Friday, November 25, 2011

The Politics of Immigration and Immigration Politics.

Americans have a prolific propensity to blame someone for their personal failures or national ills.  We love our heroes and we denigrate our goats.  And when our national economy struggles and staggers we can’t help but want to blame someone or something.  We blame the President, Congress, Wall Street, the Federal Reserve, consumers, businesses, and foreign nations.  And when it’s time to fire up the electoral base immigrants become public enemy number one.   Depending on circumstances, immigration can be a lightning rod issue and sometimes it can be a secondary issue; but it’s never far from the forefront, especially with the socially conservative Tea Party.
In the Fox News/Google September Republican Presidential Debate Texas Governor Perry defended his 2001 Texas Dream Act: "If you say that we should not educate children who have come into our state for no other reason than they have been brought there by no fault of their own, I don't think you have a heart.” 
Perry was immediately assailed by the other candidates and right wing commentators, pundits, and politicians for promoting amnesty and creating magnets for future illegal immigration.  The fact that Perry was addressing the notion that there are 11million undocumented immigrants in this country was lost in the noise.
During Tuesday’s Republican Presidential Debate, the topic of illegal immigration came up and it was telling how quickly the candidates went nativist.  Newt Gingrich swam against the tide: “If you’ve come here recently, you have no ties to this country, you ought to go home. Period. If you’ve been here 25 years and you got three kids and two grandkids, you’ve been paying taxes and obeying the law, you belong to a local church, I don’t think we’re going to separate you from your family, uproot you forcefully and kick you out.”
Unsurprisingly, the backlash against Newt was swift and widespread from the right.  Yes, only in the nativist Tea Party dominated Republican Party can a candidate’s plan to create 2nd class individuals be so heavily criticized.  Mind you, Newt isn’t talking about citizenship; he is talking about some sort of guest residency.  Makes you wonder if gay pro-labor atheists would be welcome in Newtfoundland?
Perhaps the most despicable display of opportunism comes from Mitt Romney.  In a Meet The Press interview in 2007, Romney told the late Tim Russert:  My own view is, consistent with what you saw in the Lowell Sun, that those people who had come here illegally and are in this country, the 12 million or so that are here illegally, should be able to sign up for permanent residency or citizenship, but they should not be given a special pathway, a special guarantee that all of them get to stay here for the rest of their lives merely by virtue of having come here illegally, and that, I think, is the great flaw in the final bill that came forward from the Senate.”
Romney, trying to prove his credentials to the Social Conservatives, has criticized Perry and Gingrich for creating magnets through amnesty or quasi-amnesty.  Romney stuck in the low 20’s in Republican polling is pandering to the SoCons and claiming “ (Illegal immigrants)should not be given a special pathway, a special guarantee that all of them get to stay here for the rest of their lives merely by virtue of having come here illegally."
Immigration pandering and politics further exemplified that ALL of these Republicans have moved so far to the right of the Bush and McCain positions in 2000 and 2008, that they are unwilling and unable to address the simple question:  “What do you do with the 11million undocumented people in this country?”  Everybody knows mass deportation is immoral, illogical, and impractical.  Besides, while no one on the right will admit it, the adverse impact to the U.S. economy could be devastating.  Perhaps debate moderator CNN’s Wolf Blitzer should have asked that difficult question?  We probably would have seen more dancing from these guys than Rikki Lake and JR Martinez.
Alas we have the elephant in the room.  Any hint of a path to citizenship will be called amnesty and that candidate will be crucified.
But we must be honest.  President Obama and many Democrats haven’t necessarily championed the cause of the 11million either.  Some like Illinois Congressman Luis Gutierrez have been very vocal on developing a pathway to citizenship that include several prerequisites such as learning English, biometrics, and no criminal record.  Instead, the DNC has remained mostly quiet while the Republicans shoot themselves in the foot and alienate the Latino community.  The DNC’s silence is politically motivated as they obviously feel they will capitalize on the Latino vote without disenfranchising some moderates who are still on the fence about 2012.  Just to show how the immigration debate has become a hot potato, here’s how the immigration debate has upset the apple cart of traditional ideological positions:
·         Republicans are pro-business and Democrats pro union
·         Undocumented workers keep costs down but depress wages
·         Republicans want security Democrats want civil liberties
·         Republicans are mono-color Democrats a rainbow
·         A traditional Republican would welcome immigrant labor to help businesses keep costs down
·         A traditional Democrat would push for middle class wages and oppose cheap labor
·         A new breed Republican wants to deport all undocumented workers
·         A new breed Democrat wants to pander the growing Latino minority as a voting bloc

