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Immigration Reform: A Response from The National Immigration Forum

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My post below, referring to a Doug MacEachern editorial in the Arizona Republic, brought a lengthy response from Douglas G. Rivlin, Director of Communication for the National Immigration Forum based in Washington, D.C. Mr. Rivlin strongly advocates for passage of the Secure America Act, whose principal Senate sponsors are John McCain and Ted Kennedy. (If that gives you heartburn, bear in mind that other sponsors are Republicans Sam Brownback of Kansas and Lindsay Graham of South Carolina.) The text of the bill, S. 1033, is here.

As those who read my immigration posts know, I am a conservative Republican who takes a “middle route” approach to illegal immigration. We have to control the borders, but we also have to be smart about developing a solution; “deport them all and seal the borders” is simply not a serious response to this growing problem. The nativist solution will never work; neither will the free immigration espoused by many (and to which such big business-supporting organizations as the Wall Street Journal editorial page are quite sympathetic).

I don’t have a position on the Secure America Act yet, but it looks interesting. It likely will not pass in its current form, but we need something. The President needs to get involved in this issue, big-time. If he does, we might see a bill enacted.

What about the Immigration Forum? I was not familiar with the Forum prior to receiving Mr. Rivlin’s e-mail. Some Googling led me to the Forum’s Board of Directors, which is listed here. At first glance the Board appears to be a collection of individuals and organizations whom one would expect to support more open immigration. Here are the Board’s officers:

Lee Culpepper, Chair. Mr. Culpepper is the chief lobbyist of the National Restaurant Association, a trade association whose members presumably hire hundreds of thousands of recent immigrants, perhaps often illegals. This is an organization interested in preserving a steady supply of cheap labor willing to work as busboys, waiters, waitresses, cooks, and the like.

Cecilia Munoz, Vice-Chair; from National Council of La Raza, which describes itself on its web site as “the largest national constituency-based Hispanic organization and the leading voice in Washington, DC for the Hispanic community.” Ms. Munoz’ title is Vice President, Office of Research, Advocacy, and Legislation. She is also apparently the chief lobbyist of the organization. A list of La Raza press releases bearing Ms. Munoz’ name is here.

Thomas Snyder, Treasurer; from UNITE HERE International Union, which describes itself on its web site: “UNITE (formerly the Union of Needletrades, Textiles and Industrial Employees) and HERE (Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union) merged on July 8, 2004 forming UNITE HERE. The union represents more than 450,000 active members and more than 400,000 retirees throughout North America.”

Angela Sanbrano, Secretary; from CARECEN Los Angeles. CARECEN is the Central American Resource Center, whose web site describes the organization’s vision: “For the Los Angeles region to become a place where Central Americans and all other communities can live in peace, with dignity, and enjoy economic well-being, social justice, and political empowerment.”

I have to admit that the strong support for the Secure America Act by an association with such officers worries me just a little, but I will keep an open mind. The Act is at least a start, with credible bipartisan sponsorship.

With that background, here is Mr. Rivlin’s e-mail:

I’ve never blogged before, so I leave it up to you to determine whether this is appropriate comment for your blog. If you do decide to post, please use the following e-mail address: mailto:media@immigrationforum.orgas the source.

I strongly agree with the second question in the MacEachern op-ed, but feel the first question is dealt with squarely by the McCain/Kennedy legislation.

On the second: the American people have evolved beyond the “let ’em in vs. keep ’em out” debate that has dominated immigration for a decade or so. They aren’t as anti-immigration as anti-immigrant or fence sitting politicians like to think. Rather, they want a controlled, orderly, legal system where the government does its job of securing our borders. The American people, at this point, understand that a mass deportation program is unrealistic and that a slow attrition deportation program ignores the immediacy of the security and humanitarian crisis a thoroughly dysfunctional legal immigration system creates. [I think Mr. Rivlin is exactly right here. –Ed.]

They want a practical solution that can pass Congress and will work on the ground to regulate immigration. Because the Secure America Act (McCain/Kennedy) is bipartisan, it can pass. Because it recognizes the mistakes of 1986, it can work to establish long-term control and regulation of immigration.

In 1986, we gave amnesty and a direct path to a green card (permanent residency) to illegal immigrants of a certain class (been here for years, no criminal record, etc.). Then we instituted employer sanctions to enforce the new “zero tolerance” regime.

It didn’t work. We did not reorganize our legal immigration system to account for the fact that our economy was creating jobs for immigrants but that we had insufficient legal channels for immigrants to be employed legally. Tripling the size of the Border Patrol, quintupling its budget, and giving them all manner of technology to enforce the border has not decreased illegal entry (it has coincided with an increase). The demand for legal immigration by employers, families, and immigrants was unchanged, and the trend towards higher demand for legal immigration continued (unaffected by the 1986 reforms), while the supply of legal immigrant visas remained essentially unchanged.

