Senate passage of the “Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Reform Act” (and the prospects for a fiery debate in the House of Representatives) have brought the contentious issue of illegal immigration to the forefront of American politics. The New York Analysis will take a multi-part look at this vital issue, reviewing the facts behind 21st century immigration, the wide range of opinions about it, current legislation, and possible alternatives.
THE BASIC IDEA
Supporters of S.744 (especially the White House, which lobbied heavily for it) stress that the measure provides increased border security for a conditioned pathway to legal status for illegal aliens, as well as a modernization of the entire immigration process. It’s supported by most Democrats in Congress and a minority of Republicans.
Editorial note: we use the language of the information sources we quote. The terms “illegal aliens” and “unauthorized immigrants” are therefore used interchangeably.
Before reviewing the details or the politics of the measure, a check of the facts is vital.
According to the Pew Research Hispanic Center “The nation’s total immigrant population reached a record 40.4 million in 2011, according to an analysis of Census Bureau data by the Pew Hispanic Center…Over the last decade, the number of immigrants in the U.S. has steadily grown. Since 2007 alone, the number of immigrants living in the U.S. increased by 2.4 million. The number of unauthorized immigrants living in the U.S. also grew during the last decade, rising from 8.4 million in 2000 to 11.1 million in 2011…in 2010, there were 1 million unauthorized immigrants under age 18 in the U.S, as well as 4.5 million children whose parents were unauthorized…nearly two thirds of unauthorized immigrants had [as of 2010] lived in the U.S. for at least a decade and…(46%) were parents of minor children. ”
The Migration Information Source reports that Mexicans “constitute the single largest group of immigrants to the United States. 11.7 million Mexican immigrants reside in the United States, representing 29% of the US immigrant population and close to 4% of the overall US population.”
According to the Urban Institute, “Mexicans make up over half of undocumented immigrants–57 percent of the total, or about 5.3 million. Another 2.2 million (23 percent) are from other Latin American countries. About 10 percent are from Asia, 5 percent from Europe and Canada, and 5 percent from the rest of the world…Almost two-thirds of the undocumented population lives in just six states: California (26 percent), Texas (12 percent), Florida (10 percent) New York (8 percent), Illinois (4 percent), and New Jersey (4 percent). But, the most rapid growth in the undocumented population since the mid-1990s has been outside these states.”
While debate exists over the financial implications of illegal immigration, those costs remain considerable. According to a study by the Federation for American Immigration Reform, “The annual costs of illegal immigration at the federal, state and local level [is] about $113 billion; nearly $29 billion at the federal level and $84 billion at the state and local level.” The study also estimates tax collections from illegal alien workers, both those in the above-ground economy and those in the underground economy. “Those receipts do not come close to the level of expenditures and, in any case, are misleading as an offset because over time unemployed and underemployed U.S. workers would replace illegal alien workers.”
Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) notes that an illegal immigrant without a high school degree, which represents the majority, “…will impose a net cost on taxpayers of $89,000 over his or her lifetime.”
The Council of Foreign Relations contends “that America has reaped tremendous benefits from opening its doors to immigrants, as well as to students, skilled employees and others who may only live in the country for shorter periods of time.” But it warns that “the continued inability of the United States to develop and enforce a workable system of immigration laws threatens to undermine these achievements…. According to the report, the high level of illegal immigration in the country is increasingly damaging to U.S. national interests-“[it] diminishes respect for the law, creates potential security risks, weakens labor rights, strains U.S. relations with its Mexican neighbor, and unfairly burdens public education and social services in many states.”
The Obama Administration’s enforcement of immigration laws has recently been called into question. In March, Senator Dan Coats (Republican-In) sharply criticized the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) for initiating an order to reduce the population of detained illegal aliens, noting the distress this caused to local communities. Although ICE claimed the release was for budgetary reasons, Coats noted that the agency was appropriated sufficient funds.
