Tag Archives: immigration

The Immigration Debate

Last night, I spoke to the Lafayette chapter of Indiana’s ACLU. They asked that I address immigration. This is the talk I delivered.

It’s tempting to dismiss Trump’s emphasis on immigration—and especially his wall– as both stupid and racist: Stupid, because most people who are here illegally have flown in and overstayed their visas—something a wall would neither address or prevent—and illegal entries from Mexico, which were already diminishing, have declined some 45% since Trump’s election (along with tourism from pretty much everywhere); racist, because that wall he wants is only between us and Mexico, not us and Canada. And he’s made it clear he’d put out the welcome mat for those blond immigrants from Norway….

In fact, a significant element of racism infects the entire immigration debate. My own son-in-law is an immigrant; he’s been in the U.S. on a green card for nearly 40 years, and in all that time, he has encountered exactly zero anti-immigrant hostility. He’s not from Norway, but he is a very pale Brit who hasn’t entirely lost his cute English accent.

Trump’s emphasis on immigration is of a piece with his appeal to White Nationalists generally, but in all fairness, this administration didn’t invent the debate over immigration, nor is it the first to stoke the tribalism that infects that debate. I know facts are out of fashion these days, but it is instructive to look both at our history and the actual impact of immigration.

In a January column on the subject, David Brooks of the New York Times recognized that—when you look at that history and those facts, they point to one inescapable conclusion. Here’s what he wrote:

The case for restricting immigration seems superficially plausible. Over the last several decades we’ve conducted a potentially reckless experiment. The number of foreign-born Americans is at record highs, straining national cohesion, raising distrust. Maybe America should take a pause, as we did in the 1920s. After all, that pause seemed to produce the cohesive America of the 1940s that won the war and rose to pre-eminence.

Every few years I try to write this moderate column. And every few years I fail. That’s because when you wade into the evidence you find that the case for restricting immigration is pathetically weak. The only people who have less actual data on their side are the people who deny climate change.

There has always been a nativist streak in America. If you go to the East Side Tenement Museum in New York, you’ll see that Ellis Island was first established to keep “undesirables” from entering the country. The poem we all quote on Lady Liberty—the “give me your tired, your poor, your masses yearning to breathe free”– was Emma Lazarus’ response to the Chinese Exclusion Act. The Know-Nothing Party (which today’s GOP seems to want to emulate, if not eclipse) was formed largely by people who feared that Irish Catholic immigrants would take jobs from God-fearing Protestant “real Americans.”

The persistent inability of Congress to pass immigration reform is one of the reasons the Executive Branch has been exercising more policy authority—Obama’s efforts to protect the Dreamers, for example, were a response to continued inaction by the legislative branch.

What are the facts—as opposed to the xenophobic fears—about immigration and immigrants?

Immigrants themselves make up about 14% of the U.S. population; more than 43 million people. Together with their children, they are about 27% of us. Of the 43 million, approximately   11 million are undocumented, and as I noted previously, after Trump took office, Customs and Border Protection reported a 36% drop in crossings from Mexico. Since 2007, individuals who flew in and overstayed their visas have outnumbered those who cross the border illegally by 600,000.

What anti-immigrant activists are calling “chain migration” is actually family re-unification and it applies only to close relatives; of the people granted permanent residency in 2016, about two-thirds fell into that category.

Immigrants made up 17% of the U.S. workforce in 2014, and two-thirds of those were here legally. Collectively, they were 45% of domestic workers, 36% of manufacturing workers, and 33% of agricultural workers. Those percentages help to explain why state-level efforts to curb immigration have come back to bite them: in Alabama a few years ago, as many of you will recall, the state passed a draconian new immigration law, and crops rotted in the fields. Farmers couldn’t find native-born residents willing to do the work, despite offering to pay more than minimum wage.

