Analysis of Immigration Executive Order

Illegal immigration has once again been thrust into the spotlight by President Obama’s speech to the nation about his Executive Order on the subject. It had mostly taken a backseat during the election as neither side really wanted to talk about any issue facing the nation.

This post is not to say whether the Executive Order is good or bad… or even legal.  The pundits are already out spinning the story as are Republican lawmakers in Congress. So let’s look at what is being done by this executive order.

  • Increased border security which has been increased throughout the Obama presidency
  • Increases the number of work visas for skilled workers so that more may apply and come to work here
  • It allows certain illegal immigrants a temporary reprieve from being deported but only specific categories

 

Temporary Reprieve, Not Amnesty

I will start with the last point since it will be the one with the most criticism.  The Executive Order is not amnesty. It does not grant citizenship or even permanent residency.  It is a temporary reprieve from being deported and gives the people an attempt to get their immigration status corrected.  It only applies to a specific group of people.

  • A child born in the US to an illegal immigrant
  • The illegal mother and/or father of that child that is born in the US
  • DREAMers — children born outside the US but brought to the country illegally by their parents

All of them must be in good standing with the law.  No criminal records or ties to terrorism.  None will have access to social welfare or any other form of government assistance.

 

Border Security

And speaking of links to terrorism, let’s dispel another Republican talking point.  According to the Department of Homeland Security, in an article for POLITICO, there have been no terrorists captured coming across the Mexican border.  However, two were captured trying to cross the Canadian border into the US.

Our focus tends to always be the Mexican border when this issue also applies to the country that we share the largest border with… Canada.  This also concerns with people from Asia that stowaway on cargo ships, and even those that come up from Caribbean islands though Cubans have a special category all their own. (Wet-Foot, Dry-Foot)

But what about overall border security along the border?  President Obama claims that he has more border patrol agents on the ground than any previous administration. (Politifact)  There has been an increase in border patrol agents throughout his administration, but it’s a result of a 2007 bill passed by a Democratic-controlled Congress during the Bush administration.  (Washington Post)  The President can take full credit though for having deported more illegal immigrants than any previous administration. (Pew Research)

 

Skilled Workers

According to the State Department, every fiscal year the US government issues a total of 140,000 work visas (before Obama’s executive order).  This number is usually maxed out fairly quickly each year.  Companies like Microsoft, Google, Apple, etc. have been trying to get the number raised for years as they have job openings here in the US that cannot be filled by enough American workers as there are just not enough in the computer sciences.  These companies have also threatened to take the jobs elsewhere if they cannot be filled here thus further depleting a tax base.  These are people wanting to come to the US legally to work and pay taxes.

 

Senate Democrats passed a comprehensive immigration bill during the last session.  House Republicans passed their own version of immigration reform bills.  Neither chamber took up the legislation of the other and there was no conference committee to resolve the differences.  The issue is now in play.  Maybe the new Congress can actually pass immigration reform and send it to the President.  Any new legislation would override the Executive Order.

Executive Orders aren’t defined in the Constitution though the Supreme Court has ruled that they are legal so long as they are used to enforce the laws passed by Congress.  I would encourage the administration to inform us which laws they are enforcing with this Executive Order on immigration.  As for the rest of the partisan rhetoric, I think we’ve dealt with it.

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The Law Regarding Unaccompanied Immigrant Minors

Since October of 2013, 52,000 children from Central America have been apprehended crossing the US-Mexico border illegally.  They are coming here by themselves.  It’s just one more piece in the larger immigration debate that seems to have quieted down until after the November election.

Republicans in Congress are quick to point the finger at the Obama administration.  Two years ago, the Obama administration decided to defer deporting certain young immigrants who met certain criteria and have been living in the states continuously since June 2007.  But as usual with partisan rhetoric, they are missing half of the debate.

FT_14_06_06_UnaccompaniedChildren_mapIn 2008, Congress passed the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA), which the Senate passed by unanimous consent, and was signed by President George W. Bush.  Though the law’s main intent deals with human trafficking, it did contain a section that deals with children arriving in the US illegally unaccompanied by an adult.

