Immigration & Assimilation
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- Written by Linda Chavez
Immigration was clearly the issue that galvanized many of Donald Trump's supporters. But if he is to try to unite the nation, he needs to think carefully about how to proceed. If he does it right, he could pleasantly surprise his critics, including me.
Trump has repeatedly said he will cancel President Barack Obama's "illegal" executive orders, day one, including the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. Some 4 million people who came here illegally as children would once again be subject to removal from the United States, an inhuman and economically self-defeating proposition. But Trump could mitigate the effect by accompanying this action with a pledge to support the DREAM Act. The bill originally proposed by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, has had bipartisan support in the past. It would accomplish the same thing as President Obama's DACA program in a way that honors the legislative process -- providing legal status to those who came here before the age of 15, have no criminal record, have paid taxes if they've been employed, completed or are in the process of completing high school, served or are willing to enlist in the U.S. military and learned English. Americans overwhelmingly approve -- 70 percent, according to the exit polls on Election Day -- of giving legal status and a path to citizenship to this group, as they do giving legal status to the rest of the 11 million who are here illegally but have paid taxes and committed no crimes since their arrival.
But if President-elect Trump is to keep his promise to stop illegal immigration, he has to do more than build a wall. Americans want better border security, and Trump has already pledged to increase spending, hire more agents and stop the practice of catching and releasing those apprehended at the border. But the most effective method of deterring illegal immigration remains allowing the market to dictate how many newcomers we need. We must provide a way for needed workers to immigrate legally -- something that simply doesn't exist under current law.
Trump could begin by offering legislation for a new, vastly expanded guest-worker program that would provide work permits for both high-skilled and low-skilled workers. We need more engineers and more agricultural workers. This used to be a tenet of GOP immigration policy, and the new president should make it one again. He could also make those temporary visas available first to undocumented immigrants who are already working, paying taxes and contributing to the economies in which they've lived, sometimes for decades. What those living in the shadows most want is the right to work legally, pay taxes and become part of the fabric of American life.
Building walls and deporting workers would harm our economy, not help it. President-elect Trump claims he will make America great again, but he could not do so by depopulating it. We need younger people in our aging American population. The median age of Mexican-born immigrants is 25, while the median age of Americans is 37. These younger workers pay taxes, which make our social safety net possible, especially Social Security and Medicare. A growing population adds to our wealth; it doesn't detract from it, provided those who come are productive members of our society. We can make sure that they will be by bringing in sufficient numbers of people with the right skills -- including the ability to speak English -- but also by limiting access to welfare programs for at least 10 years.
One other novel thing Trump could do, which might assuage those who worry that immigrants are an economic burden, is to create a system for American citizens and immigrants here legally to accept some financial responsibility by sponsoring those who come here. Under the immigration laws in effect in the 1970s and '80s, I sponsored a handful of immigrants, for whom I accepted financial responsibility if they ended up not being able to support themselves. I even had to submit my tax returns to demonstrate I could do so. I would gladly do the same again, especially for people who are already here and living in the shadows. So why not create a program whereby current residents here legally, citizens, businesses and nonprofit or religious organizations could sponsor unrelated individuals or families and guarantee the recipients will not become dependent on public assistance? Most would-be immigrants would jump at the chance of eschewing future welfare benefits. Even now, immigrants are less likely to receive public assistance than comparable native-born individuals, and undocumented immigrants are already prohibited from everything but emergency medical care.
If Donald Trump is looking to solve the immigration problem, he needs to broaden his horizons beyond building walls and deporting people. There are good ideas out there; he just needs to start listening.
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- Written by Linda Chavez
A new study by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine shows, once again, that immigration and immigrants are good for America. But don't expect hallelujahs from the restrictionist crowd -- or indeed even fair reporting. The Washington Times greeted the report with the highly misleading headline "Mass immigration costs government $296 billion a year, depresses wages," while Breitbart News screamed, "National Academies' Study Shows $500 Billion Immigration Tax on Working Americans." Both are so misleading as to constitute a disinformation propaganda campaign. No wonder so many on the right have abandoned Ronald Reagan's welcoming approach to "anyone with the will and the heart to get here."
The study, which was conducted by an eminent group of economists -- including Harvard's George Borjas, who is a critic of low-skilled immigration -- shows both short- and long-term benefits from immigration for our economy and most workers. It also shows short-term costs to state and local governments -- mostly in the form of educating immigrants' children -- which are more than recouped when those children reach working age. Confusing? A bit, so let me break it down.
The 40 million immigrants in this country fall mostly into two categories: high-skilled, highly educated adults and low-skilled, less educated adults and children, some of whom, about 11 million, are here illegally. The former group, according to the study, may improve wages for some groups of native-born workers, whereas the latter has some negative impact on the wages of two groups: prior immigrants and the native-born who have less than a high-school education. These effects, though real, are small and pertain to relatively few American-born workers.