S.744 was sponsored by the “Gang of Eight” bipartisan group that included Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY), John McCain R-Az), Michael Bennet,(D-Col.) Richard Durbin (D-IL), Jeff Flake (R-Az) , Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), and Marco Rubio (R-Fl.) It passed the Senate by a 68-32 margin, but will face a tough time in the House.
The 1,000-plus page bill affects the entire immigration process and issues related to it, including border security and enforcement against illegals. It substantially addresses a broad range of matters related to legal immigration. S.744 alters family and employment-based visa categories, specifies due-process protection, and broadens the availability of nonimmigrant foreign workers. It provides legal status to illegals.
The measure requires that a series of “triggers,” (enforcement measures) take effect before the legalization process begins. The DREAM Act (“Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) and the AGJOBS (Agricultural Job Opportunities, Benefits and Security Act) are incorporated into S. 744.
It also affects matters related to immigrant removal, detention and legal proceedings. It gives greater discretion to judges in removal cases, and simplifies the asylum procedure. It increases available penalties for specified criminal activities.
Official Summary of S.744
Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act
(Congressional Research Service Summary)
(Sec. 2) States that passage of this Act recognizes that the primary tenets of its success depend on securing U.S. sovereignty and establishing a coherent and just system for integrating those who seek to join American society.
(Sec. 3) Prohibits the Secretary of Homeland Security (DHS) (Secretary) from processing applications for registered provisional immigrant status (RPI), as established by this Act, until the Secretary has submitted to Congress the notice of commencement of implementation of the Comprehensive Southern Border Security Strategy and the Southern Border Fencing Strategy.
Prohibits the Secretary from adjusting RPI aliens to lawful permanent resident status, with certain exceptions, until the Secretary certifies to the President and Congress that: (1) the Comprehensive Southern Border Security Strategy is substantially deployed and operational, (2) the Southern Border Fencing Strategy is substantially completed, (3) a mandatory employment verification system to be used by all employers to prevent unauthorized workers from obtaining U.S. employment has been implemented, and (4) an electronic exit system at air and sea ports of entry that operates by collecting machine-readable visa or passport information from air and vessel carriers is in use.
Authorizes the Secretary to waive legal requirements necessary to ensure construction of the physical infrastructure pursuant to this section. Grants U.S. district courts exclusive jurisdiction to hear claims (which may only be brought on Constitutional grounds) arising from any such action.
(Sec. 4) Establishes a Southern Border Security Commission if DHS has not achieved effective control in all high-risk border sectors within five years after enactment of this Act.
States that the Commission’s primary responsibility shall be to make border security policy recommendations and submit a related report to the President, the Secretary, and Congress. Terminates the Commission 30 days after submission of such report.
(Sec. 5) Directs the Secretary to implement: (1) a Comprehensive Southern Border Security Strategy for achieving control between the ports of entry in all high-risk sectors along the Southern border, and (2) a Southern Border Fencing Strategy to identify where fencing and technology should be deployed along the Southern border.
(Sec. 6) Establishes in the Treasury the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Trust Fund.
Provides initial funding from the Treasury and continued funding from fees collected pursuant to this Act.
CONGRESSIONAL BUDGET OFFICE REVIEW
The Congressional Budget Office estimates that S.744 would lead to a net increase of 10.4 million people residing in the U.S., compared to the change that would have occurred under current conditions.
The CBO’s examination of S. 744 has met with mixed reviews, due in part to its unsupported supposition that some federal revenues-by the sum of $459 billion over the 2014-2023 period– would rise due to increased employment. The CBO fails to convincingly detail where, in an era of already high unemployment and extremely slow economic growth, these jobs would come from.
It estimates that the bill would boost direct spending by $262 billion for federal benefit programs as well as direct spending for enforcement and other expenses.
The CBO also notes that S.744 would impose private sector and intergovernmental mandates, with the burden falling on employers and other entities that hire, recruit or refer employment candidates. These costs would total a minimum of $700 million by 2016.
