Tag: comprehensive immigration reform

Don’t Confuse Immigration “Style” with “Substance”

Some are making a lot of hay over Senator Rubio’s (R-FL) supposed flip-flop on immigration reform whereby he now supports a House strategy of piecemeal bills as opposed to one large comprehensive package that he helped push through the Senate. Rubio has even stated that he opposed going to conference with his Senate immigration reform bill and any individual bill passed by the House. 

Rubio’s statement is not a flip-flop—it is a public acceptance of the way immigration reform will work in the House and not a repudiation of immigration reform. For a long time the word “comprehensive” has been a dirty word among Republicans and this is just a loud public statement by a pro-reform Senator—arguably the leader of immigration reform this year—moving against that word and the strategy it represents. Piecemeal bills were going to be the strategy in the House—as has been known for months. There is no surprise here.    

But his change is purely strategic, and not very substantive. As a spokesman for Senator Rubio stated:

The point is that at this time, the only approach that has a realistic chance of success is to focus on those aspects of reform on which there is consensus through a series of individual bills … Otherwise, this latest effort to make progress on immigration will meet the same fate as previous efforts: failure.

Immigrants Didn’t Take Your Job – The Byron York Edition

Byron York’s anti-immigration reform piece relies on at least three weak intellectual crutches:

  1. York assumes that immigration reform will import millions of immigrant workers for jobs that do not exist. In reality, immigration reform would allow more immigrant workers to come in response to job opportunities. Throughout American history, immigrants come when there are jobs for them and stop coming when there aren’t. Unemployment rates, economic growth rates, and employment growth in industries where immigrants tend to work are great predictors of immigrant flow. In the aftermath of the housing construction collapse and Great Recession, the number of unauthorized immigrants dropped, and the cross-border flow shrank to a level not seen in 40 years.  Unauthorized immigrants don’t come when there aren’t jobs they can fill, and neither do legal workers. York doesn’t explain why that relationship would suddenly change.
  2. York ignores demand – the other half of the supply and demand model. Assuming that immigrants are just workers ignores their impacts on the demand side. When immigrants buy goods, services, rent or buy property, or start firms here, demand is stimulated. Immigrants, like the rest of us, are more than just workers in a labor market. We also consume what is produced by that market. Excluding the worker from the U.S. through immigration restrictions would also exclude the consumer. According to a University of Georgia study, Hispanic and Asian Americans have $1.9 trillion in annual purchasing power. Those groups of new Americans, mostly added in recent decades due to increases in immigrant and subsequent births, are more than just workers. Future immigrants will be more than just workers too.   
  3. York relies on the lump of labor fallacy, implying that more immigrant workers somehow decrease the quantity of jobs available to American workers. Besides immigrants mainly coming when employment is available, stimulating employment creation once here, and creating firms– there are not a fixed number of jobs in the American economy. If there were a fixed number of jobs, then the large scale movement of women into the post-World War II labor force would have resulted in mass male unemployment. The opposite occurred.

The rest of Mr. York’s piece relies on anecdotes from a biased sample that refuses to deal with the arguments and evidence that support immigration reform.    

Arizona Immigration Decision Underlines Need for Fundamental Reform

The legal battle over SB 1070 is far from over, so neither side should cheer or despair. The upshot of the Ninth Circuit’s splintered and highly technical opinion is merely that the district court did not abuse its discretion in enjoining four provisions. The court could not and did not rule on the legislation’s ultimate constitutionality and, of course, SB 1070’s remaining provisions—the ten that weren’t challenged and the two on which Judge Bolton rejected the government’s argument—remain in effect.

But the legal machinations are only half the story. While I personally think that all or almost all of the Arizona law is constitutional, at least as written (abuses in application are always possible), it’s bad policy because it harms the state’s economy and misallocates law enforcement resources. But I also understand the frustration of many state governments, whose citizens are demanding relief from a broken immigration system that Congress has repeatedly failed to fix. Whether it’s stronger enforcement (Arizona) or liberalizing work permits (Utah), states should not be forced into the position of having to enact their own piecemeal immigration solutions while living within a system where the regulation of immigration is a federal responsibility. Congress has dropped the ball in not passing comprehensive immigration reform, despite facing a system that doesn’t work for anyone: not big business or small business, not rich Americans or poor ones, not skilled would-be immigrants or unskilled.

