Latest on Immigration

Thursday, April 21, 2011


Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on the Brian Lehrer Show, Audrey Singer, Senior Fellow in the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution, discusses the recent push by Democratic Senators to urge President Obama to honor the DREAM Act, and other recent news on immigration reform.

In 2008, the newly-elected President Obama rode into office on a wave of promises, among them comprehensive immigration reform. A year later, an effort at just such a measure failed. Last winter the White House made another attempt at comprehensive reform. The Dream Act, which would have given amnesty to children of undocumented immigrants attending school, was killed by a Republican filibuster during last winter’s lame duck session of Congress.

In the vacuum left by the legislative collapse, states have initiated a flurry of new immigration legislation. Some, like Arizona's infamous SB1070, are decidedly unfriendly towards immigrants. Other states are taking a different approach. Maryland's state legislature recently passed its own state-wide version of the DREAM Act, offering in-state tuition to children who have been living in Maryland for more than three years, as long as they attended secondary school within the state. 

Yet the White House may be signaling that the federal-level effort isn't over yet. Tuesday, President Obama invited a mix of business, political and law enforcement leaders and advocates to the White House to talk about immigration reform. New York's Mayor Michael Bloomberg, NYPD Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg, California former-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, and AFL-CIO leader Richard Trumka were among those invited.

DREAM Act still in play

Even the DREAM Act itself appears to possibly still be on the table — just last week 22 Democratic Senators, including New York’s Kirstin Gillibrand, sent a letter to President Obama, urging him to take executive action on the DREAM Act. As the president turns towards reelection, there can be no doubt that a political calculus is at work in these recent moves. Obama has publicly called the failure to pass the DREAM Act his “biggest disappointment”.

Audrey Singer, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who focuses on issues of immigration, explained that the Senators have reason to believe that executive action on the Act could be a viable option. The vote last December was very close, with the House voting in favor and the Senate nearly doing the same. With five Democratic Senators abstaining, the bill only lost by five votes. 

We’ve been at a point where there’s a need for immigration reform, in all directions on immigration policy, both in terms of enforcement issues, in terms of admissions policies, and also there is pressure for legalizing immigrants in this country. The DREAM Act is one of those bills that promise a lot, in terms of bringing in the people who are most likely to succeed in this country — the children of immigrants, who have lived most of their lives here, and who are being blocked from opportunities.

During a town hall with Univision, the President rejected the idea of intervening on specific deportation cases. Singer said that policy, too, may be changing now for the White House, though she predicts a case-by-case approach would be "difficult, costly, and not very timely.”

Maryland: A testing ground for DREAM 

If the president does try to revive a federal DREAM Act approach, Maryland might prove instructive as a template. Maryland has a large, diverse and urban immigrant population. Yet even there the legislation faced some opposition.

Maryland is in a unique position, because it is one of the few states that have actually moved in the direction of providing in-state tuition. Some other states have repealed certain laws in the past that did the same kind of thing. But this is not coming without conflict, in Maryland, both among those legislatures involved and the public. This is a public policy decision that reached out to immigrant children and says ‘you’re part of us, you’ve lived here, we want to invest in you and we see a future in you.’

Arizona has spawned imitators  

While Arizona passed SB1070 nearly a year ago, a ruling last week did away with some of the most unpopular measures. The federal government brought suit against Arizona on some aspects of the law, such as the right of police to stop and detain anyone they suspected of being in the country illegally. The federal government argued that this would create a problem of bias. The court found in favor of the federal government and halted implementation of those aspects of the law. Singer said despite Arizona losing in court, similar legislation has been popping up in other states.

It was somewhat of a blow to Arizona, and a victory for the Obama administration. But that has not stopped other states from jumping in on Arizona–type laws.

Immigrant waiting game

One of the major problems under the current system is the enormous waiting period faced by many immigrants who want to come into the United States legally. Singer said the waiting time is due to a huge backlog of immigrants waiting for visas. The issue is particularly problematic in countries with a high number of people trying to enter the United States. One of the things that slow down the process is the cap that the United States imposes on the number of immigrants allowed to enter from any certain country. The process is then further slowed by administrative backlogs of paperwork "that can clog the system and delay any person’s application along the way.”

