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Crossing Borders: The Impact of Immigration

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Document date: February 03, 2004
Released online: February 03, 2004

KATHLEEN COURRIER, Urban Institute: (In progress.) Roberto Suro heads up the Pew Hispanic Center. Before that, he was a reporter and analyst of Hispanic affairs, most recently for the Washington Post. He's also the author of Strangers Among Us: Latino Lives in a Changing America. Reviewers love this book and one of them said it was a cliché-shattering event.

Raul Damas directs Hispanic grassroots development initiatives for the Republican National Committee. Before that, he co-founded Opiniones Latinas, a bilingual polling and communications strategy firm. He's a campaign guru, a prolific writer, and a TV pundit to boot.

Maria Echeveste is an attorney. Her firm Nueva Vista advises corporations and nonprofits on public policy, advocacy, and strategy. Maria appears regularly on such TV shows as "To the Contrary" and "Inside Politics." Also, for almost three years she served as President Clinton's deputy chief of staff.

Doris Meissner, at the end of the table, is a senior fellow at the Migration Policy Institute and there she keeps an eye on international migration and development amid rapid globalization and heightened national security concerns. Doris has held many high positions in the Justice Department, including INS commissioner, and she also founded the Carnegie Endowment's migration policy program, which I think morphed into the Migration Policy Institute a couple years ago.

Jeff Passel is one of our own. He works here on immigration policy, demography, and immigrant adaptation. His particular passion is tracking undocumented immigrants. Before coming to the Urban Institute, Jeff—(laughter)—was an—I didn't say stalking, I said tracking, okay. (Laughter.) Before coming to the Urban Institute, Jeff was an assistant division chief at the Census Bureau. He modestly lifted out of the bio in your packet that in 2003 American Demographics magazine named him one of the five most important American demographers of the past 25 years.

So before handing the baton to Roberto, who I hope is primed to bust some more clichés today, let me thank you and all of the distinguished and hardy panelists once again for coming.

ROBERTO SURO, Pew Hispanic Center: Just very briefly to try and put a little context about—around—this topic which doesn't need a lot of introduction to most of the people here. I would argue that regardless of—whatever happens to immigration policy in the next couple of years, that January 7, 2004, will represent something of a watershed in that the president's speech on this topic really does mark a turning point in the discussion of immigration in this country.

There are really three notable factors I think that are worth pointing out that I think set the context for the rest of this discussion. One, certainly the fact that he addressed this topic in the way he did, in that venue, the East Room of the White House, with all the formality and force of the White House behind him really puts an end to the sort of the post-9/11 period where there was a really very substantial danger of anti-immigrant backlash that could affect the bulk of the foreign-born population. We can—on another day we can—talk about what didn't happen after September 11th but in terms of an effort to substantially change the core of American immigration policy and to attempt to restrict numbers and take other measures that—as I said, the core policies, I think the president's speech marked a new moment ending 27 months of doubt as to what—whether the fundamental direction of American immigration policy would change.

The other important point I would make is, I think, his emphasis on the economy as the regulator, of the labor market as the chief engine for determining immigration flows, is really quite a revolutionary concept. Since 1965 family unification has been the core tenet of immigration policy. The president's proposing something different. When he said that reform must confront a basic fact of life in economic—some of the jobs being generated in America's growing economy are jobs that American citizens are not filling. It is a fundamentally different way of looking at immigration's purposes. He's basically saying that filling the economy's need for workers ought to be one of the core principles of an immigration policy. And I think that is a remarkable change that he's proposing.

Finally, his assertion—again in that venue and with the full power of the presidency behind him using perhaps one of the most esteemed pulpits available to an American leader—is to portray undocumented immigrants as honorable people was truly, I think, an extraordinary event. When he described them as people who search for a better life as one of the most basic desires of human beings and whose current treatment under the law is not the American way, it was an extraordinary reevaluation of that part of the American population.

And more broadly, and sort of in a larger context, I think that speech in many ways put this era of immigration, particularly the Latino component of immigration, on the same par as the European waves of immigration. He applied the mythology of Ellis Island to these migrants, which is somewhat extraordinary because there's always been a little bit of an asterisk about Latino immigration because a large part of it comes across the border illegally and there's been—there are questions people ask as to whether it should be valued the same way as prior waves of migrants. And the president certainly offered his opinion on the score and very unequivocally equated this era of migration with those previous eras that really built this country.

We've got—I'm going to turn this over very quickly to a panel that has a variety of expertises and points of view. You've heard the introductions already. Jeff Passel is going to begin with some of the demographic overview. Doris Meissner brings an extraordinary depth of policy expertise and then we have two partisan/gurus here—Raul first and Maria will speak after that.

So take it away—and then we'll have time for questions.

JEFFREY PASSEL, Urban Institute: Thank you, I didn't realize I had tracking skills, but I'll have to work on them some, but it does fit in with what I'm going to say. Because there has been an interesting set of trends in the more than 20 years that I've actually been working on measuring undocumented or unauthorized immigration.

When I started, I started making empirically based estimates and they were much, much lower than the conventional wisdom, the numbers that appeared in the popular press, and the numbers that politicians were using. Their numbers were much higher. The empirically based estimates over the years have kind of gradually gone up and, over time, the guesstimates and the conventional wisdom has sort of gone down, and about five years ago they actually converged.

And there was pretty much fairly widespread agreement before 2000 that there were probably about 6 million undocumented immigrants in the country. It turned out we were all wrong at that point—that the numbers were actually much higher, they were more like 8, 8.5 million. Since that time, my own estimates have shown, kind of again, a steady upward trend and now they're actually a bit higher than the ones that seem to be the basis for—seem to underlie some of the proposals from Bush and the Hagel-Daschle proposal.

What I'm going to try to do today is just give some empirical descriptions, how many are in the country, where they live, and a little about who they are as defined by the data we have. The main point here is that the numbers have grown very rapidly. Current estimates, which are actually in your packet, place the number at about 9.3 million but that's as of March 2002. And they've been growing by at least 500,000 per year, maybe more, with no real indication of a significant slowdown recently. And I've started working on some newer data and it looks—I can say that it looks like there are probably about 10 million in the country right now.

