowing an unlimited number of workers, from any country in the world, to take any job, in any industry, anywhere in the United States, at any wage above the federal minimum. Not only is this the president's stated goal, but there's no real way to stop short of it, once we start down the path you suggest.
The spate of workplace enforcement that we've seen over the past few months is clearly a political gimmick by the White House to make amnesty more palatable, but it's also an implicit acknowledgement that no one believes the claims of immigration expansionists that they will support enforcement of new laws, if only we make them more "realistic" and "in line with our labor needs."
The positive aspect of the administration's enforcement show is that it's actually working. Homeland Security Secretary Chertoff has just said that the flow from Mexico is abating because of the new enforcement measures; what's more, preliminary census survey data suggest that the foreign-born population is growing more slowly and, as a result, wages for less-skilled workers have begun to go up. And we're actually seeing previously-ignored American workers being hired to replace illegal aliens in the wake of meatpacking raids in Colorado and chicken-plant raids in Georgia.
I define that as success - let's keep it up, and not crush the first flowers of stepped-up enforcement by legalizing lawbreakers and further flooding the low-skilled job market.
Politics of immigration
Friday, February 23
Giving the people what they don't want
By Mark Krikorian
Since we favor different outcomes in Congress, our prognostication should probably be taken with a grain of salt, but here's my take.
President Bush's "comprehensive" amnesty-guestworker extravaganza, that Sen. Kennedy may introduce as early as next week, is not going to become law this year. It may well be approved in some form by the Senate, though even that is not a sure thing.
But it will stumble again in the House of Representatives, just as it did last year, and for the same reason - the public hates it.
The Center for Immigration Studies' polls - and, frankly, common sense - show that the public overwhelmingly supports consistent enforcement to reduce the illegal population through self-deportation, rather than the Bush-McCain-Kennedy approach of letting the illegals stay and further increasing immigration. Unlike most polls, which presented respondents with the false choice of either massive forced deportation or legalization (and presented legalization in the most glowing terms), our polls (see here and here) offered all three choices: mass deportation (which is not on anyone's policy agenda, if for no other reason than we couldn't do it if we wanted to), the Senate approach of legalization and increased legal immigration, or the House approach of attrition through enforcement. The public supported attrition through enforcement two to one. And, lest you think the poll was designed to elicit that response, our questions never once used the accurate, but potentially provocative, terms "amnesty" or "illegal aliens."
And anyway, if the "comprehensive" approach - legalization, increased legal immigration, and promises of future enforcement - were so popular, how come no one ran on it in last November's congressional elections? Even those lawmakers who support an amnesty said little to nothing about it, focusing instead on their support for tougher border security. No evidence could demonstrate more clearly that the "comprehensive" approach is an elite-driven policy, which ordinary voters - Republican and Democrat - dislike.
Heck, even the Senate Republican sponsors of the bill are wary of the people's wrath. The word on Capitol Hill is that McCain has pulled his name off the new version of the bill (though he still supports it), while Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback said yesterday that he could not support the bill, even though he was an original co-sponsor of it last year!
But even if the amnesty bill is somehow approved by the full Senate, the House will be the stumbling block. Speaker Nancy Pelosi has repeatedly said that she understands her majority to be on probation - her sole job over the next two years is to ensure the re-election of a Democratic House in 2008. But if an amnesty is approved this year, every Republican candidate in 2008 will be able to run against the NANCY-PELOSI-LEFTWING-SAN-FRANCISCO-DEMOCRAT amnesty - even some of the new moderate Democrats who ran on pro-enforcement platforms will have to do that to get re-elected.
And they will get even more traction than polls might suggest, because it will be right around election season 2008 that all the stories will start hitting the newspapers and TV about the (initial) catastrophic results of the amnesty: bureaucratic meltdown (the immigration agency can't even handle its current workload); massive fraud; and the legalization of criminals, terrorists, and just ordinary liars - not to mention the surge of new illegal immigration across the border that will be sparked by news of the amnesty.
It is for this reason that Democratic amnesty supporters in the House are insisting that they will not proceed without lots of Republican support to provide political cover (the president's signature on the bill wouldn't provide much political cover, since he has little credibility left even with Republican voters, especially those most concerned about immigration). One Democratic amnesty supporter has said his party needs 50 to 60 Republican votes to provide cover, while Rep. Rahm Emanuel, architect of the Democratic victory in the House, is insisting they will not proceed unless they're assured of 85 to 90 Republican votes.
When you consider that only 17 Republicans voted against last year's attrition-through-enforcement bill, it's pretty clear that the Democratic leadership is intentionally setting an unattainably high threshold of Republican support to provide an excuse when their pro-amnesty constituency groups complain about the lack of movement on the amnesty.
In order to give something tangible to those groups (the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Service Employees International Union, the National Council of La Raza, the American Immigration Lawyers Association, et al.), I expect that the Democratic leadership will push smaller amnesty measures that are not as politically dangerous for them - bills such as the Dream Act (which would give amnesty to illegal aliens who'd graduated from U.S. high schools) or the AgJobs bill (an amnesty for illegal-alien farmworkers). These are still amnesties and, in my opinion, very ill-advised, but they're less likely to blow up in Nancy Pelosi's face. It wouldn't be too far off to view them as this Congress's equivalent of President Clinton's micro-initiatives like midnight basketball and school uniforms.
And if the amnesty fails to pass this year, it will become an issue in the presidential election, which is probably just as well, because this is a major issue that really needs to be the high-profile, featured issue in a national election to progress politically. In this respect, two things are possible: the Republicans may nominate an anti-amnesty candidate like Mitt Romney or, if they go with McCain or Giuliani (i.e., a candidate who has the same position as whoever the Democrats pick) there will almost certainly be a third party run, again making immigration an important part of the election debate.