Children from Mexico are returned immediately, as they would be if they were an adult apprehended illegally entering the US.  However, children from a non-contiguous nation such as those in Central America have a different process.  The children must be turned over to the Department of Health and Human Services which is in charge of their care, finds them safe housing, and apprises them of their legal rights as their immigration cases are decided.  Deportation proceedings can take time as immigration courts are generally backed up.

Republicans, who in recent weeks have been claiming that the Obama administration is not enforcing the laws passed by Congress, are actually demanding that the President not enforce the TVPRA and send the children back to their home countries immediately without any deportation hearings as would happen if they had come from Mexico.

Last week President Obama signaled a willingness to do so but only if Congress modified the TVPRA to allow him to do so.  The leadership of both the House and the Senate do not seem to be interested in changing the current law, and as of July 7, the Obama administration has backtracked a little though it still would like more authority to act.  Until the law is changed, the children that have come here have to go through the process outlined by the TVPRA.  President Obama does plan to ask Congress for an extra $2 billion in extra funds to deal with the situation.

In the debate surrounding these children, it should be noted that they are not refugees or seeking asylum which would be completely different.  Asylum and refugee are special legal protections only available to people have fled their home countries out of fear and cannot return and can only be sought once they have entered the US.  There are strict requirements that a person must show in order to be granted those protections.

And though we debate this issue now in regards to Mexicans and those from Central America countries, this is not the first time we as a nation have had this discussion.  In the mid 19th-century, it was over Irish immigrants.  Most were processed legally through Ellis Island but the same arguments that were used then are still being used today against legal and illegal immigrants.

In the end, the TVPRA is the law that was passed by Congress that President Obama is to enforce.  If Republicans in Congress have a problem with that, then they need to change the law instead of telling the President not to enforce it.  Isn’t that the problem they have with him anyway?  This doesn’t come as a result of a DREAM Act.  It comes from congressional inability to deal with our broken immigration system in terms of those wanting to come here legally, and what to do with those that enter illegally.

Abraham Lincoln once said, “The best way to get a bad law repealed is to enforce it strictly.”  Regardless for now, as we detain these illegal immigrant children, we need to treat them humanely until they are eventually returned to their countries of origin.  If Republicans want this process to be sped up, then they need to revise the TVPRA to allow it to be done.

Immigration Reform: The Proposal

Immigration reform is one of the hot topics since last year’s presidential election.  Both sides have known that it needs to be done and have known for years.  The difference is that now both sides are willing to talk to each other about it and attempt to work toward a major reform of the system.  What brought this issue out from obscurity is that Republicans now see that they have to move on some of this otherwise they will find it increasingly difficult to win any presidential election.  And this is no piecemeal attempt but rather a major piece of legislation.  Just over a week ago, a group of eight Senators unveiled their proposal for a complete immigration reform bill.  Note that this is only their proposals as a group and not the actual piece of legislation that has to be written.

american-immigration

2008 Immigration Statistics

So what is this proposal?  The first and major part to this is securing and enforcing the border.  This part is absolutely essential to grab broad Republican support.  Is it a good idea?  Probably.  If we can’t secure our borders, then we don’t stem the tide and could risk this being an issue again.  And we need to know who is coming and going from our country.  In 1986, an immigration reform bill was passed by the Reagan administration that offered amnesty to the illegal immigrants that were living here then.  It also contained a section about enforcing our borders.  However, the border enforcement never happened and the amnesty did.  The result… here we sit again debating the same issue with the same points.  Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), who is part of the eight Senators, tied the two together in this proposal.  That the pathway to citizenship for those living here illegally would not happen this time until the borders are secured and enforced.  The problem?  There’s no definition to what secured and enforced actually is.  This is something Congress would have to put in the actual legislation, and it would have to make sense and be feasible with set goals that can be realistically achieved; otherwise, it could bring down the rest of the legislation.  Even Senator David Vitter (R-LA) has come out saying that Senator Rubio is being naive thinking that this will work when it is no different than 1986.