White House assesses timing

Tuesday's meeting may have been a temperature-taking exercise. The president was looking to understand where the current immigration hot spots are, and to gauge support for comprehensive reform versus piece-meal legislation. It is interesting, noted Singer, that organized labor was in attendance. Labor unions are now in support of immigration reform, but that was not always the case. 

There was a shift, maybe about ten years ago, when unions looked at their membership, looked at their potential workers and realized a lot of new workers coming into their membership were immigrants. So it made a lot of sense for them, in terms of strengthening their labor pools, but also strengthening the benefits for immigrants.

She pointed out that unions share a common desire regarding immigration with almost everyone else, regardless of political affiliation.

I don’t think anybody in this country, whether they’re an immigrant, or a US resident, or a politician… I don’t think anybody is in favor of illegal immigration or illegal immigrants living in this country, and so part of the goal for some of these constituency groups is to legalize workers. 

While the failure of the president to keep his campaign promise on immigration reform is likely to pose a political problem in a 2012 campaign, Singer pointed out that former president George W. Bush also experienced the same political liability following his failure at reform.

Another element will be at play this coming election season as well: the Latino vote is growing, as is politician's awareness of Latino electoral power. Singer said the issue should make for an interesting campaign. 

There’s a big spot light on this group, and we’ll see how that plays out over the next couple of years.



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Comments [16]

Eddie Brown

Odd position for democrats to take indeed...Firstly, Illegal workers compete with, and have saturated the labor industries most relied on by Americas most vulnerable Citizens. The very people the democratic party has historically fought to protect from repressive situations. Secondly, If these talented, ambitious, and highly educated illegal students returned to their birth countries and applied their knowledge and robust drive to improve the oppressive and poor living conditions their parents fled, It would not only be a very noble movement, but also a powerful voice from an educated population of young men and women familiar with democracy to hand quite a blow to the corrupt tyrannical authority that is so common amongst the Nations with the highest level of Citizens entering the U.S. illegally. Both ideas one would think to be encouraged or brought up by progressive minded people, yet lost in a domestic desire to land cheap votes or cheap labor. Which, at the end of the day, mostly hurts poor American citizens.

Apr. 21 2011 10:44 PM

sound like u want to change the constitution. are u ready for all that work just to support ur bigotry?
Maybe u could just stop supporting businesses that hire certain groups of people? that might be a faster route

Apr. 21 2011 03:27 PM
DTorres from Nathan Strauss Projects

Mexico enforces its,
The Law of Population" is to regulate immigration as to volume, structure, and distribution of foreigners in its nation.

Mexico has strict immigration Laws of its
own. Mexico detains and deports
thousands of their illegal aliens back to
their countries of origin.
Non Mexicans are restricted in many ways, from owning land, buying
real estate, working, etc. in Mexico.

Israel has strict immigration laws,
recently Israel was deporting children
of immigrants.

Why is it that America cannot enforce
its immigration laws and deport those
that arrive here illegally, just like every
other nation does?

Dominican Republic does not give
automatically give birth certificates to
Haitian born in DR.

In Africa, Africans themselves,
will drive a family out that comes
from another African country.
Africans don't wait for ICE, they
employ ICE themselves by forcing
the family out.
France does not grant automatic
citizenship to the children of foreigners
born in France, they have to apply
for it.

Australia grants citizenship, at age 10.
Every country has immigration laws
that it enforces to regulate those that
are on its soil.

Why should America be any different?

America should allow immigrants
in that have skills that are not readily
available in the American population.

It should be according to what
America needs and decides.

America does not tear families apart,
as the families can be together in
their country of origin.

Apr. 21 2011 12:49 PM
John from office

As the son of an illegal, who is now a conservative Republican, I assure you that the Republican party is shooting itself in the foot. We are many and we reproduce and will be a majority, who vote.

Deportation of law abiding Americans is un American. These people become very American and very patriotic. READ THE DEATH LIST FROM IRAQ many Hispanic names. I wrote quickly, please excuse the spelling errors.

Apr. 21 2011 10:32 AM
Laisze from Brooklyn

People are forgetting that unless you are native american, you are all here illegally. Nevermind the fact that we stole a huge part of this country from Mexico and we supply the weapons to dictators in other country to subpress their people.

