A panel of top political commentators joins Diane to talk about some of the head spinning events of this last year and to get their perspectives on the challenges ahead.
Guest Host: Terence Smith
Immigration reform activists are applauding President Obama’s move to shield some younger immigrants from deportation. The decision allows immigrants younger than 30 who were brought to this country illegally by their parents to stay. GOP presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney criticized the decision. The Supreme Court is about to decide the constitutionality of an Arizona law tough on illegal immigrants, a decision that will likely have important implications for other states and and for national immigration policy. Please join to talk about the ongoing debate over illegal immigration.
- Pamela Constable Foreign correspondent at the Washington Post, author of "Fragments of Grace" and co-author of "A Nation of Enemies: Chile Under Pinochet."
- Steven Camarota Director of research, Center for Immigration Studies.
- Angela Kelley Vice president for immigration policy and advocacy, Center for American Progress.
MR. TERENCE SMITHThanks for joining us. I'm Terence Smith, former correspondent with PBS, CBS and The New York Times, sitting in for Diane Rehm. Diane is out with a cold. Last week, President Obama stepped directly into the national immigration debate with a move that shields some immigrants brought to this country illegally by their parents from deportation. The effort comes just ahead of a Supreme Court decision on the constitutionality of a tough illegal immigrant law passed in Arizona.
MR. TERENCE SMITHJoining me to discuss the latest twists in the U.S. immigration policy debate: Steven Camarota of the Center for Immigration Studies, Angela Kelley of the Center for American Progress, and, by phone from Essex, Conn., Pamela Constable of The Washington Post. Welcome to all three of you. Angela...
MS. ANGELA KELLEYThank you.
SMITH...what's been the reaction to the decision last week on this policy?
KELLEYWell, the reaction by most has been very positive. Certainly from the immigrant community and from the immigrant youth that will benefit from this announcement, it's been widely positive. And, frankly, from the American public, it's been positive. A Gallup Poll came out today that shows that voters support, by 2-to-1 margin, this policy announcement, including independents. So we see support for the policy. Democrats are, of course, embracing it.
KELLEYThey've brought up the DREAM Act before and have tried to get it passed. And Republicans are stumbling. They're not sure what to say. Romney was asked about the policy five times on Sunday and couldn't come up with an answer to the question of, well, what would you do if you were in the White House? Will you repeal it? Marco Rubio was considering introducing a DREAM list or DREAM light bill. And now he's pulled back, and he said, not so sure what I'm going to do.
KELLEYLamar Smith, chair of the Judiciary Committee in the House, cancelled the press conference. So I think it's rocked the Republicans. I think it has stiffened the spine of Democrats. And I think that the president has done right by immigrant youth who have, through no choice of their own, are in the United States without documentation.
SMITHSteven Camarota, you have said this is a slippery slope from a legal perspective. What do you mean?
MR. STEVEN CAMAROTAWell, I think there a lot of concerns, but the most fundamental is constitutional. The president just doesn't have the authority to specifically say, I am categorically not going to enforce the law on millions of people. There's some debate about the size of the population. Let's just place it around 1 million. Maybe it's 1.4 million. Pew Hispanic thought it was 1.4. It could be up to two, maybe 800,000. But the bottom line is...
SMITHYou're talking about the population that would be affected by this policy.
CAMAROTARight, who gets this amnesty. That's right. The question is, does the president have the authority to say, well, you know, we have limited resources? So starting tomorrow, I've instructed the IRS not to enforce the capital gains tax. If you don't pay your capital gains tax, well, then we're just not going to do anything. We think that tax is immoral. We think it's wrong. Congress has rejected my proposal, but nonetheless I'm going to tell the IRS not to enforce it.
CAMAROTAHe could do the same thing with the Clean Water Act, say we're not going to enforce these provisions. After all, there's a lot of violations going on. We have limited resources, and this is essentially the president's argument. So here on immigration, he says, well, I am not going to be enforcing law on whole categories of people. If we catch you, we'll give you this deferred action. You can then apply for work permits. That is what's unconstitutional.
