Monday, April 27, 2009

Good Night and Good Luck

Hello all,

Today is my last post on A New Approach for class.  The blog will go on a hiatus for at least the summer, although I would like to continue it in some fashion in the future.  

I hope that A New Approach succeeded in its goal of presenting the immigration debate in a new light, one that places greater importance on the human cost of not reforming the current system. 

The current system has created a black market for human smuggling, and violent "coyotes" have taken the market over with ruthless tactics and little regard for human life.  Making legal immigration easier would lessen the number of immigrants who put their safety in the hands of people who see them as dollar signs and little else. 

Reform is also needed to stem the "reverse brain-drain" phenomenon that our country is currently experiencing.  Skilled and intelligent immigrants who have come to the United States to study and work and being denied permanent residency by the thousands.  These workers provide huge net gains for the economy, and their departure leaves a hole in the economy that we simply cannot fill.

For those two reasons alone the U.S. immigration system needs to be reformed, not tomorrow, not next week, but today.  When you consider the emotional pain caused by workplace raids and the separation of families, as well as the resources and attention diverted from true public safety concerns to enforcing current immigration laws, it becomes obvious that a path to amnesty has to be included in any reform. Otherwise, we are just ignoring the elephant in the room while sweeping around it.  

Hopefully by the next time I post there will have been some meaningful progress in this direction.  The longer the problem drags on the harder and harder it will be to deal with it.    


Sunday, April 19, 2009

Looking North for a Solution

Immigration reform has been debated ad-nauseam, and there have been many theoretical solutions discussed that seem smart and plausible.

The problem is that no one knows for sure whether or not these reforms will actually work how they are intended to. What an incredible waste of time and effort it would be if an immigration reform bill made its way all the way through Congress and onto President Obama's desk, only for it to fail or create a new set of bigger problems down the line.

One solution to this would be to ignore our desire to blaze a new path and to instead imitate what other countries in the world are doing. What to do about a mass influx of immigrants is hardly a dilemma unique to the United States; all the top economies are destinations for people looking to emigrate.

In fact, the situation in Western Europe with immigrants from Africa shares many similarities with immigrants to the United States from Mexico and Central America. But, unfortunately, the countries of Western Europe have also had many of the same outbursts of xenophobia within their native populations that has also hindered smart immigration policy. They may not offer the best model for reform.

Australia and New Zealand have long been top destinations for immigrants, but for a compassionate and functional immigration system we need not look so far away. We just need to follow the lead of our neighbors to the north.

First, let's start with the numbers.  Canada has admitted more than 200,000 immigrants in each of the past 10 years, while the United States has admitted an average of about 1 million immigrants per year since 2000.

While the U.S. admits a greater total number of immigrants, because Canada's population is around 30 million compared the U.S.'s population of 300 million, Canada actually gives citizenship to twice as many immigrants per capita per year.  

According to many anti-immigrations proponents in the United States, this must mean disaster for Canada's economy since it is surely overburdened by so many immigrants. 

But reality doesn't bear that out. Canada has the world's 11th largest economy in terms of Gross Domestic Product at 1.5 trillion dollars in 2008.

Canada's immigration policy has three main categories: economic, family reunificiation, and refugees.  According to an article from the Council on Foreign Relations, from 1990 to 2002 49 percent of immigrants came from the economic category, 34 percent from family reunification, and 13 percent from the refugee category.  

Canada figured out a clever way to keep its economy strong by balancing economic immigrants with other types of immigrants. 

This should absolutely incorporated into the U.S. system.  In an earlier post I wrote about the U.S.'s systemic problems that have forced many professionally skilled immigrants to return to their home countries despite being in great demand and that they would benefit the U.S. economy greatly. 

Canada's policy, combined with the appeal of the U.S. and its colleges, could be used to boost the economy and innovation, while also allowing more refugees and family members to come to the U.S. without being an economic burden.

It really would be a win-win situation.  The economic benefits of granting citizenship to every doctor, engineer, and scientist that wants to come here to work would be enormous, while the social and moral benefits of allowing more people in who are looking for a better life or fleeing atrocity would help return America to its place at the top of compassionate nations.       

Monday, April 6, 2009

An Update on Immigration Enforcement Policies

Following up on last week's post, United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement is expected to issue new rules for local and state police that enforce immigration law.

An article from the Migration Policy Institute says new guidelines will instruct agencies participating in the 287 (g) program to focus on immigrants with criminal convictions rather than those just here illegally.

The 287 (g) program was created in 1996 to allow some local law enforcement agencies to enforce immigration law. While some agencies have only used their expanded po
wers under 287 (g) to find out the immigration status of convicted felons, others have used them in day to day interactions with the community, meaning people who come into contact with the police for offenses as minor as speeding tickets have been deported.

