IMMIGRATION – ALL THE MOVING PARTS: THOUGHTS FOR A SMALL DEAL AND COMPREHENSIVE REFORM
Many years ago, I was in South Africa. We began to discuss immigration. South Africa is very close to Zimbabwe, and many political and economic refugees from that country, badly mismanaged by Robert Mugabe, ended up in South Africa. South Africa is the strongest African economy and attracts refugees from African countries in chaos, like the Congo (Zaire); many lived in squatter camps outside the cities. South Africa had huge domestic problems of its own to solve. There were anti-immigrant riots and killings. South African leaders themselves had lived in exile to avoid arrest, torture and killing by the white South African government. For the most part South Africans welcomed immigrants from neighboring countries with a sense of their shared humanity.
In the US, we are the strongest economy in the world, and of course we attract economic immigrants within limits. Our democratic ideals have also attracted political refugees fleeing persecution and death in their own countries. In our neighborhood of North America, some nations are plagued by Civil War, drug violence, abject poverty and political terror while others are stable and prosperous. We caused some of that turmoil by our interventions to overthrow governments not to our liking and our support of military dictatorships. Our nation’s drug habits and addictions attract a flow of illegal drugs and empower violent drug traffickers along the distribution channel. Some brave individuals travel north to seek refuge in the US from the violence plaguing their home countries. It is a perilous journey with a life underground when and if they survive and arrive.
In the US, we are a nation of immigrants; our prosperity was and is built on immigration, and historically we welcome immigrants and refugees; we admit about one million annually. Yet in times of economic decline and turmoil that welcome has turned to hostility and far worse. The nativism of the “Know Nothings” has been intermittently at large in our land for the past thirty-five years. During that time Presidents Reagan, Bush, and Obama sought major immigration reforms; neither Bush nor Obama was successful in persuading Congress. It should be remembered that President Obama's father was an immigrant, and Presidents Reagan and Bush had been Governors of large states where immigrants played huge roles in their states' economies. Other politicians, including California Governor Wilson and President Trump, have successfully played to and stoked anti-immigrant sentiments for their perceived political gain. Governor Wilson’s actions were initially successful, but provoked an electoral backlash turning California from a purple state to a deep blue state. The fates of President Trump and the nativist wing of the Republican Party are still to be determined.
Key issues are now on the table. President Trump seeks to use the plight of 700,000 Dreamers – a crisis that he has manufactured -- to restrict both legal immigration by cutting it in half and halt illegal immigration by faster more aggressive deportations. He offers a path to citizenship for 1.7 million Dreamers if packaged with three other immigration restrictions.
Dreamers are now young adults brought to the country illegally as young children who are fully acculturated and integrated in our country, but due to a lack of a green card have been subject to deportation at any time. President Obama recognized that they were and would be contributing greatly to our nation and allowed them to apply for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). This allows them to emerge from the shadows, complete their educations and work, marry and raise families. About half of the potentially eligible population (1.7 million) had completed their paperwork and had DACA status. President Trump by executive order ended DACA and gave Congress a six-month deadline to enact legislation that would prevent their wholesale deportation. That deadline is early March. The President's offer of citizenship is more meaningful than DACA and should not be discounted solely due to its source.
Its important to understand exactly what is at stake.
President Trump wants to build a wall across our Southern border and wants the American taxpayer (not Mexico) to foot the bill -- $25 billion. The proposal is for an additional 316 miles of wall for a new total of 917 miles of wall along the Mexican border – covering nearly half our Southern border. Critics suggest the wall will be good for American and Mexican manufacturers of ladders; for example a 50 foot wall would increase the production of 55 foot ladders. This was a foolish campaign stunt that may yet turn into a costly and wasteful boondoggle. It would impair the movement of wildlife; and it would separate Texas and New Mexico border communities and their livestock that have coexisted for hundreds of years. One can only imagine Trump campaign contributors and other wheeler-dealers buying up choice lots along the border expecting them to be taken by eminent domain at ridiculous prices, while the Trump and Kushner organizations and their look-alikes prepare to bid to build the wall. The right solution to border security in most places is technology, some fencing and better border patrol staffing and surveillance. The wall is a metaphor and at its best a very bad global image for the US – think the Berlin Wall.
President Trump wants to end the diversity lottery program. This program admits 50,000 legal immigrants a year out of 15 million applicants from all over the world. Applicants are fully vetted before being admitted for entry. They must be solid prospects for citizenship with good job prospects. The genesis of the lottery was a program pushed by then Congressman Bruce Morrison, which helped the Irish to gain entry to this country in the early 90’s. I think it is pretty meaningless other than as a symbol of American openness towards the world. For that symbolic reason President Trump would seek to end it.
“Family reunification” allows a US citizen to bring in his or her spouse and minor children as a matter of right, subject to vetting. “Family sponsorship” allows US citizens to apply to bring in other relatives such as siblings or parents. This is subject to economic rules (financial sponsorship), to overall numerical limits, to statutory preferences and to vetting by US embassies. There are already long waits up to 13 years. Grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles, etc. are not covered. Legal permanent residents may apply to sponsor their spouse and minor children only. In toto, this accounts for 3/4th of all legal immigration. President Trump wants to end it, but he is not yet clear what exactly he wants to end. His references are to chain migration of aunts, uncles, grandparents and cousins; this is already not permitted. He would permit spouses and minor children; this is already permitted. Reading between the lines maybe President Trump wants to end US citizens’ ability to sponsor their adult siblings or their parents after the lengthy waits, numerical limits and extensive vetting already in place under federal immigration law. He paints with such a broad and ever changing rhetorical brush that it is impossible to determine what he wants other than political cover for regularizing the status of the Dreamers.
Not being discussed are the El Salvadorans and Haitians whose temporary protected status has been revoked by President Trump with directions to pack up their bags, leave their jobs and American families behind and move back to their own countries. Also not being discussed are the 11 million undocumented workers who grow and process your food, clean your hotel rooms and dirty restaurant dishes, and do many other tough manual labor jobs for very low pay in sometimes hazardous workplaces. They continue to live in the shadows under constant fear of being picked up at their jobs, their children’s schools or when they shop for food at local markets.
Congress is paralyzed. The extreme right opposes any legalization and citizenship, calling it amnesty. Speaker Ryan’s Republican caucus is divided and unable to bring matters to a vote in the House due to their divisions. President Trump, Steven Miller, et al are in love with their campaign rhetoric, terrified of losing their base and unable to meaningfully negotiate sensible reforms. President Trump is acutely aware of the perils to his Presidency from deporting 700,000 to 1.7 million young Dreamers. While a bi-partisan group of Senators is seeking a compromise, a firm deadline and a crisis are necessary to bring their discussions to a conclusion and a vote. The government shutdown scheduled for the first week in February is a poor strategy, but it may be the only one available to bring an end to this manufactured crisis and give the Dreamers some sense of protection and a path to citizenship.
I hope you will communicate your views to your elected officials on the Dreamers in particular and on overall immigration reforms appended thereto.
Prepared by: Lucien Wulsin