CAMAROTACongress has repeatedly rejected the legislative version of this, and he's just basically said, well, I'll just go ahead and do it anyway, which contradicts what he actually said, which was right before, which is, I don't have the authority to do this. I don't have the authority to ignore the law. I don't have the authority to grant this kind of deferred action to 1 million people.
SMITHAll right. We might get back to that because, of course, presidents do that in signing statements in other ways. But let me bring Pam Constable into this. Pam, in a front page piece for the -- in The Washington Post yesterday, you noted that President Obama's announcement on Friday directly clashes with the legislation in Alabama, and you were writing the -- about the consequences of that law in Alabama. Explain the law on Alabama and how it does.
MS. PAMELA CONSTABLEThe law on Alabama is the toughest against illegal immigrants in the country, even slightly tougher than the one in Arizona. It basically prohibits anyone who's illegally in the United States from a wide range of activities: from working to signing a contract, to buying a house, to paying a bill, to driving, to owning a car. It is essentially -- it was essentially aimed at doing everything possible to make illegal immigrants not want to remain in the state of Alabama. And as its sponsors say, they think it's done that. We know that tens of thousands of illegal immigrants have fled the state of Alabama.
MS. PAMELA CONSTABLEAlthough it's interesting, one of the things I found in my reporting is that it's much harder to separate legal from illegal immigrants. Many communities and, indeed, many families in Alabama -- many of them originally from Mexico -- are a mix of what you'd call legal, illegal and semi-legal. People who had work permits at various times. People who are on the process of becoming legal, illegal children with illegal parents, very complicated mix of people in these long-time communities, not so easy to just tell those without papers to go.
SMITHPam, one of the consequences you wrote about yesterday in The Post was that employers who've long used Mexicans and others to do their work, picking tomatoes and the like, are now hard up for workers.
CONSTABLEYes. Not only produce farmers but particularly the poultry industry. Also, some of the construction industry and people in a number of fields that I talked to said they were having a hard time replacing the Hispanic workers who have left.
CONSTABLEAnd, you know, it's a complicated issue because, you know, many -- in many cases, these workers are willing to accept lower wages and more difficult conditions than native-born Americans or maybe even legal immigrants would accept. But on the other hand, they're doing jobs that employers and others say many Americans really aren't willing to do anymore.
CONSTABLEThey were already low paying. They were already difficult and menial jobs. So it's not a simple equation, but there is a -- there were so much complaint, in fact, by various industries in Alabama that the sponsors of the law were forced to amend it this spring to slightly reduce the penalties on employers for hiring undocumented workers.
SMITHAngela, tell us how closely what President Obama is proposing tracks or doesn't track with the DREAM Act which was rejected by Congress earlier this year.
KELLEYSure. It tracks it in many ways in that it's a very defined population that will benefit from this deferred action announcement. So let's look at some of the eligibility requirements. One is that you have to have already been here for five years since the date of the announcement, since Friday. So if you come tomorrow, you're not going to qualify. It doesn't act as a magnet. Secondly, you have to have been under the age of 16...
SMITHWhen you arrived.
KELLEY...when you arrived. Right. So, you know, you really are completely acting -- you're, you know, because you're under your parents' control. Next, you have to either be in school, have graduated from high school, gotten a GED, be in the military or be honorably discharged from the military. You can't have had a felony, significant misdemeanors. There'll, of course, be background checks. You can't be a threat to national security or public safety.
KELLEYAnd, importantly, you have to be under the age of 30. It's a two-year work authorization and status that the person will receive. It is something that has been around since the 1970s. The authority exists in the immigration code, section 103A. The Supreme Court has made it clear that decisions to start or stop enforcement proceedings are up to the executive branch. So it really is right over home plate in terms of what the president is authorized to do.
KELLEYAnd, interestingly enough, last month, over 100 law professors sent a letter to the president saying you can do deferred action. You can do parole in place. You can do DED -- deferred enforced departure. So there's a number of tools at the disposal of the president, of the secretary of the Homeland Security. And the president simply picked, frankly, a narrow one and one that is really very much aimed at a population who, again, is here through no choice of their own.
