Immigration

“We’re all very different people.  We’re not Watusi.  We’re not Spartans.  We’re Americans with a capital “A”.  You know what that means?  That means that our forefathers were kicked out of every decent country in the world.”  Bill Murray as “John Winger” in the movie Stripes.

President Obama’s speech last Thursday outlining an Executive Order regarding immigration raised a national hue and cry about the merits of his actions.  Some applauded it, some opposed it on Constitutional grounds and some opposed because, because, well I’m not quite sure why they opposed it, but they sure are vociferous about it.

I am not a Constitutional lawyer and so I will leave it to the experts (of which I’ve heard very few certified experts weigh in — and they seem to be split) as to the Constitutionality of his actions.  It seems from what I read that there is merit to his claim that it is within his power, as well as precedents by previous Republican and Democrat presidents, but I’ll keep an open mind about it as it plays out.  I’m more interested in trying to take the emotion out of it and trying to discern the facts surrounding the issue.

The Pew Research Center did significant research into the immigration issue and continues to do so.  Interestingly, they find that 75% of Americans surveyed believe that our immigration laws need “to be completely rebuilt” or have “major changes.” Only 21% said that the laws are fine or need only “minor changes.”  So it would seem that many United States citizens are looking for the laws to change. There is less agreement on what those changes should be, but still nearly 73% of those surveyed believe that there should be a way for undocumented immigrants to stay in the country legally.  There is far less agreement on the means to allow them to stay, ranging from permanent residency only to the belief that there should be a path to citizenship, even if it isn’t an easy one.

They also reveal that there is a misperception on current enforcement of the border.  In recent years, over 400,000 undocumented immigrants were deported.  Significantly higher than for most of the last twenty years.  Conversely, the number of illegal immigrants in the United States also increased over those twenty years — although it is down over the last six years.  In other words, there are lots of ways to look at the numbers, but one cannot argue that there is no, or lax, enforcement at the borders.  To be realistic about it,  there will never be (or almost certainly a nearly non-existent chance) a time where no one crosses the border illegally.  We should also note, that not all of those undocumented immigrants are crossing the border illegally.  There is a significant portion that came to the United States legally, but never left.  Many of those are in college or in jobs that contribute to the American economy.  Indeed, according to the Pew Research Center, Americans are nearly evenly split on whether the presence of undocumented immigrants helps or hinders our economy.  According to their survey, 49% believe their presence “strengthens” the economy and 41% believe that they are a “burden.”

Canards that undocumented immigrants are a pathway to terrorism, and even the spread of Ebola, are merely the hysterical statements of those desperate to get elected, or to find themselves in the news. There is no evidence of either taking place.

I am sympathetic to the argument that our country should not condone illegal activity and, some argue, short change those immigrants that play by the rules and wait years to legally enter the country as workers or permanent residents.  I also argue that it is unrealistic to believe that we are going to round-up and deport 11 million people and send them to, to, where exactly is it that we are going to send them? And how?  To say “back where they came from” is hardly realistic.  And realism is what we need. Deportation, as has been accurately reported, will also tear families apart, as some family members are legal residents and some are American citizens.  How do we deal with that reality?  Talk about an impact on our economy and the militarization of our nation — try rounding up 11 million people from across every state in the Union and transporting them outside of our borders.  Not to mention the impact on the stability of the rest of the world.

This is a knotty problem.  There are no easy solutions.  I keep coming back to the idea that our country is a nation of immigrants.  I daresay many of us would not be upstanding, law-abiding citizens in our nation today if one of our ancestors had not immigrated from somewhere else.  And recall that for much of our nation’s history, all you had to do was show up and find your own way.  So what do we do today?

As you know, the Senate already addressed the issue.  In June, 2013, nearly 16 months ago, by a vote of 68 to 32 a bipartisan bill passed.  (Let us just note that in the current political climate, the Senate usually cannot muster 68 votes in favor of sending flowers on Mother’s Day.)  The bill is not perfect, and reflecting its bipartisan flavor has something for everyone to dislike or like.  It’s key provisions involve a pathway to citizenship that takes about twelve years and involves some very specific actions to make up for their previously illegal status.  It also addresses increased border security, an expansion of high skill visas, a guest worker program and employment verification.  All of the things that those serious about reforming our immigration laws, from both sides of the aisle, want to see.

