The good news coming out of the Republican Party’s Principles for Immigration Reform released this afternoon is that the prospects for passing immigration reform were not further degraded. At first glance, it looks like they provide a decent platform to move reform forward. There is even substantial agreement between the two parties on a few key issues. But principles don’t give details, and where they give indications they still leave us with questions.
Let’s take them in order.
Border Security and Interior Enforcement
The GOP principles say the border has to be secured first and declare “a zero tolerance policy for those who cross the border illegally or overstay their visas” after the reform. One has to wonder to what extent deportations will change in practice under a zero tolerance system. And securing the border first begs a few questions: Or what? Does all incremental legislation offered depend on first declaring the border secure? What percent secure do Republicans want, and what is reasonable in practice? A requirement that the border be 100% secure would be both impossible and insincere.
Pro-immigration reformers might be squeamish about including language that specifies a zero tolerance policy for future illegals, but as long as the end result of the process is many more visas – both green cards and temporary work visas – that alleviate the incredible demand for access to the United States, there is nothing inherently wrong about inflating enforcement measures. More visas means border enforcement will be much easier since fewer people will try to enter the country illegally.
The Republican principles also call for an entry-exit visa tracking system, which seems entirely reasonable. If Facebook can handle the amount of “checking in” that goes on everyday, the United States should be able to figure out where you entered the country and where you left.
At first glance, E-Verify seems like a no-brainer: Employers run potential employees’ Social Security numbers to verify that they are eligible to work. But many privacy advocates are wary of a system that gives the government control over the ability to hire. They look at the error rate of current E-Verify employment checks and forecast a few million people a year being caught in employment limbo for something that is not their fault.
Their fears are well intentioned but slightly overblown, or at least easily remedied. Even if the government gets a few E-Verify checks wrong, the simple presumption by the government that the employee is legal until proven illegal would allow employers to continue with the hiring process while the mistakes are remedied – which is how it works now with the voluntary system. E-Verify is okay as long as it continues to be monitored with a skeptical eye.
Tim Kane writes at Fox News:
“A curious case of generational timing can be observed in the fact that major changes to U.S. immigration policy occur once every two and half decades. It has been 27 years since the last generational shift, and other signs indicate that 2014 is likely to the “Year of Immigration Reform. Barack Obama in 2014, like Ronald Reagan in 1986, is in the sixth year of his presidency, likewise re-elected but wounded and looking for ways to cement his legacy.”
Hoover Research Fellow Lanhee Chen writes at Bloomberg:
“In my view, Republicans are therefore left with two alternatives: passing nothing at all, or embracing a complete set of reforms that addresses the legal status of those who came to the U.S. illegally. Between these two, Republicans should embrace comprehensive reform. It’s good policy and good politics.
“That entails a significant shift in direction. The Senate passed comprehensive immigration reform legislation last summer, and the bill has subsequently languished in the House, where its prospects are grim at best. Now, with President Obama’s approval ratings in the tank because of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s horrific rollout and congressional Democrats desperate for a win going into 2014, there is newfound interest in trying to jumpstart the stalled effort for immigration reform.”
Click here to read the rest.
Immigration reform, it seems, will be put off until next year, giving proponents the opportunity to regroup and retool their efforts at passing legislation. One major issue that pundits and lobbyists will spend more time on will be figuring out whom they can persuade among House Republicans, especially on the legalization and amnesty issues.
Despite the stalled legislation, broad support for immigration reform remains among many different groups, many of which are now focused on the House GOP. The AFL-CIO took out ads criticizing the House for not moving forward; a high-powered group of CEOs rallied to show support for some legislation to be passed; and a handful of conservative groups are pushing for the House to put forward its own version of reform.
Democrats and Republicans are keeping an eye on the 2014 elections in which immigration reform is expected to be a major factor, whether passed or not. Republicans, if assigned the blame for failing to pass any form of legislation, could face the wrath of voters.
Meanwhile, two new reports support proponents of legislation. Two economists, in an NBER Working Paper on the local labor market effect of immigrant workers, found that low-skilled Mexican-born immigrant workers in a region significantly soften the blow from a recession or low economic growth. Because they are mobile, immigrant workers move during poor economic times, freeing up opportunities and pushing up the wages of locals.
The Bipartisan Policy Center’s report showed the positive impact on growth, the budget, and housing prices that would occur were immigration reform put into place. The report also notes that, under almost any approach to immigration reform, changing our current system will benefit the economy.
In pursuit of good public policy, immigration reform needs to be based on fairness, enforcement of existing laws, increased legal immigration limits, an appropriate guest worker program, and clear paths to citizenship. It should not be the excuse for imposing a national identification and surveillance scheme on all Americans, mainly through what is called “E-Verify.”