SMITHSteven Camarota, tools, legal tools?
CAMAROTANo. I think this goes beyond anything we've ever seen. There's never been a case where a president has literally said, I'm not going to be enforcing the law on a million-plus people on a broad range. I mean, it's -- I certainly agree with one thing Angie said earlier which is the Republicans are completely stumbling. They have no response. Obama could've said -- it seems to me that what Romney could've said is, look, we all acknowledge that some of these individuals are very sympathetic.
CAMAROTAAnd we need to think long and hard about how we deal with these humanitarian considerations. But that has to be balanced against a whole bunch of other things like the preservation of the rule of law and the Constitution, like all these added job competition you're going to create at the bottom end of the labor market by giving a million people work authorization. How are we going to deal with administrative capacity? Angie says, well, they're going to do background checks and so forth.
CAMAROTAThere's no way to verify often that someone has been here for more than five years. In our last amnesty in 1986, it's estimated 650- or 750,000 people received that amnesty fraudulently. One out of every three people who received the 1986 amnesty did so illegally because the bureaucracy then, as now, was overwhelmed. So he could've run through these, the job competition at the bottom end, the constitutional questions, the lack of administrative capacity, but Romney is just fumbling for an answer.
SMITHPamela, briefly, you encountered some of that in Alabama?
CONSTABLEIt's slightly -- slightly apples and oranges. In the case of Alabama, we're talking about, in many cases, people who are not educated, who don't speak English, who are really close to the bottom of the economic scale, who would, you know, whose children might but who themselves would never, you know, qualify for this kind of amnesty. In the case of, for example, a state like Maryland where in our area, you have a different population.
CONSTABLEYou have, you know, thousands and thousands of young Hispanics also from Central America, from Mexico, who are actually in high school, graduated from high school, going to community colleges, eager to get a higher education. It's a slightly different kind of population. And I think it's going to be very interesting to see. I think we have no idea the variety of impact this is going to have depending very much on the states. I think California and Texas will be particularly bellwether states to see what actually happens.
SMITHAll right, Pamela, we need to take a little break. But coming up, more about immigration policy.
SMITHWelcome back. I'm Terence Smith, sitting in for Diane Rehm, who's out today with a cold. I am pleased to be joined here by Steven Camarota, the director of research at the Center for Immigration Studies, and by Angela Kelley, vice president for immigration policy and advocacy at the Center for American Progress, and on the phone from Essex, Conn., Pamela Constable of The Washington Post. Angela, what about the argument that one hears that President Obama's move favors parents who originally, and at some point, broke the law?
KELLEYWell, it doesn't cover the parents. It doesn't favor them. This is a very...
SMITHWell, it favors them in the sense that it deals with their children.
KELLEYIt offers their children protection against deportation and work authorization, and it is premised on the fact that they came through no choice of their own. And it's also premised on the fact that this administration has been trying, since he took office, to step up enforcement and has. We have a record-breaking number of deportations under President Obama. He has deported more people at the three-year mark than Bush did in eight. So that's interesting to note.
KELLEYHe's at well over a million deportations at this point, so we don't have a president who's been soft on enforcement. He's been quite tough, and he is also, at the same time with Napolitano, been working to allocate the resources of the Department of Homeland Security so that we're prioritizing those who have criminal records and not prioritizing someone like -- you know, someone like the kids who are covered by Friday's announcement.
KELLEYIt is really right out of enforcement -- law enforcement 101, right? Prosecutorial discretion. So does it favor that family? I don't know. To be honest with you, those parents are still vulnerable to being deported. There is nothing that protects the rest of the family. There is nothing that protects a sibling who was 16 when the family came. There is nothing to protect somebody who's now over the age of 31.
KELLEYYou know, the author of the Time magazine cover, Jose Antonio Vargas, he won the Pulitzer Prize. He has really shaken up the nation's conversation about undocumented immigrants. He's 31 years old. He doesn't qualify. So this is a very narrow measure. But, look, what I think it does is it does jumpstart the conversation that the country needs to have about a problem that politicians have been, for too long, ignoring.
