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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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The Right GOP Response to Obama's Actions

Now that President Obama has acted to defer deportation for some four to five million illegal immigrants, all eyes will be on the Republican Party's response. How they handle the challenge may well shape the future of the party and the country.

Provocateurs will urge defiance. Retiring Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn even suggested, "You're going to see -- hopefully not -- but you could see instances of anarchy. You could see violence." More likely will be attempts to defund the president's order and legal challenges to his constitutional authority.

I would counsel a different reaction: Don't take the bait.

Sure, the president acted undemocratically -- that's nothing new with this man. He is contemptuous of the American people and Congress, ignoring even members within his own party.

But the fact is, he unwittingly may have done Republicans a favor by taking action to fashion relief for those illegal immigrants who've established deep roots and whose labor and economic contributions the country needs. Americans, by large majorities, favor the substance of what the president has done -- if not the process he chose -- according to polls on the subject in recent years.

Moreover, most Republicans, including most GOP members of Congress, have zero interest in deporting millions of otherwise law-abiding unauthorized immigrants. So why not let the president take the heat for having come up with an alternative to deportation?

Do Republicans really want to make the case for separating parents from their American-born children, especially young ones? Who benefits from preventing parents from working -- legally, and paying taxes -- so that they can care for their own families and help fund government services? Why would Republicans want to deny jobs to people who eagerly seek them in order to "protect" those jobs for workers who've demonstrated they won't take them?

Smart GOP lawmakers will give speeches decrying the president's usurpation of power but lay off the beneficiaries of the executive order. It doesn't advance Republicans' values to demonize parents of American citizens, who make up most of the people affected by the president's order.

The rule of law is important -- it is the foundational basis for our system of government. But not all laws are created equal. We have a broken system of immigration laws that desperately need fixing. And Republicans now have the choice -- and the numbers in Congress -- to fix them.

Republicans have long argued that border security is the main issue. Secure the border, and then address immigration reform, they say. But like it or not, the latter is the necessary first step to accomplish the former.

Since passage of the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, we have spent well in excess of $225 billion (in current dollars) enforcing our immigration laws, according to a report by former U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service Commissioner Doris Meissner. In 2012 alone, we spent more on enforcing our borders than on all other federal criminal law enforcement -- nearly a quarter more than we did on the FBI, ATF, DEA, Secret Service and U.S. Marshals Service combined!

And, guess what? It's worked -- or at least made a big dent in the problem. Illegal immigration has plummeted over the past several years and is now down to levels not seen since 1972. Republicans should take credit for helping stem the flow instead of pretending that we're experiencing an increase of illegal border crossers.

Our economy needs an expanding workforce. The retiring baby boomers alone will strain our ability to fill jobs much less pay for Social Security and Medicare in the years ahead. We should be welcoming young workers, not making it difficult to impossible for newcomers to gain access to jobs Americans can't or won't fill.

Republicans have an opportunity to fashion good legislative policy despite executive overreach. Is there no one among them brave enough to stand up and say let's draft meaningful reform and make our borders more secure by providing legal ways for workers to come here? The American people want that kind of leadership. They want action, not angry talk and threats.

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.

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.