Tag Archives: immigration

Immigration Enforcement

Originally published at care2.com on July 6, 2009

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services reported that more than 500 U.S. military servicemembers would take the Oath of Allegiance to become U.S. citizens this July 4th.  Some participated in ceremonies in Iraq, others at military bases in the United States.   These new citizen soldiers make up only a small portion of the hundreds of thousands of recent immigrants given citizenship every year, but they are an apt symbol of how important immigrants are to this country.  Last year, breaking previous records, more than a million immigrants became citizens.

Meanwhile, the administration of Barack Obama is taking action to increase policing of employers who hire illegal workers.  The administration reported that its investigations recently targeted more than 600 businesses.  In fact, the New York Times reported that 650 businesses were notified on just one day of pending audits, up from 503 audits for the entire last year of the Bush administration. The enhanced enforcement is part of President Obama’s policy of emphasizing border enforcement and employer compliance rather than stepping up action against individual illegal immigrant workers.

The President has also called on lawmakers to write immigration legislation that further increases border enforcement and legal immigration, but also creates a path towards legalization for many illegal residents.  Democratic Senator Charles Schumer of New York, who chairs a subcommittee on immigration, will likely take the Senate lead.  He may not have an easy task.

The issue has aroused passionate debate in support of and opposition to the estimated 12 million illegal residents already in the United States.  Commentators, such as CNN’s Lou Dobbs, fan the flames of anti-immigrant anger by focusing on criminal activity and threats from abroad as though every immigrant was a member of a gang or terror cell.  Criticism of illegal immigration is fierce, and most opponents strongly object to proposals to solve the problem through reform legislation containing any form of legalization (often described as “amnesty”). Besides seeing illegal residents as breaking the law, opposition to legalization focusess on the competition for jobs, burden on public resources, and crime and security concerns.

Reform advocates, while still seeking legalization of the vast majority of those already in the country, are concentrating on border enforcement and workplace compliance in an effort to meet some of the concerns raised by illegal immigration.  However, a CNN commentary by Ruben Navarrettepoints out that there are disagreements among those seeking comprehensive legislation.  For example, pro-business Republicans are seeking a guest worker program, but working against employer sanctions.   Pro-labor Democrats are against guest worker plans but support a path to citizenship.

Navarrette warns everyone in search of a solution to avoid going to the extremes:  For legalization supporters, that is advocating open borders; and for those opposed to a path to citizenship, that is racism and ethnic prejudice, he says.

President Obama’s enforcement program and the economic downturn may have a significant effect on lowering illegal entry into the United States.  It is not yet known whether this could also significantly lower the vast number of illegal residents in the United States.  It is logical that as the labor market for low-wage workers weakens, some workers might return to their home countries, at least if there are prospects for work or a lower cost-of-living to be found there.

But could this adequately resolve the illegal resident issue?

Even if illegal residency decreases, there will likely remain a demand for low-cost labor.  For U.S. manufacters, exports will be an important aspect leading the U.S. out of the recession.  They will need low-cost labor to trade competatively in the global marketplace.  One reason jobs were exported from the United States in recent years was because of higher labor costs.  Moreover, countries with abundant labor supplies such as China and India have higher economic growth rates and are poised to economically overtake Western nations during the 21st century.

Organizations such as the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) work in the opposite direction, calling for a “time-out” or decrease in the number of legal immigrants coming to the United States. Most anti-immigrant or anti-illegal immigrant positions come from the perspective of protecting the public – from crime, from cultural change, unfair employment competition, etc.  But the concerns of organizations like FAIR would be better resolved by demanding government support tocommunities heavily burdened by an influx of legal and illegal immigrants.  Support could take the form of free English classes, greater federal funds to public schools, hospitals and clinics, and additional law-enforcement.  Other nations, such as Canada, provide substantial governmental support to ease the assimilation and immigration transition.

If new legislation eased the burden of immigration on American communities, the focus on illegal immigration might be decreased.  Then we could turn to increasing the number of legal immigrants permited to work in the United States to match the needs of the U.S. labor market. This would offer a path to prosperity for the nation that would serve established as well as new Americans. 

Those doubting that the nation’s economic needs are sufficient to increase the number of legal residents should remember that, before the recent recession, unemployment rates in the United States were remarkably low, despite the fact that a substantial percentage of twleve million undocumented immigrants were generally participating in the labor market.  Their work, which could not have been done by others in such a tight pre-recession labor market, created wealth for the nation, although this wealth was not spread evenly through society.

Rather than debating whether to remove or legalize illegal residents, we should be welcoming more immigrants and working to make their assimilation and transition as positive as possible for our national community.  Let’s share the costs and benefits of expanded legal immigration, removing some of the reasons for its opposition.

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Immigration Solutions

By Marc Seltzer; originally published May 12, 2009, at care2.com

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Last month, after President Obama announced the beginning of a discussion on immigration reform, I wrote a blog discussing the fundamental political conflict at the heart of the matter:  Legalization for twelve million or so immigrants, whose status is currently illegal.

The two solutions offered by opposing sides are:  (1) strict enforcement of current law, leading to deportation of the illegal work force and those family members without legal residence; or (2) legal status and a path to citizenship with a fine for breaking the law.

The first option is not realistic because of the human costs, economic disruption and political beliefs of the majority of Americans and their representatives.  Those who see this as a black and white issue, where illegal means “no rights” are missing the historic context of a nation built on immigrants and hard work, not entitlement and status.  It’s not that illegal immigration is right, it’s that this solution is not right.  The nation may or may not be capable of policing its borders, but it is not capable of ten million deportations.