But what about the costs to taxpayers these immigrants incur? Contrary to popular belief in some circles, immigrants are taxpayers, too -- even most who are here illegally. All immigrants pay both sales and real estate taxes, either directly or through their landlords. These taxes help fund schools and state and local governments. Those who work also pay federal income and Social Security taxes. Some immigrants here illegally are paying into false Social Security accounts, but that hurts them, not other taxpayers or the government.
Overall, immigrants contribute slightly more to the federal government than they receive in benefits, but immigrants can be a burden on some states, at least temporarily. The reason? Immigrants, especially those from Latin America, are likelier to have school-age children living in their home than the native-born population, primarily because they are younger. The median age of native-born Americans is roughly 40, while the median age of Hispanic immigrants is much lower, 26 for the largest group, Mexicans, with only Cubans approaching the national median.
Educating children is expensive, but most Americans regard education as an investment, not a burden. In order to come up with the hysterical "cost of immigration," Breitbart News and the rest of the anti-immigrant right treat educating the children of immigrants as if it were a form of welfare. But the academies' study makes clear that this simplistic approach discounts that immigrants' children -- the majority of whom are American-born and therefore citizens -- grow up and pay back their "costs" in the form of taxes they pay as adult workers. When tax contributions from second- and third-generation individuals are taken into account, the costs of education show a small benefit in real dollars -- with some states benefiting more than others, depending on what they spend on education and the health of the state economy overall.
One other point that restrictionists miss is that our aging population is the biggest drain on government. Seniors like to think they've already paid for the checks and the health care they receive from Social Security and Medicare, but for most people, it's not true. Current workers are paying for these benefits, because most people 65 or older will receive more in benefits over their lifetime than they paid in during their working years.
Without younger immigrants paying into the system now, Social Security and Medicare would eventually collapse or prove so onerous on workers that the programs would depress the overall economy. The actuaries at the Social Security Administration predict that increasing immigration by nearly 50 percent a year would boost Social Security's long-term health significantly, contributing about a half-trillion dollars in increased contributions, thus narrowing the 75-year Social Security funding gap from 1.92 percent of total payroll to 1.67 percent.
The academies' study is long and technical, but its general message is clear. "Immigration has an overall positive impact on long-run economic growth in the U.S.," as the press release states it. Too bad this message isn't getting through to everyone.
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- Written by Linda Chavez
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.
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- Written by Linda Chavez
This week's column is co-authored by John Fonte.
The two of us strongly disagree on immigration policy and have engaged in lively public debate on the issue over the years. But one thing we agree on is that whatever immigration policy prevails, it must be accompanied by the patriotic assimilation of immigrants and their children. Support for patriotic assimilation should unite Republicans on both sides of the immigration issue. We’d like to see the matter addressed in the Republican presidential debate Thursday.
The essential American ideal of E Pluribus Unum “out of many one,” was put on theGreat Seal of the United States during the American Revolution and came to signify our nation’s great success in assimilating immigrants. Today, however, many of our institutions appear to focus almost exclusively on the pluribus, while ignoring the unum, preferring to emphasize what divides us into groups rather than what unites us as Americans.
This divisive group-based emphasis has been going on for decades. In 1978, in one of his famous radio broadcasts, Ronald Reagan lauded the success of immigrant assimilation, while lamenting efforts “to change this land from a melting pot into an all nations smorgasbord.” He warned that, “possibly for political purposes, we seem bent on doing away with the melting pot, recreating strict ethnic divisions.”
It has only gotten worse since, largely without an honest, serious, and open debate on what type of assimilation is best for our country.
To be clear, by patriotic assimilation we do not mean that newcomers to America must give up all ethnic traditions, customs, and birth languages. Patriotic assimilation has nothing to do with the food one eats, the religion one practices, the affection that one feels for the land of one’s birth and the second languages that one speaks. Multi-ethnicity and ethnic subcultures have enriched America since colonial days.
However, while we are a multiracial and multiethnic people, we are not and should not be, “multicultural” in the adversarial sense of clashing and conflicting world views, ways of life and what Tocqueville called mores, habits of the heart. We need to help newcomers form an attachment to and loyalty towards our constitutional democracy and affirm what used to proudly be called the American way of life. And it is not only immigrants who would benefit from a re-invigoration of patriotic assimilation. Our education system has failed to inculcate these values in native-born Americans as well.
A common language is essential for the health of our constitutional republic and civic life. For historical reasons, English has been that common language and we should make it our official language. Encouraging newcomers to learn English benefits immigrants by allowing them to climb the economic ladder and integrate into the larger society. Policies that segregate youngsters who speak a foreign language do them a great disservice. Instead, our priority should be to teach them English quickly and move them into the educational mainstream.
