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Immigration

With immigration to the United States at near-record levels, it is particularly important that we find a way to assimilate the millions of newcomers to our nation. CEO has been involved in promoting assimilation policies since its founding. We believe it is important for all persons who live here to understand our history, respect our laws, and, most importantly, learn English so that they can fully integrate into the mainstream of society. We oppose government policies that discourage assimilation, including bilingual education and bilingual ballots. We conduct research on the economic, cultural, and social impact of immigration and on the assimilation of various groups into our society.

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.

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.

Rubio's Lifeline

Marco Rubio has thrown the GOP a lifeline; let's see whether his fellow party members are willing to grab it. The freshman U.S. senator from Florida has been a hard-line foe to illegal immigrants, both in his home state and since his election to Congress, but now he is considering drafting a new "DREAM Act," which would offer legal status to illegal immigrants who were brought to the United States as children.

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Amnesty for Illegal Immigrants Is Not Enough

Does it make sense to allow someone who has broken our immigration laws to be admitted to the practice of law? Most people would answer "no," but then not much makes sense when it comes to the morass of immigration policy these days. This is why the decision by the California Supreme Court this week to admit Sergio Garcia to the practice of law in the state should come as no surprise.

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Americans by Any Name

A new report from the Pew Hispanic Center says a lot about the assimilation of the nation's largest minority group -- both good and bad. Hispanics -- those 50 million people who trace their ancestry to a Spanish-speaking country -- have become both more numerous and more diverse in the past 40 years. In 1970, Hispanics were primarily U.S.-born Mexican-Americans and Puerto Ricans -- who are U.S. citizens, whether born in Puerto Rico or on the mainland. But the adult population of Hispanics today is almost equally divided between those who were born in the U.S., 48 percent, and those who are foreign-born, 52 percent.

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Saving the Elderly Safety Net

Here's a thought: If Medicare pays your medical bills, thank an immigrant for making it possible. For all the loose talk about how immigrants burden our social welfare system, it turns out that when it comes to Medicare, immigrants contribute far more to the system than they take out.

A new study by Harvard Medical School shows that between 2002 and 2009, immigrants (including those in the country illegally) contributed $115 billion more to the Medicare system than they received in benefits, while the American-born received $28 billion more than they contributed. If not for immigrants, Medicare would be in bigger trouble than it already is. And the same is true for Social Security, to which immigrants contribute a surplus of about $12 billion a year.

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New Deportation Rules a Cynical Move

The Obama administration this week announced new rules governing the deportation of illegal aliens. The administration's new policy, which has been in the development stage since the summer, aims to speed the deportation of convicted criminals and halt those of many illegal immigrants without criminal records.

The timing is purely political; attempting to again make illegal immigration a major factor in the upcoming presidential campaign will ultimately help Democrats, not Republicans.

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Conservatives and Citizenship

Jeb Bush's recent backtracking on the question of whether we should grant legal residency but withhold citizenship to the 11 million illegal immigrants living in the country today is far less Draconian than some advocates for legalization are claiming. It is an idea that has been floated by others who support legalization, including scholar Peter Skerry of Boston College.

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Arizona Bids Adios to Illegal Immigrant Basher

For the last several years, State Senator Russell Pearce has been the face of the anti-illegal immigrant movement in Arizona. But his district voted this week to recall him, ending a 10-year state legislative career that has been marked by ugly episodes.

It's about time.

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Strange Bedfellows for Conservatives

As conservatives debate what to do about immigration reform in the wake of the GOP's disastrous showing among Hispanic voters in the 2012 presidential election, they might consider that the groups they've allied themselves with to date are strange bedfellows.

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Rethinking the birthright battle

The relevant sentence reads: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.”

The question is whether someone born in the United States to parents who are here illegally is a U.S. citizen. And the text says that the answer is yes, unless that baby is not “subject to the jurisdiction” of the United States.

Now, what possible argument can there be that this baby, when he is born - and, of course, as he grows up - is not subject to the jurisdiction of the United States? Is there anything that the United States cannot do with regard to him that it can do with regard to any other baby? The answer is no. Bear in mind that we are talking about the legal status of the baby, not the legal status of his parents.