And while Mexico accounts for 55 to 60 percent of the total, this means that there are more than 4 million undocumented immigrants from other countries. Most of these other ones, about two-thirds of them, are from other Latin American countries, but it's clearly not just Mexicans that we're talking about.

The geographic distribution has also changed significantly in the last decade. The largest number now—as long as we've been measuring this—live in California. More than 2 million are there. It's followed by Texas, Florida, New York, and Illinois. A decade ago and before New Jersey was the sixth largest, but our recent estimates show that Arizona has almost certainly passed New Jersey and that North Carolina, interestingly, may have also passed North—New Jersey—in terms of the numbers.

But these six original states that we looked at, at least through the mid-'90s, had more than 80 percent of the undocumented aliens in the country. They now—those six states now account for less than two-thirds of the total, though. To put that a little bit differently, the undocumented population in those top six states more than doubled between 1990 and 2002, but in the remaining states the numbers increased more than fivefold, going from a little over half a million, 6 or 700,000 up to about 3.5 million now, so the distribution is quite different. One little footnote on this is that the numbers in California don't look like they've gone up very much over about a 15-year period. The numbers seem to have stayed about the same.

Well, who are these people? I haven't tracked any so I don't know from talking to them but from our data and from what we read the stereotype of undocumented immigrants as poorly educated and low paid is certainly a valid one. But it's not a monolithic group. Some of them have rather high levels of education especially since they include a large, but I'd say unknown, share who overstayed student visas and other kinds of technical visas.

We can say some things about them. They tend to be young; there are very few over age 40 statistically. They are hard working; virtually all of the adult men are in the labor force. We estimate overall about 6 million of the 9.3 million are in the labor force, although not all of them are in jobs that would qualify them for the legal statuses offered by Bush and Hagel-Daschle, at least as far I understand those proposals. The undocumented population is poor, but not all of them. Almost two-thirds of the undocumented adults fall below 200 percent of the federal poverty line and about three-quarters of their children are in these low-income families.

But I would say not all the stereotypes are correct and in fact they're not correct in some significant ways as we look at the proposals. Of the approximately 4.5 million undocumented adult men, only about half of them are single, without nuclear families—kind of the stereotype. So only about half of them are the kind of young adult male who has come looking for jobs. And only about one-quarter of the more than 3 million undocumented women fit that category of single and without a nuclear family.

What this means is that there are upwards of 4 million adults in approximately 2 million undocumented families and in these families there are children, a lot of children. There are more than 1-1/2 million children who themselves are undocumented aliens and, in addition, there are another 3 million children of undocumented aliens who are U.S. citizens by virtue of being born in the United States.

And while many of these undocumented immigrants are new to the U.S., there are more than 4 million who have been here less than five years. There are very large numbers who have been here significant lengths of time. Again, almost 4 million came before 1995. So you've got a lot of recent arrivals but a significant number of people who have been here a long time.

The numbers have clearly reached a point where something needs to be done about the status of these people. In fact, I've wondered—I've been sort of saying, why isn't anything happening, these numbers are getting bigger and bigger, and it has reached the point where it's now being talked about. In considering these options, though, I think we need to keep several of these points in mind. And just to underscore them, the numbers are very, very large, and they continue to grow with perhaps as many as 800,000 new immigrants arriving every year, and this is notwithstanding economic downturns, the increased security efforts and the massive effort put into the Mexican border. The numbers, the people keep coming. They've spread across the country, not just in a few states and cities, but all over the country which provides a set of economic niches to expand more. There are very large numbers from countries other than Mexico. They're working and they have families. And I think the family nature of it is crucial when we think about some of the implications of the proposals. And since the notion is, at least as I understand it, to reduce the undocumented population down to insignificant levels, this dynamic, I think, creates an impediment to that that we need to think about.

And that's—I'll close with this—under the Hagel-Daschle proposals, at least as I read those and put that together with my data, there may be as many as 4 million undocumented immigrants in the country who have not been here long enough to qualify. Conversely, if we look at the Bush proposal, there are large numbers of families, including as I said 3 million U.S.-born children. The families have been in the U.S. for long periods of time and it seems to me they're not likely to leave at the end of the temporary period that they would get. And that's something that needs to be considered strongly.

And further, if we grant temporary visas to wives and children to join those men—spouses and children—the men and the women who are here unattached, it would only increase the number of families and ultimately the number of U.S.-born children—clearly a humanitarian gesture but it seems to work against the dynamic that's desired, that seems to be the ultimate end to reduce the size of this population.

So—and I'll take some questions later on some of the technical aspects, I didn't want to take time doing that now.

DORIS MEISSNER, Migration Policy Institute: Okay. Let me start by making a slight correction to something that Roberto said in the introduction which is that this is—that what Bush has done here is establish meeting labor market needs as a core principle of immigration policy and that's new. I think that's not new. Meeting labor market needs has always been an objective of our immigration policy but meeting the labor market needs through a large scale, almost overarching, temporary worker program—that would be the new feature.

And so that is, I think, why I was asked today to talk about temporary worker programs and fill in the blanks a little bit on what our experience as a country has been with temporary worker policies. First of all, temporary workers just by definition—what are they? They are people who are imported to meet labor market needs here or in any country for a limited period of time and explicitly a period of time which is not to be considered as a basis for permanent residence or stay in the country.

These kinds of programs have taken place at all skill levels. We typically think of them at the low-skilled part of the labor market but there are many programs as well that meet high-skill and even medium-skill labor market needs. And we're talking about a phenomenon that dates far back all over the world and in many countries way predates the United States' experience with temporary workers. It is an important phenomenon today around the world, particularly in the Middle East where many economies essentially are—function because of imported labor. The Philippines is the largest single labor exporter of countries around the world. So there's a huge story where temporary programs are concerned. We're not going to talk about that story today, we're going to talk about the United States, but I think it's important to understand that this is a very—this is a long-standing and widespread phenomenon.