Despite the hateful rhetoric from the Rightwing fringe, most Americans consider immigration a good thing: in 2016, Gallup found 72% of Americans viewed immigrants favorably, and as many as 84% supported a path to citizenship for undocumented persons who met certain requirements. Another poll showed that 76% of Republicans supported a path to citizenship, and it’s worth noting that such support was higher than the 62% who supported a border wall.

What about the repeated claims that immigrants are a drain on the economy? The data unequivocally shows otherwise. As the Atlantic and several other sources have reported, undocumented immigrants pay billions of dollars into Social Security for benefits they will never receive. These are people working on faked social security cards; employers deduct the social security payments and send them to the government, but because the numbers aren’t connected to actual accounts, the worker cannot access their contributions. The Social Security system has grown increasingly—and dangerously– reliant on that revenue; in 2010, the system’s chief actuary estimated that undocumented immigrants contributed roughly 12 billion dollars to the program.

The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy estimates that approximately half of undocumented workers pay income taxes, but all of them pay sales and property taxes. In 2010, those state and local taxes amounted to approximately 10.6 billion dollars.

The most significant impact of immigration, however, has been on innovation and economic growth. The Partnership for a New American Economy issued a research report in 2010: key findings included the fact that more than 40% of Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or their children. Collectively, companies founded by immigrants and their children employ more than 10 million people worldwide; and the revenue they generate is greater than the GDP of every country in the world except the U.S., China and Japan.

The names of those companies are familiar to most of us: Intel, EBay, Google, Tesla, Apple, You Tube, Pay Pal, Yahoo, Nordstrom, Comcast, Proctor and Gamble, Elizabeth Arden, Huffington Post. A 2012 report found that immigrants are more than twice as likely to start a business as native-born Americans. As of 2011, one in ten Americans was employed by an immigrant-run business.

On economic grounds alone, then, we should welcome immigrants. But not only do we threaten undocumented persons, we make it incredibly difficult to come here legally. If there is one fact that everyone admits, it is the need to reform a totally dysfunctional and inhumane system. Based upon logic and the national interest, it’s hard to understand why Congress has been unwilling or unable to craft reasonable legislation. Of course, logic and the national interest have been missing from Washington for some time. And compassion went with them.

Which brings me to DACA, and the willingness of this administration and Congress to use the Dreamers as hostages and pawns.

On September 5thof last year, Trump terminated the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. As you all know, Dreamers are children who came to the U.S. with their parents; most of them know no other home. A significant number speak only English. There was no particular reason, other than his fixation on immigration—nothing had happened that required or justified an out-of-the-blue termination of a program that huge majorities of Americans favored. At the time, Trump announced that it was the responsibility of Congress to pass legislation by March 5 to avert the crisis he had just caused.  That has not happened.

In January, a federal court entered a preliminary injunction requiring the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to receive and adjudicate DACA renewal applications from young people who previously received protection under the program. A second court entered a similar injunction weeks later, and on February 26, the Supreme Court declined the federal government’s highly unusual request to hear their appeal—and bypass the U.S. Court of Appeals.

So where are we?

Since its inception, more than 800,000 young people have applied for and received DACA status. Thanks to the injunctions, these individuals can apply for additional two-year work permits and protection from deportation. But the injunctions don’t protect other DACA-eligible individuals. According to the Migration Policy Institute, the overall total number of individuals who may have been eligible to apply for DACA or who may have become eligible by aging into the program or obtaining additional education was slightly more than 1.8 million.

Now, because Trump ended DACA, they are locked out of protection.

There are also an estimated 120,000 individuals among that 1.8 million who were unable to apply because they weren’t yet 15 years old when Trump ended DACA.

In addition to potentially DACA-eligible individuals who either did not—or could not—apply under the program before its termination, there are an additional 285,000 Dreamers who came to the United States at a similarly young age as DACA recipients and have lived here for even longer, but who were entirely cut out of DACA from the beginning, because the program excluded otherwise eligible individuals who were 31 or older as of June 15, 2012, when the program was announced.