The other half of the equation is the question of national security and safeguarding the border.  This is where the Republicans love to assail the President and Democrats in general for abdicating responsibility for defending the nation’s borders.  Whether it’s local leaders like Arizona’s Governor Jan Brewer, State Senators Steve Smith and Ron Gould, recently recalled State Senator and anti-immigration SB1070 champion Russell Pearce, Sheriffs Babeu and Arpaio or national leaders such as Arizona Senators McCain and Kyl , Texas Congressmen Gohmert and Barton, and presidential candidates Bachmann, Cain, and Santorum  conditions along the border are a matter of national security.  We have seen the ‘Build the Dang Fence’ ads from Babeu and McCain, claims of beheadings in the desert by Brewer, “Phoenix is kidnap capital of the world” by McCain and Kyl, and now a privately funded enterprise being championed by Smith to build a fence using prison labor that has raised $250k or enough for a ½ mile. 
Fact is none of it is true.  In a recent article in The Economist titled “Crying Wolf” border apprehensions are down to one fifth of the 2000 peak while the number of border patrol agents has doubled over the same period.  Has improved security slowed the number of immigrants trying to come across the border?  Probably.  But the real reason why we have fewer undocumented workers in this country today versus 2008 is the economy.  Because Mitt, amnesty isn’t a magnet, financial opportunity is. Is there a criminal element involving drug and human smuggling?  Absolutely, but that is about crime prevention, and the cartels have been greatly hampered by joint local/state/federal taskforces.  Recently, Republican candidates, namely Michele Bachmann, have switched fear factor tactics to warning us about Iranian and Hezbollah terror cells in Mexico.  Is border security an important issue?  Of course it is; but to think that a static fence or wall will stop terrorists from getting in as naïve and silly.  More red meat.
Next to abortion, immigration maybe the most polarizing topic in the country today and it’s a deep rooted issue as old as the country.  Starting with the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, this country has had periods of deep anti-immigration fervor often correlating to difficult and challenging economic times.  The great recession of 2007 – 2009 was no exception and in states like Arizona, the debate has moved from the streets to the state house to the court house where the anti-immigration forces blame immigrants, legal and otherwise, for the high unemployment, state expenses, crime, and other societal ills.  Blaming illegal immigrants is easy as they have way of really fighting back.  But do illegal immigrants cause more crime, higher unemployment, state services costs, and contribute to negative economic impacts?  That depends on who you chose to listen to as there are some extremely partisan reports out there.  I chose to look at two university papers: the exhaustive 2008 study by Judith Gans, manager of the Immigration Policy at the Udall Center for Studies in Public Policy at the University of Arizona and Arizona State University’s Morrison Institute’s analysis “Illegal immigration vs. Arizona’s fiscal crisis.”
The simple formula is revenues generated form taxes minus healthcare, law enforcement, and education costs.  The Gans paper goes much deeper into the analysis, methodology, and assumptions and is quite comprehensive.  And while it is based on 2004 data, this study shows that the presence of immigrants is a $1 Billion gain for the state and the presence of non-citizen immigrants is neutral or slightly positive.  The Morrison Institute piece states the economic impact is minimal.
Non-citizen immigrants do take low paying jobs form the less educated and they depress wages.  But they also keep employer costs down, and they make up a significant percentage of agricultural, construction, and service workers.  Doesn’t it make sense to find some method to bring these people into the fold and make them citizens?  Instead our state government focuses on further anti-immigration legislation even though immigrants (naturalized and non-citizen) are less likely to commit crimes compared to native citizens.

So what do I recommend we do? We shall establish a pathway for undocumented residents to achieve citizenship within 4 years.
a.      All citizens will have identification cards
b.      English comprehension will be mandatory
c.       Felony convictions will result in deportation
d.      Conservatives will cry ‘amnesty’ I say that the vast majority of the undocumented are established in the community and are good citizens why not give them a pathway.
e.      More individuals in the system means more people paying taxes
f.       Pass the DREAM Act

Good thing I’m not running for the Republican nomination.

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