Released 16 September 2006  By National Immigration Forum
Immigration Policy Update
National Immigration Forum
September 14, 2006
House Finishes Summer Round of Immigrant Bashing
After their August recess, members of Congress are putting in an appearance in Washington before leaving again to campaign. Their presence in Washington, however, does not mean that they are taking a break from campaigning. We can expect the House Republican leadership to offer a number of anti-immigrant proposals in the next few weeks. They will say that they are merely following up on what they learned in the series of 'hearings' conducted by House Republican leadership in August and earlier this month.
When they left town in August, however, House Republican leaders left their hearing aids in Washington. They did not 'hear' from the public, or from anyone who would present a reasonable solution to the immigration mess. Instead, they came to tell us that immigrants are bad, that the Senate bill is bad, and that they are in no mood to listen to anyone who would disagree with their enforcement-only approach.
Rep. Charlie Norwood, Republican of Georgia, put it best, responding to the testimony of a representative of the Congressional Research Service when she did not tell him what he wanted to hear regarding immigrants and the economy: 'What I wanted was witnesses who agree with me, not disagree with me,' said Norwood. He then threatened to call her boss.
Such behavior reminds us why Congress is held in near record low esteem by the American public. Who were they kidding? Not the majority of reporters and editorial writers from newspapers large and small across America. Here are some examples of editorial headlines:
- 'A Failure to Communicate,' the Arizona Republic
- 'Facts, not fear, on immigration,' the Berkshire Eagle (Pittsfield, MA)
- 'Politics in immigration debate,' the Denver Post
- 'Sideshow: Theatrical anti-immigrant hearings don't excuse Congress from doing its job,' the Houston Chronicle
- 'Closing our minds to facts won't fix immigration mess,' the Gainesville [FL] Times
- 'The Immigration Dodge,' the Los Angeles Times
- 'Immigration debate must focus on more than higher walls,' the Walla Walla [WA] Union Bulletin
and the list goes on. You can find a more complete list of editorial headlines that were printed in August and September, as well as an analysis of themes emerging from the press coverage of the House 'hearings,' in our 'Facts on Immigration' article on our Web site:
You can read the editorials from newspapers across the country on our Web site at:
For news on how the debate is playing out in Hispanic constituencies (to the detriment of the GOP), see this article from the National Journal temporarily posted on our Web site:
Reasonable voices were heard--just not by House Republican Leaders
Thanks to the good work of advocates around the country, every story about the House 'hearings' was accompanied by sensible voices advocating for real reform. You can see a list of the House 'hearings,' and the flyers and press releases of the pro-immigrant events that were held to counter the one-sidedness that the House intended, on the Web site of the New American Opportunity Campaign:
The Next Two Months Will Be Ugly
Despite the signs that, in the long term, bashing immigrants will not be good for the Republican Party, House Republican leaders are set on using the fear of immigrants as a motivator for getting their 'base' to the polls this year. We are far from hearing the last of the nasty rhetoric we have heard in the last month. This month, in the few legislative days Congress intends to be in session, we can expect to see many anti-immigrant 'border security' initiatives coming from the House Republican leadership. Some will pass, some won't. Many will be offered with little warning, and will pass quickly in the House.
Generally speaking, there will be two kinds of legislative initiatives.
There will be amendments offered on appropriations bills (the bills Congress must pass in order to keep the various agencies of the government running) and there will be stand-alone bills that will incrementally tighten enforcement. These amendments will allocate more spending for more Border Patrol agents, more fences, more monitoring technology, more detention beds, etc. etc. They will likely pass. In the Senate, Republican reformers who are not interested in the House's enforcement-only approach will also likely vote for such amendments. Amendments to increase enforcement resources are viewed as distinct from legislation to create new authority to more harshly punish immigrants, their employers, and others associated with them.
There will be amendments or legislation offered to create new harsh punishments against illegal immigration. For example, there may be a 'Sensenbrenner lite' bill that will include most of H.R. 4437, minus the provision to make undocumented immigrants and their helpers felons. At this time, all indications are that such bills will not get through the Senate. Most Senate Democrats and Republican reformers are not interested, and if such provisions are brought up on the Senate floor, they are likely to be amended with pieces of comprehensive reform legislation, such as legalization of the undocumented (which the House will not accept).