This is where I am critical of the opponents to any reform.  Speaker of the House John Boehner asked the president to “wait” and he will bring up the issue of immigration in the next Congress.  I am not sure why the president would think that Speaker Boehner would follow through on that statement (when specifically asked, Speaker Boehner would not promise to bring up the issue).  The House had nearly 16 months to act on a bill passed by the Senate and that the president said he would sign.  And nothing happened.  Nothing.  Not a hearing in committee.  Not a vote on the floor.  Not an alternative bill that addresses the issue and that could then go to negotiations.  Nothing.  There is no reason to believe that anything would be different in the coming Congress.  And by most Republican and Democratic polls, it would pass.  But since politics and not what is good for the nation seems to dominate everything in the House of Representatives these days, Speaker Boehner will not bring it up because he knows he would need Democrat’s votes to pass it and he will only bring up bills that will pass with only Republican’s votes.  I am not saying this hasn’t happened in the past or that Republicans are the only one’s to do this, but I am saying that in the past, both Republicans and Democrats brought important, but divisive within their own parties, bills to the floor that passed and the leadership did it because they thought it important to the country.

Those running around yelling “amnesty” should take another look at the Executive Order and at the Senate bill.  There is no amnesty as defined by the dictionary. (“A pardon extended by the government to a group or class of persons, usually for a political offense; the act of a sovereign power officially forgiving certain classes of persons who are subject to trial but have not yet been convicted.) Amnesty means that there will never be any action taken against the perpetrators of the forgiven offense. This is not what the president did, and it is not what the Senate bill does. However, for those that just like to shout slogans, I suppose it gives them something to shout about.

I am with the president in this respect.  If certain members of the House and Senate do not like what he has done, then pass a bill.  They can undo what he has done.  However, I do not think that no action is the way to go.  In all the hand wringing and ‘toing and froing” I have yet to hear a serious proposal from the loyal opposition as to how they would deal with the issue.  To coin a phrase, I suppose those opposed to any action on immigration advocate “don’t ask, don’t tell”.  By doing nothing, they are endorsing the status quo.  If only they would say so.  However, I guess they can get more political mileage out of complaining rather than doing something.

Others more knowledgeable than I will decide the Constitutionality of the president’s actions.  But I remind everyone that it will become a moot point if the House finally acts.

 

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And We Let These People Vote…

… but they don’t do it.  As you may have seen, it was widely reported that voter turnout for the election last week was the lowest since 1942, when the population may have been preoccupied by other matters. As tabulated by the United States Election Project , only 36.4% of the population eligible to do so voted. Within individual states there was a wide-ranging result.  Indiana had the worst voter turnout at 28% and Maine had the best at 59.3%.  While non-presidential election years are historically lower than when the presidency is up for election, such a low turnout is shameful.

There is much speculation as to why Americans do not vote and I cannot pretend to know why there is such low turnout.  Some speculate that the low turnout this year was the result of a voter “protest” — not voting so as to show displeasure with the candidates.  If this is the case, then I am not sure what impact those citizens thought that they were going to have.  Somebody is going to get elected whether or not everyone votes.  Non-voting only allows the respective base voters to dictate the results.  Anyone that did not vote (and allowing for the fact that there are some people who were truly unable to vote for circumstance beyond their control) has no right to complain about the course our country takes with its incoming crop of elected officials.  Not voting to protest the candidates is about as silly of a logic train as I can imagine in a democracy.  As the saying goes, elections have consequences, and not voting increases the likelihood that as a society, we are not going to like those consequences.

I also truly hope that in the next two years (until the next election) I do not hear any politician of any stripe saying “what the American people want” based on the outcome of this election cycle.  How can anyone possibly know what all of America wants (no one ever calls me to ask), especially when only about one-third of our fellow citizens participated.  The primary purpose of an election in this country is to allow the American people to indicate what they want.  I cannot believe that nearly two-thirds of the country simply does not care.

