...Borne Back Ceaselessly Into the Past

It looks like a decision on immigration reform has just receded further back into the future. Now that competing bills have come out of each House of Congress, our national legislators have decided to check in with the voters before beginning to work towards a final bill to send to the White House. They say that "several committee chairmen will hold field hearings in congressional districts in the Southwest, the South and other areas where the issue of illegal immigration is especially potent", according to The Washington Post. (One wonders if any hearings will take place in blue areas of concentrated immigration like New York or California.) Only then -- after the summer recess -- will real discussions begin.

Some think this will push a decision past the November elections. That means that legislators can run on a tough immigration-enforcement platform -- or a path-to-legislation platform -- to get votes without having proven anything by an actual decision.

The question arises as to why Congress didn't hold public hearings before they drafted their bills and why they have not held -- nor plan to hold -- any substantive informational hearings on immigration. Consider this progression: Congress drafts bills. Congress then asks the public what it feels about immigration. No one gathers or substantially considers data and factual evidence.

Seems a bit backwards. How about this alternative: Gather information. Share it with the public. Ask what the public thinks after considering the information. Then draft legislation.

Pro-enforcement Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.) and pro-comprehensive-reform Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) both see these hearings as the death knell of any immigration bill -- at least until after November, according to the Los Angeles Times. Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), who has apparently known about the plan for several weeks, denies the hearings are an attempt to kill the immigration bill.

But, considering the push behind the plan for hearings comes from the same legislators who drafted a draconian enforcement-only bill (H.R. 4437), the move does seem to serve as an attempt to disrupt passage on the Senate's bill, S. 2611, which includes a path to legalization, and to maneuver the debate to profit those representatives up for re-election in November.

The guise of polling the people directly seems admirable; but, if Congress truly respected the intelligence and desires of the people of this country, they would first present them with ample information on the subject rather than spoon-feeding them self-serving rhetoric.


Welcome to the USA

Another study on immigration reported on by The Washington Post, this one from The Mercatus Center. It focuses on indicators that Latino immigrants are already assimilating much more than the current debate might lead us to believe. On language issues, the study says that, "Only about 2.5 percent of American residents speak Spanish but not English" and that "The United States is not becoming a bilingual nation." It also reports that Latinos marry more and stay married longer than people born in the USA. In addition, it offers information that the children of immigrants do well at work, contributing, pulling their weight in our economy at least as much as immigrants of previous generations.

So these reactionary convulsions by immigration opponents who shriek that immigrants don't -- and don't want to -- assimilate and are plotting some sort of Tower of Babel effect to tear apart the oh-so-unified fabric of the United States of America seem to have no footing in reality. What a shame. Bring on the next excuse.

The only faltering in the article that I discerned came in citing the study's claim that the popularity of English-language but Latino-oriented publications proves the linguistic assimilation of Latin American immigrants: "Just as few Jewish-interest magazines are published in Yiddish, in a generation most Latino-interest publications will probably be in English." This logic seems faulty. While relatively few people spoke Yiddish at any time -- but particularly since the Holocaust wiped out the vast majority of Yiddish speakers -- many millions of people in Latin America will continue to speak Spanish and communicate with Latino immigrants in this country. Regardless, the rise in circulation of Latino-oriented English-language publications certainly does reflect a high level of English use among Latinos. "Latino immigrants, like generations of immigrants before, are entering the mainstream of life in the United States."

And just so there's no mistake that The Mercatus Center is some sort of fifth-column organization, take a look at who one of its main figures is -- Wendy Gramm, wife of former Senator Phil Gramm, former free-market regulator and former Enron board member. It's a conservative organization, according to USNews.


Enforcement-only proponents rejoice

ICE officials rounded up 63 undocumented immigrants in the Detroit area in a five-day sweep, as of Wednesday. Internal enforcement has at least gained greater visibility if not actually stepped up in intensity since the spring's immigrants' rights demonstrations. But, and this may shock some people, most of those caught in Detroit this week were not Latinos but Eastern Europeans. See, if we had a fence across the border with Mexico, those pesky Albanians wouldn't have entered the country. 43 of those caught in Detroit now sit in jail, awaiting legal proceedings, while the rest returned to their homes but will still face deportation.