THE NEXT PHASE
S.744 now moves to the House of Representatives, where it is not expected to pass in its current form. Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) notes:
“…Border security in the Senate bill is not sufficient to solve the problem…the Congressional Budget Office agreed. It found that illegal immigration would only drop by 25% under the Senate Plan…First and foremost, that means confidence that our borders are secure; confidence that those who came here illegally are not given special treatment; confidence that hardworking taxpayers are being respected; and confidence that a majority of both parties have had their say and support the final product.”
ELECTED OFFICIALS VIEWS ON S.744
Upon passage of the Immigration Reform Bill in the Senate, President Obama stated:
“The bipartisan bill that passed today was a compromise. By definition, nobody got everything they wanted. Not Democrats. Not Republicans. Not me. But the Senate bill is consistent with the key principles for commonsense reform that I – and many others – have repeatedly laid out.
“If enacted, the Senate bill would establish the most aggressive border security plan in our history. It would offer a pathway to earned citizenship for the 11 million individuals who are in this country illegally – a pathway that includes passing a background check, learning English, paying taxes and a penalty, and then going to the back of the line behind everyone who’s playing by the rules and trying to come here legally. It would modernize the legal immigration system so that it once again reflects our values as a nation and addresses the urgent needs of our time. And it would provide a big boost to our recovery, by shrinking our deficits and growing our economy.”
In contrast, Senator Tom Coburn (R-Indiana) stated:
“This bill is a historic missed opportunity for the United States Senate. It is a $48 billion border stimulus package that grants amnesty to politicians who want to say they are securing the border when in fact they are not. I very much wanted to support an immigration reform proposal that balances our fundamental American values of legal immigration and the rule of law. Sadly, this bill fails that test.
“Speaker Boehner and House Republicans now have all the justification they need to start over. I would encourage the House to use President Reagan’s view of immigration as a blueprint. In his farewell address Reagan described what he saw when he talked about America as the ‘shining city on the Hill.’
“Reagan said, ‘it was a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind-swept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here.’
“Walls with doors’ is an immigration policy that can unite our nation. But, today, Democrats sound like they want only doors; Republicans only walls. The truth is we have neither. We have chaos.
“House Republicans have a chance to be the higher chamber and get reform right. They should first remind the public that America is exceptional because it is a miracle of assimilation unrivaled in human history. The fire beneath our melting pot is not our economic or material wealth, but an immaterial idea that all people are created equal and are endowed by the Creator – not the State – with certain rights. Every legal immigrant who ‘comes hurtling through the darkness, toward home,’ as Reagan said, makes that fire brighter and our nation stronger.
“The House also has an obligation to defend the rule of law, which is what the debate about border security is really about. According to the Council on Foreign Relations, our border is only 40 to 55 percent secure. At the same time, under the Senate bill, illegal immigration will drop by only 25 percent according the Congressional Budget Office. Meanwhile, more than 40 percent of all people who are currently here illegally came through the front door and have overstayed their visas.
“The rule of law is the glue that holds our nation together and it guarantees the freedom that has drawn millions to our country. As a nation, we have an obligation to our citizens – and to legal immigrants – to uphold the rule of law and ensure the process is fair to all. Unfortunately, this bill is full of holes as far as the rule of law is considered. It is written so that the Secretary of Homeland Security can waive almost every portion of it. That’s not the rule of law. That’s the rule of rulers.
“The House can, and must, do better. But we should be precise about what the problem is. Oklahomans and people across this country aren’t mad at illegal immigrants. They’re mad at Washington. And they are right to be angry. Politicians who pass laws they have no intention of enforcing do more to undermine the rule of law than a Guatemalan father of four who crosses the border twice a year to help feed his extended family. We can’t welcome everyone, but we should be delighted people want to come to this country, and we should do everything in our power to treat aspiring Americans fairly and with dignity.
“I filed 19 amendments to improve this bill, including amendments to help secure the border and increase interior enforcement. Unfortunately, those amendments were not considered. The House now has an opportunity to give the American people the debate they want and deserve.”