The federalism our Constitution establishes sometimes demands that the federal government act on certain issues. This is such a time and immigration is such an issue.

What’s Behind the Decline in Illegal Immigration? It’s the Economy, Stupid

A Pew Hispanic Center report released today confirms what has been widely known, that the number of illegal immigrants in the United States has dropped sharply since 2007. The real argument is over what’s behind the decline.

According to Pew’s Jeffrey Passel and D’Vera Cohn, the annual inflow of unauthorized immigrants dropped by two-thirds during 2007-09 compared to 2000-05. That plunge has contributed to an overall decline in the total number of illegal immigrants in the United States from a peak of 12 million in March 2007 to 11.1 million in March 2009. Pew calls this “the first significant reversal in the growth of this population over the past two decades.”

Advocates of more restrictive immigration policies have been quick to credit increased enforcement for the decline, but that thesis doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. While enforcement efforts have indeed been ramped up in the past couple of years, the change has not been dramatic. Resources devoted to border and interior enforcement have been increasing pretty steadily since the early 1990s.

It seems implausible that more recent, incremental increases would have such a visible effect when years of increased enforcement efforts before now so visibly failed. In fact, the same restrictionists who constantly complain that nothing has been done to enforce our immigration laws are among those now praising that supposedly non-existent enforcement for the drop in illegal immigrants. They can’t have it both ways.

The more obvious explanation is the steep economic recession that began to bite in 2008. The downturn has been especially brutal in the housing and construction industries where many illegal immigrants found employment during the previous boom. As evidence, the decline in the number of illegal immigrants has been steepest in those states, such as Nevada, California, and Florida, where the housing downturn has been the most severe.

When the economy revives, I predict the inflow and population of illegal immigrants will begin expanding again, too. This problem will not be solved until Congress and the president work together to enact comprehensive immigration reform that widens opportunities for legal immigration.

President Obama’s Incomplete Speech on Immigration

President Obama spoke this morning at American University on the need for comprehensive immigration reform. The president deserves credit for turning his attention to a thorny problem that desperately needs action from Congress, but the speech failed to hit at least one important note.

While the president called for comprehensive reform, he neglected to advocate the expansion of legal immigration in the future through a temporary or guest worker program for low-skilled immigrants. Even his own Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, has said such a program is the necessary “third leg” of immigration reform, the other two being legalization of undocumented workers already here and vigorous enforcement against those still operating outside the system.

As I’ve pointed out plenty of times, without accommodation for the ongoing labor needs of our country, any reform would repeat the failures of the past. In 1986, Congress passed the Immigration Reform and Control Act, which legalized 2.7 million workers already here illegally, while beefing up enforcement. But without a new visa program to allow more low-skilled workers to enter legally in future years, illegal immigration just began to climb again to where, two decades later, we are trying once again to solve the same problem.

On the plus side, President Obama reminded his audience of the important role immigrants play in our open and dynamic country. And he rightly linked immigration reform to securing our borders:

“[T]here are those who argue that we should not move forward with any other elements of reform until we have fully sealed our borders. But our borders are just too vast for us to be able to solve the problem only with fences and border patrols. It won’t work. Our borders will not be secure as long as our limited resources are devoted to not only stopping gangs and potential terrorists, but also the hundreds of thousands who attempt to cross each year simply to find work.

Unfortunately, given the political climate in Washington, an election looming only four months away, and the president’s unwillingness to press for an essential element of successful reform, the illegal immigration problem will still be on the agenda when a new Congress comes to town in 2011.

Arizona Republic Leads the Way on Immigration

In a gutsy display for a newspaper, the Arizona Republic in a front-page editorial yesterday castigated the state’s top politicians for a failure of leadership on immigration.