Okay, the United States—I'm going to just thumbnail a couple of programs that we've had in the past and then talk about what some of the common threads and possible lessons from them are. The best known program that we've had has been the Bracero Program. I'm sure many of you are familiar with it, and I describe it with some trepidation because my friend Maria told me the other day that she is the child of a Bracero family—or the daughter of a Bracero family, so she will know about it from the ground up.

What we can say about it as a program is that it lasted from 1942 to 1964—that's a very long period of time. It was a result of formal negotiations and agreement between the United States and Mexico for the purposes of meeting the food supply needs of the United States during the Second World War, so that it was a program that imported agricultural workers on a seasonal basis, although in the later years of the program it also involved workers for the rail companies. But fundamentally it's an agricultural program. It, over the course of those years, involved 4.5 million people. There were elaborate contracts and every possible contingency was written into these contracts in terms of housing and wages and labor conditions, and there were particular features such as withholding of 10 percent of the wages of the workers, which then went to the government of Mexico and was to be given back to the workers when they returned.

But the—probably the, you know—single largest characteristic of the Bracero Program was that there were many, many abuses. It was riddled with abuses, all of the formal contracts and descriptions notwithstanding, including that that 10 percent wage withholding generally never found its way to the workers again when they returned, and there's even a lawsuit today that's been recently filed to try to address that issue.

And the other overarching characteristic of it was that it was a very—the rules were very poorly enforced. There was very, very lax enforcement, and ultimately it was over those issues that the program came to an end because it essentially, simply couldn't stand the scrutiny of the civil rights era and of other sensibilities that developed in the 1960s about how people should be treated.

The lasting effect of the Bracero Program, however, is that it established and institutionalized networks and labor market relationships between Mexico and the United States that really are the reason, or the basis, for the undocumented or illegal migration that has characterized the decades since the Bracero Program ended in the 1960s. So that—the fact that the law and the negotiation or the agreement between the United States and Mexico ended did not—what was a legal change but that did not affect the actual behavior that had been established during those 20-plus years, and that simply morphed into what we're dealing now with today, in retrospect, in terms of Mexican undocumented migration.

Now there have been other smaller programs that we have had that are temporary programs. And there are three of them whose numbers are familiar to you that are currently in practice. One is called the H1B program, one is called H2A and then there's H2B. And these are programs—the H2A is also an agricultural program, H2B is a nonagricultural program but those are temporary, seasonal programs. Probably the interesting one to say a few things about here is H1B because that is temporary program that deals with high-skilled workers.

H1B is high-skilled or technical skills where the minimum qualification is at least a bachelor's degree or more in the specialty for which one would be coming to the United States to work. It's most commonly used in the information technology and computer industries. The people coming on H1B in the last six, eight years have been almost half from India, the next largest source country is China. And it's a program that has a legislative, statutory cap, but that cap is regularly adjusted by the Congress in legislation in response to employers' assertions about what it is that they need. It started out as low as 65,000 in the mid-1990s and went up to 195,000 around 2000, 2001 and it's now been brought back down, but there's a really significant range that has changed rather regularly in recent years.

This is also the program where employers pay $1,000 each for the privilege of being able to apply for workers under this program and this is the program that is so similar to what it is that President Bush has described in that the initial visa is for three years and then it is renewable for another three-year period. It is supposed to have a maximum of six years, but recently the Congress did legislate significant easing of the rules for adjusting to permanent status that make these people that are at the six-year point have a much smoother route to becoming permanent residents.

So when you take all of these programs together that we have in place now, although they are comparable to some extent to some of the things that are being talked about in the Bush proposal, we're actually talking about very small numbers. I mean, even H1B at 195,000 when it was at its peak is a 195,000. The other temporary programs are about 30,000 each per year so you're—at any one time, you're talking about somewhere between 250 (thousand) and 300,000. And even if you accumulate that over the course of people being able to extend their visas, you're probably not talking about any more than 1, 1.2 million people at any one time, which is a very different order of magnitude from what's being discussed in these proposals.

Okay, let's look at some common issues and threads that run through this. There are a whole range of them, but let me just pick out several that I think are particularly interesting for the discussion and the debate today. I think the most important—or one of the most important threads is that our experience with temporary programs both historically and at the current time is that the temporary workers tend to contribute to lasting migration networks, which is just another way of saying that you can try to use people to meet the needs of the economy and certainly that does happen, but migration is not simply an economic process. It is also a social process.

And so what that says to me is that in any kind of a temporary program that would be legislated today, it has to have a flexible design. There has to be—it's obviously very useful to try to construct incentives, the incentives that are in the proposal that President Bush made are new in terms of Social Security and so forth. They are very interesting incentives and we ought to be working on them, but I think to—simply a one-size-fits-all approach to this is going to be—means that it's not likely to succeed in its objectives, so that designing a program that allows and tries to encourage temporary-ness is certainly legitimate but there also need to be ways to earn, stay in the United States over time, otherwise we are simply ignoring what it is that we've learned from the experiences that we and other countries have had with this in the past.

Another critical issue has to do with rights and the likelihood of exploitation of workers; in other words, rights on the part of the workers as well as labor market protections and employer—potential employer—abuses. This is always a problem with temporary worker programs, and it's a problem that is built into the definition of the program, which is that you have a totally unequal relationship between an employer and a worker when the worker's ability to stay in the country is dependent on that employment situation and the visa is tied to being employed by a particular employer.

So—and the other universal lesson of course is that enforcement—despite whatever is said or despite whatever protections are written into contracts and agreements—has always been very weak and insufficient, both in the United States and in the experiences around the world. So that where rights and likelihood of abuse is concerned, it seems to me that one has to look at the very relationship between the worker and the employer and that's where the notion of portability of the visa comes up, that ultimately you can really only try to level the playing field to some extent if the worker in fact can take that opportunity of being in the United States and move it to a different job, comparable job, but give him some negotiating leverage in the employment relationship.