REACTION IN THE
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
It appears that the Senate legislation will not pass the House of Representatives in its current form. On July 10, the House leadership, including House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-TX), and Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) issued the followingstatement in the aftermath of a special meeting of the House Republican Conference to discuss the issue of immigration reform:
“Today House Republicans affirmed that rather than take up the flawed legislation rushed through the Senate, House committees will continue their work on a step-by-step, common-sense approach to fixing what has long been a broken system. The American people want our border secured, our laws enforced, and the problems in our immigration system fixed to strengthen our economy. But they don’t trust a Democratic-controlled Washington, and they’re alarmed by the president’s ongoing insistence on enacting a single, massive, Obamacare-like bill rather than pursuing a step-by-step, common-sense approach to actually fix the problem. The president has also demonstrated he is willing to unilaterally delay or ignore significant portions of laws he himself has signed, raising concerns among Americans that this administration cannot be trusted to deliver on its promises to secure the border and enforce laws as part of a single, massive bill like the one passed by the Senate.”
A SAMPLING OF
1. In Favor of the Legislation
A. United Auto Workers
“The UAW commends the 68 U.S. senators for approving a strong bill and passing the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act (S.744) Thursday. We urge the House to do the same, and we must remain vigilant to ensure fair and comprehensive immigration reform is passed.
“From our earliest days, the UAW has been a leader in the struggle to secure economic and social justice for all people. Our commitment to improving the lives of working men and women extends beyond our borders. It encompasses families from around the globe, and keeping families together is integral to helping shape the future of American economic stability, and protecting and preserving workers’ rights.
“The heart of S. 744 is our movement’s core demand: the creation of a reliable, inclusive road map to citizenship for 11 million aspiring Americans. This bill represents a big step toward ending family separation and toward strengthening worker protections.
“Our country’s immigration system is broken. Without a pathway to citizenship, millions of workers are forced into a shadow economy and exploited by unscrupulous employers,” said UAW President Bob King. “That drives down wages and working conditions for all workers and puts employers who want to do the right thing at a competitive disadvantage.
“Who wins when undocumented immigrants live in fear? Only employers who take advantage of them win. The rest of us lose,” King added. “Comprehensive immigration reform supports the right of all workers to a voice on the job and a decent standard of living for their families. It’s past time to lift the fear of deportation for individuals who are contributing to our country.”
“The current system divides families and forces workers to live in fear,” said UAW Vice President Cindy Estrada, who directs the union’s Competitive Shop/Independents, Parts and Suppliers (IPS) Department and leads organizing efforts in the auto parts industry. “No child should be separated from its parents. Too many children go to school in the morning not knowing whether their parent will be home when they return.
“Our country can do better for our families. Policies that separate spouses and tear children from parents are anti-family, and yet, that’s what our broken immigration system does,” added Estrada. “Between July 1, 2010, and Sept. 31, 2012, nearly 23 percent of all deportations – or 204,810 deportations – were issued for parents with citizen children.”
“We are deeply disheartened that Republicans insist on wasting billions more to further militarize the border at a time when schools, military and infrastructure are facing extreme budget cuts. But today’s 68-32 passage represents a positive step forward, and we call on House Speaker John Boehner to allow a vote on comprehensive immigration reform to preserve the pathway to citizenship for the 11 million aspiring Americans.”
B. Catholic Legal Immigration Network
“The Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. (CLINIC) commends the United States Senate for voting in favor of important changes to the nation’s broken immigration system. Yesterday, the Senate passed S. 744, the Border Security, Economic Competitiveness, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013. The measure includes significant reforms to family- and employment-based immigration programs, provides an earned path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, and provides for additional enforcement measures along the U.S.-Mexico border.