Second, we should reject policies that deepen ethnic and cultural divisions, classifying Americans by artificial, bureaucratically-created groups that government officials then use to award preferences in hiring, contracting, and college admissions. Past discrimination of racial and ethnic minorities in America was shameful. But contemporary “identity politics” and politically correct ethnic and racial discrimination that favors some groups over others is similarly divisive and wrong.
Third, our schools should teach the full story of America. Too often, trendy educators prefer to view American history through the distorted lens of race, ethnicity, gender, and class with an emphasis on ethnic, imperialist, and capitalist “exploitation,” ignoring the comprehensive narrative of our constitutional, intellectual, economic and cultural development and positive role in world affairs.
Demographic changes have made it more important than ever that our children are familiar first and foremost with American history as opposed to a “global” approach that focuses on other societies.
As philosopher Sidney Hook put it in 1984, precisely because America is a “pluralistic, multiethnic, uncoordinated society” all citizens need a “prolonged schooling in the history of our free society, its martyrology, and its national tradition.”
Finally, newcomers preparing for citizenship should be taught that patriotism — love of their new country — is essential to good citizenship. Being a good citizen entails knowing one’s duty not just one’s rights. But it is not only immigrants who need this lesson. We need leaders in government, education, business and culture who are not embarrassed about speaking openly on the centrality of patriotism to the wellbeing of our nation.
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- Written by Linda Chavez
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.
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- Written by Linda Chavez
A Texas judge handed the GOP a gift this week by issuing a temporary restraining order barring the Obama administration from granting temporary status and permission to work to some four million illegal immigrants. But it's unclear whether the party's congressional leaders will be able to convince their members to declare victory and move on to vote for a clean bill funding the Department of Homeland Security, without House-passed immigration amendments. They'd be smart to do so, because the alternative would virtually guarantee that DHS will run out of funding at the end of the month.
If that happens, there is no question which party will bear the blame. Polls show that a majority of Americans (53 percent in a recent CNN survey) would blame Republicans for a DHS shutdown, just as they did in 2013 when squabbles over funding for Obamacare led to a 16-day government-wide shutdown. In that debacle, support for the GOP fell dramatically, with only 32 percent of Americans saying they held a favorable view of the party in a Gallup poll after the shutdown. It took a year before Republicans gained back the support they'd lost, ultimately winning a huge victory in last fall's election.
Judge Andrew Hanen's 123-page memorandum and order isn't the final say on whether the administration's executive action is lawful. The administration already has announced that it will appeal the order in the Fifth Circuit. In the meantime, the order could provide some space for a more levelheaded approach to immigration.
First, it's important to understand what Hanen's opinion says and doesn't say. The opinion deals with only three issues: whether the plaintiffs -- 26 states, including Texas -- had standing to sue; whether DHS has the authority to defer deportation and grant other relief for parents of Americans and lawful permanent residents (the so-called DAPA directive); and whether DAPA was legally adopted.
The judge's opinion deals definitely with only two of these issues. First, Hanen determined that at least one of the states, Texas, had standing to sue because DAPA imposed a financial burden on the state to provide certain benefits -- namely, driver's licenses, which Texas claimed would cost nearly $200 per eligible immigrant.
Second, the judge determined that in promulgating DAPA, DHS did not follow the proper procedural requirements under the Administrative Procedure Act. He reached no conclusion on whether the administration's actions were constitutional. In doing so, he followed the judicial principle that if there is a non-constitutional ground for deciding a case, the court prudently avoids making a judgment on its constitutionality.
The practical effect of the decision is to affirm the status quo. Some 11 million people will continue to live in the shadows -- unless Congress acts.
The administration -- with the court's blessing -- can refrain from removing all but the most dangerous criminals, terrorists and others DHS deems a priority for removal. Hanen explicitly conceded that the DHS secretary "has the legal authority to set (enforcement) priorities, and this court finds nothing unlawful about the secretary's priorities." But unless a higher court overturns the order, the administration can't provide four million illegal immigrants with the right to work legally.
Republicans should use this opportunity to do what they've failed to do for going on a decade. The 11 million people in the U.S. illegally are not going away. No serious elected official argues that the government should round them all up and deport them -- and the American people would overwhelmingly reject the human and economic costs such a plan would entail.
Americans support granting legal status to the very people DAPA intended to help: illegal immigrants who have set down roots here, work, pay taxes and live otherwise law-abiding lives. But they want the problem of what to do about illegal immigrants to be solved through the normal legislative process. Instead of tacking on amendments to appropriations bills, House Republicans should hold hearings on the best way to grant relief to the parents of U.S. citizens and legal residents. And in the meantime, they shouldn't hold DHS funding hostage.
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- Written by Linda Chavez
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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- Written by Linda Chavez
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.
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- Written by Linda Chavez
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.