Finally, I think that another thread that runs through all of these programs has to do with the labor market test and how it is that you protect American workers because in all of these circumstances, one of the major principles is not to disadvantage or harm American workers and their aspirations for particular jobs or their ability for jobs to be paid and have working conditions that make them be attractive. And there we always have a very unsatisfactory track record with the current labor certification system. We really do not know how to test the labor market in order to do that protection of American workers and still ascertain where it is legitimate that employers have a need and should be able to bring workers into the country. Everybody knows that it is a completely formulaic arrangement at the present time and it is—even if it weren't formulaic, I think it's fair to say—absolutely unworkable at the scale that is being contemplated in the Bush proposal, the amounts of time that are involved and the steps that you have to go through that result in this case-by-case certification don't make sense.

So that what we have to start to look at if we're going to be serious about this is a way of testing the labor market that is different from what we've done in the past. The president's proposal has made some suggestions—I mean, has used the language that would suggest that this ought to be market oriented and that means that we have to try to figure out whether you would certify by sectors of the labor market, whether you would certify by geography in the labor market, how time sensitive those certifications could be in terms of monitoring when an area of the labor market should be open to foreign workers and when not. And again, how do you oversee this and how do you get data which is not available now?

We really do not have much in the way of experience with this. There's a little bit of experience in some of the higher-tech areas of the labor market where individual certifications haven't been required, but this is also an art and a science that needs to be developed. So to me, what all of that points to is that if we want to go forward with what it is that's been proposed there are lots of pitfalls to be aware of and lots of pitfalls based on our experience that have to be corrected for. And all of them would require quite complex new policies that—and machinery—that hasn't been even conceptualized and certainly would need to be legislated and is not yet written into what it is that we should—a statute like this would look at and that poses some really extraordinary implementation challenges. So if we want to get it right this time around there's a long road ahead, and I think the numbers and the stakes at this point make it imperative that we try to get it right.

Thank you.

RAUL DAMAS, Republican National Committee: Thank you very much. Good afternoon everyone.

As you've been discussing, about a month ago President Bush restarted an important national debate that had been muted by the events of September 11th. The president's proposal to reform our nation's immigration laws has generated enough national interest that it's now likely to become a significant political issue in the 2004 elections.

Immigration is a complex political issue. We've already laid out—well, experts here have already laid out why it is that it is an incredibly complex policy issue but politically it's no less challenging. It means different things to different groups of voters. For the vast majority of voters immigration entails issues of national security, jobs, joblessness. For Latino voters, which is the particular area in which I'm involved in the Republican National Committee, it's an important part of the—as Latinos, an important part of the electorate. Immigration has become almost a litmus test issue with ramifications and importance beyond just the surface—what may appear to us on the surface.

At present most American voters are willing to discuss immigration reforms to the degree that they strengthen our border, security, and do not imperil American jobs. The president's plan does both these things but also promotes compassion by enabling illegal immigrants to work legally in this country without fear of deportation. While the president's plan was designed as a blueprint for encouraging congressional debate and activity on immigration reform, the subsequent weeks following his announcement have seen a handful of legislators and organizations offer their own immigration reform plans. This illustrates not only President Bush's clear leadership and agenda-setting capabilities, but also the desire within many quarters to make immigration reform an election year issue.

Shifting back to Latino voters in particular, their thoughts on the issue are nuanced and not very easily classified. As I mentioned, it's become a litmus test issue and I'll tease that out a bit. In other words, how one discusses immigration, how one refers to immigrants, and I know Roberto made reference to this about how the president initiated a new era not only in the post-September 11th time, but also in the way that immigrants and immigration and even illegal or undocumented workers in this country are referred to by the president. And that has trickled down and that has been an amazing step forward.

In a 2002—and this teases out a bit more of the sometimes opposing or sometimes, at all times, complex views that Hispanics have with regard to immigration—in a 2002 national survey of Hispanics by the Latino Coalition it was discovered that 83 percent of Latinos approve of, in quotes, "a plan to normalize the status of 3.5 million Mexican illegal immigrants." This support cut across lines of national origin which reflect different immigration situations within the Latino community. For example, 75 percent of Puerto Ricans and 90 percent of Cubans supported the plan even though their own immigration situations are very different and frankly unaffected by that proposal.

Contrast this apparent unity of thought with Governor Gray Davis's inability to leverage Latino support by signing a bill that gave illegal immigrants [the right] to obtain drivers licenses. In this case, Latinos did not respond as a group to Davis's overt request for their support. It was reported as an attempt to pander. Clearly California's Hispanic voters were aware of Davis's intentions as he'd already vetoed the bill twice before, and thus refused to fall in line. This negative response to the manner in which the policy was enacted and reported on surpassed any political capital the policy itself might have gained, again, with Latino voters.

Both of these examples illustrate why the manner in which political candidates address the immigration issue is almost as important as what they believe should be done about it. As for some armchair psychology—obviously I'm interested in what others' thoughts are on this issue—but when Latino voters hear politicians talk about immigrants legal or illegal, they often hear them talking about Hispanics in general. And I think that's a pretty fair assumption to make—certainly is my case. As such, Latinos place extraordinary importance on the characterizations and description of immigrants. Whether they're described as lawbreakers or hard workers is extremely important to Latino voters. And again, that's a revolutionary change in tone that has just recently occurred because of the president's comments.

Looking toward the national race, I believe you'll see the Democrat presidential nominee mimicking the president's language of compassion and recognition for immigrants' hard work just as so many Democrats have already followed the president's lead and begun talking about immigration after years of silence. At the end of the day and the election cycle we believe moderate, commonsense immigration reform, like what President Bush has offered, is the right way for our country and all of its electorate.

I just want to keep my comments brief and obviously in terms of the political analysis, but I'd be more than happy to answer questions but, thank you very much, I just want to bring up those points.

