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This week President Obama said he’s still hopeful an immigration overhaul bill will be able to pass soon. But some states are adopting alternatives, most prominently Arizona and Utah. Arizona’s law took a tough stance by requiring police officers to question anyone they suspect as an illegal. Utah passed a hybrid package that tightens enforcement and allows for guest workers. Supporters say it offers an alternative to the costly political polarization Arizona faced. Some legal experts are questioning if these laws are constitutional, including whether they intrude on areas reserved for the federal government. Diane and her guests discuss immigration reform on the state level.
- Mark Shurtleff Attorney General of Utah
- Julia Preston national immigration correspondent for The New York Times.
- Frank Sharry founder and executive director of America's Voice, former executive director of the National Immigration Forum.
- Dan Stein president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Earlier this week, President Obama told a town meeting sponsored by the Spanish Network Univision that he is hopeful an immigration bill will pass soon. But some states aren't waiting for the federal government. Instead, they're putting together their own immigration laws. So far, Utah and Arizona have passed immigration bills. Here to talk about what all this means, Mark Shurtleff, he is attorney general of Utah, Frank Sharry of America's Voice and Dan Stein of the Federation for American Immigration Reform. Joining us from NPR's New York bureau, Julia Preston of The New York Times.
MS. DIANE REHMI'll look forward to hearing your questions, comments throughout the hour. Join us on 800-433-8850. Send us your email to email@example.com. Feel free to join us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Good morning to all of you.
ATTY. GEN. MARK SHURTLEFFGood morning.
MR. DAN STEINGood morning.
MS. JULIA PRESTONGood morning, Diane.
MR. FRANK SHARRYGood morning.
REHMThank you for joining us. Mark Shurtleff, if I could start with you, tell us about Utah's immigration law, what it does, what it says.
SHURTLEFFWell, thank you. It's an honor to be here with you today.
SHURTLEFFI'm a huge fan.
SHURTLEFFYes. Well, in Utah, about six months ago, we were heading towards an immigration-enforcement-only, Arizona-style bill. Law enforcement did not like that because, first of all, it doesn't -- it takes law enforcement officers away from their regular jobs to, really, no effect. It was something that wouldn't work. We felt would actually be counterproductive to public safety. So in Utah, we said, we're not Arizona. We're not a border state. We don't have federal holding facilities. We can't deport anybody out of Utah. And so let's do something -- let's try and do something that we can work with the federal government within parameters that will actually be a comprehensive look at dealing with the problem and really try to incentivize legal migration as opposed to this effort.
SHURTLEFFIt's just simply punitive measures to try and punish illegal migration. And the key was to separate the immigration line from the work line. Illegal immigration at this court is an economic issue. People are here to work. The vast majority of illegal aliens are not here because they want to become citizens. So what we thought we would bring in, in addition to enforcement, provision with regard to emphasizing the role of federal government in their responsibility, if they fail to do, and also in dealing with the issue of work, guest worker permits. And that's kind of the unique thing that came out of Utah's law was the creation of a guest worker permit that would bring people out of the shadows, that would take them away from stealing people's identities in order to work.
SHURTLEFFBut until the federal government actually gets their act together and resolves comprehensive immigration reform, we're going to make sure these people are documented, that they pay a fine, that they don't have criminal backgrounds and then be allowed to work in the state of Utah.
REHMHow much support was there in the Utah State Legislature?
SHURTLEFFWell, as we started out with an enforcement-only approach, the majority of people in Utah were saying, yeah, let's do what Arizona did. So we formed what's called the Utah Compact, brought together faith-based groups, law enforcement and the business community primarily to say, whatever we're going to do in this upcoming session, let's do it based on principle, not on rhetoric, not on misinformation, not on the shrill voices that we're hearing from both sides of the issue. But let's talk reason in what we can get done and frame our legislation in a comprehensive way based on those principles.
SHURTLEFFThe Utah Compact turned things around within a few months. The vast majority of Utahans said, yeah, if we're going to do something in Utah, let's do it uniquely Utah way. We're not Arizona. Let's do it in a way that resolves issues. And so the support came to it, gave cover and support to the legislature. And they passed the bills, and it was signed into law.
REHMMark Shurtleff, he is attorney general of Utah. Turning to you, Julia Preston, how does Utah's law compare with what Arizona has passed?
