Sunday, April 11, 2010

Taking A Stab At Immigration Reform

On April 5 Cynthia Tucker of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution wrote favorably of the "framework" by Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Lindsay Graham (R-SC) to effect the legalization of illegal immigrants.

The main facets of the plan are a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, a program to let in future workers, the improvements in enforcement and the biometric Social Security cards to help employers weed out illegal workers.

Tucker notes that the effort of Senators Schumer and Graham, which includes both accomodation of illegal immigrants and more than a nod to enforcement, constitutes a "pledge of bipartisanship." Nevertheless, she understands, "few think the process will be anything but long and bloody — just like health care reform. And, in the end, there’s no guarantee of Republican votes."

But a portion of her reasoning is deeply flawed. Tucker rhetorically, and eloquently, asks "What kind of country would deport promising teen-aged Americans just because their parents came from Guatemala or Gambia without permission? What kind of country would exploit the labor of workers but refuse to allow them the chance at legal status?"

Apparently, the kind of country with a Senator Schumer and a Senator Graham, who write their

blueprint also creates a rational system for admitting lower-skilled workers. Our current system prohibits lower-skilled immigrants from coming here to earn money and then returning home. Our framework would facilitate this desired circular migration by allowing employers to hire immigrants if they can show they were unsuccessful in recruiting an American to fill an open position; allowing more lower-skilled immigrants to come here when our economy is creating jobs and fewer in a recession; and permitting workers who have succeeded in the workplace, and contributed to their communities over many years, the chance to earn a green card.

The guest worker program scheme rears its ugly head- and apparently is supported by a columnist who moments earlier typed "What kind of country would exploit the labor of workers...." Rightfully aghast at exploitation of human labor, Tucker should not avert her eyes from the temporary worker aspect of the Schumer-Graham framework.

Failing to recognize the nexus between temporary worker programs and exploitation of human labor, Tucker goes on to add two and two and come up with five. She approvingly quotes James Carville, who was two-thirds accurate when he commented that immigration reform "divides them (Republicans) worse than us. Politically, I think it is a good issue for Democrats to bring up. It gives them (the GOP) fits, real fits.”

The issue of immigration reform does divide Republicans more than Democrats and give the GOP "fits." Or rather, it has given Republicans more trouble than it has Democrats because the latter have merely "brought it up." Make immigration reform ("amnesty! amnesty!") a major issue and the political calculus shifts dramatically.

Several weeks ago, The Washington Times reported

President Obama gave a thumbs up Thursday to the outline of a plan to legalize illegal immigrants and create a flow of low-skilled foreign workers for the future, saying the immigration bill being worked on by a Republican and a Democrat is "promising"....

"I congratulate Senators Schumer and Graham for their leadership, and pledge to do everything in my power to forge a bipartisan consensus this year on this important issue so we can continue to move forward on comprehensive immigration reform," Mr. Obama said in a statement soon after the two senators published their blueprint in a column submitted to The Washington Post.

The carefully orchestrated rollout came just three days before immigrant-rights advocates expect at least 50,000 supporters to rally and march in Washington, D.C., calling for Congress to act. The organizers of the rally had met with Mr. Obama last week and told him he needed to embrace a bill or else the thousands of marchers would be told that he had failed to live up to his promises on this issue.


The President, wisely, signaled to marchers his support in a manner geared to avoid widespread publicity. The immigration reform position is salient primarily to supporters of legal/illegal immigration. It is not a pivotal issue to individuals, probably in the majority among the American populace, who oppose measures congenial to illegal immigrants. Advocates of the reform position would do well not to awaken the majority- or at least plurality- of voters who do not agree with them, but for whom the issue now is below the radar.

If Mr. Obama, unlike Carville and Tucker, appears to recognize the popular opposition to making illegal immigrants more comfortable, Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) surely does. On March 31, Menendez- a strong support of comprehensive reform who regrets only that the Schumer-Graham blueprint has an enforcement component- told a New Jersey newspaper "I think the time to get it done is in November, right after the elections."

This wasn't (to be condescending) a bad effort on the part of a Pulitzer Prize winner. But Tucker, as well as Democratic strategists who support a path to legalization, need to recognize both the political explosiveness of immigration and the threat to the American worker posed by any temporary, or guest, worker program.

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