Either way, this is a democracy, and if the people feel strongly enough about something for long enough, they'll get their way - despite opposition by a united front of Big Business, Big Labor, Big Media, Big Religion, and Big Academia. And what the people want from their government is simple: enforcement of the immigration law.
Mark Krikorian is executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a think tank that supports tighter controls on immigration.
Which side are you on?
By Tamar Jacoby
You say it won't happen, Mark - you say we'll never create a system that delivers the workers we need to keep the economy growing and restores the rule of law too. And I suppose there are always people like you - skeptics who say it can't be done. But the good news is the people who want to solve problems don't generally listen to you doubters. They just solve the problems: Christopher Columbus sailed in spite of the flat-earthers. And they're the ones who make history. The flat-earthers like you end up in the footnotes.
True enough, it's hard to imagine today - as I'm sure it was hard during Prohibition to imagine we'd ever get a grip on alcohol use. But what makes you so sure we won't enforce new, more realistic immigration law?
No, we haven't done a good job of enforcing the current immigration code, particularly not on our southern border. But we couldn't. As anyone who knows anything about the issue understands, our approach to the border has been a charade for decades - law formulated to please people like you who couldn't face the truth about how demography and geography and economics were driving immigrants into the U.S. From the beginning, the laws were unrealistic and all but unenforceable. The best analogy, better maybe even than Prohibition, is Victorian sexual morality: a code designed for appearance's sake, but always too constraining - too unrealistic - to make much real sense in most real people's lives. And in the case of U.S. border policy, the charade was even more pernicious. Official hypocrisy encouraged not only rampant illegality, but also the exploitation of foreign workers who, because of their unauthorized status, were virtually without rights.
Yes, this is a shameful history. But there's nothing intrinsic about immigration or about America that says we can't put it behind us. In fact, I'd argue, what we're seeing across the country today is a growing clamor to do just that: to end this history of hypocrisy and start anew, treating immigration with the candor and pragmatism we as nation apply to most other issues.
You call me naive; I ask you what planet you're living on? Do you really think the American public will soon forget its concern about border security or its outrage over the way the rule of law is increasingly flouted on the job and in their communities? Do you really think Washington - this president or Congress or a future White House - could ignore this growing clamor, even if it wanted to?
Maybe you do. You believe so many implausible things - that we can continue to grow the American economy without foreign workers, that we can convince six million of them to "self-deport." Perhaps, if you believe that, it's not a stretch to think that once we pass a new law, Americans will forget about border security and we won't bother to enforce the legislation.
You certainly couldn't be more wrong about public opinion on immigration. Poll after poll shows the American people desperately want the problem solved. They believe it can be solved. And they understand that any solution worthy of the name will have to provide an answer for the illegal immigrants already in the country. Not only that, but when asked explicitly to chose between your answer, enforcement only, and the answer backed by the president and passed by the Senate last year - a solution that combines more enforcement, both on the border and in the workplace, with more worker visas and a way for the 12 million illegal immigrants already here to come in out of the shadows - voters come down strongly for the broader package.
When the national exit poll conducted in November asked if illegal immigrants should be allowed to apply for legal status, 63 percent of voters said yes, while only 29 percent said no. More specifically, in March and April, when the immigration debate was raging most intensely, more than half a dozen surveys by major mainstream polling organizations - the Gallup Poll, Washington Post/ABC News, Time, NBC News/Wall Street Journal, CNN and the Republican National Committee, among others - found that between 60 and 75 percent of the public favored allowing the illegal immigrants already here to earn their way to citizenship as long as they meet certain "conditions" or "requirements" like working and paying taxes. And in the days just before the November midterms, when the Tarrance Group (full disclosure: they were working for the Manhattan Institute and the National Immigration Forum) asked if voters preferred Candidate A, in favor of enforcement only, or Candidate B, who backed a Senate-like three-part solution, 57 percent chose Candidate B, with only 37 percent for enforcement only.
Face it, Mark, you're in the minority, and a relatively small minority at that. I don't believe that even a full quarter of Americans share your virulently anti-immigrant views.
So, are we likely to get a bill passed this year? I believe we have a good chance.
Sure, it's a tall order in the run-up to a presidential election - perhaps the most contested presidential election of our era. Despite Democratic control of Congress, we'll still need a bipartisan majority in both chambers - maybe as many as 20 Republicans in the Senate and 40 in the House. And both parties will be tempted - sorely tempted - by the lure of partisan politics. What Democrat wouldn't like to see John McCain and Mitt Romney scratching each other's eyes out over immigration? What Republicans can't imagine the TV spots pillorying Democrats as the "amnesty party"? And yes, for every member trying to pass reform, there will be another fearing that a gutsy vote will cost them reelection - or worse yet, relishing the prospect that the legislative process will run off the tracks, setting up an election-year blame game.
But this doesn't mean there is no hope - precisely because the American public, fed up with the hypocritical immigration system, is so hungry to see the problem solved.
Employers who can't find enough workers. Latinos with friends or family living in the shadows. Ordinary soccer moms and dads increasingly angry that Washington can't solve the problems we face - can't in this case secure the border or end the corrosive illegality spreading from state to state. Together, these voters may just create such a furor that even the most calculating members of Congress have no choice but to come through with results.
It may sound like a long shot. It's easy to be cynical about Washington. But sometimes even politics as usual has to give way to that other kind of politics - the politics of what voters want. And I don't know about you, Mark, but speaking for myself, I'd rather be on the side of those, in Congress and elsewhere, stepping up to the plate to get something done.