KELLEYThere was a time where this was an issue that was bipartisan. Twenty-three Republicans supported a bipartisan bill that would have legalized most of the undocumented back in 2006, an effort led by John McCain and Ted Kennedy. And you see the effort by someone like Marco Rubio to help the Republicans who have jumped off the cliff on this issue. They have made such a dramatic change and have been very shrill and very hostile to the Latino community.
KELLEYSo for political reasons, I hope that it comes back on the scene. I think Republicans hope for political reasons, and I, for policy reasons, would want to see this is now -- the president's turned the page on the conversation. And I hope Congress will write the next chapter.
SMITHMm hmm. Steve Camarota, what do you think of that statistic that Angie just cited about the deportations are up -- up dramatically? And I believe also the number of immigrants coming is down over recent years.
CAMAROTAWell, I think everybody agrees on the first part that what's happened there is they've reclassified some things that weren't previously removals as deportations, so deportations are not quite as high as they seem. And the president actually said that. He used the words misleading -- these figures are misleading -- at a press conference or a roundtable discussion with reporters a few months ago. So even he acknowledges that that's probably not the case.
CAMAROTAWhat basically has happened is we have this program called Secure Communities, which the administration has kind of been dragged along in and sort of in fits and starts, but is essentially now trying to do a background check on virtually everyone who ends up in jails. And as a consequence, that dramatically increased the number of people in the deportation pipeline.
CAMAROTASo they had no choice but to try to initiate removal proceedings against them. So that's essentially what's happened. Now, at the same time that they've done that, though they've issued a whole series of memos, which have been excoriated even by the union within the immigration service saying, this is a violation of the law, which is telling adjudicators and prosecutors, you don't have to enforce the law on whole swaths of people.
CAMAROTAWe don't want you to deport these folks. We got enough coming out of the Secure Communities. And, you know, as I said, they've been denounced by their own union with inside the government on that. And the unions instructed its workers that this is unconstitutional. On the question of illegal immigration, we've been putting out research since 2009 showing that clearly the number of new illegal immigrants coming has gone down, and the number going home has gone up.
CAMAROTASo the stepped up enforcement at the end of the Bush administration, I think, made a difference, and the economy obviously has made a big difference. So I think all the research shows now, you know, the government still estimates 11.5 million at the start of 2011, so we're talking about very big numbers. But I think everyone agrees that that number is not growing in the way that it was.
SMITHPamela, what I liked about your piece yesterday was this was an attempt to see what these policy issues have meant in practical terms on the ground to real human beings, in your case, in Alabama. And yet several of these laws, all but Alabama's, I believe, and state laws have so far been blocked by federal courts. So did you see some of that?
CONSTABLEWell, that Alabama's law has been partially blocked by federal court. Some of its harsher provisions have been suspended, essentially pending what the Supreme Court is going to do in the coming days. So I think everybody's waiting to see what will happen. Of course, the sponsors of the law are hoping they'll be completely vindicated and be able to continue with their policy, and I think they're completely bewildered by what's happened in the past week with Obama's initiative on undocumented use.
SMITHRight. In fact, Alabama State Sen. Scott Beason has said he has no doubt that the law, which has encouraged illegal immigrants to leave the state, is both legal and that it, he asserts, has helped lower the unemployment rate in Alabama.
CONSTABLEYes. I mean, and that's a contested statement. I'm sure he thinks that's right. It's not clear. There are studies -- academic studies showing there are other reasons for Alabama's declining unemployment rate, which he thinks is largely due to illegal immigrants fleeing the state. I think it's really fascinating to look at the impact already of these laws.
CONSTABLEIf you look at, for example, what's been happening with people who are deported, who do leave, and the difficulties they have, especially young people when they go home may not be even able to speak Spanish, life is very difficult back in some of these countries. And I think it's -- I think there are a lot of unintended consequences sometimes of these policies. And that is also interesting to see...
SMITHRight. In fact, on that point, Pamela, The New York Times has a front page piece today saying exactly that, citing cases of young boys who were raised in Houston and in Texas, who are back in Mexico now with their parents, somewhat lost.
