Tag: amnesty

Supreme Court: Immigration Reform Needs to Come from Congress

Everyone will find something to quibble with in today’s highly technical ruling in Arizona v. United States, which is not an indication of some baby-splitting grand compromise but rather that this is a really complex area of law.  The Court, in an opinion by Justice Kennedy and joined by four other justices including Chief Justice Roberts, upheld (at least against facial challenge) Section 2(B) of Arizona’s SB 1070, which requires law enforcement officers to inquire into the immigration status of those they’ve lawfully detained if they have reasonable suspicion that the person is in the country illegally.  The Court found, however, that federal law trumped (“preempted”) three other provisions: Section 3, which makes it a state crime to violate federal alien registration laws (because Congress so comprehensively “occupied the field” of alien registration); Section 5(C), which makes it a state crime for an illegal immigrant to “knowingly apply for work, solicit work in a public place or perform work as an employee or independent contractor” (because it conflicts with the method of enforcement chosen by Congress – regulating employers rather than employees); and Section 6, which allows law enforcement officers to arrest someone they have probable cause to believe has committed a deportable offense (because questions of removability are entrusted to federal discretion).  Justices Scalia and Thomas wrote partial dissents to say they would’ve upheld the entire law.  Justice Alito also wrote separately to say he would’ve only found Section 3 preempted.

My own view most closely aligns with Judge Alito’s—I would uphold three of the four provisions, though for me 5(C) is the problematic one—but more important than the legal weeds are the two policy guides the Supreme Court has given:

  1. The federal government has significant, near-exclusive powers to regulate immigration and even state laws that merely “mirror” federal immigration laws are on shaky legal ground;*
  2. Although federal lawmaking trumps state lawmaking, federal policymaking does not.  Prosecutorial discretion, resource allocation decisions, and other policy processes do not preempt duly enacted state law.

In short, immigration policy by either state action or executive whim won’t cut it. The federal government—Congress and the president, working out that grand compromise—needs to fix our broken immigration system.

* Note that most of SB 1070 has been in effect since July 2010.  The federal government only challenged six of its provisions, and two (regarding transporting/harboring illegal aliens) were upheld by the district court, without further appeal by the government.  In other words, state laws dealing purely with state prerogatives (such as crime or business regulation) are on much firmer legal ground.

Obama Administration Adopts De Facto Dream Act

Two senior Obama administration officials told the Associated Press that the administration will enforce many of the major portions of the Dream Act using the president’s administrative discretion to defer deportation actions.  According to a memo released by the Department of Homeland Security this morning, the plan would apply to unauthorized immigrants who:

  • Came to the United States under the age of 16.
  • Have continuously resided in the United States for a least five years preceding the date of the memorandum and are present in the United States on the date of the memorandum.
  • Are currently in school, have graduated from high school, have obtained a general education development certificate, or are an honorably discharged veteran of the Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the United States.
  • Have not been convicted of a felony offense, a significant misdemeanor offense, multiple misdemeanor offenses, or otherwise poses a threat to national security or public safety.
  • Are not above the age of 30.

If the above plan is implemented fully, between 800,000 and 2.1 million unauthorized immigrants could be legalized for up to two years.  By being legalized they will become more productive, earn higher wages, and more fully assimilate into American society.  But this is only a temporary fix.

Temporary work permits can be issued to unauthorized immigrants who have their deportations deferred but in this situation they would only last 2 years.  It’s a routine administrative procedure that already occurs for unauthorized immigrants who have their deportations deferred.  This is one situation where the complexity of our immigration rules and regulations works to the advantage of immigrants and Americans.

A permanent version of this action in the form of the admittedly imperfect Dream Act would need to be passed to reap the full rewards.

The benefits from passing the Dream Act are enormous.  Evidence from the 1986 amnesty showed that the legalized immigrants experienced a 15.1 percent increase in their earnings by 1992, with roughly 6 to 13 percentage points due to the legalization.

