Tag: immigration reform

One Cheer for Obama’s New Immigration Policy

The new legalization non-deportation policy President Obama announced on Friday, which I’ll call “Executive DREAM,” is really interesting.  A half-measure not worthy of unadorned praise or condemnation, Executive DREAM creates mixed feelings in those of us who want liberalized immigration laws – because immigrants are generally a good thing for a country – but want to see actual, you know, law-making get us there.  Not executive initiatives, not prosecutorial discretion, not administrative-agency diktats, but honest-to-goodness passed-by-Congress-and-signed-by-the-President laws.

I thus join my colleague Alex Nowrasteh in calling this a ”temporary, tepid” immigration fix.   Alex notes that Executive DREAM, if its operation turns out to be similar to the proposed DREAM Act, “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.”

Now, while the result of this little Executive DREAM is good, the manner in which it was promulgated ensures that it will be a short-lived stopgap that prevents real reform and undermines the rule of law.  There’s no reason not to normalize the status of those who would have been eligible for legalization under the DREAM Act, but doing it by executive discretion after Congress had rejected the equivalent legislation shows contempt for a co-equal branch of government.  That President Obama announced it in the midst of an election campaign, after not having spent any political capital on immigration during the first three-and-a-half years of his term, only adds to the corrosive cynicism surrounding the issue.

Our immigration system needs comprehensive reform that will only be achieved with buy-in from both parties.  Executive DREAM feels good and is the least we can do for over a million law-abiding, productive young people, but makes the long-term goal that much harder to achieve.  Indeed, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) has already indicated that the president’s actions have essentially sucked the oxygen from his nascent attempts at reform.

Doug Mataconis has a similar take.  He concludes that “this action was made somewhat inevitable by Congress’s failure to act on immigration reform for at least the past six years. When there’s a power vacuum, someone will move in to occupy that space. Unfortunately, that’s what the President has done and, in the process, he’s done real damage to the Separation Of Powers.”

GOP the Loser in Primary Fight over Immigration

Over at National Review Online this morning, I ask how the Ronald Reagan of 1980 would have fared in today’s Iowa caucuses given his views on how to tackle illegal immigration (“GOP Candidates Betray the Spirit of Reagan on Immigration”). My conclusion, based on the current mood of many Republicans, is that Reagan would have been the target of a barrage of attack ads:

In April 1980, when Ronald Reagan was competing in the presidential primaries, he rejected the building of a wall between the United States and Mexico: “Rather than talking about putting up a fence, why don’t we work out some recognition of our mutual problems? Make it possible for them to come here legally with a work permit — and then while they’re working and earning here, they pay taxes here. And when they want to go back, they can go back. And open the border both ways by understanding their problems.”

If a Republican presidential candidate said such a thing today, he or she would suffer withering criticism for being soft on illegal immigration. Instead, we hear Reagan’s successors talk about implementing national ID cards, imposing intrusive regulations on the labor market, raiding farms, factories, and restaurants, and harassing small-business owners trying to survive in this tough economy, all in the name of chasing away hard-working immigrants.

The unhealthy competition among the current Republican candidates to sound tough on immigration also risks alienating millions of Hispanic voters who could otherwise be persuaded to support the party. If conservatives want to rediscover the more optimistic, inclusive, reform-minded spirit of Reagan, they should be talking about real immigration reform, not about spending more money and enacting more sweeping regulations to enforce a fundamentally flawed system.

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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!

Responding to Critics of Immigration Reform

President Obama is making his first visit to the U.S.-Mexican border today to deliver a speech in El Paso, Texas, on the need to reform America’s immigration laws. I’ll be eagerly awaiting the president’s plan, but in the meantime, the Cato Institute has released a new study this week that examines the major objections to comprehensive immigration reform.

Titled “Answering the Critics of Comprehensive Immigration Reform,” and authored by Cato adjunct scholar Stuart Anderson, the new study draws on the latest research to address five common objections to expanding opportunities for legal immigration. The issues addressed in the study include the effect of immigration reform on government spending, welfare use, culture and language, unemployment, and incentives for illegal immigration.

After carefully weighing all those concerns, the study concludes that the arguments continue to weigh heavily in favor of expanding legal immigration as the best way to reduce illegal immigration. Here is the study’s conclusion:

The status quo is not acceptable. There is no evidence that continuing—or expanding—the current “enforcement-only” policies on immigration will be successful. The best approach is to harness the power of the market to allow workers to fill jobs legally, rather than to rely on human smuggling operations for workers to enter the United States. Addressing the situation of those now in the country illegally will achieve both humanitarian and economic objectives, including raising the wages of those now working as illegal immigrants. The primary arguments employed against comprehensive immigration reform do not stand up to a review of recent history and predictable social and economic behavior.

Here is the short-form Cato blueprint for immigration reform, and here is the long-form version (PDF).

What Immigration Reform Would Look Like

Utah’s done it (great editorial in the WSJ):

Passed by the state’s GOP legislature and signed by Republican Governor Gary Herbert in March, Utah’s plan is notable because it’s the first in the country that would allow undocumented immigrants to get a permit and work legally, after paying a fine of up to $2500 and meeting other conditions. The program is part of a larger package that includes increased scrutiny of immigrants who break the law. The compromise allows the state to address the economy’s demand for workers—thus reducing the incentive for illegal immigration—while satisfying voters who don’t want to reward those who arrived illegally.