The most important part of the article, however, is this:

"But local immigration advocates said the recent roundups do not make a distinction between dangerous criminals and families who may be appealing deportation orders in other courts, or whose immigration status is in flux.

"'I have no problem with them picking up people who are here unlawfully and all their appeals have been exhausted,' said David Wenger, a Detroit immigration attorney who has clients who were picked up in earlier roundups. 'The problem is there's no discretion anymore. It looks like they are just trying to get numbers for statistics to report back to Washington.'"

Wenger makes a good point that goes back to the problem of having a black-and-white world view. Immigrants who still have venues of appeal left to them and who are involved in proceedings with the government should not be treated the same as those who have exhausted their appeals. They deserve to follow all legal processes before being deported. It's not an all-or-nothing situation. But the lack of discretion is unjust.

And this explains it:

"'People say they haven't really broken the law, but these people did violate the law. They're here illegally,' [ICE official] Baker said."

When our officials who enforce policy seem to ignore the specifics of that policy, we have a problem. For instance, one could repeat Baker's statement to argue that a jaywalker is a criminal just like a serial pedophile-rapist/murderer. Both broke the law, right?

But the oversimplified approach certainly mobilizes voters, even if public barometer Newt Gingrich thinks it's solely the political platform that helped California Rep. Brian Bilbray defeat Dem. Francine Busby in a special election for a House seat. (Randy "Duke" Cunningham had to vacate the seat after being convicted of accepting bribes.)

Bilbray says the message should be, "What don't you get about the word 'illegal'?" I think the question back to him is, "What don't you get about the law?" (Among other topics.) Let's put aside the fact that, according to Howard Dean (about as reliably unpartisan as Gingrich), the district in which Bilbray won is traditionally Republican and that Bilbray spent $5 million on the campaign. Let's concede, for the sake of argument, that differing policies on immigration were the only factors that determined this election.

Gingrich called Busby "pro-illegal immigrant and pro-amnesty", while Bilbray's campaign slogan was "Proven Tough on Illegal Immigration". Now, if the opponent in this campaign proves a wet noodle in terms of battling these charges, intended to make her look like a friend of criminals, then of course she'd lose. But that's not her platform. In fact, she's a bit on the conservative side of the immigration debate, according to her website.

She backs Rep. John McCain's plan "that will strengthen border security, increase penalties for employers who hire illegal immigrants and ensure that no jobs that Americans want are going to immigrant workers first." She also wants to put up a "Smart Fence" along the border. And, yes, she supports a guest-worker program. So where is that passionate law-breaker Bilbray and Gingrich describe? She doesn't exist. It's politics.

It's the same thing as the "pro life" versus "pro choice" debate. People who are pro choice are not "pro abortion". They don't want to run around aborting everyone and rolling around cackling gleefully in the uterine scrapings. They merely want to retain the freedom of choice women should have over their own bodies. "Pro life" is a misleading term. Either those folks should use "anti choice" or they should really be pro life and oppose the use of the death penalty and, you know, war -- and the unnecessary deaths of migrants in the Arizona desert.

Likewise, in the immigration debate, simplistic and weighted word choice can sway an election if not combated with accurate and precise language in an aggressive way. Perhaps, Democrats should take this Bilbray-Busby election not as a sign that the real will of the U.S. people is against comprehensive immigration reform, but rather as a wake-up call to start managing better campaigns to give voters a full and accurate understanding of the issues and the candidates.


Colbert Knows Best

From Stephen Colbert's June 3 commencement address at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois:

"And when you enter the work force, you will find competition from those crossing our all-too-poorest [sic -- or not?] borders. Now I know you're all going to say, 'Stephen, Stephen, immigrants built America.' Yes, but here's the thing -- it's built now. I think it was finished in the mid-70s sometime. At this point it's a touch-up and repair job. But thankfully Congress is acting and soon English will be the official language of America. Because if we surrender the national anthem to Spanish, the next thing you know, they'll be translating the Bible. God wrote it in English for a reason! So it could be taught in our public schools.