MARIA ECHEVESTE, Nueva Latina: I'll leave—I think Doris laid out a very, very daunting task in terms of if you actually wanted to take the president's proposal seriously just how hard it would be, which to me underscores how plainly unserious the proposal was and that it was designed—we'll find out in November just how effective it was—it was designed as a political—first and foremost, a political statement.

And I think we need to step back a little bit and look at—for example, let's take the first point that Democrats have delayed engaging in this issue. I sometimes feel that on the progressive side we're always victims of actually trying to get the policy right instead of just going for the political win. People have been working—many of these people some of you know in this room—have been working for some time with congressional leaders on the right set of policies because in fact we do face a crisis. It's not just about the fact that we already have a guest worker program in this country, the undocumented, so what do you do about that.

What do you do about the fact that most experience is—every temporary program, as much as you want to design it as temporary, has a permanent quality to it and you've got to address that; and thirdly, that we do face labor shortages in certain industries, in certain sectors. How do we balance the need of American workers with legitimate economic needs?

And so, just as a side note here, probably the only reason that President Bush was able to have, if you will, the podium to himself on January 7th was because on the Democratic side we had parts of the coalition in dispute, shall we say, as to in particular what type of—what some of us have called euphemistically—future flow program we should have, what kind of temporary worker program we should have because needless to say, there are parts of organized labor that are virulently against any type of temporary worker program. But we've got some segments of organized labor who see that, in fact, the future workforce is Latino, the future organizing will be Latino. This is very important. So what we had was—we've got some bills up there and now Daschle-Hagel, I think it's not telling too many tales out of school, but people had hoped that something like that would have been introduced in last fall. And we might have had a different conversation today had that happened.

But moving more to this Latino voter, I think what we have are all the perfect sound bites. We have a set of principles from the president, an East Room announcement—there were two speeches given on that day. The first speech is the one that elevated, as Roberto says, the undocumented and recognized them as the hard-working people that they are, and—but the absence of either legislation or any real detail of how to address some of these very, very hard issues speaks to the fact that he has the best of both worlds. He has the bully pulpit, the wonderful language, he has the photo op with President Fox that was orchestrated. And the hope, I believe, will be that out there in the Latino world what the message will be conveyed that will be, "I'm a president who's compassionate, I care about you, I'm going to work hard to give you legal status and hope that most Latinos who vote will not be looking at the details."

And I think we need to divide the Latino voter into sort of two groups because it is, as many of you know and Roberto—some of Roberto's work at the Pew Hispanic Center shows a very diverse community. And so immigration is, to some degree, a litmus test in the sense that if you're virulently or very negative towards immigrants generally it is seen as an attack on Latinos generally. Having said that, Latinos are, like every other American, worried about their jobs, worried about what's happening to their social services. So it isn't a slam-dunk issue when you poll regular—you know, likely Latino voters—what do you—they care about most?—the economy, national security, health care—and one of the questions we're going to look at, I think at in this election year, is whether immigration rises to the level as a motivating force to actually get people to vote. And I think that's going to depend on both parties' ability to cast their candidates' positions on immigration in a way that fits in with the larger, if you will, platform.

And that's why, I think, that on the substantive—the policy-substantive basis of his proposal is so outrageous that I can barely speak about it because I worry so much about what it speaks to this country if people fall for it. But the question of how you educate a growing part of the electorate to the nuances of who has the most money to explain on television what I'm proposing—you know, what a president's proposing versus what the other candidate—is going to, I think, determine whether in fact the political objective of this proposal--.

Remember for—to win November, President Bush doesn't have to get 50 percent of the Latino vote. Forty percent, about 40 percent should be sufficient to put him over the top, at least from the Latino—40, 42 percent. So all you're really trying to do is shave off some points. And so, as I said, he's got the best of both worlds. He's got this terrific message out there with details to follow, absolutely no chance whatsoever that anything will happen this year. On the other side, and I think that folks have started to—early on some ads were designed and put on to tell, there wasn't a lot of money, only a very small media buy, but nonetheless, it got some play—to say this was not a good proposal because it was not going to give permanent status, was going to simply—Senator Larry Craig actually used this line, "it's report to deport," essentially is what this proposal is.

And I think on the other side what many of us are saying is, if you're really serious about immigration reform, Mr. President, there are two bills right now in Congress with very strong bipartisan support. We've got the Ag Jobs Bill, which involves agriculture workers with over 50 senators, half of them Republican, supporting a compromise which is not pretty, but it's a compromise that involves a path to permanence. It involves changes to the H2A program that respond to growers' interests because agriculture is heavily dependent on the undocumented as its workforce. You also have the Dream Act, which again has strong bipartisan support, which is about students who have played by the rules; in this case, by wanting to go to college and being able to go to college.

And so if—the cry, I think, from the other side will be, if in fact, Mr. President, you're serious, make these two bills happen because you could do it. With a little bit of White House oomph, it's done. Then we'll know you're really serious. Otherwise, and just be very clear, the White House has said absolutely zero about either of those two bills even though they have been begged by many, many interests including the ag[ricultural] industry, over and over again. So I think it's very telling—silence on bipartisan-supported bills that actually could become law this year and instead we have a very nice speech, a proposal that would change the face of America if enacted in the manner in which it was described, we'll find out what happens.

ROBERTO SURO, Pew Hispanic Center: We have the classic delicious Washington dilemma, whether we talk policy or politics having been offered both. But actually the—Doris's schedule determines which cause she's got to leave in a little while. So we have to talk about policy first. (Laughter.) We'll take the high road to begin with.

I'll—let me just start out with a question. Doris, you talked about the problem that temporary worker programs tend to create the basis for future flows and not necessarily sort of turn off the flow of—I mean, don't reduce the actual flow of future migrants. We have experience with the other alternative of a legalization program as well. And given the numbers that Jack presented there's certainly an argument that the legalization program enacted in 1986 itself also created the basis for future flows. How do you—in terms of that question, how do you balance off the pluses and minuses of these two basic approaches in terms of the extent that they which sort of cede future flows?