Recognition of the beneficial aims in the immigration debate must not obscure that “E-Verify” constitutes what Hoover senior fellow John Cochrane calls the monster lurking in proposed immigration reform.” Reform must address immigration without deforming the rights of citizens and those who aspire to join them in a free society.
Since 95% of the U.S. labor force are American citizens and permanent residents, the focus on enforcement needs to be on the workplace and the 5% who might be “undocumented” (half of whom were admitted legally, hence “documented,” and overstayed their visas). A national ID and surveillance system meant to find an undocumented 2-3% should not be imposed on the 100%, almost all of whom are American citizens. That vast violation of rights also produces a monstrous waste of resources.
Yet national ID and surveillance systems are embedded in Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR) in both the Senate bill and House equivalent. Shorthand for the real monster is E-Verify as a mandatory electronic permission scheme. Under its rules, every American will be forced to ask the federal government for approval in order to work.
The bills actually creates three types of national identification systems, linked to international data sharing networks.
The first part requires American citizens to have their digital photographs in a Department of Homeland Security database. Capturing passport photos and state driver licenses pictures, the DHS database copy would have to match the ID photo on the original document, using an expensive facial recognition “photo tool” employers would likely have to buy. A second provision for immigrants and permanent residents requires additional biometrics, like a fingerprint, in the DHS database. These pictures and finger prints all have to be digitized for “interoperable” transmission to both national and international governmental and intelligence agencies.
Now that a deal has been reached on the debt ceiling, immigration reform could come back to the front of the legislative line. In an interview with Univision last week, President Obama said immigration reform would go back on the agenda. (White House press secretary Jay Carney later clarified that President Obama meant that he would continue the effort that has been under way for most of the year.)
The House GOP is split on taking up reform again. Representative Labrador (R-ID) indicated reform wouldn’t happen until next year. Much of the GOP is skeptical that there are any good-faith negotiations to be had after the debt ceiling fight. Senator Rubio (R-FL) blamed President Obama for creating an unfriendly negotiating environment. But some see Representative Cantor (R-VA) introducing the KIDS Act that would legalize so-called DREAMers; Democrats would then be hard-pressed not to pass the act or bring it to conference in the Senate. Either way, many identify the GOP as the group that can break the impasse.
The interest in immigration reform is still there. Representative Gutierrez (D-IL) urged the president to reach out to Speaker Boehner and thus set the stage for an agreement. In addition, hundreds of GOP supporters are expected in Washington, DC, at the end of the month to pressure members into passing some sort of immigration reform.
Research Fellow Lanhee Chen writes in his Bloomberg column:
“…there may be an opportunity for Republicans in particular to connect with Hispanic voters in California. Although we found a lack of economic confidence across the board, the poll results were especially pronounced among Hispanics. On paper, California Republicans have the right economic message to appeal to Hispanics, particularly those in parts of the state still suffering from unemployment rates as high as at the peak of the recession.
Unfortunately, continued inaction on immigration reform in Washington blocks Republicans’ ability to communicate on pocketbook issues. We know this because during last year’s presidential campaign, Republican nominee and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney had an economic message that should have appealed to Latinos, who faced significantly higher unemployment rates than whites during President Barack Obama’s first term in office.”
Click here to read more.
Although immigration reform is currently at the back of the line, there is still hope for reform. Worries about opposition groups putting heat on House Republicans during the August recess turned out to be misguided. Republicans faced much less pressure than expected, but instead of leveraging that lack of opposition into legislative movement, the House has allowed Syria and other issues to derail the previous momentum.
Luckily, the public hasn’t forgotten completely about immigration. Business leaders and advocacy groups noticing the congressional lull have begun reviving legislative interest among members of Congress. State congressmen have been contacting their national counterparts, urging them to move on with more bills in the House of Representatives.
Republicans aren’t the only ones being pressured to act. President Obama put a lot of political capital into passing reform; failing to pass such reform would reap disfavor from the Hispanic community and traditional liberal groups such as the AFL-CIO and would strike many as yet another failure to pass legislation he favored. Although not all voters may agree with his policies, the president’s inability to pass gun legislation in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre and his indecisiveness concerning Syria are doing nothing to change his image as one who “leads from behind.”
Now that the Syrian situation seems to be at a tentative stopping point, both the president and Congress have the incentive to return to immigration reform. House Republicans have been hearing much less anti-immigration feedback than they were expecting; they’re also hearing positive support for reform. President Obama thus has a vested interest in passing something (perhaps by October) so as to be able to point to one legislative success after months of turmoil; if the president isn’t able to pass immigration reform legislation, the states may take matters into their own hands.
We should know within the next three to four weeks whether reform will be shelved completely or brought back into the discussion. Renewed pressure from business leaders, advocacy groups, and constituents is making members of Congress reevaluate letting the chance for reform pass by. More attention in the media and across op-ed pages can revive the legislation and convince Congress that it is worth taking up immigration reform again.