In the Winter 2012 issue of The Cato Journal, Raul Hinojosa-Ojeda estimated that an amnesty similar to 1986 would yield at least an added $1.5 trillion to GDP over a single decade.  If 2.1 million eligible unauthorized immigrants were permanently legalized, that would be at least $250 billion in additional production over the next decade (back of the envelope calculation).

However, before we get too thrilled about the prospects of this sorely needed temporary liberalization, we should remember that hardly anything changed the last time the Obama administration used its prosecutorial discretion to review deportation cases.  His administration promised to wade through backlogged cases and close those where the unauthorized immigrants had strong American family ties and no criminal records.  Since that policy went into effect in November 2011, DHS officials have reviewed more than 411,000 cases and less than 2 percent of them were closed.

If the administration’s proposal temporarily goes as far as the Dream Act would, it will shrink the informal economy, increase economic efficiency, and remove the fear and uncertainty of deportation from potentially millions of otherwise law-abiding people.  It would be a good first step toward reforming immigration and a glimpse at what the Dream Act would do.

Gov. Perry and Those DREAM Act Kids

Texas Gov. Rick Perry has been beaten up in recent GOP presidential primary debates over his signing of a bill in 2001 giving in-state tuition to illegal immigrant kids in Texas. Look for the issue to come up again at tonight’s debate in New Hampshire.

In a free society, so-called DREAM Act legislation would be unnecessary. Opportunities for legal immigration would be open wide enough that illegal immigration would decline dramatically. And higher education would be provided in a competitive market without state and federal subsidies. But that is not yet the world we live in.

On the federal level, the proposed Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act would offer permanent legal status to illegal immigrant children who graduate from high school and then complete at least two years of college or serve in the U.S. military. Legal status would allow them to qualify for in-state tuition in the states where they reside, and would eventually lead to citizenship.

Those who respond that such a law would amount to “amnesty” for illegal immigrants should keep a couple of points in mind.

First, kids eligible under the DREAM Act came to the United States when they were still minors, many of them at a very young age. They were only obeying their parents, something we should generally encourage young children to do.

Second, these kids are a low-risk, high-return bet for legalization. Because they came of age in the United States, they are almost all fluent in English and identify with America as their home (for many the only one they have ever known). “Assimilation” will not be an issue.

They also represent future workers and taxpayers. The definitive 1997 study on immigration by the National Research Council, The New Americans, determined that an immigrant with some college education represents a large fiscal gain for government at all levels. Over his or her lifetime, such an immigrant will pay $105,000 more in taxes than he or she consumes in government services, on average and expressed in net present value (see p. 334). In other words, legalizing an immigrant with post-secondary education is equivalent to paying off $105,000 in government debt.

According to estimates by the Immigration Policy Center, the DREAM Act as introduced in 2009 would offer immediate legalization to 114,000 young illegal immigrants who have already earned the equivalent of an associate’s degree. Another 612,000 who have already graduated from high school would be eligible for provisional status and would then have a strong incentive to further their education at the college level to gain permanent status. If all 726,000 of them studied at college and became legal permanent residents, it would be equivalent to retiring $76 billion of government debt.

In all, a potential 2.1 million kids could eventually be eligible for permanent legal residency under terms of the DREAM Act, representing a potential fiscal windfall to the government of more than $200 billion. Not to mention their potential contributions to our culture and economy.

E-Verify and Common Sense

This weekend, New York Times op-ed columnist Ross Douthat wrote a piece full of common sense thinking about immigration control and the E-Verify federal background check system.

“Common sense”—or “what most people think”—is an interesting thing: When generations of direct experience accumulate, common sense becomes one of the soundest guides to action. Think of common law, its source deep in history, molded in tiny increments over hundreds of years. Common law rules against fraud, theft, and violence strike a brilliant balance between harm avoidance and freedom.