PRESTONWell, this is primarily a quite different political approach. What Arizona did was an enforcement-only law that had a particular provision that went further than other legislation has done at the state level. Arizona required its police officers to question the immigration status of anyone they stopped based on a reasonable suspicion that that person might be an illegal immigrant and also made it a state crime to fail to carry immigration papers, which was a form of state crime that had not existed before.
PRESTONAnd what Utah did was go a completely different direction politically, which was to include both enforcement provisions, but also this opening to legal status for illegal immigrants, and also a third position, which was the bill that Mr. Shurtleff sponsored and promoted, which creates a partnership with Mexico -- with the state in Mexico to take advantage of a legal guest worker program that already exists at the federal level. And I might note that it's probable that some of the provisions of the Utah law, particularly the guest worker provisions that would give legal status and a work permit to illegal immigrants, are likely to face the same kind of federal challenge, the same legal questions that the Arizona law did.
PRESTONThe Arizona law has not -- its most controversial provisions have not gone yet into effect because they were held up by federal courts. And so, primarily, I think the impact of these two competing visions of what states can do on immigration is at the political level -- in one case, enforcement-only, and the other case, the case of Utah, a more comprehensive approach.
REHMJulia Preston, she is national immigration correspondent for The New York Times. Turning to you, Frank Sharry, how would you compare the two?
SHARRYI think Julia is right. There's very different visions at the heart of what Arizona did last year and what Utah did this year, and it mirrors the national debate. Are these basically bad people who are facing good law? Are they good -- mostly good people who are facing a bad system? We believe in the Comprehensive Immigration Reform at the national level. And what Utah did really reflects that same approach, which is you combine enforcement with reform so that there's legal channels for people already here who are otherwise law-abiding but don't have papers, for people coming in the future, and the combination of enforcement and legal channels will turn a dysfunctional system mired in illegality into a legal and orderly system.
SHARRYOpponents say -- and this is what the Arizona law said -- let's try to make life so miserable and hard for people without papers that we will drive them out of the country. Those that we don't pick up for deportation, we'll pick up and self-deport. And that vision is one that, quite frankly, I don't think is very realistic nor is it particularly humane. And, you know, that's at the heart of the debate in immigration now. Are we going to try to throw everybody out? Are we going to try to come up with a reasonable compromise that says, let's make it legal going forward, but we got to deal with the fact that there's 11 million people here illegally and we're not going to deport them?
REHMFrank Sharry, he's founder and executive director of America's Voice. Dan Stein, you have a different take about these two laws.
STEINI'm glad to be here. Nice to see you again.
REHMAlways good to see you. Thank you.
STEINWell, you know, the Arizona-Utah comparison is a fascinating study in the dynamic of the peculiarities of the immigration issue, the peculiarities of the politics of the topic. Arizona, clearly, in our view, is constitutional in every respect. It was framed as a law, designed to work in a complementary fashion with the federal government to assist the federal government in enforcing federal law consistent with the federal statutory scheme. The ink was barely dry on the governor's signature, and the president was in the Rose Garden threatening a lawsuit. The Department of Justice took the extraordinary step of going into federal court to enjoin its operations. They were successful, at least temporarily, in enjoining some portions of it.
STEINBut, clearly, there are very strong arguments and plenty of judicial precedent for the idea that states can and should -- consistent with the federal scheme -- assist in enforcing not only federal immigration law but all forms of, you know, federal law, period. And it's only in the immigration context that there seems to be such a controversial notion. Now, Utah, after Arizona passed, we -- (word?) is working very hard in -- around the country to try to replicate this model in as many states as we can.
REHMThe Arizona model.
STEINThe Arizona law. We saw in this election a huge ground swell of public support for this model. Virtually every incumbent who ran in this last election supporting the Arizona framework was reelected or elected. There was a huge, massive endorsement for the idea. Utah was facing a similar proposal from State Rep. Sandstrom. And as a result of the peculiarity, the politics of this issue, where, you know, the left wants an amnesty for various reasons, including political that expands the base, the business community, the corporate component of the Republican Party wants a big Bracero Program. And the two parties work together where they can.
STEINBut in the Utah model, the chamber got together with LDS and some others and came up with this clearly unconstitutional on its face, in every respect, guest worker program that is in every way imaginable and a front to the exclusivity of the plenary authority of the federal government and Congress in particular in designing immigration law.
REHMDan Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform. Mark Shurtleff, how do you respond to that? This guest worker program that would go into effect by 2013, is it a violation of federal law?
