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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