DORIS MEISSNER, Migration Policy Institute: The way I balance them off is that you should not—that we should not—think of them as either-or propositions. That you can try to structure a temporary program but you have to recognize that it is de facto a first step towards permanence for some in that population, and therefore you need to try to make it be possible to move from that temporary status into some form of permanent status for some of those people. As I said you can, I think, you should do whatever you can to create the incentives for it being temporary, but I think that we're foolish if we think that, you know, based on our experience and just what one knows about human behavior, that that's going to be able to be constrained.

Now how you—you know, I mean, the real issue is that you've got to deal with our permanent immigration system, and you've got to make adjustment of status and the slots available for adjustment of status bears some relationship to what you're talking about in terms of the people that presumably would be here temporarily for a while.

MARIA ECHEVESTE, Nueva Latina: I think that what Doris has said, I want to echo and reemphasize. We actually have in this country tremendous opportunity to do something different than other countries around the world, and that is to actually include within the temporary program, what we call a path to permanence. What we know is there's a percentage of people who truly only want to come and work and go back home. And my informal survey of every cab driver I talk to—(laughter)—is that they are working, working, but they're going home five years, next year, ten years, but that there's a percentage of folks who, for the human reasons that we know, decide that actually they want to make this country theirs.

And if we were able to design a program that actually gave that option to the worker, then we, I think, could at least have a chance of avoiding the experiences of other countries in which you create not only a dependence on foreign workers but a different kind of status for those workers and all that that means, which I think is particularly hard for a country like ours which is, quote, unquote, "a country made of immigrants." I mean, we're not England, we're not France, we're not a place in which we were thousands of years but for the Native Americans. We all actually came here willingly, unwillingly from other places. Now we're going to bring in—other workers come in, but we're actually saying, "you get a different status, you don't get to ever be part of this American dream."

And so I think this is a really important, important question.

ROBERTO SURO, Pew Hispanic Center: Let me—before going to the audience let me pose that question to Raul. Before the 11th of September, the administration—the proposals were on the table in the binational talks with Mexico. Much of the rhetoric, much of the discussion involved the idea of a path to permanence in one way or another. It was certainly part of the thinking in—certainly explicitly part of the administration's thinking prior to September 11th.

And in this go-around it's interesting that—I mean, the president started out before that speech with sort of—a few weeks before in a comment at a press conference that looked awfully planted—made the point that he's not for an amnesty and has said over and over again, politically this is not an amnesty—has sort of closed off the door to any kind of permanence for people, even those who are already here, even those who are parents of those who are parents of American citizen children, it appears. There's certainly been some commentary that that was a very explicitly political decision dealing with part of the Republican Party that would not have accepted an immigration proposal that included some kind of permanent residency in the end for people who started out here undocumented.

I ask you to sort of talk about that transformation in the president's point of view and its implications in the policy context that's been raised here.

RAUL DAMAS, Republican National Committee: Sure. Well, I mean, first of all I think it's important to point out that it is a presumed or an assumed transformation on the president's thinking because obviously we're not—none of us are privy to it.

But with regard to the president's plan and the timing and—excuse me, the way in which it was proposed, I think it's important to also note that these are principles. This is an immigration plan. It is not a particular bill. It is now the job of Congress, as encouraged by the president, to discuss the principles that were involved in that plan as described by people here, revolutionary, innovative, a new way of looking at immigration and our nation's immigration system. So I think that we're pretty far from any set point where we can say, okay, well, that is exactly what the president wanted done and this is it. I think now it's in the hands of Congress.

There are lots of plans, like I said, that have come out since the president's announcement, and that's wonderful. That's terrific. I'm sure that we're all very pleased that he was able to enable this kind of discussion that we're having now. And I think that it's important to keep focusing on the fact that it is now Congress' job to discuss which direction this plan goes in, which of those principles that the president set forth are critical. The nation is having a discussion now that it wasn't having before the president's comments. And I think that all that's going to go into determining where we are six months from now, 12 months from now, you know, two years from now.

ROBERTO SURO, Pew Hispanic Center: Sorry, I spent too long as a reporter not to do this—(laughter)—but let me press you on that point. Are you leaving open—I mean, are you saying—and is it you or is it the RNC?—that's saying that the idea of a permanent status for people who enter the country with documents is negotiable as far as this president is concerned?

RAUL DAMAS, Republican National Committee: Obviously I can't say that. I think that the—

ROBERTO SURO, Pew Hispanic Center: Well, it was in the suggestion you made just now because you said it's up to Congress, it's going to be discussed—

RAUL DAMAS, Republican National Committee: Yeah.

ROBERTO SURO, Pew Hispanic Center:—it's sort of open. I mean is that—he was pretty clear about this. And I'm just—and then left the legal—

RAUL DAMAS, Republican National Committee: The president said that his plan is not an amnesty.

ROBERTO SURO, Pew Hispanic Center: Right.

RAUL DAMAS, Republican National Committee: And it remains such.

ROBERTO SURO, Pew Hispanic Center: Right. But do you have any sense of whether this point's negotiable?

RAUL DAMAS, Republican National Committee: No. No, I don't.

ROBERTO SURO, Pew Hispanic Center: Okay. Questions. There are two mikes out there. If you want to ask a question, please wave, you'll get a mike, and then stand and tell us who you are.

This one here.

JULIAN SANCHEZ, Reason magazine: I had a conversation a little while back with an ACLU attorney who, being either more savvy or more paranoid than I, speculated that this proposal might in part be motivated by a desire to provide cover for a new push behind something like the CLEAR Act. Can you speculate on, sort of, either the politics of that or the wisdom of that legislation?

MARIA ECHEVESTE, Nueva Latina: I'm happy to speculate—

But I think the CLEAR Act, I mean I think the CLEAR Act is a perfect example.

(Off mike.)