SHURTLEFFYou know, I think it's pretty laughable that Dan Stein sit there and say, well, you know, what we did in Arizona was completely constitutional. Although the courts already said, no, you're usurping federal authority in that regard. And then to turn around on -- out on the other side of his mouth and say, what we did in Utah in trying to do something that's actually workable is unconstitutional. There's a problem. Clearly, the -- it -- and this is what I informed the legislature as the attorney general. It is contrary to federal law to hire an illegal alien. And so we put out a two-year date to make this enforceable.
SHURTLEFFAnd, in the meantime, require to come and negotiate, work with the federal government to see if there's a way for them to approve, to waive, to defer action on this. So that's -- we're not going into effect now. We're going to work with the federal government, and then we'll see.
REHMMark Shurtleff, he is attorney general of Utah. We're going to take your calls soon, 800-433-8850.
REHMWe are talking about immigration law, the fact that two states have moved ahead of the federal government, both Arizona and Utah. Here in the studio is Mark Shurtleff. He's attorney general of Utah and one of the driving forces behind the compromise law that Utah has put into place. Frank Sharry is founder and executive director of America's Voice. Dan Stein is president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform. Julia Preston is on the line with us from the NPR bureau in New York. Julia Preston, what about the federal government's challenge to not only Arizona's law, but Utah's law as well?
PRESTONWell, before I address that, Diane, I just wanted to clarify something for your listeners...
PRESTON...that might have come -- misconception that might have come out of the introduction, which is that these two laws are, by no stretch of the imagination, the only immigration-related laws that have passed state legislatures. Last year alone, there were 208 bills related to immigration that passed state legislatures. And we're now in the fifth year of a very intensive cycle of activism by states on this issue, so I just wanted to clarify that. The question that arose about Arizona was they went a step further than other legislation, and Utah has also gone a step further than other legislation with this work permit that is contained in the law.
PRESTONSo the federal government -- the Obama administration brought a direct challenge to the Arizona law based on the principle, primarily, that immigration is the province of the federal government. There were also some civil rights concerns raised in the suit by the federal government against the Arizona law. And, so far, there has not been an indication of federal action in the Utah case. But I think you have to look at the details of the Utah law to understand that, which is that this program -- the work permit program, which would be the most controversial...
PRESTON...under the law, is not scheduled to go into effect until 2013. And in the interim, it authorizes the attorney general and the governor to negotiate with the federal government. So it's a much less confrontational position with the federal government than was taken by Arizona.
REHMFrank Sharry, do you think that Utah's law could be a good example for national reform?
SHARRYCertainly, it's important politically in that it sends a message. I mean, this is a ruby red conservative state that said, we're not Arizona, we're not going to take this confrontational approach, try to usurp federal authority and put a target on the back of the 30 percent of the population that's Latino in Arizona, which resulted in a huge loss of business, tremendous black eye for the state, law enforcement upset. So Arizona has really put a mark on themselves. Utah has said, we're going to go a different way.
SHARRYIs it possible? It is possible, I think, if you somehow come -- they may need authorizing legislation out of Congress to make it possible. They may need a use of executive authority and latitude. But I think that's what the attorney general is going to be looking at the next two years. Is there a way to do it? What I find most important about it, though, quite frankly, is that it's a real wakeup call for Washington. It's saying, you know what? We're out here trying to figure out what to do. It really doesn't make sense to end up with a 50-state patchwork of immigration policies.
SHARRYWe need a congressional and White House solution that says, let's have one system for the country that works. Quite frankly, you have President Obama wanting to do it, but, to be honest, I don't think he's put a lot of political capital on the line. And you have congressional Republicans who are blocking it, I think, in large part because they're afraid of the far right that is saying, if you do anything that helps immigrants, we're going to try to vote you out of office.
SHURTLEFFWell, I just wanted to say that what's important here is that, in the meantime, my bill that Julia mentioned, it creates this pilot project with the state of Nuevo Leon to work within existing federal immigration laws and then create a study during the next two years while they work with Washington, that we will then be able to provide evidence and facts as far as the system is working and make recommendations. Yes, we would like to see, clearly, the federal government to do the Comprehensive Immigration Reform and not a state-by-state issue. But this really -- doing what we've done, then working with them and negotiating with them, we think it'll spur those great important changes we need to have.
REHMDan Stein, isn't this a step forward or couldn't it be?
STEINIt's not a step forward because it's -- in the course of the evolution of this debate, we're seeing a polarization of perspectives. And the Obama administration's approach in Arizona was to take up the position in federal court that the executive branch had unfettered discretion to enforce immigration law or not enforce immigration law in whatever manner it chose, regardless of what Congress said in the law. Now, my understanding of the role of the executive branch is to enforce the laws passed by Congress, whether they like those laws or not.