The irony is that these older Dreamers have the longest and deepest ties to U.S. families and communities, since they arrived here as children at least 20 years ago. Bipartisan legislation, such as the Dream Act of 2017 and the USA Act of 2018 would get rid of the age cap entirely, remedying this situation, and would extend protection to Dreamers who, years ago, arrived in the country before the age of 18. They are currently excluded from DACA because they arrived after their 16th birthday.

It is so obvious where justice lies for these children that even our broken Congress was able to come up with a bipartisan bill—but despite his promise to sign whatever Congress came up with, Trump rejected it. Meanwhile, the media is filled with heartbreaking stories about families being torn apart, by the deportation of longtime residents who have been important, law-abiding assets to their communities—despite Trump’s rhetoric about focusing on the “bad hombres” among them.

Law is important. There should be consequences for ignoring it. But we can protect the rule of law without destroying families, sending children “back” to countries they know nothing about, and spitting on American ideals.

Over the past several months, we have seen escalating reports of horrible behavior by ICE and Homeland Security. Let me just share one such report, from a Washington Post article a few weeks ago, about the increasing practice of separating children from their mothers:

There is no allegation that the little girl, known in court filings only as S.S., is a terrorist, nor is there any suggestion her mother is one. Neither was involved with smuggling, nor contraband, nor lawbreaking of any other variety. Rather, S.S.’s 39-year-old mother presented herself and her daughter to U.S. officials when they crossed the borderfrom Mexico four months ago, explaining they had fled extreme violence in Congo, and requesting asylum.

A U.S. asylum officer interviewed Ms. L, as the mother is called in a lawsuit filed on her behalf by the American Civil Liberties Union, determined that she had a credible fear of harm if she were returned to Congo and stood a decent chance of ultimately being granted asylum. Despite that preliminary finding, officials decided that the right thing to do was to wrench S.S. from her mother, whereupon the mother “could hear her daughter in the next room frantically screaming that she wanted to remain with her mother,” the lawsuit states.

The Trump administration has said that it is considering separating parents from their children as a means of deterring other families, most of them Central American, from undertaking the perilous trip necessary to reach the United States and seek asylum. Now, without any formal announcement, that cruel practice, ruled out by previous administrations, has become increasingly common, immigrant advocacy groups say. In the nine months preceding February, government agents separated children from their parents 53 times, according to data compiled by the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service.

Make no mistake: Ms. L and S.S. could have been placed together in a family detention center. There has been no explanation of why the determination was made to separate them; nor is there any allegation that Ms. L. is an unfit parent.

This administration sees nothing wrong with calling DACA children criminals despite the fact that their parents brought them here when they were too young to legally form criminal intent. It sees nothing wrong with separating children from their parents while their applications for asylum are pending. It sees nothing wrong with arresting and deporting upstanding, otherwise law-abiding unauthorized immigrants who have lived and worked here for decades are the parents of U.S.-born children.

This profoundly corrupt administration has no concept of the rule of law, no compassion for the people whose lives it is ruining, no understanding of the long-term damage it is inflicting on this country, and no competence for managing the affairs of state. The longer the “party over country” Republicans in Congress facilitate this President, the more damage is done to America at home and abroad.

If there isn’t a “blue wave” in November, the damage may be irreversible.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Undocumented Lawbreakers

The other day, several news outlets carried an emotional scene from an airport, where an undocumented woman who had been in the United States for 30 years, and given birth to  three children who are American citizens, was being deported. She’d come here as a teenager and was being “returned” to a country she only dimly remembered.

Ah yes! In Donald Trump’s America, we’re getting rid of those dangerous criminals from other countries. It’s particularly rewarding to see ICE ramp up deportation for those who came to the U.S. illegally as two- and four-year-olds, using their criminal parents to carry them over the border. Getting rid of them will make America Great Again–and that’s good, because there are so many things we won’t do to make America great.