Employer sanctions failed because there were two significant “outs” for employers: 1) they could call the Congressman or Senator to whom they had donated vast sums of money to call off the INS if their business or industry was targeted (there is the famous Vidalia, Georgia case, where big-money onion farmers called their senators and congressmen and stopped the INS in its tracks); and 2) they only needed plausible deniability to escape prosecution. In other words, if they used a labor contractor they were not actually employing the unauthorized worker. More commonly, they had to make a judgment that a piece of identification presented to fill out an I-9 work authorization was legitimate enough to be able to blame the immigrant if he/she was later determined to be unauthorized to work.

What has dominated the debate over the past decade or so have been policies to further restrict legal immigration, while pursuing a political strategy to stir animosity against the resulting illegalities. But after a decade of political gamesmanship, our immigration policies and reality have collided and reality is winning.

The Secure America Act improves on the failed Reagan-era policy in significant ways. It creates a fair but rigorous path for immigrants to come forward and register with authorities, gain temporary legal status if they qualify, and pay hefty fines, fees, back taxes, and pass other criteria, but are not given an advantage over those who have been waiting years and decades for a legal immigration visa. The deal has to be good enough for the immigrants to self-report, but fair enough to not alienate those who chose to play the unrealistic rules, and the Secure America Act gets this balance about right.

Secondly, it addresses the incentives created by an underfunded and unwieldy immigration bureaucracy that makes illegal immigration more attractive, and more lucrative for smugglers, document forgers, and unscrupulous employers. It will address the backlogs in our family immigration system and reorganize our employment visa system so that playing by the rules is more practical. Currently, a U.S. citizen mother waits typically four years for a visa for her minor child to join her legally. If the child is in Mexico, the wait is nine years; the Philippines, 13 years. With those kinds of disincentives to play by the rules, other market forces (smugglers, forgers) have stepped in to fill the breech.

Thirdly, the Secure America Act ties future legal immigration to the ebbs and flows of the economy, adjusting the annual caps accordingly. In other words, unlike 1986 which only dealt with immigrants already here, the Secure America Act would also account for immigrants coming in the future.

Fourthly, the Secure America Act creates an employment verification system that eliminates the plausible deniability of the employer sanctions in 1986. The new system provides for an electronic and instant verification system that will indicate that employees are employable. The new system will employ updated technology that will make the cards harder to counterfeit, and will eventually replace the paper-based system of green cards, Social Security cards, multiple immigration documents, birth certificates, and driver’s licenses, all of which are easily forgeable and readily available on the black market. For employers that still find themselves unable or unwilling to play by the rules, the Secure America Act not only makes them stand out in the crowd, it doubles the fines they will have to pay.

Fifthly, the Secure America Act beefs up border and interior enforcement. The Border Patrol, relieved of a good percentage of the illegal flow because there are now legal channels to accommodate it, can be more efficient in zeroing in on those who still need to sneak in because they cannot stand U.S. Government scrutiny. This reduces the flow across the ranches of Douglas, AZ, and increases the anti-terrorism/anti-drug/anti-smuggling capacity of our Border Patrol and other law enforcement resources.

Finally, the Secure America Act recognizes and addresses the costs associated with new immigrants settling in communities with already stretched budgets. It will not only require English language proficiency, but deploy the resources needed to make it a reality in communities, while also addressing added costs for health care and crime prevention/incarceration.

So, in my opinion, the Secure America Act is light-years beyond the short-sighted law of 1986 and while I don’t love every aspect (it is a compromise between two parties that don’t see eye to eye on this issue or much else), it stands the best chance of passage and effective implementation.

If you see a better alternative that really controls immigration and can garner bipartisan support, I’d love to know about it.

Douglas G. Rivlin
Director of Communication
National Immigration Forum
50 F Street, NW, #300
Washington, DC 20001 USA

Thanks again to Mr. Rivlin. Readers, your comments are welcome.

UPDATE: Mark in Mexico has some thoughts (and many links) about all this. He gets hit with the usual blinkered nativist comments from some of his readers, too.

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  • Sean

    Civil Society Helps ( helps perpetuate fraud against U.S. citizens. The courts in Minnesota are ill equipped and uninformed about the immigration fraud these kinds of groups promote. See this to learn about a common immigration fraud tactic.

    With false accusations from an immigrant residency seeker and the help of VAWA laws, a stable American citizen can be reduced to living in poverty. All of your assets can be seized and given to the immigrant residency seeker even if you are not found guilty. You will immediately be forced to surrender a portion of your income to the immigrant residency seeker. The courts will order you to turn your motor vehicle over to the immigrant residency seeker even if the car is in your name and the residency seeker does not have a drivers license. Your illegal immigrant spouse becomes legal and you become illegal. The court system will abuse you and strip you of your rights while social programs that promote immigration fraud thrive.