STEINAnd we clearly can't have a patchwork. People who say they don't like the Arizona model say they don't want 50-state enforcement policies. Well, the Utah example would be as if we were allowing 50 states to conduct their own foreign policy or start mounting their own, you know, military, for example, or their own state departments. These are...
REHMOn the other hand...
STEINThese are plenary authorities for the federal government.
REHMBut if the federal government has not acted yet, if the federal government is dragging its feet, why shouldn't states at least take a lead?
STEINWell, what's happening to the immigration debate now is that there is a gridlock, deadlock that has been created by virtue of the fact that there's an unwillingness on the part of the executive branch to enforce the law, and Janet Napolitano continues to create waivers to states and then implementing the REAL ID Act. They're not apprehending illegal workers on worksites and putting them into proceedings. They're saying, we're not going to deport any illegal immigrant who's not in big trouble with the criminal justice system.
STEINAnd taxpayers and voters are saying, we don't accept that. And I guarantee in the next election you're going to see Utah voters saying they're not going to accept what's been done here in Utah. There's already an effort to recall some politicians, and there's going to be challenges in the convention.
SHARRYWell, I think this is exhibit A of why we have gridlock in Washington, is that whenever there's an attempt to do something sensible and workable, you have political threats coming from the right, saying, we're going to take you out in primaries. The fact is, is that Utah has said something very dramatic, which said we should deal practically and humanely with the situation that we find. That's what Congress has to do. That's what Comprehensive Immigration Reform is about.
SHARRYIt's about, yes, border security, which this administration has done more than previous administrations, cracking down on illegal hiring, which, again, this administration is doing more than any other administration. But without the other reforms that are contained in the Utah model, which is let's make sure that the folks who are here illegally can come forward. And if they're otherwise law-abiding and they pay taxes and they learn English, they can work towards legal status and federally work toward citizenship, and we need a modern legal immigration system. That's how we're going to fix this system. We're not going to do it if all we do is have right wing attacks on the few Republicans who are gutsy enough to stand up and say, let's solve it.
REHMJulia Preston, I want to ask you about a story that was in The New York Times on Monday, a story about maternity tourism. Describe what the issue is and how it's relevant to this discussion.
PRESTONWell, this was a story about a clinic in California that was closed down that was catering to Chinese women who were coming to the United States in late stages of pregnancy and having their babies in the United States so that they could take advantage of the automatic citizenship that is conferred on anyone born in the United States. And this is a subset of the larger debate over birthright citizenship that has come up in the most recent cycle of the debate over immigration.
PRESTONAnd, in fact, one of the laws that -- a law that was recently voted down in Arizona in a cycle this year where Arizona decided not to go further with these kind of tough immigration enforcement laws, one of those laws that was voted down was an effort to prod the federal government and the Supreme Court to repeal birthright citizenship. That's a -- it's a complicated debate. But the maternity tourism element in the larger picture of children born to parents who are illegal immigrants in the United States, this is a small part of this picture.
PRESTONWe -- I don't think we have numbers, but it's a relatively small part of the 350,000 babies who were born last year or, I guess, in 2009, to more -- to one or more parents who were illegal immigrants. Most of those parents had been in the United States for a long period of time. So that's an interesting issue, and it's an issue that lawmakers may want to address about maternity tourism. But it's a small subset of the larger and much more difficult issue.
REHMThere have already been calls, Mark Shurtleff, to alter the 14th Amendment so that -- which, I gather, states that a child born here in this country, whether to an illegal or otherwise, has the right to U.S. citizenship. There are calls to amend that. Are you in favor?
SHURTLEFFNo. In fact, I'm shocked these Republicans are pushing that. You know, it's the 150th anniversary of the inauguration of Abraham Lincoln, who ran for office based on a terrible decision and Dred Scott that said a certain subset of people in this country are not worthy to be citizens because they're less than white men and fought a war, and the Republicans who said we need to deal with this issue, we need to protect the rights of individuals here. And it's not just about the slaves. It's about anybody in this country.
SHURTLEFFThis country is unique. It's special. And we have to have a way to determine who's going to be a citizen in this country that's not going to be based on how you feel about a certain group of people based on who they're from or what they look like. And that was birth -- and that is the fact that you're born here. It's done, and you're a citizen. So these calls that would overturn or repeal or revise the 14th Amendment, which overturned Dred Scott -- by the way, I'm an author of a book on Dred Scott.