We won’t try to make America great by tightening gun laws to cut down on the daily mayhem and violence (caused almost exclusively by angry native-born white guys). We won’t work to make America great by repairing our crumbling roads, bridges and other infrastructure. We aren’t even willing to make America fair by really reforming the tax code to eliminate loopholes that unnecessarily favor the wealthy, or by raising the minimum wage so that working people can make ends meet, or by ensuring that everyone has access to health care.

No–in Trump’s America, we’re not only deporting people whose only “crime” was coming here without going through a tortuous legal process that can take years, we’re repealing the minimal protections the Obama Administration extended to undocumented persons who were children when they were brought here by their parents.

DACA–Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals–addressed the utter cruelty of uprooting children who had no part in the decision to come here, young people who have been productive and law-abiding, who grew up here and have known no other country. As USA Today recently summarized the measure, DACA

allows two-year stays for certain undocumented immigrants who entered the country before their 16th birthday who have attended school or joined the military and have not committed any serious crimes.

They receive a renewable two-year period of deportation protections and eligibility for a work permit. Some enrollees are currently on their third term.

There are roughly 800,000 individuals temporarily protected from deportation by the DACA program.

DACA was a short-term, emergency, humanitarian measure extended by President Obama due to persistent Congressional failure to act on desperately needed immigration reforms. Trump’s attack on DACA is further evidence of his willingness to hurt innocent people in furtherance of a white nationalist agenda that–so far as we can tell–is his only agenda. (Other than self-aggrandizement, of course.)

We should certainly deport people who came here illegally and committed serious crimes. We can argue about deporting undocumented people who came here as adults and subsequently committed minor crimes. However, I am unable to conceive of any argument that would justify expelling young people who had no part in the decision to cross the border, who have spent most of their lives in the United States (and often speak only English), and who are contributing to society in a multitude of ways.

One of my students is a DACA enrollee. Her younger brother is an American citizen, born after her parents settled in the United States. She’s an excellent student. She’s also understandably passionate about fixing both immigration law and state laws that burden undocumented persons. She volunteers for several nonprofit organizations, and she knows a lot more about the U.S.Constitution than most of my native-born students. I fail to see how deporting her would make America great.

In fact, deporting her–and those like her–would make America very, very small.

 

 

 

 

Dreaming…

From Reuters (as well as a number of other media outlets) we learn that

President Donald Trump is expected to rescind an Obama administration policy that protects from deportation nearly 800,000 immigrants who as children entered the country illegally, setting the stage for a fight with U.S. business leaders and lawmakers over tough immigration policy.

The article goes on to detail the negative response of the business community to the proposed action, and economists’ prediction that such a move would hurt economic growth and depress tax revenues.

Leave aside the economic consequences. Trump’s willingness to inflict immense human misery is what’s truly appalling. This would be the most immoral action taken thus far by a profoundly immoral administration.

The targets of this move are not criminals. They aren’t even immigration scofflaws; they didn’t choose to come to the United States illegally. They were children. They were brought here by their parents. Most of them have never known another home; significant numbers speak only English. They are productive citizens, small businesspeople and dependable employees, whose value to their communities has been amply documented. Why on earth would Trump want to deport them?

I think we all know the answer to that.

Reuters tells us that the overwhelming majority of the Dreamer immigrants came from Mexico and other Latin American countries. Most are brown, and brown and black people are  by definition un-American “others” to the White Supremacists, neo-Nazis and other assorted bigots who are Trump’s core supporters.

Trump’s utter lack of human empathy has been obvious for a long time; it was prominently on display during his trip to Houston. So it is pointless to expect him to understand or care about the wrenching reality of his proposed order.

Vox has focused on that reality.

Hundreds of thousands of families in the US are anxiously awaiting a decision from President Donald Trump that could change the course of their lives. Will they lose their jobs? Will they have to drop out of college? Will immigration agents knock on their doors to kick them out of the country they consider home? And what will happen to their American kids if they have to leave?…

In the five years since DACA went into effect, thousands of undocumented immigrants have been able to go to college, get driver’s licenses and get jobs and pay taxes for the first time. Many now have their own children, who are American citizens. Parents with DACA are wrestling with the question of what to tell their children, and whether it would be best to leave them in the United States or take them away if they are forced to leave.