House Republican leaders staged another event on September 12 to review what they 'learned' from the 'hearings.' As the tedious afternoon wore on, they ticked off a list of all the things they have been pushing since last year--enforcement measures that have failed to fix our broken immigration system thus far. There were calls for more border agents, for more border infrastructure and technology, for tamper-proof social security cards and a way for employers to verify the work authorization of new hires. There were calls for local police enforcement of immigration laws, for penalizing 'sanctuary cities,' and for building walls and fences. There were complaints about undocumented immigrants destroying federal park lands and getting welfare and emergency health care.
The Forum's statement, 'Failure to Act; Failure to Lead: House Leaders Fumble Immigration Debate,' is our reaction to the House's September 12th event, and can be found on our Web site:
On September 13, a press release from House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) announced the first legislative proposal coming from the anti-immigrant road show--the 'Secure Fence Act,' which calls for 700 miles of fence on the U.S./Mexico border and requires DHS to achieve 'operational control' of the rest of the U.S./Mexico border through a 'virtual fence.' The House already passed the contents of this bill last December, as it was included in the Sensenbrenner bill. This and other legislation to be introduced will not be considered in Committee, and will be taken up and quickly passed on the floor of the House. This bill is scheduled to be considered on the House floor today, September 14. The bills are not meant to accomplish policy change; they are meant to send a political, pre-election message to constituents that the House is tough on immigration enforcement.
More such legislative displays are expected this week.
Responding to the House Legislative Onslaught
There are likely to be many similar enforcement-only re-electioner, immigration bills coming from the House in the coming days, in general, we need to keep the focus on comprehensive immigration reform. Every enforcement-only bill introduced provides us with an opportunity to point out that House leaders are avoiding a solution to the problem of our broken immigration system. See below for talking points you can use. If your organization would like to put out a press release or statement, feel free to use the Forum's statement posted on our Web site at:
More generally, see the 'Civics Lesson' below about the need to increase our communications with elected representatives over the long term if we are to win comprehensive immigration reform.
Immigration on the Campaign Trail
After a month of legislative posturing, members of Congress will go campaigning. Immigration--more specifically, 'border security'--will be a common theme in the campaigns. Unfortunately, we are not likely to hear many campaign ads touting America as a nation of immigrants. Rather, we are more likely to hear vitriol like that coming from (for example) Vernon Robinson, Republican candidate for Congress running in North Carolina's 13th District. In one radio ad, the announcer tells us that 'If [incumbent Congressman Brad Miller] has his way, America would be nothing but one big fiesta for illegal aliens and homosexuals.' Robinson is also airing this TV ad.
The good news is that when candidates make stuff up, you are provided with an opportunity to insert yourself into the campaign in ways that might otherwise be considered electioneering--a no no for non-profits. The record, after all, has to be corrected. For guidance as to what is or is not permissible for non-profits and election campaigns, see the resources available on the Web site of the Alliance for Justice, including these resources (in English and Spanish) on non-profits and electoral activities.
Civics Lesson: Policy Change on Divisive Issues is Never Quick
Press reports written about the latest round of pro-immigrant marches organized around Labor Day focused on the low turnout compared to marches in the spring. Several persons who did not participate, but who were interviewed in the press, said that they were 'discouraged' that Congress had not acted after the large turnouts in the spring.
Winning comprehensive reform is going to be a long fight. On the one hand, those not familiar with how Washington works (or doesn't work) might see a huge national problem that needs immediate attention and logically assume that our elected representatives will work on the problem until it is fixed in a way that is best for the country. After all , that is what we pay them for.
That would be a wrong assumption, however. To begin with, the country is divided on this issue, and there are very different opinions about what is best for the country. Right now, those who hold the opinion that undocumented immigrants should be kicked out of the country are much more forcefully communicating their prejudices to members of Congress than those who believe that undocumented workers are just like anyone else--here to work and provide for their families--and deserve to be treated decently.
Secondly, politics almost always trumps policy, especially in the House, where every member must worry about re-election every other year. Pandering to the squeakiest wheels is calculated to mobilize those constituents for a member's re-election.
Policy change does happen, eventually. The last legalization program was incorporated in the Immigration and Reform Act of 1986, a piece of legislation that was considered by three successive Congresses before it passed, and that had its impetus with employer sanctions legislation proposed in the 1970s.