SHURTLEFFI've read every word on the congressional debates on the 14th Amendment. There's a lot of misinformation out there. It is very clear that they may have to mean it to go beyond slavery. There was this senator for California who -- one senator asked him who, by the way, was an Irish immigrant and then went to California during the Gold Rush and became a United States senator later on in life. And another senator said, surely, senator, you don't want -- Californian's don't want the babies of Mongolians to be U.S.-born in California to be U.S. citizens.
SHURTLEFFHe says, oh, well, actually, that's the point. It's not about how we feel about a certain group of people, the Chinese -- the Mongolians, as they called them at the time. It's about being born here. So I think we're very wrong in going forward as Republicans down that road.
REHMDan Stein, what do you think of altering the 14th Amendment?
STEINWell, I think issues like this provide ample opportunity for demagoguing and grandstanding are a little bit right there. I think of all these issues relating to 14th Amendment and the issues of controlling our borders, immigration control, interior enforcement, the public's concern about these issues can be boiled down into two words, consent and self-determination. Governments derive their just powers from the consent of the government. When immigration happens outside the law, there's a sense in our communities that we're losing control of our futures and our ability to guide self-determination.
STEINThe 14th Amendment contains some very important principles regarding the universality of citizenship. It took away the ability of a state to deny invidiously citizenship to anyone on the basis of any attribute, any immutable characteristic. However, the drafters of the 14th Amendment, if they hastily drafted provision in a reconstruction Congress, one party drafting, could never have anticipated a modern world with hundreds and millions of people on the move every day, where someone with no political attachment to this community or never even asked for the right to come in could bestow U.S. citizenship in perpetuity, having been here only 45 minutes.
REHMDan Stein, he is president of FAIR, and that's the Federation for American Immigration Reform. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Julia Preston, I wonder whether we're heading toward some kind of radical change in thinking here as the population changes. The census report results came out recently showing a dramatic increase of the Latino population in this country. Couldn't that affect immigration reform?
PRESTONWell, I do think that, in particular, the Republican Party, looking at these figures, has to think deeply about what the meaning of this is for the future. Based on the two election cycles, the presidential election and the recent midterm elections, Republicans have been losing support among these Latino voters, and this is a constituency that has been registering to vote. There's been a -- quite an extraordinary cycle, I think, over the last few years, where Latinos, who were legal immigrants, naturalized, registered to vote and went out and voted. And I think that that dynamic of the discussion that's going on within the Republican Party about how to frame this issue could definitely be an interesting factor going into 2012.
REHMWhat do you think, Frank Sharry?
SHARRYWell, I think that's right. I mean, this is -- the politics of this are very clear now. You see, the -- at the beginning of the year with Republican legislatures, there was an idea that Arizona copycat laws were going to sweep the country. They've been introduced in 23 states. The attempt to attack the 14th Amendment, saying it doesn't apply to people who were clearly born on U.S. soil. And the tide is turning. I mean, the only law that has actually been signed into law is the Utah Law, which stands in stark contrast to that Arizona model.
SHARRYThere may be a few southern states who will adopt Arizona light, which is disturbing. And if they do, they will put a target on their back. What's happening is that the politics of this are shifting. Republicans are starting to realize that you can't alienate the fastest growing group of new voters in the country without paying consequences. Democrats have to realize that they actually have to fight for that community to mobilize them to turn out and vote. I think, quite frankly, if Republicans can't win 40 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2012, they can't defeat Barack Obama. And at this point, they're polling in the mid-20s.
STEINI don't think the empirical evidence bears out the idea that Republicans can't get the Latino vote with strong immigration control positions. And we saw Marco Rubio. We have a new governor in New Mexico. Hispanic Republicans are doing quite well. Percentages really don't shift that much. The issue has more to do with the tone of the debate and less so with the policy. And there has been an effort, frankly, by people on the other side of this issue to demonize Americans who seek to enforce these laws and get these laws enforced and try to convince merely emerging Latino voting blocks, that somehow the measures are targeted at Latinos so that any effort to control immigration is anti-Latino.
STEINAnd it's been very destructive to the core and center of this debate. And people say, well, how come we can't get something done? Well, there has been a take-no-prisoners attitude on the part of the other side of this debate which is so different from what we saw in the 1980s with the Hesburgh Commission and the 1986 Law.