Police departments have also criticized the program for diverting resources away from more pressing public safety concerns and for damaging the relationship between the police and the community.

The face of the program has become Maricopa County Sherrif Joe Arpaio because of his aggressive enforcement of immigration law. The article says the Justice Department is
conducting an investigation of his department.

I think the new rules are both more sensible and more humane. It makes sense to go after the people who have been convicted of a felony before you go after the person who is just here trying to make a living. The new rules, if properly advertised, could help improve the relationship between undocumented immigrants and the police because people may be more willing to talk to the police knowing they won't be asked about their immigration status if they haven't done anything wrong.

These steps by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, along with reviewing workplace raids, should come as welcome signs that the new administration is serious about immigration reform. Even if President Obama can't convince Congress to agree on a complete overhaul of the system for several years, or ever, making changes within the current system is an improvement for the time being and a step in the right direction.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Napolitano Delays Immigration Raids

Former Arizona governor Janet Napolitano, now the Homeland Security Secretary, has delayed immigration raids in what may be a sign of a changed enforcement strategy. In an article that ran Sunday in the Washington Post, a senior department official said the focus will shift more to businesses and executives rather than ordinary workers.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi also spoke out against immigration raids as well. She is quoted in the same article attempting to highlight the human cost of workplace raids:
"Raids that break up families in that way, just kick in the door in the middle of the night, taking [a] father, a parent away, that's just not the American way. It must stop."
I think these are great signs of progress. Workplace raids are one of the most tragic examples of the flaws in the current immigration system and its enforcement. Instead of addressing the real problems, workplace raids merely punish the the most vulnerable while letting those truly responsible off the hook. And yet they are held up as tangible proof of our tough border policy in action.

The same article quotes Rep. Lamar Smith saying that by deciding to mobilize 450 federal agents to the border in response to violence by Mexican drug cartels, President Obama ""appears to be using border violence as an excuse" to decrease immigration enforcement within the country's borders.

The notion that workplace raids, which are little more than a show of force, serve any real enforcement or national security purpose would be laughable if they weren't so traumatizing. The raids are an attempt to scare undocumented immigrants into hiding by terrorizing a small group of hardworking people. How anyone could mistake these efforts for a smart use of finite resources is beyond me.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Cardinal Asks President to Stop Immigration Raids

At a prayer forum organized by the Archdiocese of Chicago and immigrant rights groups, Cardinal Francis George asked President Barack Obama to stop immigration raids, saying, ""We cannot strengthen families when people live in fear from day to day." You can read the Chicago Tribune story by Gerry Smith here.  

Smith also writes that George called for fair and compassionate immigration reform, saying it is a "matter of conscience."

"May this be the year that raids and separation of families top," he said.  "May this be the year that our legislators pass comprehensive immigration reform."

There are signs that the president may be listening.  In another Tribune article, Obama said to the Congressional Hispanic Caucus  was going to introduce a new strategy for "comprehensive immigration reform" in the coming weeks.  But as an indication of how controversial the immigration issue is for politicians, Obama did not promise to end current enforcement measures, including raids, immediately.

However, U.S. Representative Luis Gutierrez, who was present at both the Congressional Hispanic Congress meeting and the prayer forum in Chicago, believes Obama is for comprehensive reform.

"He's with us on this issue," he said.  "He is our ally."

If this is true, then all signs show that Obama better be ready for a fight.  

Smith wrote that outside of Our Lady of Mercy Church in Chicago, where Cardinal George asked Obama to end raids, a protest organized by the Chicago Minutemen Project argued that illegal immigration took jobs away from Americans.  

In the midst of an economic crisis and skyrocketing unemployment, these arguments could strike a nerve with voters and impede progress for immigration reform.  Obama may have to decide between doing what needs to be done and what is popular with voters. 

Here is a video of Cardinal George speaking briefly about immigration reform in early March.

Monday, March 9, 2009

President Obama and Immigration Reform

President Barack Obama has a lot on his plate right now, with the American economy collapsing and two wars in the Middle East. As a result he has said little, and done even less, on the topic of immigration reform.

Now this is not an indictment of him at all, he has been president for less than two months and he has to prioritize. I think that in this era of internet news and 24 hour cable news stations the way progress and achievement are perceived has been thrown way out of sync, and that everyone needs to step back and give actions time to either succeed or fail, or fall somewhere in between the two, before evaluating the president's actions. As the saying goes, "a watched pot never boils."