When most people lack first-hand knowledge of a topic, though, common sense can go quite wrong. Such is the case with ”common sense” in the immigration area, which is not a product of experience but collective surmise. Douthat, who has the unenviable task of leaping from issue to issue weekly, indulges such surmise and gets it wrong.

Take, for example, the premise that American workers lose when immigration rates are high: “Amnesty,” says Douthat, would “be folly (and a political nonstarter) in this economic climate, which has left Americans without high school diplomas (who tend to lose out from low-skilled immigration) facing a 15 percent unemployment rate.”

On the whole, American workers do not lose out in the face of immigration. To the extent some do, it is penny-wise and pound foolish to retard our economy (in which displaced workers participate) and overall well-being (which affects displaced workers, too) in the name of protecting status quo jobs for a small number of native-borns.

Full immigration reform that includes generous opportunities for new low-skill workers is not folly, whatever its political prospects may be.

But I want to focus on Douthat’s conclusion that E-Verify is the way forward for immigration control. He cites a study finding that Arizona’s adoption of an E-Verify mandate caused the non-citizen Hispanic population of Arizona to fall by roughly 92,000 persons, or 17 percent, over the 2008–2009 period, and concludes:

[M]aybe — just maybe — America’s immigration rate isn’t determined by forces beyond any lawmaker’s control. Maybe public policy can make a difference after all. Maybe we could have an immigration system that looked as if it were designed on purpose, not embraced in a fit of absence of mind.

Though tentative, his implication is that a national E-Verify mandate is the solution. Everything that came before was the product of fevered impulses.  Maybe E-Verify is the most practical solution. Douthat’s calm tone sounds like common sense.

Ah, but neither Douhtat or the authors of the study have thought that problem all the way through (and the study doesn’t claim to): The decline in Arizona was not produced simply by moving illegal immigrants from Arizona back to Mexico and Central America. They went to Washington state and other places in the United States that are less inhospitable to immigrants. A national E-Verify mandate would offer no similar refuge, and the move to underground (or “informal”) employment would occur in larger proportion than it did in Arizona.

The report also cautions that the honeymoon in Arizona may not hold:

[T]he initial effects of the legislation are unlikely to persist if actors in the labor market learn that there are no consequences from violating these laws. Hence, for long-term effectiveness, policymakers should also consider the role of employer sanctions, which have not played a large role in Arizona’s results so far. However, policymakers must weigh the sought-after drop in unauthorized employment against the costs associated with shifting workers into informal employment.

That’s antiseptic language for: investigations of employers, raids on workers, heavy penalties on both, and growth in black markets and a criminal underground. “Balmy” is a way of describing the temperature potatoes pass through in a pressure cooker.

It’s hard, on analysis, to see Arizona’s experience being replicated or improved upon by an E-Verify mandate that’s national in scale without a great deal of discomfort and cost. I surveyed the demerits of electronic employment eligibility verification in “Franz Kafka’s Solution to Illegal Immigration.”

There is more not to love in the Douthat piece. Take a look at this shrug-o’-the-shoulders to the deep flaws in the concept of “internal enforcement” and E-Verify:

Arizona business interests called it unfair and draconian. (An employer’s business license is suspended for the first offense and revoked for the second.) Civil liberties groups argued that the E-Verify database’s error rate is unacceptably high, and that the law creates a presumptive bias against hiring Hispanics. If these arguments sound familiar, it’s because similar critiques are always leveled against any attempt to actually enforce America’s immigration laws. From the border to the workplace, immigration enforcement is invariably depicted as terribly harsh, hopelessly expensive and probably racist into the bargain.

We should disregard these problems because they’re familiar? With regard to E-Verify, they’re familiar because they are the natural consequence of dragooning the productive sector into enforcing maladjusted laws against free movement of people from a particular ethnic category to where their labor is most productive.