REHMAnd who is the other side of this debate?
STEINWell, what you have -- the left is looking for cheap votes, essentially, to build a block. And then you have...
REHMBut he said -- but Mark Shurtleff did say Republicans.
STEINBut then you have a corporatist wing of the Republican Party that wants cheap labor. They want a Bracero Program.
REHMDan Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform. Mark Shurtleff is attorney general of Utah. We'll be right back.
REHMAnd welcome back. Time to open the phones first to Tallahassee, Fla. and to Tom. Good morning.
TOMHey, we were dealing with the same issue here in Florida. It was one of the deciding factors why Gov. Rick Scott won the election. He beat out McCollum, who was saying, oh, we don't know need the Arizona law here. And Rick Scott said, hey, I want to cut jobs for Floridians. So, yeah, we don't want to make it easy and cushy for the illegals. And what throws me off on this new law they have in Utah is that it seems to be the one thing as the main impetus for changing the status quo and just turning a blind eye to the illegals to continue to come into the United States at record numbers, is that is saying, well, we want to preserve your jobs. So we don't want you to have to go home and lose this job.
TOMWe need the jobs. It's a recession. We're looking in Florida 11 to 15 percent unemployment, depending on how you compute the figures. And when I was growing up, those jobs in the construction sector, which is a major source of jobs in the state, used to be predominantly African-American. It was like 80 percent of the workers in the construction sites are African-American. But now you look at it and not only it's almost 80 percent Hispanic, but the majority of those are illegals.
REHMHow do we know that, Tom?
TOMThey will -- you talk to the construction people, and they would tell you this. They say, if you have illegals, you not only have people who will work for less, but that they -- you have to let them go. They can't apply for unemployment insurance, and there are not going to be any sort of gyrations with legal things claiming racial disparities or anything else like that because they're not citizens.
REHMAll right. Mark Shurtleff.
SHURTLEFFWell, the fact of the matter -- thank you, Diane. And it was Tom in Florida?
SHURTLEFFYeah, you know, the misinformation put out there is that since we have this high unemployment rate and we could fill all the jobs that are needed to be filled by -- they are being filled by migrant workers, and that is not the case. These -- many employers within agriculture, dairy farmers, the hospitality industry, construction trades will flat out tell you they advertise, they look for these jobs and they cannot fill them with American workers. In fact, this federal law requires in order to do this legally through a guest worker program -- which is what I proposed in my House Bill 466, and we put it into Utah law pursuant to that study that, in fact -- the company has to advertise and certify that they can't fill the job with an American worker.
REHMWhy can't they fill them with American workers?
SHURTLEFFI don't -- that's the big question. One of the reasons is they don't pay enough. So the second part of this is that they have to pay at the competitive wage. Absolutely. There's too much fraud going on, too much under the table, too much cash payments. There's no doubt about that. But if we require a competitive wage and a certification -- and I just want to show you. If you saw in The Washington Post this morning that said if Arizona had its way in some of these folks and you actually deported every illegal immigrant in that state, the economy would shrink by nearly 20 percent and unemployment -- total employment would contract by 17 percent and state tax revenues will be slashed by 10 percent. Those are the facts.
STEINIt's a travesty, what's happening to the fabric of the American middle class. The social distance, it has now grown between the elites in this country and the stock, if you go from before 1970, and people out there doing blue collar work is huge now, huge gap in social distance. And you see the BLS data showing that the native -- percentage of the native-born in the labor force is declining. American workers are dropping out of the labor force at a time when foreign workers are getting the new jobs that are being created.
REHMSo why are American workers dropping out?
STEINBecause the existence of the foreign labor supply. At the time when we can ship all these jobs overseas in the manufacturing sector, the existence of the foreign labor pools have -- has created a disequilibrium in the normal recruitment process in the American labor market, so that now the market clearing wage for these jobs is below what would normally be there to attract an American worker to see that as a lucrative career track.
REHMBut isn't low better than nothing?
STEINNot if you're -- not if you can't survive on what they're paying. If you -- you know, if your housing costs are higher, if you're relying on perhaps unemployment or look at those as a more viable alternatives. As one of the Utah representatives cavalierly said -- he said, Americans are spoiled. We sound an awful lot like Marie Antoinette before 1789. We're kind of like in a roller coaster. The country is at the top of what's going to be a real fast, downhill slide once we decide whether either going to start radically cutting spending or dramatically increasing taxes or both.