“While we have grave concerns about the unprecedented build-up along the southern border, we are encouraged by the strong bipartisan support that the Senate has shown for reform. It is now up to the House to move forward on comprehensive immigration reform that will reunite families, grow businesses, protect workers, and provide a broad path to citizenship” said CLINIC’s executive director, Jeanne Atkinson.
“The passage of comprehensive immigration reform will have a profound effect on the nation and the communities CLINIC’s affiliates serve. CLINIC is focused on building the capacity of its network of more than 215 high-quality charitable legal immigration programs. Utilizing lessons learned from successfully implementing the Administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, CLINIC is ready to provide training and support on legalization implementation. CLINIC recently brought together, and will continue to work with, national partners to strategize ways to serve the millions who will qualify.”
2. OPPOSED TO THE LEGISLATION
A. The Coalition Against S.744
[S.744] s bloated and unwieldy along the lines of Obamacare or Dodd-Frank;
• Cedes excessive control over immigration law to an administration that has
repeatedly proven itself to be untrustworthy, even duplicitous;
• Legalizes millions of illegal immigrants before securing the borders, thus ensuring future illegal immigration;
• Rewards law breakers and punishes law enforcement, undermining the rule of law;
• Hurts American job-seekers, especially those with less education;
• Threatens to bankrupt our already strained entitlement system;
• Expands government by creating new bureaucracies, authorizing new spending, and calling for endless regulations;
• Contains dangerous loopholes that threaten national security;
• Is shot through with earmarks for politically connected interest groups;
• Overwhelms our immigration bureaucracy, guaranteeing widespread fraud.
B. D.C. March For Jobs
The DC March for Jobs, which is organizing a major rally against immigration reform which they believe ignores the needs of unemployed and underemployed Americans, is organizing a rally scheduled for July 15 in Washington.
According to the organization:
“We believe it is time that members of Congress act to preserve economic opportunity for American workers – and pass immigration legislation that protects and supports the nearly 22 million American citizens who do not have jobs, or cannot find adequate employment to support their families. Economists report that labor participation in the U.S. is at its lowest rate in over 30 years.
“Despite sluggish economic conditions, some in Congress have put forth immigration proposals to increase legal immigration levels by 50% and provide amnesty to over 11 million people who have entered the country illegally. We stand against these proposals, as they will result in adding millions more to the U.S. labor force, putting millions of American citizens out of work.”
During the Senate debate, the group delivered the following letter to Congress:
“Dear Members of Congress,
“We, the undersigned members of the Black American Leadership Alliance respectfully address this letter to Members of the Senate Gang of Eight, the Congressional Black Caucus, and to Senators from those states having the highest rates of black unemployment. We write in our capacity as leaders of the Black American Leadership Alliance, a Washington, DC-based organization whose primary mission is to further the economic and social interests of the black community. We write to express our serious concerns with Senate Bill 744. Given the fact that more than 13% of all blacks are unemployed – nearly double that of the national average, it is our position that each Member of Congress must consider the disastrous effects that Senate Bill 744 would have on low skill workers of all races, while paying particular attention to the potential harm to African Americans. Credible research indicates that black workers will suffer the greatest harm if this legislation were to be passed. We are asking that you oppose Senate Bill S.744 because of the dramatic effect it will have on the availability of employment for African American workers.
“Many studies have shown that black Americans are disproportionately harmed by mass immigration and amnesty. Most policy makers who favor the legalization of nearly 11 million aliens fail to acknowledge that decades of high immigration levels has caused unemployment to rise significantly, most particularly among black Americans. They further fail to consider how current plans to add 33 million more legal workers within ten years will have an enormously disastrous effect on our nation’s jobs outlook. With respect to African Americans, well respected researchers from some of America’s most venerable universities have found undeniable links tying large-scale immigration in the U.S. to declining rates of employment for America’s black citizens. The National Bureau of Economic Research recently issued a report
asserting that 40 percent of the decline in employment rates for low skilled black men in recent decades was due to immigration. Studies by Borjas and Katz, professors from Harvard University, found that immigration reduced the earnings of certain native born laborers by as much as eight percent and other demographic groups by 2 to 4 percent.