Prompting the editorial was the passage of Arizona’s tough new law making it a crime to be an illegal immigrant in the state. Under the banner headline, “STOP FAILING ARIZONA; START FIXING IMMIGRATION,” the state’s major newspaper fired with both barrels:

We need leaders.
The federal government is abdicating its duty on the border.
Arizona politicians are pandering to public fear.
The result is a state law that intimidates Latinos while doing nothing to curb illegal immigration.
This represents years of failure. Years of politicians taking the easy way and allowing the debate to descend into chaos.
The Arizona Republic has been calling for comprehensive immigration reform continuously since 2002. For a brief time, our congressional delegation led the nation on
this front. But no more.
Now, it seems our elected officials prefer to serve political expediency instead.

The editorial then named ten prominent political leaders from the state, Republicans and Democrats alike, who have either failed to champion real reform for fear of a political backlash, or who have stoked the backlash with inflammatory rhetoric.

2002 was also the year that the Cato Institute made the case for comprehensive immigration reform with my study, “Willing Workers: Fixing the Problem of Illegal Mexican Migration to the United States.” The study argued that enforcement alone will not solve the problem. Immigration law itself must be changed to accommodate the legitimate labor-force needs of a growing U.S. economy.

The Republic editorial put the argument succinctly:

Reform must create a legal pipeline for future workers that is demand-based and temporary. With a legal framework in place, there will be no reason to be in this country without permission. Foreigners who break our laws will be prosecuted, punished and deported.

Comprehensive reform will make the border safer. When migrant labor is channeled through the legal ports of entry, the Border Patrol can focus on catching drug smugglers and other criminals instead of chasing busboys across the desert.

Real leaders will have the courage to say that.

One real newspaper has shown them how.

To ‘Control the Border,’ First Reform Immigration Law

The latest catch phrase in the immigration debate is that we must “get control of our borders” before we consider actually changing the current immigration law that has made enforcement so difficult in the first place.

In his Washington Post column yesterday, George Will wrote that “the government’s refusal to control [the U.S.-Mexican] border is why there are an estimated 460,000 illegal immigrants in Arizona and why the nation, sensibly insisting on first things first, resists ‘comprehensive’ immigration reform.”

On the other side of the political spectrum, Democrats in Congress this week unveiled the outlines of an immigration bill that would postpone any broader reforms, such as a new worker visa program or legalization of workers already here, until a series of border security “benchmarks” have been met.

Requiring successful enforcement of the current immigration laws before they can be changed is a non sequitur. It’s like saying, in 1932, that we can’t repeal the nationwide prohibition on alcohol consumption until we’ve drastically reduced the number of moonshine stills and bootleggers. But Prohibition itself created the conditions for the rise of those underground enterprises, and the repeal of Prohibition was necessary before the government could “get control” of its unintended consequences.

Illegal immigration is the Prohibition debate of our day. By essentially barring the legal entry of low-skilled immigrant workers, our own government has created the conditions for an underground labor market, complete with smuggling and day-labor operations. As long as the government maintains this prohibition, illegal immigration will be widespread, and the cost of reducing it, in tax dollars and compromised civil liberties, will be enormous.

We know from experience that expanding opportunities for legal immigration can dramatically reduce incentives for illegal immigration. In the 1950s, the federal government faced widespread illegal immigration across the Mexican border. In response, the government simultaneously beefed up enforcement while greatly expanding the number of workers allowed in the country through the Bracero guest-worker program. The result: Apprehensions at the border dropped by 95 percent. (For documentation, see this excellent 2003 paper by Stuart Anderson, a Cato adjunct scholar and executive director of the National Foundation for American Policy.)

If we want to “get control” of our border with Mexico, the smartest thing we could do would be to allow more workers to enter the United States legally under the umbrella of comprehensive immigration reform. Then we could focus our enforcement resources on a much smaller number of people who for whatever reason are still operating outside the law.