STEINAnd, yeah, we are going to see a change in the debate, but not because of the voting rights act to the growing Latino population, but because of the political changes that have come about as a result of the changing aspirations of the American dream.
SHARRYYou know, my friends at the United Farm Workers did an initiative this year called Take Our Jobs, please. Their members came up with the idea. He said they were so tired of hearing how Americans are being displaced. You know, agriculture is dependent on workers here without papers, something like 90 percent by informed estimates. So they said, okay, anybody who's unemployed and who wants to come and work, we'll train you because there's jobs are plenty. They're just hard, dirty, dangerous, back-breaking jobs.
SHARRYThey had seven people come forward, and one of them was Stephen Colbert who made very light of the situation when they had a good time at the expense of this notion that somehow these workers are taking jobs from Americans. We could ruin the agricultural industry. And the idea that the economic solution in this country is to take an unemployed factory worker in Indiana and have them pick strawberries in California is ridiculous. If we have a reform, workers have more rights. They can join unions. The level playing field means that bad actor employers can't take advantage of those workers. They can't undercut American workers. We need reform that makes people in the system legal and with an even playing field.
REHMJulia Preston, here is a question for you from Elena who says, "Immigration law should not be the job of local police. Local police cannot afford to alienate communities that might provide them information about real crime." What about that?
PRESTONWell, this is an area that has -- had been divisive and caused debates, I think, among police chiefs and in the law enforcement community. But the general feeling, I think, at the level of law enforcement chiefs is that what Elena is saying is accurate, that there is a cost to pay for local law enforcement to get involved with enforcing immigration-related questions, status-related questions because -- and I actually have come to see this in my reporting. I was quite skeptical about this, I have to say. But some reporting that I did in Georgia last year convinced me that this is, in fact, the case.
PRESTONWhen the local police, the traffic cop, the patrol policeman in your neighborhood is identified as someone who could question your immigration status and lead to the deportation of yourself or some family member, in the Latino community, this can have a chilling effect in terms of the willingness to -- of people to come forward and report crimes. In the Atlanta area, which is where I was reporting, this was a particular concern to the police because that is an area where Mexican drug traffickers are moving retail drug products through that area. That's a trafficking area.
PRESTONAnd the police really rely on that -- in that area on people in Latino communities who themselves do not want drug traffickers to be coming into their communities. And so I do think -- actually based on my reporting -- that what Elena is saying is there is some truth to that.
REHMAll right. To Fayette, Ala. Good morning, Michael.
MICHAELGood morning and thanks big time for accepting my call. Where do I start? Before I get to my real point about not the only solution but one solution of immigration, I'm really worried and frightened about the prospect of these laws -- very draconian state laws moving to east of the Mississippi states, like mine, which don't have -- except for Florida -- nearly the population of illegal immigrants that the desert Southwest does. And I'm surprised not only FAIR, that anti-illegal immigration lobbying group, actually has a plan. They would like to see a moratorium on legal immigration for five years, or so I've read, but they won't tell you that on "Christian" -- really Protestant -- conservative radio.
MICHAELAnd I'm surprised that a great-grandson or whatever of eastern European Jewish immigrants, like Mr. Stein, who were once hated and vilified with, you know, ugly anti-Semitism in this country 100 years ago, that he runs -- that he's the president of the FAIR organization...
REHMOkay. All right. All right. Let's get Dan Stein to talk specifically about whether FAIR is interested in stopping all the immigration providers.
STEINWell, we've always said that immigration needs to reflect the national interest in that, and we wanted to see immigration head levels consistent with our historic averages of about 300,000. We called for a timeout in immigration, which is dramatically lower than where we are today, but we've called for a timeout -- it's on our website -- for a period of time to deal with the accumulated backlogs of relatives who petitioned -- who then petitioned relatives to enable the country to get a breathing space to restructure the system and the national interest.
STEINAnd I'm not sure why that's so controversial, nor do I understand why, you know, we as Americans, all of us together, can't agree that we have responsibility to limit immigration consistent with what we're trying to achieve in all our domestic priorities. And, to me, you know, opposition to any form of immigration limits our control as profoundly un-American and unpatriotic, I would say so.
SHARRYWell, as an advocate for immigrants and for immigration reform, let me state clearly, we're for limits, we're for orderliness, we're for control, we're for enforcement. What we're for, though, is a practical system that at its core is also humane, that -- so that we're a nation of immigrants and a nation of laws. We're all for professional, accountable border enforcement. We're all for cracking down on bad actor employers. We are also for being realistic about the fact we have 11 million people here, and we're not going to deport them. That's a population the size of Ohio. So how do you deal with that? How did you deal with the fact that there's an ongoing demand, as the economy recovers, for additional workers at the high end and at the low end to keep the economic machine going?