Problem-solving is welcome, and columnists like Ross Douthat have to at least point to a solution with regularity. But this effort, sounding in common sense, does not rise to the challenge. The solution is not even more enforcement of laws inimical to human freedom. The solution is reforming immigration laws to comport with … common sense!

DREAM Act a Low-Risk, High-Return Option

In a perfect world, we wouldn’t need to consider bills such as the DREAM Act, approved by the House last evening and on tap for a vote in the Senate as early as today.

The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act would offer legal status to students who came to the United States illegally before they turned 16 and have lived here for more than five years. To gain legal status they would need to complete high school, and then two years of college or military service. Once implemented the act would legalize about 65,000 students a year.

If our immigration policy was more in line with what I’ve been advocating for years, we would not have the large population of illegal immigrants that we do today because more legal alternatives would have been available. And access to in-state tuition would not be such a big deal if our education policies more closely reflected the sound arguments of my colleagues at Cato’s Center for Educational Freedom. Alas, that is not the world we live in yet.

The DREAM Act would improve a less-than-ideal situation by legalizing a population that is primed to live the American dream, and is virtually guaranteed to bestow real blessings on our economy and society.

Critics of the DREAM Act, such as Rep. Dana Rohrbacher (R-CA), paint these kids as nothing but expensive liabilities and the act as nothing but a backdoor amnesty. Both charges are false.

Young immigrants eligible for the DREAM Act are a low-risk, high-return addition to America. Because they came here at a young age, they almost all speak English fluently and are at home in American society. The fact that they have completed high school and will be attending college makes it likely they and their descendants will pay more in taxes than they consume in government services during their lifetimes. With the U.S. birthrate hovering at the replacement level, these assimilated, immigrant students at the beginning of their careers will help the United States maintain a healthy growth rate in our workforce.

It is wrong to label the DREAM ACT “amnesty.” These kids did nothing wrong. In fact, most of them simply obeyed their parents when the family immigrated to the United States. They should not be punished for the actions of their parents.

The DREAM Act, like most other immigration-related bills, has become charged with partisanship. House Democrats voted overwhelmingly in favor of the bill last evening, Republicans lopsidedly against. Democratic leaders in Congress are certainly open to the charge that they are using the bill to attract Hispanic voters even though the chances of it passing the Senate and becoming law are, at the moment, slim. But Republicans are open to the more serious charge that they are ignoring the more optimistic and inclusive vision of our country articulated by former President Ronald Reagan.

What Would Reagan Do on Immigration?

Former Reagan speechwriter Peter Robinson tries to answer that very good question in an op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal. It’s a question my conservative Republican friends should ask themselves as the party tries, once again, to turn public opposition to illegal immigration into political success at the polls.

Robinson correctly observes that Reagan would have had nothing to do with the anger and inflamed rhetoric that so often marks the immigration debate today. “Ronald Reagan was no kind of nativist,” he concludes, noting that Reagan was always reaching out to voters beyond the traditional Republican base, including the fast-growing Hispanic population.

It’s worth remembering that Reagan signed the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA), which opened the door to citizenship for nearly 3 million people who had been living in the country illegally. Robinson is confident Reagan would have supported the kind of comprehensive immigration reform championed by President George W. Bush and approved by the Senate in 2006.

For the record, I made similar observations and included a few of the same Reagan quotes in an op-ed I wrote soon after Reagan’s passing in June 2004

My only quibble with Robinson is his assertion that Reagan would have insisted that we successfully enforce the current immigration law first before contemplating any changes. It’s true that the 1986 IRCA contained new enforcement measures and launched an exponential rise in spending on border enforcement. But by all accounts the 1986 law failed to stem the inflow of illegal immigration.

My hunch is that President Reagan would not have simply favored spending more money on an approach that has so clearly failed to deliver. Although he embraced the conservative label, Reagan was always ready to challenge the status quo and change the law to further his vision of a free society and limited government.

I wish more of the Gipper’s admirers today shared his benevolent attitude toward immigration.