As I I just mentioned in the previous paragraph, the proposal does contain a pathway to citizenship for those living here illegally (if the borders are secured first).  The illegal immigrants would be forced to register with the government, undergo a background check, pay a fine and back taxes in order to just obtain legal status on a probationary status.  And though on a legal status at that point, they would still not have access to federal benefits.  It’s only after the enforcement measures are in place that they’d have to go through even more steps such as learning English and taking civics classes, more background checks in order to obtain permanent residency.  And the Senate proposal states that they would not have preferential treatment over legal immigrants that are playing by the rules.  As for actual citizenship, that would be left up to the individual to apply for.  How does this work in the real world?  It does sound good in theory, but it will all hinge on getting the people to come out from the shadows which could be decided on if they can afford to pay the fee and back taxes.  We have to remember that they haven’t had to pay anything yet while living here, so they must be convinced that it is in their best interest to do so.

There would be an exception to the above paragraph and that would be seasonal agricultural workers and those that came into the country illegally as children.  The Guest Worker Program for seasonal agricultural workers is nothing new.  It was proposed in 2007 by President George W. Bush.  It never gained much traction as congressional Democrats were opposed to it, which included then-Senator Barack Obama.  Now Democrats and President Obama are singing a different tune when it comes to this.  Why you might ask?  Political points in the end as they would get the credit for it.  Some might say that this is illegal immigrants taking the jobs of Americans, but I still don’t see many Americans lining up to work in the agricultural fields.

immigration_to_the_USChildren brought here illegally is also not a new topic.  The DREAM Act, a Democratic piece of legislation to address this issue, died in the last session of Congress.  Even Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) came up with a piece of legislation in the last session that was very similar to the Democratic plan, but it didn’t gain any traction.  (DREAM A Little Dream)  In the new Senate proposal, children would not be held responsible for the actions of their parents.  There are two ways to look at this issue.  One would be to keep them out of the system though them being here is not any fault of their own.  As children, we don’t really get much of a choice in where are parents live.  We just have to go along.  The other side is something that the state of Texas did… and this is with a Republican legislature and Texas Governor Rick Perry’s support.  It also hurt him in the 2012 Republican presidential primaries.  They allowed illegal children to apply for college and get in-state tuition and financial assistance.  We might be saying that the tuition money should have gone to American children, but let me step outside that box for just a moment.  Without an education, these children are more likely to be on the streets and into crime thus they would probably end up in our prisons where we, as taxpayers, pay for them.  Even with a basic education, they might get a low-paying job.  Again, we would still end up paying for them in some form.  But now, let’s give them a college education and give them the ability to compete for a high-paying job.  Now they can pay for themselves and pay into the system.  Yes, we have a high unemployment rate in this country.  People need work.  But the best person for the job should be getting the job.

There is one last major part to all of this.  Without it, all of this will be in vain.  There has to be a complete overhaul of the legal immigration system.  It’s like trying to get rid of a weed.  If you just cut it off, it grows back.  You have to pull it out by the root in order to get rid of it.  Our legal immigration system is the root of this entire issue.  It must be completely overhauled… which includes streamlining the system and getting rid of the cap on how many the government will approve in a year.  That number is usually filled by the end of January.  Microsoft is but one company that cannot fill all its current job openings because Americans just aren’t fitting them, and they can’t bring in others because the government won’t approve their visas.  Now yes, this is a failure of our education system not preparing students for the jobs of today, but it is also a failure of our immigration system.  Rather than have these jobs sit empty, companies should be allowed to bring workers here legally (when there are not enough Americans to fill these jobs).  If we allowed legal immigrants to come into this country for a job, then they would be paying taxes as well which is beneficial to the country as a whole.   That is only part of the legal immigration problem.  One of the biggest hurdles is the amount of time it takes to get permission to come here legally.  In a blog written in 2011, Perfect Strangers, I wrote that according to the Immigration Department, it takes almost 25-years for someone coming from Mexico to immigrate to the US legally.  Who is going to wait that long?  It should not even take one year to be either approved or denied.  The problem is that illegal immigration becomes easier to do with all the dysfunction that comes with attempting to do it legally.  If we really want to start curbing illegal immigration, then we have to make legal immigration simpler.