MARIA ECHEVESTE, Nueva Latina: Well, yeah, let me explain it. Which, I guess in the summer of 2002 the Justice Department issued a legal opinion saying that local law enforcement agencies had inherent legal authority to enforce immigration law, overturning 40 years' worth of precedent. A number of localities across the country said, thank you very much, federal government, but we're going to enforce local police needs, we're not interested in becoming junior INS agents. Therefore a number of folks in Congress decided to push a bill that says to local agencies, essentially, you will enforce immigration laws and ask people's status, especially if you want federal dollars for law enforcement. I'm paraphrasing, but it's essentially that.

And it is seen as very anti-immigrant. And so I think that this legislation—the speech by the president—again, I just think it's a new variation of what some folks have called—(audio break, tape change)—because anytime there's an opening there are Latinos sort of being promoted and photo ops.

So again, the question is for reporters and for leading advocates across the country to ask the administration, if you recognize immigrants—undocumented immigrants as hard working, why the CLEAR Act? Why would law enforcement agencies say that that's going to really hurt ability to solve crime and will reduce people's ability to call the police if there's domestic abuse? I mean, the list goes on and on.

ROBERTO SURO, Pew Hispanic Center: I'm going to throw in a somewhat unrelated comment but it—on the question of motivation, their end of the politics—I mean, there are two things which I think are fairly factual worth noting. One is that the president has been fairly consistent on this topic for quite a long time. I mean, I personally can remember talking to him about immigration for the first time during a Rangers game probably 15 or 16 years ago, and he was talking about Dominican infielders and went from there into his views on immigration. But he has been fairly consistent in the notion of a willing employer and a willing worker and this—whether how revolutionary or not it is, he's certainly proposing making it far more central than it ever has been.

But his idea that the labor market is what drives immigration, or should drive immigration, is something that he's been talking about for a long time. And certainly within the Republican Party since his campaign for governor in 1994, in 1996, during the presidential race, and since he's become president, his rhetoric has been fairly consistent. So it has been a very long view that all a Republican presidential candidate needs to get out the Latino vote is somewhere between 40 and 50 percent and you've struck a real blow to the Democratic Party.

The other thing worth noting is we didn't have a Democratic president for eight years—two of his appointees are at the table, this speech never happened though. And not a hint of it; in fact many policies went in the opposite direction.

So, any more questions?

ZACH BOREN, Federation for American Immigration Reform: I might be a minority in this room, but I guess I'm not a minority in American sentiment. I just wonder how you respond to the recent polls saying 70, 80 percent of Americans disagree with amnesty of illegal aliens, especially in the Republican Party, 55 [percent] disagree with the president's proposal. How do you respond to those issues?

ROBERTO SURO, Pew Hispanic Center: Well, I think it's probably tougher to find clear evidence that the president's decision was not a political calculation. And I think that, you know, that that's the key point there.

MARIA ECHEVESTE, Nueva Latina: I would just simply add that it's having it both ways because you're in this great position as president of being attacked by the right and attacked by the left so you must be doing something right. But—which is not always true.

But I want to go back to Roberto's point because I think it is very important to note that the labor market—the importance of the labor and economy in immigration is a fact that is often ignored and I can tell you that in '93-'94 when there were discussions about H1B and H2A and H2B, these programs, the Department of Labor actually had to beat on the door to be included in White House meetings that involved the State Department and INS and the Justice Department—as if labor doesn't have a role to play here when in fact, it's probably the most important force in having everyone in this country. So it's a fact that people just aren't willing to recognize from the top or to the bottom.

JEFFREY PASSEL, Urban Institute: Just to add—I think if you look at the history of polling on immigration that attitudes are always negative toward immigration. Even—and it's a question of more negative or less negative but they always tend to be negative and a lot depends on how you ask the question and how it's phrased and even in the best of times, most of the American public is against further immigration.

PATRICE HOLDERBACH, Scripps Howard Foundation Wire: My question is, what do you see as the future of the Patriot Act if the Bush administration creates and moves this legislation through Congress?

MARIA ECHEVESTE, Nueva Latina: I'm muttering around my breath, I said, we'll see how many people have backbone in Congress in terms of giving the president a second Patriot Act. I don't know what the vote count is, I think—look, I think notwithstanding the speech January 7th. I mean, September 11th is an incredibly—important is not even the right word for it—it is a moment in our history that we're still learning to grapple with. And it affects civil liberties, it affects immigration policy, it affects any number of what we're doing and so whether there are votes to support—I think there are voices up there who are saying, "wait a minute, what we need to be secure we need to balance with what our definition of what it means to be American" and that's a debate that needs to go on.

RAUL DAMAS, Republican National Committee: I'll stick with political stuff.

ROBERTO SURO, Pew Hispanic Center: The Patriot Act's political.

The one note that I would add is I would expect, and Doris pointed to this, that in the legislative debate over new migration policy, the relationship between noncitizens and both law enforcement and the judicial system has to be reopened because there is the—this whole question of protection and enforcement which becomes all the more important when you create a new program that is bringing in a large number of people, particularly in these sort of very, under circumstances (a) where many of them may not be eligible for permanent residency and eventually citizenship and (b) who might be in the program where their status here is determined by their employer.

There has been a move in the law which began out of the Clinton administration rant, which removed noncitizens from the protection of the courts step by step starting after the first World Trade Center attack and progressing through several measures, both administratively and legislatively, and the Patriot Act took that one step further.

These two subjects aren't unrelated. I mean, at some point they intersect, if you have the full debate over a new immigration policy and this element of any terrorism legislation, which as I said separates noncitizens from the protections of Article III courts.

MARIA ECHEVESTE, Nueva Latina: And there's no question—I mean, you can start with welfare reform which was paid for on the backs of legal immigrants, and we had to spend three years get at least 80 percent of restoration of benefits so this immigrant noncitizen versus citizen is a dynamic that is ever increasing and that I personally feel is—we tend to sort of just shove it under the table, but is incredibly important because how do you know someone is a citizen or not a citizen. And what are we prepared to accept as governmental and other institutional steps to ascertain whether you're entitled to certain protections but you are not, running down the list of the things that we think of our basic benefits or obligations of our society to each other, so I think it's a very tough issue.