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Sound and Fury of Immigration Debate

"Enforcement first" has become the mantra of conservatives opposed to comprehensive immigration. However, what opponents refuse to recognize is that illegal immigration is under better control today than at any point in the last half century. Last year, net immigration from Mexico was zero -- as many immigrants (legal and illegal) left the United States as came here. The flow of illegal immigrants has plummeted in the last few years -- down to the lowest level since the 1970s. What's more, the Obama administration has deported more illegal immigrants than any previous administration since the Great Depression - including 450,000 last year.

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Drop in Illegal Immigration Opens Door for Real Reform

With unemployment rising and a U.S. debt-crisis looming, Americans haven't had much good news lately. But there is one bright spot on the policy front: Illegal immigration from Mexico has virtually stopped.

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Fewer Babies Born is Bad News for America

The old adage "be careful what you wish for" is an apt reminder in light of this week's news that the U.S. birthrate has dropped to its lowest level on record. For years, population hysterics have tried to convince Americans to aim not just for zero population growth in the U.S. but its complete reversal.

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The Case For Birthright Citizenship

Republican leaders in Congress are now flirting with changing portions of the 14th Amendment—which grants citizenship to "all persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof"—to deny citizenship to children born here to illegal immigrants.

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A Moral Question for the GOP

Many conservatives reject President Obama's recent policy to defer action against illegal immigrants who came to the United States as children. But as a conservative who supports the president's decision, I think it's important to seriously engage the arguments both for and against the policy.

First, let me explain what the Obama program does and does not do. It explicitly does not grant legal status to any group, even those who came illegally as infants or children. Those who are eligible for deferred action are given no path to permanent residency or to citizenship. They are not eligible for government assistance programs that bar other illegal immigrants.

What the federal program does do is to make a decision not to divert limited immigration enforcement resources by targeting for removal illegal immigrants who demonstrate they came here as children and have led exemplary lives ever since. Applicants must be 30 years old or under; have come here before the age of 16 and resided continuously for the previous five years; have completed high school or be in the process of earning a degree or served in the military; have no felony or serious misdemeanor convictions; and have paid taxes, if owed. Those who demonstrate their eligibility will be given temporary employment authorization. Recipients must renew their applications every two years.

So why do conservatives generally oppose the policy? First, they say, every nation has a sovereign right to control its borders and to decide who may become a citizen. Second, conservatives believe that the rule of law is one of the fundamental bases of democracy, and if people are allowed to flout the law without consequences, we encourage contempt for the rule of law. Third, conservatives object to the president having bypassed Congress by enacting a policy that they assert was twice rejected when it was proposed as legislation.

The first principle seems indisputable to me; of course, the U.S. should control its borders and has a right to decide whom to admit and to whom it will grant citizenship. Citizenship has always been restricted, although under increasingly inclusive eligibility -- and remains so today.

But for most of our history as a nation, we have not barred entry to the U.S. or restricted residency to anyone except those who posed a health, security or criminal risk. The first meaningful restrictions were aimed at the Chinese and later other Asians and Southern and Eastern Europeans. These laws were intended to keep out certain people on the basis of race, ethnicity, and religion -- a repugnant policy that would be inconceivable today.

The second principle -- the rule of law -- is sound as well. But sometimes in a democracy, the elected representatives enact bad laws, and the question is what to do about it. We could -- and in my view, we should -- enact changes to our current immigration laws that would make it easier for people to come here legally and, therefore, reduce illegal immigration by adults and children. Keeping laws on the books that we have no intention of enforcing also encourages disrespect for the rule of law. Yet no responsible conservative to date has argued that the solution is to round up and deport the 11 million people who reside here illegally. One might even argue that since we ignore violations of the law routinely, the principle of desuetude applies -- which says that laws unenforced for long periods are rendered invalid.

Finally, conservatives are simply wrong when they claim the president lacks authority to defer action against one class of illegal immigrants -- young people who came as children -- because it violates the intent of Congress. The Dream Act, which was at one time a bi-partisan effort, would have granted these young people legal status, and in most versions, a path to citizenship, which the president's deferred action does not. Moreover, the decision to initiate deportation proceedings has always been exercised by the executive branch, just as the decision of whom to prosecute falls to prosecutors, not those who write the laws.

But beyond these questions about conservatives' objections, a final one seems to me the most compelling. Conservatives often invoke the principle that no one should be held accountable for wrongdoing that occurred in the past and in which the person in question played no role. We oppose reparations for slavery on this basis, as we do most forms of affirmative action. So, too, should we oppose a punitive policy that forces nearly two million young people to choose between continuing living in the shadows, unable to work, or leaving the country they've come to know and love.