"So we must build walls. A wall obviously across the entire southern border. That's the answer. That may not be enough -- maybe a moat in front of it, or a fire-pit. Maybe a flaming moat, filled with fire-proof crocodiles. And we should probably wall off the northern border as well. Keep those Canadians with their socialized medicine and their skunky beer out. And because immigrants can swim, we'll probably want to wall off the coasts as well. And while we're at it, we need to put up a dome, in case they have catapults. And we'll punch some holes in it so we can breathe. Breathe free. It's time for illegal immigrants to go -- right after they finish building those walls. Yes, yes, I agree with me."

That's a tough act to follow, so I won't try.


Taxing Immigrants

The study in this article may deal with only the D.C. area, but its data about immigrants and taxes adds some good fuel to the debate. In short, it says that, while undocumented immigrants pay less than their portion of income taxes, they do contribute toward other taxes unfailingly, and documented immigrants pay just about their statistical share of all taxes, including those on income. Overall, it says, D.C.-area immigrants "carry their share of the tax burden."

The article states that the undocumented pay less in taxes "partly because they earn less but also because many are paid off the books and escape payroll taxes." If they're paid off the books, it's safe to assume they receive little to no work benefits in addition to earning lower wages. The study also mentions that those who use falsified Social Security cards to gain employment are in fact paying money into the Social Security system that they will never reap.

In response to those who claim the undocumented pay no taxes and yet reap benefits paid for by tax revenues, in addition to those who do in fact pay income taxes:

"'There's sales tax, there's property tax, there's consumption taxes on alcohol, on cars, on gasoline, on utilities,' said Jeffrey S. Passel, a demographer at the Pew Hispanic Center who co-authored the report."

Keep in mind, however, that immigrants in the D.C. area tend to earn more money and are more likely to have documents than those in other parts of the country because of the presence of "think tanks, embassies and the high-tech industry". That means that D.C.-area immigrants probably pay more in taxes than those in other parts of the country.

The study comes from the nonpartisan Urban Institute.


Fear and TPS

This article from today's Washington Post brings up some important concerns about communication failures between our immigration system and the people it serves and the mistrust immigrants have of government institutions.

Temporary Protective Status (TPS) is granted to nationals of countries particularly hard hit by natural disasters or violence. But people who have TPS must renew their membership in the program. If they don't, they join the masses of the undocumented. It's in their interests and those of the enforcement crowd to keep them registered and accounted for by the government.

But the clutter of misinformation built up by over-optimistic proponents of immigrants' rights and hysterical reactions from the anti-immigration camp seem to have combined with the traditionally poor channels from the government to immigrants to cause thousands of people to neglect to apply for extension of their legal status.

Some people think they're about to apply for the guest worker program included in S. 2611, so they want to save money for application fees; but, they don't know the program doesn't yet exist. Or they know about the provisions in the new bill that say that they must have been undocumented on a certain day to qualify for the path to residency and so want their status to expire. Some don't want to remind the authorities that they're here in case they need to hide in the future. (And given past immigration policies like special registration, a simple appearance to fill out forms could result in, you know, a vacation to Guantanamo.) And some just don't have the money to pay the $250 filing fee because they just paid taxes.

The tax problem is particularly interesting. These folks live here on a temporary basis, documented but not permanently, and certainly are not citizens, and they can't pay to continue to live here because they have no money left after paying taxes? This brings up a huge class of immigrants whose are being ignored -- or at least misunderstood -- in the debate, those who come here legally, pay taxes, and still qualify for status of some kind but who, for various reasons, slip into the ranks of the undocumented. (And sometimes this happens because of the death of a relative or the inefficiency of the immigration system.) Are they really the same as those sneaky border jumpers whom we must treat like the dastardly criminals they are?