Apr. 21 2011 10:31 AM
Brian 11201 from Brooklyn

I thought that your (admittedly angry) caller from Red Hook was asking a very straightforward question about benefits someone here illegally would receive versus someone here legally. And you cut him off and then turned the conversation to his aside about semantics, rather than "get into the weeds," or something like that. If we can't talk about the details -- the weeds, if you like -- here on WNYC, where can we?

Apr. 21 2011 10:28 AM
John from office

As the son of an illegal, who is now a conservative Republican, assure you that the Republican party is shotting itself in the foot. We are many and we reproduce and will be a majority, who vote.

Deportation of law abiding Americans is un American. These people become very American and very partiotic. READ THE DEATH LIST FROM IRAQ many hispanic names.

Apr. 21 2011 10:28 AM
Citizens Unite from NJ

Its about time the families who have illegally immigrated become responsible for their actions. Its absurd to say their children are here to stay. The kids who have gotten a free education on American tax dollars should go back where they were born, get their paperwork updated and apply as a foreign student to American colleges if they are qualified. Perhaps they could do some good for their native land while they await permission to return with the proper paperwork. The dream act will only encourage more illegal immigration and dilute our sovereignity as a nation.

Apr. 21 2011 10:27 AM
Joyce Ketterer

I think that the dream act is a wonderful idea, because it closes a loop whole. I had a friend who lived in the united states legally for most of her life. Her parents were here for work and returned to their home country when she was in college. After college she had a string of jobs which promised to sponsor her for citizenship but fired her right before the process was complete - which meant she had to start over. Eventually, close to thirty and never having lived in Korea, she had to leave the US and start a life there. What benefit could this possibly give the united states?

Apr. 21 2011 10:26 AM

Martin Chuzzlewit- you got a problem with Hispanics voting Democratic? Is there some reason why legal citizens cannot vote for the man on the moon if they want to? Are you the arbiter of voting now?

I'd much rather live around and among immigrants, so called "legal" or not, who don't cause trouble, pay their bills, and mind their own business.

Why don't you blame God for putting so many pesky Mexicans in a place where you are forced to see them?

These are people you are talking about, with a beating heart and soul. If you are ever judged, I hope for your sake that it's by some one lots more generous and tolerant than you.

Apr. 21 2011 10:25 AM
Nick from UWS

This woman from the Brookings Institute cannot tell the difference between the words "illegal" and "undocumented"? They are all the same to her?

Probably doesn't belong in the Brookings Institute. Even at the so-called highest echelons of American intellectual operation, we have McLiteracy. Shameful.

Apr. 21 2011 10:23 AM
Fed UP from Manhattan

As a child of LEGAL immigrants, I don't understand the push to help those who have simply broken the law. Regardless if the law is a federal, state or local law-to help people who are here illegally is not fair. Government resources would be better spent to help those trying to emigrate LEGALLY and not by those who choose the shortcut. To say the "Dream Act" will support the next generation of the labor force is ridiculous. There are plenty of LEGAL children of immigrants here to do the job.

Apr. 21 2011 10:23 AM

Republicans have just as much of an opportunity to woo these new voters onto their side as Democrats, so the "permanent majority" argument is bogus.

But I do think that the caller had a good point in regard to in-state vs. out-of-state tuition. Unfortunate that Brian's replacement today just blew that guy off.

Apr. 21 2011 10:22 AM

who hires these people. who gives them the cash that they work for?

Apr. 21 2011 10:21 AM

thanks God for the ones who blocked this legalizing sham

Apr. 21 2011 10:12 AM
Martin Chuzzlewit from Manhattan

I hate to be cynical, but this has nothing to do with "progressive" social justice for immigrants on the part of Democrats and everything to do with creating what Ruy Teixeira and others have called a permanent Democratic majority in our country's political system.

Last year, all the conservative AM talk shows played the (secretly) recorded remarks of the AFL-CIO associate director at a policy planning conference when he said that the Hispanics will vote 65-70% for Democrats and the DREAM ACT and immigration "reform" bills will "give us 9 million reliable new voters, while the Republicans get 4....we will run the system for the next 40 years".

Higher moral ideas indeed......buying votes with influence and entitlements is closer to the truth.

Apr. 21 2011 09:55 AM

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