Some western nations — most famously Australia — have mandatory voting.  I do not advocate that as I am not sure that it would work in our society and I can think of some serious “cons” to the “pro” of getting everyone involved.  At least it would eliminate the need for the millions of dollars spent this year to get out the vote, money that could best be spent on other things, although I suppose it does help the economy, or at least the advertising industry and political consultants.  The biggest argument against it in my mind (besides our national aversion to mandatory anything having to do with government) is that it would lead to people voting for officials or ballot measures of which little to nothing is known by the voter. Although that happens enough as it is.

The irony of this low voter turnout was brought home to me on Tuesday with the celebration of Veteran’s Day.  Universally, people from all walks of life thanked our service men and women for their devotion to our country.  Many in their tributes mentioned the right to vote and how precious that right is to us.  A better tribute to our veterans than celebrity public service announcements would be for people to actually go out and vote.  The defense of that right comes at a high cost.  A visit to Arlington National Cemetery, especially Section 60 where many veterans of our current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are buried, is a stark reminder.  I have occasion to visit the National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland from time to time.  One only has to spend about five minutes in any part of the hospital to see the tragic results of sending our young men and women to war.  The results impact not only the lives of these young veterans, but also their families and friends.  All are easy to spot and none ask for our sympathy or for anything else.  I am amazed at their positive spirit and determination.

I often think of the young people I see there when I hear our elected leaders arguing for military involvement in this spot or another.  It becomes real when you visit Section 60 or the military hospital in Bethesda.  It would be good for all of our leaders to think beyond the political abstract and think in terms of real people being asked to sacrifice their future and their lives.  These young folks will answer the call to go in harm’s way, but to them such decisions are not abstractions or theories or political gamesmanship.  It is real.

And yet, we can only muster 36.4% of our eligible voters that manage to make it the polls.


Well Isn’t That Special

To few people’s surprise, the Republican Party won big in Tuesday’s election.  What was a surprise to most of the “3Ps” (politicians, pundits and personalities) is how easily they won and by such wide margins.  While the word “historic” is passed around, it isn’t quite as historic as it is made out to be, but significant none-the-less.

This is the third president in a row (Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barak Obama) that had the Congress flip completely during their tenure (going from full control of one own’s party to full control by the loyal opposition).  That to me is significant in a number of ways.

Perhaps foremost among them is the possibility that fewer and fewer people are voting “straight tickets” anymore.  That is, voting only for one party regardless of the issues.  To some degree I question my conclusion here, as there are some states, especially in the South and the Northeast that are increasingly deep red or blue states.  But there are also significant numbers of “purple” states that change from one party to the other based on the particulars of that election.  That gives me hope.  One would think that more and more Americans vote on the issues and finding the best people to lead our country rather than just voting ideologically.

Many analysts see Tuesday’s votes as a repudiation of President Obama and the Democrats.  I am not as sure about that as they are as I see a subtle difference.  While many Americans are disappointed in the president, and legitimately disagree with some of his decisions, I think the vote is more of a reflection of the general dissatisfaction that the electorate now holds, particularly with respect to the economy.  To me the vote was one based on the premise that the party previously in control — the Democrats symbolized by the president in the White House — is not getting the job done.  The results are based on a framework of “let’s give the other guys a chance to make it better.”  In other words, change for change’s sake as a means to shake things up and to see if something positive can result.  So yes, it was a vote against the president and Harry Reid and the rest, but that does not necessarily translate into a vote for Mitch McConnell, John Boehner and company.  As a nation we are willing to see what they can accomplish, but if they don’t move the ball forward they will be in trouble in 2016 as another backlash is likely to occur.  This time against the Republican controlled Congress.

Of course if they succeed they will be in a much stronger political position and the country should also be better off.  I am sure that there will be some serious behind the scenes discussions in the Republican caucus to get the disruptive Tea Party types — who are by their own statements unwilling to compromise on anything, an antithetical position to take in governing — to sit down.  If not to be quiet, at least to let the process move forward.