“According to research conducted by University of California San Diego economics Professor Gordon H. Hanson, immigration has accounted for 40% of the 18 percentage point decline in black employment rates, and current immigration proposals are sure to substantially raise these numbers. Upon conducting research in this area, Professor Vernon Briggs of Cornell University concluded that illegal immigrants and blacks, both of whom are disproportionately likely to be low skilled, frequently compete for the same jobs, and that a large number of illegal immigrants ensures a surplus of low skilled labor, thus keeping wages for black workers artificially low.
“The House Immigration Subcommittee also addressed this topic when panelists presented a report from the Center for Labor Market Studies (CLMS) at Northeastern University entitled “Exclusive: Over a Million Immigrants Land U.S. Jobs in 2008-2010.” Unsurprisingly, the study found that unskilled immigrants were taking jobs in the construction sector, jobs that young, American workers typically gravitate towards. Of course, some of the immigrants referred to by Senate Bill S. 744 work in high skill sectors, but the vast majority of them will compete with young Americans for entry level jobs, including jobs traditionally held by black workers in the low skilled wage sector. Andrew Sum, director of the Center for Labor Market Studies, estimates that 35 percent of the immigrants taking these construction jobs are
“Many blacks compete with immigrants, particularly illegal immigrants, for low skilled jobs due to skill level and geography, and there are simply not enough of these jobs to go around. Consider the fact that nearly 51% of African Americans do not have a higher education. In 2011, 24.6% of blacks without a high school diploma were unemployed. Even blacks with a high school diploma were unemployed at a rate of 15.5% that same year. Passing legislation to add additional workers to an already swamped labor market will only exacerbate these statistics. Despite the fact that these figures are readily available and have been reported by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, many lawmakers have chosen to do nothing, putting politics over the well-being of constituents. Yet, the fact remains that the proposed immigration bill will nearly double legal immigration levels and provide instant work authorization to over 11 million illegal immigrants. We are firmly convinced that such an expansion of the labor force during one of the most protracted periods of high unemployment in decades will result in suppressed wages for all Americans, but the effects on African Americans will be the most devastating.
“Given the current economic outlook, with declining wages and fewer opportunities for black workers, now is not the time to add millions more workers as S. 744 proposes.
“Nationally, labor participation is at 63.3% – the lowest level since 1979. Passage of the Senate’s amnesty bill will continue to flood an already overcrowded labor force and result in reduced wages and opportunities for many black citizens who are least able to afford it. Following even the simplest rules of supply and demand, this increase in available low skilled labor will undoubtedly reduce wages for all workers. However, according to the experts, the impact will be hardest on the black community.
“If passed, the proposed immigration bill will be costly for all Americans, but will harm black American workers more than any other group. Mass immigration and amnesty puts African Americans from all walks of life out of work and suppresses wages, causing them to compete with aliens willing to work in poorer working conditions for cheaper pay. When almost one in
seven blacks is unemployed, now is not the time to further saturate the labor force with increased immigration levels and amnesty. If Congress fails to stop this irresponsible legislation, the United States will continue to see more and more blacks out of jobs and unable to support their families. The disastrous effects of illegal immigration to the black community is not simply limited to jobs.
“The Black American Leadership Alliance is calling upon the Senate Gang of Eight and those Members from states having the highest rates of black unemployment to recognize the devastating effects amnesty and mass immigration has on low skilled workers, particularly those in the black community. Secondly, we implore each Member to fulfill his or her duty to the
millions of Americans struggling to find work by opposing amnesty and supporting policies to reduce overall levels of legal and illegal immigration.”
Prior legislative assurances of tightened border control have not been met, leading to a deep-seated mistrust of the basic compromise of S.744, which is more security for a guaranteed path to legalization. This promises to be a significant roadblock to achieving the compromises necessary for the passage of immigration reform legislation in the House.