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Immigration & Assimilation

The Immigration Impasse

The Right’s division on immigration cuts across the usual lines: There are social conservatives, hawks, and economic conservatives in each camp. The division goes deep: It reflects differences about not only what policies the government should adopt but the moral convictions that should underlie them and the political strategies that should accompany them. One thing all of these camps share, however, is a lack of political realism.

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Truth and Consequences: The impact of repealing "Birthright Citizenship"

Welcoming Remarks:

  • Caroline Fredrickson, Executive Director, American Constitution Society for Law and Policy 

The panel will feature:

  • ModeratorAngela Maria Kelley, VP for Immigration Policy and Advocacy, Center for American Progress
  • Sam Fulwood III, Senior Fellow, Center for American Progress
  • Wade Henderson, President and CEO, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
  • Priscilla Huang, Associate Policy Director, Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum 
  • Margaret Stock, Adjunct Instructor, University of Alaska Anchorage

Boneheaded Birthright Citizenship Fight

Jen is right on both the substance and politics of a GOP move to revoke birthright citizenship from children born to illegal aliens. As I’ve written here and here , the 14th Amendment was carefully drawn and debated to exclude only two categories of persons: the children of diplomats and children born on Indian reservations that were deemed sovereign territories at the time.

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Answering the Critics of Comprehensive Immigration Reform

Argument #1: "Immigration reform will harm taxpayers." Response: Legalizing both the flow of workers and the workers already here will help taxpayers by raising the newly legalized workers' productivity, their earnings, and the likelihood that they will pay taxes in the formal economy.

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Eastman is wrong: the Constitution does guarantee birthright citizenship

John Eastman has taken me to task for what he calls my misreading of the language and history of the 14th Amendment in a recent op-ed I wrote for The Wall Street Journal. We’ve known each other for decades, and I consider Eastman a friend, but he’s simply wrong in thinking the children born to illegal immigrants in the United States are not entitled to birthright citizenship under the 14th Amendment.

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Born in the USA?: The historical and constitutional underpinnings of Birthright Citizenship

On March 31, 2011, the American Constitution Society and the Center for American Progress brought together leading thinkers to discuss current challenges to birthright citizenship and provide historical perspective to the debate about what the 14th Amendment guarantees.  

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Conservatives Debate Immigration Reform

A new debate has arisen among prominent conservatives over whether passing an immigration overhaul would be good or bad for Americans, with syndicated columnist George Will weighing in on the pro-reform side and talk-show host Laura Ingraham arguing against. This is a good thing. Until now, few prominent conservatives have been willing to venture into the pro-immigration reform camp, which meant that the arguments advanced in favor of reform tended to be dismissed by grassroots conservatives. Now maybe the actual arguments will get proper attention.

Three issues are central to the debate: border security, assimilation and the economic effects of immigration. Those on the right who oppose reform focus especially on the first two. But the facts don't bear out conservative hand wringing on either one.

The border has never been so secure. The flow of illegal immigration into this country is at a 40-year low, and deportation rates are higher than they have been at any time in our history. Conservatives can -- and should -- claim some credit for this. We now spend more on securing our borders than we do on all other federal law enforcement efforts combined. And whatever else President Obama has failed to do, he has deported more illegal immigrants than any president before him: 2 million since he took office.

Recently, in his column, Will made the case that conservatives may be underestimating the assimilative power of the American experience. In response, Ingraham argued that "20.8 percent of Americans don't speak English at home," noting that the percentage is up about 3 points since 2000. But her data don't actually make the case that present-day immigrants, mostly Hispanics, are assimilating at slower rates than previous groups, as she apparently believes.

Immigrants -- from Germans and Italians of earlier years to Chinese and Mexicans today -- have always chosen to speak their mother tongue at home in the first generation. German immigrants not only spoke German at home, but also supported German language education in public schools where large concentrations of German speakers lived. And early in our history, a vote in Congress to print the Congressional Record in both English and German narrowly failed. As late as 1980, more than three million Americans spoke either Italian or German at home.

Today, immigrants and their children make up 25 percent of the American population. It should be no surprise then that many of these families speak their native tongue at home, especially because so many of these families live in multi-generation households.

What really matters -- the true test of assimilation -- is what happens in the second and third generations. And here, Will is right. English is the primary language of second- and third-generation immigrants, including Hispanics. English is the language they use primarily or exclusively at work (93 percent, according to surveys by Pew Research), and it is the language for news and entertainment among Hispanics, increasingly even for immigrants.