When comprehensive immigration reform once again failed to pass Congress, Obama addressed the situation of the so-called “Dreamers” with an executive order creating DACA–Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. It allowed a defined subset of young undocumented immigrants to get temporary Social Security numbers and deportation protection. They had to pass criminal background checks, pay taxes, and renew their DACA status every two years. The program was a temporary fix, but during the campaign, Clinton vowed to maintain it.

Trump, of course, made anti-immigrant rhetoric the centerpiece of a campaign that pandered, bigly, to rightwing bigotries.

It is heartbreaking to read the comments of DACA recipients interviewed in the Vox article. These are good people who are in an untenable situation because for years, Congress has consistently failed to pass an immigration bill. Most recently, rather than give President Obama a political “win,” the GOP simply blocked efforts to negotiate a legislative solution to a problem everyone recognized.

Now we have a President whose terrifying ignorance of government is matched only by his inability to think of anyone but himself. If Congress cannot be moved to action by the plight of 800,000 innocent DACA immigrants, there’s no reason to believe they will ever summon the moral courage to defy this bigot-in-chief.

This is a test, and I’m very much afraid America will fail it.

As a current Internet meme puts it: It’s no longer about whether Trump has any decency. It’s about whether we do.

The Three “I”s

Let’s deconstruct the issue of economic growth.

If there is one thing all politicians support, at every level of government, it is growing the economy. Unfortunately, few of those political figures recognize the economic effects of their other policy preoccupations. Here in Indiana, that disconnect was on vivid display during then-Governor Mike Pence’s effort to privilege religious discrimination against LGBTQ citizens; it was equally obvious in North Carolina in the wake of the so-called “bathroom bill.”

It’s somewhat less obvious–but no less consequential–in Trump’s efforts to slash the budget and to drastically reduce immigration. A recent report from the Brookings Institution considered what it would take to achieve 3% growth in GDP, if that level of expansion is even possible: “There are three I’s that can do this: immigration, infrastructure, and investment.”

Infrastructure is the most obvious: not only does America desperately need to improve our deteriorating roads and bridges, not only do we need massive improvements to rail and public transportation, but cities and states across the country need the jobs a comprehensive infrastructure program would generate. As the Brookings Report notes,

Infrastructure jobs are disproportionately middle-class (defined as wages between the 25% and 75% percentiles, so this is the real middle-class and not the upper-middle class; there is no Dream Hoarding going on here).

Investment is harder to discuss, because far too many lawmakers fail to distinguish between investment and  routine expense. Conceptually, however, most of us understand that we must invest in order to grow–it’s the difference between payments on your home mortgage and the amount you spent at that fancy restaurant. Trump’s budget may not reflect that understanding, but many lawmakers do recognize the difference. Unfortunately, many self-identified “fiscal hawks” do not.

We need to increase our nation’s investment in research, development, and people. The federal government’s investment as a share of total research and development has fallen to multi-generational lows. Increasing the federal government’s investment will not bust the budget. Currently, the federal government’s entire investment in R&D (as measured by the OECD) is equal to only about one-tenth of our nation’s defense budget. Investments like these have proven track records of increasing economic growth.

When it comes to the importance of immigration to economic growth, however, American xenophobia is far more influential than economic reality.

Comprehensive immigration reform, such as the bipartisan legislation which passed the Senate in 2013 (Schumer-Rubio), would increase our nation’s work force, bring economic activity out of the shadows and into the mainstream, increase our nation’s economic and physical security, and boost our GDP. One estimate sees an increase in $1.5 trillion in GDP cumulatively over the next decade, as compared to the status quo. That same study contrasts with the deportation-only policy that appears to be favored by some in the Trump Administration, which would reduce economic output by over $2 trillion.  Even scholars from the CATO Institute argue that immigration reform could be used to boost GDP, with an earlier estimate of an increase of over 1.25% of GDP.