CARMEN DELGADO VOTAW, Alliance for Children and Families: Now that the love fest between the president and Mr. Fox seems to be over, what can we expect in terms of collaboration, in terms of any future legislative initiatives on the immigration front?

ROBERTO SURO, Pew Hispanic Center: Well, I mean, I can try to answer that. There was an explicit change in the president's—I mean, what was on the table. We don't know what was in his mind, but we know what the high-level working group between Mexico and the United States had put on paper in terms of immigration proposals before the 11th of September. So there was a change in terms of the notion of permanent status. But this is very different now than before because this is not presented as a bilateral accord nor really in the context of a bilateral negotiation with Mexico at all.

And I—the impression one gets from the administration is that the Mexicans and everybody else are sort of apt to go along with whatever is decided here. The implementation, obviously, is going to require a lot of cooperation, not just from Mexico but from a number of other countries. And you look at the numbers that Jeff presented and a Mexico-only or a Mexico-first solution to me seems increasingly unworkable. I mean politically it's unworkable for the Democrats for sure because the Dominicans and others, I think, have made it extremely clear that a Mexico-first or a Mexico-only deal would, you know, cause many generations' worth of alienation politically.

MARIA ECHEVESTE, Nueva Latina: And I think that from Mexico's perspective, Fox gambled and he lost, and he'll take anything. The real issue is—in this country is—where the Latino vote goes and whether in fact—I think in the 2001 discussions many of the Mexican officials were surprised the degree to which Latino leaders in this country were not enamored of a guest-worker-only part. And so I think that the influence of that part of the electorate one hopes will help influence the ultimate results of this legislation or proposals.

ADRIANA AHMAD, TV Azteca: This is for Maria and for Raul. If it's possible, I would like for you to set aside that you are a Democrat and you are a Republican and see the proposal as itself and what would be the best reform, the best immigration reform, the best proposal for you as immigrants not as a Republican or as a Democrat. Thank you.

MARIA ECHEVESTE, Nueva Latina: Well, I'll answer as an American because I'm not an immigrant. So what I believe for this country—we need to do something about the undocumented who are working, who are propping up our economy in so many ways. We need to do something to stop deaths along the borders so that people can come into this country legally, and we have to do it in a way in which American workers, some of them who are recent naturalized citizens, will not lose—will not suffer wages and working conditions—reduction in wages and working conditions because they'll be competing with another labor supply.

So it's got to be some way in which we bring people in a way that they have the same rights as U.S. workers and that it's not a race to the bottom so that we don't have, if you will, Wal-Mart throughout the country in which you've got the lowest wages, no health care, no benefits, and there is no middle class in this country.

RAUL DAMAS, Republican National Committee: Unfortunately I can't speak—as being here representing the Republican National Committee. I mean, my views as an individual are less important than what my job here today is, which is to talk about what we believe the president's plan entails. And I think it's important to look at it not just for what it does for Latinos because—although it is a fair, safe, honorable view of looking at Latinos and the Latinos who would be immigrants and workers and involved in this program—but I think for everyone and for the country as a whole it's the right thing to do, and it's an excellent program in that respect, and I think that regardless of whether you're a Latino or somebody, an immigrant or not, or just anyone else living in this country, I think that's the way to look at the program.

OLIVIA MACLEOD, British Embassy: Looking at migration reform in the context perhaps of more finite resources from our point of view and also a migration system that offers more by way of benefits, I think that one of the issues for us is a sense of fairness. And I'm just interested whether there's any evidence that introducing legal migration has any impact on illegal migration. I think we haven't found much, but whether anyone, you know, has any information on that.

And secondly, what that means in terms of enforcement and I understand the difficulties with enforcement, but if you are trying to introduce a system that's fair then there needs to be some way to enforce that fairness. And so I'd be interested in people's views on that.

Whether creating legal migration routes has any impact on illegal routes as in numbers, basically.

JEFFREY PASSEL, Urban Institute: Well, I'll take a crack at that. My sense is that there's two different things going on right now—that—and this is a case of Mexico versus the rest of the world. That right now in spite of our efforts to enforce the border, my sense is that virtually all of the Mexicans who want to get here, do. And that changing, establishing a new legal route in or changing the character of it wouldn't have much effect on the flows of migration from Mexico. It might actually make a small impact in that more might go home. But I don't think it's big either way.

For the rest of the world, it's a different situation. It's harder to get—physically get—into the United States without having papers of some kind and a system that lets more people into the country might well open up new routes into the U.S. from other countries. So I think the impact of the program on—can differ based on the nature of the current migration stream and the current routes of entry into the country.

MARIA ECHEVESTE, Nueva Latina: I think you could only—you would only see a, how should I say, a reduction in the illegal traffic, if in fact you also included in this overall comprehensive immigration reform, enforcement mechanisms. That, too, is a subject that needs some very heavy debate. We know that employer sanctions, which was adopted in '86, has been roundly criticized as an absolute failure partly because the teeth wasn't really given and we weren't really committed to immigration enforcement at the work site, in interior enforcement. What we have is a discussion—we need to have a discussion—about just what kind of enforcement we're willing to have in this country to ascertain whether, in fact, people have legitimate papers to work.

We don't have a national ID card, that's a whole other debate. There are Social Security pilot verification experiments going on that might lend themselves to, if some people were thinking along those lines as immigration enforcement. But we haven't really even scratched the surface.

JEFFREY PASSEL, Urban Institute: And with that is whether the enforcement is against the immigrant worker or the employer and we've seen almost no enforcement against employers.

ROBERTO SURO, Pew Hispanic Center: Well, I think we've reached the end of the allotted time and have discovered that this subject needs a great deal more discussion. (Laughter.) So I'm sure—and I'm sure we will.

JEFFREY PASSEL, Urban Institute: And research.

ROBERTO SURO, Pew Hispanic Center: And research, research. Yeah. And politicking. Thank you very much.

(Applause.)

(END)



Topics/Tags: | Immigrants


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