Tag: immigration

Travel after the Fall of the Iron Curtain

In the sumer of 1992, I lived and studied in Prague. I was keen on seeing life in Eastern Europe after the end of Soviet domination.

It was invigorating to think that my local law professor headed over the Vltava River in the afternoons to work on the new constitution in the Prague Castle. It was fascinating to learn of the “lustration” process by which participants in Soviet-era wrongs were penalized but not ostracized. Out of habit, no Czechs ever talked on the subway. Americans did.

There were other reminders of the old order. My overnight train to Katowice, Poland, from which I planned a connection to Krakow, stopped in the middle of nowhere. In the pitch black night, the sound of border guards throwing open train compartments and making demands in a foreign tongue brought forth fearsome movie-memories of life under totalitarianism.

They pulled a young man from my compartment and took him off the train. I don’t remember if it was a Central or South American passport, but it was one that doesn’t afford its bearer the luxury of easy international travel that Americans enjoy.

I honestly don’t remember if he was allowed back on the train. I’m just glad that era is over.

‘Border Enforcement’ Bill Driven by Election-Year Politics

A $600-million bill to enhance border enforcement has hit a temporary snag in the Senate, but it is almost inevitable, with an election only a few months away, that Congress and the president will spend yet more money trying to enforce our unworkable immigration laws.

“Getting control of the border” is the buzz phrase of the day for politicians in both parties, from Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., to Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. Never mind that apprehensions are down sharply along our Southwest border with Mexico, mostly I suspect because of the lack of robust job creation in the unstimulated Obama economy.

Meanwhile, since the early 1990s, spending on border enforcement has increased more than 700 percent, and the number of agents along the border has increased five-fold, from 3,500 to more than 17.000. (See pages 3-4 of a January 2010 report from the Center for American Progress and the Immigration Policy Center.) Yet the population of illegal immigrants in America tripled during that period. If this were a federal education program, conservatives would rightly accuse the big spenders of merely throwing more money at a problem without result.

To pay for this politically driven expenditure, Congress plans to nearly double fees charged for H1-B and L visas used by foreign high-tech firms to staff their operations in the United States. The increased visa tax will fall especially hard on companies such as the Indian high-tech leaders Wipro, Infosys, and Tata.

This all has the ring of election-year populism. Congress pretends to move us closer to solving the problem of illegal immigrants entering from Latin America by raising barriers to skilled professionals coming to the United States from India and elsewhere to help us maintain our edge in competitive global technology markets.

Immigration Law Ruling Half-Right But Crucially Wrong

The ruling demonstrates the problems the federal government creates when it fails to either enforce or reform our immigration laws.  Judge Bolton’s hyper-technical decision – anybody who tells you this case was black-and-white isn’t a serious lawyer – got it half-right: She correctly upheld most of SB 1070 and correctly struck down two sections of SB 1070 (a small part of section 5 and all of section 6), but incorrectly struck down two other sections (2 and 3).

One of the latter, section 2 – requiring police to determine the immigration status of persons they stop, detain, or arrest if they have a reasonable suspicion that said persons are unlawfully in the United States – is the most controversial part of SB 1070 and also the most controversial part of the ruling.  Judge Bolton construed section 2 as conflicting with federal law because it burdens federal resources and impedes federal agency functions, but how can it do that when the resources and agency functions in question are already (supposed to be) devoted to immigration enforcement?  The government’s decision not to enforce its own laws can’t possibly preempt a state law that merely mirrors those laws – laws the federal the government is charged with enforcing.

SB 1070 is a valiant attempt to deal with the breakdown in the rule of law caused by so many people living in the legal shadows.  While it’s not the best public policy – because it diverts law enforcement resources, divides police from their communities, burdens lawful residents, and ultimately harms the economy – it’s a frustrated citizenry’s perfectly understandable response to government failure.  Probably the best thing to come out of this whole episode – which isn’t over by any stretch – is that it thrusts the debate over comprehensive immigration reform into the forefront of national political debates.  This is a tough and nuanced issue that will end up in the Supreme Court again and again if Congress neglects to act.

Immigration Law Enforcement and False Arrests

Cato hosted a forum the other day about immigration policy and the controversial Arizona law that will be going into effect on July 29.   Dan Griswold made the case for comprehensive immigration reform while I offered a critique of the Arizona law.  Mark Krikorian from the Center for Immigration Studies was invited to offer a contrary perspective, which is the type of event we like to host — where a civil exchange of views can take place. 