Of course, states can’t just announce their own guest-worker programs – the federal government has plenary power over immigration – so Utah may need a waiver from the feds.  Which might not be forthcoming, given politically tone-deaf and legally dangerous statements like this:

In a Senate Judiciary hearing on Wednesday, Attorney General Eric Holder said the law, which combines enforcement measures with a guest worker program, needs to be adjusted or face federal lawsuits. Pressed on whether the Administration planned to sue Utah, Mr. Holder said the Department of Justice “will look at the law, and if it is not changed to our satisfaction by 2013, we will take the necessary steps.”

“To our satisfaction?”  What does Holder think an eventual federal immigration solution would look like?  Here’s Cato’s proposal, but anything that gets through Congress will have to expand employment opportunities for both skilled and unskilled immigrants, normalize the status of current illegals, and otherwise refocus resources on criminals and terrorists.

But it’s not just the government that’s up in arms about Utah’s sensible legislation:

Like Arizona, Utah is already fending off lawsuits from the left. On Tuesday, the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Immigration Law Center sued to stop the portion of the law similar to the one in Arizona that enlists state and local police in the effort to identify illegal immigrants. In Utah’s version, anyone who is arrested for a felony or serious misdemeanor has to show proof of citizenship.

Good grief!  State officials do not violate the Supremacy Clause – or engage in unconstitutional racial profiling – when they enforce federal law, which is what Utah’s enforcement measures, like most of Arizona’s, do.  Critics naturally maintain that such enforcement decisions should be left to the feds but that only gets it half right: the federal government, particularly its executive branch, has discretion over how to prioritize enforcement priorities, but those discretionary decisions (which, after all, can change from one administration to another and even within one presidency) cannot preempt state law.  Only federal law can do that.

This not a question of policy; while I generally like Utah’s plan, I’ve written before that Arizona’s (very different) SB 1070 is constitutional but mostly bad policy.  The larger issue is states wanting to do something in the face of federal abdication.  Some of Utah’s laws – the “plan” is actually five separate laws, covering the spectrum of immigration issues from expanding legal immigration (HB469, HB466) to addressing those already here for economic reasons (HB116) to addressing serious criminals (HB116, HB497) – may well end up losing in court, but they at least get national attention and to try to push federal action (SJR12).

As Rep. John Dougall, Vice Chair for Appropriations (#2 on the state budget), has explained to me, a major goal Utah had was to shift the dialogue from “enforcement only” to something more comprehensive, especially expanding legal immigration.  A more controversial purpose was to plant the federalism flag, arguing that states share some of the jurisdiction over immigration.  For example, Dougall wrote in an email to me that I quote with his permission, “HB469 rests on the belief that citizens should have the right to freely associate with anyone in the world, who don’t pose a public safety threat to others, and those citizens should be able to sponsor those immigrants in UT. A belief that the state should defend a citizen’s right to freely associate from an overly expansive federal government.”

I’m not fully convinced that some of this isn’t preempted – by federal law, not by what attorneys general or secretaries of homeland security say or do – but the goal is laudable and the classical liberal first principles are unassailable.  The Utah model could work for other states looking to split the Gordian knot between the extremists on both sides whose “debate” generates into ”amnesty” versus “racism.”  Texas Republicans have introduced similar legislation and other states’ lawmakers are also apparently interested.

That’s all to the good: even if you can’t enjoy the “greatest snow on earth” during the summer, anyone interested in innovative immigration reform should book a flight to Salt Lake City.

Latest Immigration Reform Bulletin Examines Immigrant Crime Myth

The June issue of Cato’s monthly newsletter on immigration reform, just released, tackles the timely topic of “Immigrants and Crime: Perceptions vs. Reality.” The bulletin finds that, contrary to public perception, immigration has not caused higher crime rates, in Arizona or in the nation as a whole. In fact, one new study even suggests that a rising level of immigration in a city actually leads to lower crime rates.

According to bulletin editor and author Stuart Anderson, a Cato adjunct scholar, “National studies have reached the conclusion that foreign-born (both legal and illegal immigrants) are less likely to commit crimes than the native-born.” It’s an important fact to consider as other states look to copy Arizona’s tough new law against illegal immigration, which was in large part motivated by fears of crime.

The latest bulletin is the third in a series Cato plans to publish through 2010 and into 2011. The May issue analyzed the pluses and minuses of a Senate Democratic proposal to reform U.S. immigration law, and the April issue critiqued efforts to impose a national ID card and the E-Verify system.

You can sign up here to receive the bulletin each month by email.

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Ever Get the Feeling You’ve Been Cheated?

More than once I’ve come across reports in the immigration area that start from false premises. A good example is a report from the Smart Card Alliance titled “Securing Identity and Enabling Employment Verification: How Do Immigration Reform and Citizen Identification Align?”

In the second paragraph of the executive summary, the report states:  ”A robust system of identification and secure identification documents is a key requirement that needs to be addressed in the immigration reform debate.”

This premise is wrong. Reforming immigration law is what should be addressed in the immigration reform debate. Identity security, just like border control, will flow naturally from reforms to immigration law that create legal avenues for entry. There is no need to create a national ID.

You may disagree with my thinking on that, but can you present objective proof that I’m wrong? Some repeatable experiment showing to a high degree of certainty that identity systems must be a part of immigration reform? I suspect you’ll agree fair-mindedly that the proposition is subject to debate.

But the next paragraph says “This document limits itself to providing factual information to allow the reader to make educated and informed decisions.” Balderdash.

The “privacy” section of the report—less than a page of it—deals mostly with security, not the tougher problem of designing a system that allows law-abiding citizens to control personal information, both within the card system and in its likely uses.

The Smart Card Alliance, for sponsoring this report, and readers of it should ask themselves a searching question.