Ironically, one could argue that Presidents Clinton and Bush did some of their most productive work after their party lost control of Congress.  Perhaps the same will hold true with President Obama.  In my mind a divided government forces compromise or nothing is accomplished.  Fortunately President Clinton and President Bush did not have to deal with Tea Party conservatives or disruptive liberals. Not that there weren’t ideological differences that interrupted the workings of government from time to time (think Gingrich vs. Clinton and the government shutdown), but in the end they figured out how to make it work.

Both parties need to reassess the events of the last four years and learn that cooperation on common issues of concern is a far better way to govern.  Hopefully (and I am hopeful), both parties will avoid the easy lessons learned about why the vote went the way it went and look closer.  They must realize that the outcome is a reflection of a willingness to try anything to get rid of the status quo of gridlock and bitter partisan politics.

To the super conservatives that say this gives them a mandate, all I can say is, “well isn’t that special.”  To the moderate Republicans and Democrats that want to get things done, I say go for it.


A Big Storm’s A’Comin’

Or so they say in Maine.  And they did have a big storm this week that hit much of the East Coast. But that is not what I mean.

Tomorrow is Election Day and by all accounts it is very likely that the Republican Party will strengthen their majority in the House of Representatives and win a majority in the Senate.  Although the final result may not be known until much later (Louisiana and Georgia are very tight Senate races with multiple candidates and in those states at least a 50% majority is required), 2015 will likely dawn with the Republicans in control of Congress.

My hope for the country is that it is calm and smooth sailing for the next two years.  No storms.  That would require the Republicans in charge to actually govern and for the Democrats to work with the party in control to help them pass meaningful legislation.

My fear is that both Republicans and Democrats will take the “paybacks are hell” approach to governing.  The Republicans by passing legislation they know the President will veto (repeal of the Affordable Care Act, increased restrictions on immigration, and many other issues or worst of all, attempt to impeach him), while the Democrats in the Senate will use the same tactics currently used by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) and use the arcane rules of the Senate to block every Republican initiative.  In my view either approach (or worse, both) is bad for the country. We cannot afford two more years of partisan bickering with little to nothing getting accomplished.

There are too many problems facing our country that could be solved through genuine bipartisan cooperation such as rebuilding our infrastructure (jobs, jobs, jobs!), refining the tax code in a meaningful way, removing the sequester (which in 2015 kicks back in and there is universal agreement that it will put a big hole in government operations, especially for the Armed Forces, without a meaningful assessment of where funds need to be spent), genuine immigration reform, determining a coherent Middle East policy (our troops are in combat and the Congress went home without debating whether to put them in harm’s way), approving the Keystone Pipeline and other issues worth the time and huge amounts of money spent on getting elected to Congress.  If they want the job so badly, then they should do it.

Reality being what it is these days in Washington DC, there will inevitably be some bills passed by the Republican Congress that they know in advance the President will veto.  This is so they can use the issues for the 2016 Presidential race.  And for some of those issues, the Democrats will be happy to say that the President vetoed them in order to clearly draw the line between the positions of the two parties.  But let’s hope that these showmanship evolutions are kept to a minimum and the Congress decides to do its job.  They should keep in mind that the Congress, Democrats and Republicans alike, are at their lowest level of public approval in memory.  No one is happy with them, primarily because not much gets accomplished other than one or another “gotcha” activity.  Come the new Congress in January 2015, let’s just get on with it.

There will of course be wild cards.  One already making noise is Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who we will remember as the architect of the government shutdown last fall.  In the Washington Post today, Senator Cruz said the first order of business should be a series of hearings on President Obama, “looking at the abuse of power, the executive abuse, the regulatory abuse, the lawlessness that sadly has pervaded this administration.”  He further would not say that he will support Senator McConnell when/if he takes over as Senate Majority Leader.  Look for more Tea Party inspired insurrections in the House and Senate that will sorely test the leadership of Speaker Boehner and Leader McConnell. If they do not get support from their more moderate party members, coupled with middle of the road Democrats, then we are in for a long two years.

Let’s hope the current election cycle is the storm before the calm, rather than the other way around.