It is important to remember that this was only a proposal by these eight Senators (4-Democrats and 4-Republicans).  We will have to wait and see what the actual legislation is and then determine if it will fly high or fall flat on its face.  The basic mechanisms are there for it to be something good, but it will come down to the details, and we will have to wait and see what the end result will be.  Also keep in mind that just because something sounds good on paper doesn’t mean that it will work in the real world.  We need a piece of legislation that will work in reality… something that is enforceable and doable.

SIDENOTE:
A group of House members has been meeting secretly to try to forge their own legislation on this issue.  As of the writing of this blog, no details have emerged.  (POLITICO)

LINKS:
Senate Group Reaches Immigration Deal” – POLITICO
David Vitter: Marco Rubio ‘Nuts’ on Immigration” – POLITICO
Pitfalls That Could Stop an Immigration Deal” – POLITICO

DREAM A Little Dream

According to the Pew Hispanic Center, a nonpartisan research organization, there were approximately 11.2-million illegal immigrants living in the United States in 2010.  Of that 11.2-million, about 2.1-million were adolescents or young adults that were brought here by their parents, according to the Migration Policy Institute which is a non-profit think tank.  Illegal immigration has been a hot-button issue in the country for years and has spanned several election cycles.  The only things that are really talked about is the fence between the US and Mexico, and the e-Verify system to make sure businesses are hiring only people in this country legally.  Everyone seems to want quick fixes but not solve the overall problem.

2008 Immigration Statistics

We’ve now added a new layer to the equation, though.  What to do about the children of illegal immigrants?  To answer this question, one must go back to the overall immigration problem.  Even if the fence between the US and Mexico is completed, what do we do with those that are already here?  We don’t want to reward them for breaking the rules.  Some politicians (and citizens) say that we should deport them back to their own countries.  However, that takes billions upon billions of dollars to do so.  It’s not economically feasible, especially in this current economic climate.  In 1820, American Colonization Society began sending people to the Pepper Coast (in Africa) to set-up a colony for freed American slaves.  This was a popular alternative at the time to emancipation and was supported by prominent politicians such as Speaker of the House Henry Clay and President James Monroe.  The colony became known (and still is known) as Liberia, and it’s capital is Monrovia (the only capital in another country named for a US President).  Though widely supported at the time, it was quickly determined that it was too costly to transport all the freed slaves back to Africa.  In the end, this deportation faded away and slavery still remained until the 1860s.

And one other key question that should be asked when considering deportation is what is to stop the person/people from coming back?  Then we have to spend even more money to deport them again.  We could lock them up in jails since they are breaking the law, but then the taxpayers are still footing the bill.  So how do we go about with this problem?  I did agree with Newt Gingrich on one bit.  It needs to be done respectfully and with dignity.  These are still people we are talking about.

Regardless of whatever “talking points” our politicians come up with during this election, the problem will still persist.  And for the youth of illegal immigrants, those children brought with their parents to this country, it’s an even bigger problem.  Some aren’t even aware that they are in the country in the US until they finish high school and want to go to college, but their parents have to tell them that they aren’t able to.  We are thus telling a second generation that they really don’t have any options even though it’s through no fault of their own that they are here.  So what are their options.  They could always try to go back to their countries of origin if they have the money and the means to do so; they stay hidden in the shadows taking odd jobs and be a drag on our nation and the economy; or they end up in a life of crime and drugs and eventually end up in our prisons… being a drag on our nation.  Texas Governor Rick Perry actually decided to give a fourth option… to allow these young adults to go to college at in-state tuition rates so that they can get a proper education, get a job, and be productive (and taxpaying) citizens rather than being a burden on the state.  In a GOP Presidential debate in Orlando, Florida in 2011, Perry said, “If you say that we should not educate children who have come into our state for no other reason than they’ve been brought there by no fault of their own, I don’t think you have a heart. We need to be educating these children, because they will become a drag on our society. I think that’s what Texans wanted to do. Out of 181 members of the Texas legislature, when this issue came up, only four dissenting votes. This was a state issue. Texans voted on it. And I still support it greatly.”  In a sense, what Perry did was nothing short of a Texas-DREAM Act.