What it will take is for good politics to line up with good policy. Even then, the policy will be a compromise, because the electorate will never be united on this issue. Still, the chips will fall our way when politicians feel they must pay attention to constituents who are demanding fair, generous, and comprehensive immigration reform. That is going to take more than a demonstration now and then. It is going to take you, your friends, your clients, your fellow church goers, your co-workers, your employees, and whoever you can get to repeatedly weigh in with your elected representatives, write letters to the editor praising or criticizing your elected representatives for doing the right or wrong thing, and doing whatever it takes to convince the public that immigration is good for your community. With persistent effort, we will become the squeaky wheel that Congress must pay attention to. Right now, we have a long way to go.
Talking Points: Sound Bites Will Not Solve Our Broken Immigration System
- After a summer of talking about the crisis of immigration, House Republican leaders have failed to bring us closer to a workable solution. While communities across the U.S. bear the burden of our broken immigration system, House Republican leaders have decided to run out the clock on solving the problem. This summer, House Republican leaders conducted an anti-immigrant road show, telling us that the problem of illegal immigration is a national crisis. They reject workable solutions, instead offering the same enforcement-only policies that they have already passed and that have been failing us for over a decade.
- The American people want results, not rhetoric. They already know that our broken immigration system is a problem. They want Congress to solve the problem. There has been enough stalling; it's time for Congress to get to work and come up with a real solution that is fair and practical: a comprehensive immigration reform bill that recognizes reality, rewards work, and restores the rule of law to immigration.
- To enforce our immigration laws we need to make them enforceable. Our broken immigration system is a complex problem that needs a comprehensive overhaul. We've been implementing piecemeal measures for 20 years, which have made the system more complex, but not more controlled. 'Seal the borders' is a sound bite. 'Enforce our laws' is a sound bite. Comprehensive reform is a solution, and only by changing our laws to meet economic need and family ties will we be able to restore control and order to the system.
- 'Enforcement-only' or 'Enforcement-first' is the status quo. For the past twenty years we have tried enforcement, enforcement, and more enforcement. The result has been spectacular failure. The smuggling of migrants has become big business. Fake document merchants have plenty of customers. Unscrupulous employers have a large pool of exploitable workers. Families stay separated for years. Hundreds die in the desert each year. There are 12 million undocumented immigrants--and counting--and Americans all across the U.S. are angry at the government's failure. In light of all this, calls for even more of the same do not make sense. Illegal immigration happens because we have jobs or loved ones on this side of the border, and an insufficient number of visas for workers and family members on the other side of the border to come legally. We must deal with that reality.
- Proposals that ignore the 12 million undocumented immigrants in our midst are not serious proposals. No 'reform' proposal can be taken seriously if it assumes that undocumented immigrants will simply go away if we get tough enough. They are already part of the work force, and have U.S. citizen and legal resident family members. Making them into criminals would only drive them further underground, and we would know even less about who they are. A much better solution would be to bring them out of the shadows so that we can find out who they are, put them through background checks and security screenings, make sure they are all on our tax rolls, and make them earn their citizenship over time by learning English, keeping a clean record, and continuing to contribute to our country.
- Proposals that pretend we don't need immigrant workers are also not serious proposals. Let's get real: we have jobs on this side of the border and workers clamoring to fill them on the other side. We need to shift our thinking to bring our immigration laws in line with the needs of our economy. Reform should bring a greater share of the immigration flow through legal channels, so that migrants can be screened, we can have greater control over who gets in, and all workers can exercise their labor rights. These reforms, combined with reform of our family visa system and fair and consistent enforcement of the new laws, are the solution to unauthorized immigration.
- Immigration reform must also tackle the problem of the separation of families. Reuniting families is a cornerstone of our immigration policy. However, our laws are out of date, and the wait times for close family members to reunite has stretched into years and even decades, leaving families needlessly separated and many scrambling to find another way 'legal or illegal' to enter the United States. Separating families is not the American way. Comprehensive reform must provide more legal channels for those coming here to join close family members, so that they do not decide to make the dangerous trip across the border illegally to join loved ones.
- Comprehensive reform is the way forward. Those members of the House advocating an enforcement-first or an enforcement-only approach are seeking solutions for their re-election prospects, not for our broken immigration system. They offer no way to deal with the 12 million undocumented immigrants living and working in the United States, and no way to bring future immigration levels in line with economic need so that we don't have another build-up of illegal immigration. A realistic, comprehensive, and bipartisan approach to immigration reform is supported by businesses, diverse faith-based organizations, labor unions, civil rights groups, immigrants and, as demonstrated in poll after poll, by the American people. Only comprehensive reform offers the realistic prospect for making our immigration system orderly, secure, and legal. Only comprehensive reform will work.