The second option is essentially the same “Amnesty” program that was implemented under President Ronald Reagan, with the addition of a potentially significant fine to punish and discourage the immigration law violations.

There has not been much discussion of the fine or potential restrictions of this type of legalization.  This may be where there is some room for compromise.  There is no reason that the fine could not be substantial, that the path toward citizenship could not be long, or that some immigrants could not be put in legal worker programs, where they would not be entitled to a path to citizenship without further application along with other non-resident applicants.

A stricter, more “punishing,” legalization program would serve to discourage illegal immigration in the future, especially if legal quotas for immigration kept up with the labor needs of U.S. employers and employers who broke the law were sanctioned.

If the second option (legalization) can be achieved politically, then the 12 million people who can take advantage of the program will come out from the shadows of the law and establish legal identities in the American system.  If this option cannot be achieved politically, the status quo may continue for another period.  This option has many negative consequences.   For the illegal residents, they suffer exploitation and lack of legal participation in the society in which they live.  Society loses their number in the census, in some tax collection and public allocation of resources.  Unfair competition with the legal workforce is also a problem.

So far, anti-legalization forces have not shown an interest in creative compromise.  It’s time they did so.  The failure to enact legal reform does not create a better real-world solution.  Helping to create an immigration program for the future that is realistic and firm is the best way to get the legal framework in line with an enforceable legal reality.

Immigration 2009

By Marc Seltzer; originally published on March 19, 2009 at care2.com

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No Easy Answers

The announcement that President Barack Obama will begin a public discussion of immigration reform in May will reawaken debate on a highly contentious issue.  At core, the issue pits those fiercely opposed to allowing illegal residents in the United States to convert their status to legal residency against those who, albeit with conditions, seek to legalize most of the U.S.’s estimated 12 million illegal residents.

Political Risks

If the President follows his campaign position in seeking a legislative solution that includes offering legal status to those in the country illegally, he will be investing his political capital in an extremely divisive issue at great political risk.

Prior to the 2008 election in which Democrats gained in both houses of congress, anti-illegal immigrant forces had the upper hand.  While Democratic gains make the congressional votes for reform more plausible, the economic crisis and growing unemployment will intensify concern that giving illegal residents the opportunity to obtain legal status will make already-difficult competition for jobs that much worse.

The President will have his hands full with this one and risks a political fight of an uglier, nastier and more divisive nature than even the financial turmoil has wrought.

Increasing Attention and Concern

The economic crisis and growing unemployment is likely to increase opposition to immigration generally and make compromise more difficult.  However, some commentators such as Thomas Friedman, in his NY Times column, have noted that allowing more legal immigration could bring wealthy immigrants eager to buy homes, shoring up the contracting real estate market.

Illegality is troubling, but what are the alternatives?

Illegal immigration presents the difficult combination of illegal entry into the United States, perceived competition for jobs, and use of public resources that is a too-bitter pill for many Americans.  Yet with nearly 12 million illegal immigrants residing in the United States, it is difficult to realistically imagine a solution that does not involve granting some form of legal status.

One approach would be to grant permission to work for a period of years, without giving traditional legal permanent residency, which begins a path towards citizenship.  However, advocates of a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, recognize that people who have effectively moved to the U.S., will likely be in financial and family jeopardy if they are forced to leave after having lived for five, ten or more years in the United States.  This type of compromise has not received significant support from immigration opponents, either, who chafe at the idea of rewarding those here illegally with any form of legitimate legal status.

Reagan’s Leadership, or a matter of time?

One thing is certain, poor management of the immigration issue in the past has set up a nearly impossible predicament in the present.  Congress could have largely managed the issue by raising legal immigration quotas sufficiently to keep up with the needs of employers during the 1990s and first decade of the new century.   Instead, the demand for labor far outstripped the legal supply and the debate shifted to unrealistic proposals of effective border enforcement on the one hand and mass deportation on the other.

In the end, Obama’s political skill and the Democratic congressional majorities may forge a “legalization” solution, much as Ronald Reagan did in 1986.  However, the opposition will be charged, and losing control of the issue could not only lead to defeat of immigration reform, but chip away at the President’s momentum and, so far, commanding authority.  While both sides in the debate should compromise and seek to offer creative solutions to the real problems that exist, within their principles, there will be those primarily looking to use the issue against Presidential authority and to position candidates for the 2010 congressional elections.

What to expect, at least initially

President Obama will likely push for a legalization process that aims to implement legal status after the recession eases and the unemployment rate declines.  Mr. Obama is opening the debate in May, and it would not be a surprise for legislation enacted in 2009 or 2010 to provide opportunities for legal status in 2010, 2011 or 2012, when employment is predicted to increase, if the recession ends.

Any proposal is likely to impose penalties and conditions as an attempt to deal with and discourage “unlawful” entry and residence.  More today than in the past, surveillance technology at the border and electronic identification procedures in the workplace make future enforcement of immigration laws possible, although by no means guaranteed.

UPDATE: In Immigration Solutions I push towards a compromise and ask both sides if they are willing to meet half way.  Whether it was because his hands were full with health care of because the prospect for immigration reform legislation was not good, President Obama has put off immigration legislation for at least a year.  In a later post I will review what is going on in enforcement and changes that result from the economic downturn with respect to illegal immigration.