There has been a federal DREAM Act (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) that isn’t a far off-shoot of the Texas legislation.  It’s a Democratic proposal that would grant citizenship for any illegal young adult that receives a college degree or enlists in our armed forces.  In 2010, this proposal went down in defeat when 5-Senate Democrats voted against cloture.  The bill has not resurfaced.  However, in 2012, a new DREAM Act has surfaced, but this one is a Republican bill.  Out in front for this bill is Tea-Party Republican Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL).   Oddly, Rubio campaigned against illegal immigration and the very thing he is proposing despite the fact that he is the son of Cuban immigrants.  (NOTE: Cuban immigrants are automatically granted amnesty once they touch American soil.  Rubio’s parents came to the US in 1956 and were naturalized in 1975.)  So what’s the difference between the Democratic proposal that was defeated in 2010 and the Republican proposal now?  When down to the bare essentials of it, it comes down to one thing.  The Democratic plan granted automatic citizenship; whereas, the Republican plan grants residency with the individual applying for citizenship on his/her own… much like other immigrants do already.

Rubio’s plan is pretty close to a compromise between the Democratic stance of let them get citizenship and stay and the Republican stance on deport them all back home.  Despite how common sense Rubio’s plan may seem to be, it will not be passed this year.  Why?  It’s a presidential election year, and everything is seen in that way.  Rubio’s name has been circulated as a possible running-mate for Republican-candidate Mitt Romney.  So with his name attached to the legislation (which Republicans might have done purposely for that reason), the Democrats won’t be voting in favor of it just in case it strips away some of the Latino votes they usually receive in high numbers.  Nothing on this type of scale gets done in a presidential election year.  It’s even more partisanship than what we have been seeing.  And despite it’s almost non-existent chance of passing, it is a step in the right direction.  It’s nice to see that some sort of compromised legislation can be presented.  It’s sad though that it had to come in an election year when all sides are positioning themselves for votes and few will compromise on voting for the other side’s legislation… even when it comes close to their own.  In the end, Congress does need to act… and soon.  If this continues to be a problem that we kick down the road, it’s only going to get worse.  Rubio’s plan, nicknamed DREAM Act Lite) should be given a fair chance by all our elected officials.  It might or might not be the right compromise for such a divisive topic.

And the argument that they are taking away jobs from American workers?  I honestly don’t see many Americans lining up to work in the agriculture fields in the American southwest where they actually sleep on the dirt in the fields where they work under the stars.  No.  We, as Americans, have become to accustomed to our houses (which always have to be bigger than then Jones’s), our cars, and having everything at our fingertips.  Yes, the recession has taught us some lessons about our spending and living within our means, but that doesn’t mean we are ready and able to give up our lifestyles that we are used to.  And it still doesn’t mean that we are ready work and sleep in the agricultural fields.  As for the illegal immigration problem as a whole, we cannot just keep using temporary band-aids such as the fence, border security, deportation, etc., which can greatly aid in the overall effort.  We must start reforming the entire system from the ground up.  Why are so many resorting to this tactic?  The temporary fixes will only help alleviate the situation, not solve it.  And one must also realize that illegal immigration cannot be stopped 100%.  No nation has ever done so.  That doesn’t mean we should just give up and allow anyone to enter.  It means that we must make a policy that makes sense and to where ordinary people from other countries can get through in a timely manner.  If more are going through the process legally, then we can better deal with those that aren’t.

CHART:
The Relationship of Immigration, Illegal Immigration, Employment, and Wages in the US

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