As another Brookings report notes,

President Trump claims that legal immigration levels should be cut in half and that greater priority should be placed on those with high skills. Both of these claims fly in the face of census statistics that show that current immigration levels are increasingly vital to the growth of much of America, and that recent arrivals are more highly skilled than ever before. Current immigration is especially important for areas that are losing domestic migrants to other parts of the country including nearly half of the nation’s 100 largest metropolitan areas.

Well, that’s what happens when you elect a man who has no idea how the economy works, and for whom facts are meaningless…

 

 

Never Thought I’d Cheer States’ Rights…

It has been somewhat lost among all his other bluster, and more recently by the diversion of his air strike against Syria, but Trump has reiterated his threat to withhold federal monies from so-called “Sanctuary” cities and states. (As many people have pointed out, the sudden onset of humanitarianism that purportedly prompted those airstrikes has yet to prompt a willingness to accept children fleeing the hellhole that is today’s Syria.)

Trump’s threats are evidently as empty as his compassion. Talking Points Memo reports that, thanks to a Supreme Court decision in a lawsuit brought by Republicans opposed to the ACA, Trump can’t withhold funds from states acting humanely. It would be illegal.

File under “be careful what you wish for”….

In 2012, the Supreme Court forced the Obama administration to make Medicaid expansion voluntary for states instead of mandatory, ruling that when the federal government “threatens to terminate other significant independent grants as a means of pressuring the States to accept” a federal policy, it is unconstitutionally coercive.

Conservative groups that celebrated this victory over “infringement on state sovereignty by the federal government” may now be dismayed to learn that it could throw a wrench into the Trump administration’s current plan to punish sanctuary cities.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently warned local officials that continued refusal to co-operate with federal immigration authorities would jeopardize approximately $4 billion dollars in unrelated grants; those grants currently support local programs addressing everything from human trafficking, sexual assault, and gang violence to mental health, gun crimes and various public safety issues.

Sessions evidently neglected to research the Administration’s authority to follow through on that threat.

Stripping the cities and counties of this funding, however, is easier said than done. Doing so could violate the 10th Amendment, which protects states’ rights against federal intrusion, and a number of Supreme Court cases, including the 2012 case that struck down Obamacare’s mandatory Medicaid expansion, legal experts warn.

“It may be unconstitutional on several grounds,” said George Washington University Law School professor John Banzhaf III.

Banzhaf argues that U.S. law dating back to the mid-1800s bars the government from “commandeering” local officials to enforce federal law in almost all instances. The 2012 Supreme Court ruling in National Federation of Independent Businesses v. Sebelius expanded on this principle, holding that “states could not be required to expand Medicaid programs under threat of a loss of federal funds—the same coercive method threatened by Sessions—except where the threat was one mandated by Congress and signed into law, not a mere presidential order,” Banzhaf said.

Two other cases–one in 1987 and one from 1997–reinforce the limits on federal coercive power.

In the 1987 decision South Dakota v. Dole — which concerned a government attempt to cut highway funding to states that tried to lower the federal drinking age — the Court said the federal government can only cut grants related to the policy they are trying to enforce. Though the federal government’s argument trumped the state’s in that case, the ruling significantly narrowed the kind of funding the federal government can withhold when attempting to incentivize local governments to carry out a certain policy….

The Court went even further in 1997, ruling in Printz v. United States that “the Federal Government may not compel the States to enact or administer a federal regulatory program.”

Sessions has now indicated that future grants will be conditioned upon compliance with federal immigration law, a tacit admission that– his threats notwithstanding–he cannot reach previous awards issued without such provisions.

I’m sure those staunch defenders of states’ rights–the ones who were so sincere when they explained that their opposition to civil rights laws had nothing to do with racial animus–will applaud this current application of federalism doctrine.

On the other hand, perhaps I shouldn’t hold my breath waiting for their applause….