SHARRYWell, we should have an orderly legal immigration system. That's what comprehensive reform would do, is say, let's have a 21st century orderly system that says, you know what, we can do this. We can make sure that immigrants come legally, not illegally, that all hiring is done legally, that those here illegally have a shot at getting legal if they meet strict requirements or else. That's what we need.
SHURTLEFFYeah, you know what, I want to make clear that I'm a law enforcement official, and I am also against illegal immigration. But -- and, in fact, one of the main priorities of the Utah Compact, which was five principles upon which we hoped would guide immigration discussion, is the rule of law and law enforcement. If I could jump back to the latest question really quick, you know, my experience, as far as local law enforcement not wanting and being counterproductive, the -- public safety to enforce federal laws and stop everybody and work to deport them. In Utah, we do have a responsibility to enforce Utah laws, and there clearly are a lot of undocumented aliens in this country who are here for one reason. They're not here to work. They're here to commit crime.
SHURTLEFFAnd so we created, a year-and-a-half ago, the Utah Attorney General SECURE Strike Force on criminal aliens. And in just a year-and-a-half of operations, Diane, we have 135 arrests, dangerous criminal felons with guns, document mills, drugs, human traffickers. That's where we're spending our time and effort. And if we make our cops ICE agents, our confidential informants will no longer talk to us.
SHURTLEFFThat's contrary to public safety.
REHMMark Shurtleff, he is attorney general of Utah. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We've had several emails like this one from Silver Spring. Keith asks, "Why is enforcement not going after employers? It's because it's more politically useful to go after the illegals who can be easily demonized. Also, it's more than likely most business owners vote conservative, yet they choose to hire illegals, thus fueling the influx." What do you think, Julia?
PRESTONHmm. I think that there have been -- at the time when the economy was booming, there were a number of industries and, certainly, agriculture in which there were labor shortages in terms of American workers who found that employment attractive. And I think that the economic studies that we have from the period when the economy was growing showed that when you have immigrant workers, whether legal or illegal, doing some low-wage jobs, that it actually has a kind of a multiplier effect and creates jobs going up the wage scale so that there was a kind of an order to the labor markets before this terrible recession had hit.
PRESTONSo I think, now, the picture is a little bit unclear. But, for example, in Utah, the area of need, as far as I understood, it was really coming from farmers and people in the agricultural sector who have been advertising and looking for workers to fill jobs. And even in this very intense recession, there is an economic logic for an American worker who has much higher costs, perhaps, than an immigrant worker, and it just doesn't make sense for them to go out and take those jobs. There is still, though, a limit to what the market will bear particularly in a recession. A dairy farmer selling milk, vegetables, you know, the recession also weighs on the market for the cost of those things...
PRESTON...and there's a limit to how much they can raise wages.
REHMDan Stein, I'm going to give you the last word.
STEINWell, I appreciate that. Well, in fact, I'll use my last word to tell people the core of the substance of why we're not getting anything done goes back to what Barbara Jordan said. The system today has no credibility. In order to move anything forward through Congress, the American people have to have assurances that we are going to curtail future illegal flows, that immigration will be controlled and subject to the will of Congress and the American people. None of the proposals under the banner of comprehensive reform fit that mold. And every time we see these sort of interim debates going on, like what we see in Utah and what have you, the public is continuing to get the impression that the special interests will continue to dominate.
STEINThey won't get control of the borders, and immigration will continue, notwithstanding our labor market changes downturn in this recession and the tremendous physical burdens that states and taxpayers are dealing with. So until those questions are resolved, nothing is going to happen.
REHMDan Stein, he's president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, Julia Preston of The New York Times, Frank Sharry of America's Voice, Mark Shurtleff, he is attorney general of Utah. Thank you all so much.
SHURTLEFFIt's been a pleasure. Thank you.
REHMGood to have you here. Thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.
ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Susan Nabors, Denise Couture, Monique Nazareth and Sarah Ashworth. The engineer is Tobey Schreiner. Dorie Anisman answers the phones. Visit drshow.org for audio archives, transcripts, podcasts and CD sales. Call 202-885-1200 for more information. Our email address is drshow.org. And we're on Facebook and Twitter. This program comes to you from American University in Washington. This is NPR.
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