As for the economic impact of immigration, Will has all of the facts on his side. Immigration provides a net positive increase to GDP -- no reputable economist disagrees; the question is only how large. Without immigrants and a growing population, our economy will stagnate, especially as the population ages.

Ingraham points to the economic boom of the 1980s and 1990s, ignoring the inconvenient truth that those decades were among the highest in illegal immigration, which peaked in the mid-'90s. Immigrants came by the millions during that period to take jobs Americans shunned in agriculture, meat processing and the service and hospitality industries. Those jobs still go wanting, despite high unemployment.

The majority of Republicans favor immigration reform, including a path to legalization for the more than 11 million illegal immigrants living here now. Conservatives need an open and honest debate on this important issue -- but until recently, very few conservatives have been willing to wade into the rough waters. As one who did so early and consistently, I welcome other conservatives to join the growing ranks of those of us making a conservative case for the importance of reforming our broken immigration system.

The best way to stop illegal immigration is to create a viable way for those who want to contribute to our economy and become American to do so legally.

The Constitutionality of Arizona SB 1070 and other state immigration laws

The Issue Brief also illuminates the question of to what extent SB 1070 and similar state laws permit racial profiling, and concludes that such profiling “is not merely incipient in the statute (and proposed copycats in Florida, Michigan, Rhode Island and South Carolina), it is expressly authorized.”

Click Here to Download the Issue Brief.

Killing Immigration Reform Is Tragedy for the GOP

Like Hamlet pacing the stage in angst-ridden doubt, Speaker John Boehner this week delivered the message that immigration reform is dead for 2014. It's not that he doesn't realize the issue is important. It's not that he doesn't believe our current immigration system is broken. It's just that he'd rather suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune than take arms to end the sea of troubles brewing in the GOP.

Boehner blames President Obama for his troubles. And he has a point -- up to a point. Republicans don't trust that the president will actually enforce a new law that includes stronger border security. Indeed, the president already has shown he's happy to ignore pesky provisions of laws with which he doesn't agree -- think not only his manipulation of Obamacare but also his decision to ignore federal drug statutes on marijuana, to name only two examples.

So why would Republicans believe the president will enforce border security? Never mind that this administration has deported more illegal immigrants than any administration in modern history: two million people. The AFL-CIO and other immigrant advocacy groups want the president to stop all future deportations until a new law is passed. Vice President Joe Biden has said the president won't accede to these demands, but his word isn't worth much in Republican circles.

But the bigger problem for Boehner and other Republicans who know that passing immigration reform is the right thing to do -- for the country -- is that they are afraid anti-immigrant groups with deep pockets will target them for defeat in their re-election bids.

This is a tragedy for the GOP. It speaks of a profound lack of true leadership -- and the decision endangers conservatism for future generations.

If the Republican Party becomes the party of nativists, it will die. If the GOP defines itself primarily by what it is against, it will lose Hispanics, but also young people, women, suburbanites and the business community.

Some argue that putting immigration reform on hold this year is the smart thing to do because the debate would become a distraction in an election that should focus on the disastrous failure of Obamacare. But that is true only if the tiny -- though influential -- group of anti-immigrant fanatics decide to make it so.

Right now these groups and individuals think they can blackmail the Republican leadership. "You put immigration reform on the legislative agenda this year, and we will pack your townhall meetings, bombard your congressional offices with phone calls and letters and emails, and maybe even field primary opponents against you," they threaten.

But what if GOP leaders started speaking with one voice and said, "No, we won't be blackmailed." Or course, it would take not only courage but also facts to take on the yahoos. They should start by acknowledging that securing our border requires more than fences, high-tech surveillance and deportations.

We could virtually end illegal immigration tomorrow if we adopted a guest worker program that allowed people to come here legally instead of sneaking across the border. In 1953, more than a million Mexicans crossed our border illegally. That is equivalent to almost two million in today's numbers given the smaller U.S. population at the time. With the passage of the Bracero Program, which permitted Mexicans to come as guest workers, the number of illegal border crossings dropped by more than 90 percent.

Republican leaders got it right two weeks ago when they adopted their policy statement on immigration reform. "The goal of any temporary worker program should be to address the economic needs of the country and to strengthen our national security by allowing for realistic, enforceable, usable, legal paths for entry into the United States," they said in the statement.

Boehner needs to get back up on stage and marshal his troops, not slink off in defeat before he's even tried.