Mr. Krikorian is continuing the debate now on his blog.  Since his blog post takes a shot at my remarks, I’ll offer a rejoinder here.

By way of background, there are at least four problems with Arizona’s move to involve local police in immigration law enforcement.  First, crime victims will be more reluctant to call on the police about violent crimes because they will fear deportation.  Second, police resources are scarce.  Priorities must be set.  Why divert personnel who are trying to respond to (or investigating) violent crimes so that they can arrest, book, and process men and women who pose no danger to the community? The police chief in Phoenix, Jack Harris, among many others, says the Arizona law will make things worse, not better.  Third, the Arizona law criminalizes honest work.  It is now a crime for an “unauthorized alien” to pick fruit in a field, wash cars, or clean homes or offices.  The worry used to be that people were crossing the border to take advantage of welfare benefits.  Now policymakers are making work a crime!  My fourth point was that involving local police in immigration enforcement will lead to scores of false arrests and that Hispanic Americans and Hispanic legal residents will be the ones enduring these false arrests. 

The first thing to note about Mr. Krikorian’s post is that he did not respond to any of those points. What he does say is that I showed a video clip of an obnoxious and boorish guy who refused to answer questions from the police.  He says that I believe the guy is a “hero” and that libertarians are “utopian” and favor “anarchism.” Hmmm. These are fanciful statements and I will leave it to fair-minded readers to judge the merits of those claims for themselves.  (To follow this exchange further, one should check out the film clip here, though I only showed about a 4 minute excerpt at the Cato forum due to our time constraints.)

In order to examine the scope of government power regarding detentions and questioning, one must necessarily find that line between a lawful detention and an illegal false arrest.  These encounters are very rarely captured on film so I thought the film clip might prove useful.  In a contest of manners, Mr. Krikorian may be right, that the activist in the car gets indignant very quickly as the police refuse to answer his question, “Am I being detained or am I free to leave?”  Let’s concede that right here.  On the law, however, the police are wrong.  And that was my point.

Let me explain.  This incident did not occur at a border crossing where passports must be shown.  This was not a traffic stop where license and registration must be presented by the driver.  This was some “checkpoint” where the police were trying to question all comers without a warrant, probable cause, or reasonable suspicion.  The police did their best to use a “show of authority” to pressure drivers to answer questions that they were under no legal obligation to answer. It was a false arrest. Was it a really awful false arrest?  No – it was a false arrest that lasted about ten minutes. 

One problem in this area is that 99 out of 100 people will cave in under the illegal pressure by the cops (“you are not free to go until you answer our questions”). Now I know that many are quite happy to answer the questions – that is their choice.  Others may get upset when they discover that their right to decline to answer questions was violated – but how many will go to the trouble of hiring a lawyer to bring a lawsuit to check this kind of government overreaching?  Virtually none, which means the law offers little practical protection for persons against false arrests, which means there might be quite a lot of them. 

Mr. Krikorian may believe that illegal immigration is so serious a problem that it requires more soldiers, more highway checkpoints, stiffer employer sanctions, the criminalization of work, and more ID checks for pedestrians inland, but it is just silly to say that those who disagree with him are “utopian.”

Uncle Sam Kicks Out Legal Immigrants for Down Profits in Recession

And now another story about the inanities of our immigration non-system.  Two Britons, Dean and Laura Franks, have run a restaurant in Maine for nearly ten years.  Fine, upstanding people who contribute to the economy and whose business is apparently much beloved in their town.

The problem is that the economic downturn decreased the restaurant’s profits, to a level where the “investment” they’re making in the country is too “marginal” to warrant renewal of their E-2 visa (one of the few immigration statuses I have not had).  Yes, that’s right, the business is making a profit, employing people, creating wealth, nobody’s a drag on the welfare state or law enforcement, but… not enough.  The feds say shut it down.

Unbelievable. At least the Franks can continue their fight to stay in their adopted country from a place more welcoming of productive members of society who happen to be foreigners:   Canada.

Feds Challenge Arizona Immigration Law

Yesterday, the Obama administration filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Arizona’s recently enacted law that is designed to curb illegal immigration. The Arizona law has not yet taken effect – that will occur on July 29.  To generate more discussion and debate, Cato will be hosting a policy forum on the legal challenge and related issues on July 21.  If the weather in DC continues to cooperate, it will feel like we are actually in Arizona.

Go here for Cato work related to immigration policy.

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.