But President Obama will have to address the immigration problem sooner or later, hopefully sooner because I think a lot of other problems can be solved by smart and sensible immigration reform. What will Obama's views be on the subject? Let's take a look at some of his past statements on immigration. From 2007 while campaigning:

He shows a good understanding of the real problems associated with the current immigration system and not just generalizations. I also like that he said, "The notion that we are going to round up 12 million people is unrealistic." He also presents a smart, albeit vague, 5 step plan for bringing undocumented immigrants out of hiding and onto the path to citizenship. But this was during his campaign, and two years ago, and as a result should be taken with a grain of salt as viewpoints tend to change as voters' opinions do. Here he is during a debate with Hillary Clinton in 2008:

He scores more points with me with his assertion that blaming problems on immigrants is scapegoating. But both of these came during the campaign, what will he do now that he has been elected and needs to actually take action on the problem.

On the White House website a five part plan is given for immigration reform, but lacks any explanations for how the changes will be accomplished. From the website:

Create Secure Borders: Protect the integrity of our borders. Support additional personnel, infrastructure and technology on the border and at our ports of entry.

Improve Our Immigration System: Fix the dysfunctional immigration bureaucracy and increase the number of legal immigrants to keep families together and meet the demand for jobs that employers cannot fill.

Remove Incentives to Enter Illegally: Remove incentives to enter the country illegally by cracking down on employers who hire undocumented immigrants.

Bring People Out of the Shadows: Support a system that allows undocumented immigrants who are in good standing to pay a fine, learn English, and go to the back of the line for the opportunity to become citizens.

Work with Mexico: Promote economic development in Mexico to decrease illegal immigration.

I agree with all of these points, however I believe immigration reform will be an even greater obstacle than health care reform and entitlement reform. And both of those are shaping up to be epic battles. But while most people agree that health care and entitlement programs are in serious need of drastic changes, the same cannot be said about immigration for some parts of our society. Whether the cause is xenophobia, insecurity about jobs, or racism, there are people who believe we should kick everyone out and close our borders completely. These people are vocal and unwavering in their positions, and have a lot of clout in Congress and the media, and I can only hope President Obama has the determination to see immigration reform all the way through. Because with opponents like these, immigraton reform will be a long and unimaginably difficult battle.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Current Policy Allows Coyotes to Prosper

I have attempted to show on this blog that the current border policy in the United States hurts both those who wish to immigrate and the United States itself. The long, complicated process deters many immigrants from attempting to go through the system, and as a result the U.S. misses out on many workers, both skilled and unskilled, that our economy desperately needs. Not to mention the incalculable contributions that immigrants make to American culture, which has always benefited from a wide variety of ingredients to make it a "melting pot" that is envied throughout the world.

But this is not to say that no one is benefiting from our draconian border policy, in fact one group of criminals is thriving because of it. People smugglers, or "Coyotes" as they are called in the southwestern United States, exist mainly because the current immigration process is so painstakingly long, and even pointless, for many who aspire to immigrant to the U.S. The process takes years and there is no guarantee of ever getting a visa, especially if you are poor and only marginally educated.

As a result, many decide to cross the border illegally, sometimes enlisting the help of a coyote. These coyotes are sometimes hailed as heroes for helping people start a better life in the U.S., however underneath this Robin Hood like perception lies a reality filled with violence, abuse and exploitation.

As people smuggling has become more profitable, the fee charged per immigrant has increased from around $200 to $1,500, according to an article in the Los Angeles Times, honest and independent coyotes are being muscled out by violent drug cartels and organized gangs.

"This used to be a family business. The coyote and the migrant were from the same town; they were connected. Now, because of the so-called security needs of the border, what's been created is this structure of smuggling in the hands of really nasty people who only treat the migrant as a commodity," said Carlos Vélez-Ibáñez, chair of the department of transborder studies at Arizona State University, in an article in the San Francisco Chronicle.

The drug cartels have also merged their drug trafficking and people smuggling operations, forcing immigrants to transport drugs as their fee for crossing, according to the same article.

These new organizations have little sympathy for their clients, and many are malnourished, dehydrated, and even abandoned during their journey to the U.S. Violence between gangs has also increased, including a shootout on Interstate 10 in 2003 during which four coyotes were killed, according to an article in the Arizona Republic.

The same article says that smugglers were much less common a decade ago and instead immigrants were helped by other immigrants for much less money. But as federal authorities started cracking down, people smugglers have increased to help immigrants navigate the more complicated route to the United States.

The relatively new phenomenon of organized people smuggling, coinciding with stricter enforcement on the border, shows that eliminating the problem is as simple as eliminating the smugglers clientele. The creation of a guest worker program would go a long way towards keeping powerless people out of the clutches of powerful, and ruthless, drug cartels.