CONSTABLEYes. In fact, that's what I was referring to, is that there's a very interesting article looking at sort of unexpected angle. And the other thing that, I think, is fascinating is that new figures are showing that in terms of immigrants actually still coming to this country, it's now more Asians than Hispanics with higher educations, doing very, very well here. Talk about competition for jobs.
CONSTABLEI think that the greater concern is not so much now on the low end but on the higher end, people coming out of high schools, colleges, even graduate schools in this country, now competing with an unprecedented flow of highly educated people from India, from China, from Korea, from the Philippines. I think this is a whole new area we need to be worrying about.
SMITHWell, Angie and Steve, I'd like to hear you both on that because that's turning this argument, at least, halfway over and gives it a different emphasis. Angie?
KELLEYSure. I mean, look, it's not a zero sum gain. When an immigrant comes, they're not necessarily taking a job away. They are job creators. They are producers. They are consumers. They spend money. Seventeen percent of small businesses started by immigrants. They employ 4.7 million workers. Forty percent of Fortune 500 companies, foreign born person established that or was one of the founders of it.
KELLEYSo you do have an extraordinary streak of entrepreneur spirit in immigrants who come to this country. But, look, what we need to do as a nation, frankly, is to step back and look at what we've done. We have some states that are trying to kick people out, make life as just miserable as possible for them so they don't live here. Don't educate them is what Alabama wants to do. We have other states that say, no, no. Let's give them in-state tuition.
KELLEYLet's hope that a DREAM Act passes Congress and that these kids can stay. You have the president stepping up and say, with this group, we have a consensus. Let's protect them. And you have the Supreme Court that is, you know, literally days away from this -- from telling us whether or not papers (word?) provision is legal or not.
KELLEYSo, I mean, it is so overdue in the interest of this country's economic health, national security health and really the character of who we are to have a coherent immigration policy, right, so that people come with visas, not with smugglers, so we know that folks who are here that they have a chance to work, that they pay their taxes, that they learn English.
KELLEYThis is very much at the heart of who we are as a nation. Right now, we have 16.6 million people living in a family where someone's undocumented. It's not so easy 'cause they all live in one apartment building, all the undocumented people. Life is messy, right? They marry. They work. So I would urge lawmakers to really take the president's cue and try to pass immigration reform.
CAMAROTAWell, I think to Angie's credit, she has a lot of empathy for folks who come here illegally or legally, who want a better life. And I think that is understandable. Where her empathy seems to end, however, is with her fellow Americans who face the job competition. There's a lot of good research showing what immigration is mainly doing at the bottom end is reducing wages and job opportunities.
CAMAROTAWe know that over the last 30 years, as immigration has increased, the labor force participation and real wages for the least educated Americans -- those who have only a high school degree or those who didn't graduate in high school -- their unemployment is now at 20 percent, especially for the young ones. The idea that we're just going to ignore that and continue to increase the supply of unskilled workers in the United States makes no sense.
CAMAROTAIf we can encourage more illegals to go home, we could really make life better for the people at the bottom. But, unfortunately, we've chosen not to do that. We've chosen, in a sense, to not defend the border. We give employers a pass. Since 1986, for example, it's been illegal to hire an illegal immigrant, but that law has largely been un-enforced. Just a few employers each year are fined. We allow illegal immigrants to open bank accounts.
CAMAROTAWe issue them tax ID numbers so that they can get their tax refunds. We do a host of things. We give driver's license. The United States really has failed to take even the most elemental steps necessary to deter illegal immigration. And I think we've done that because the people who take it on the chin are the poorest and least educated, and I wish Angie had a little more empathy for them.
SMITHAll right. We'll get back to that in a moment. I'm Terence Smith. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." If you'd like to join us, call us at 1-800-433-8850 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Find us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Pamela, again, basically the same question. How does -- these arguments that Angie and Steve are making quite forcefully, how do they play out in Alabama?
CONSTABLEI think it's really, really going to be important to be able to test. We don't really know. For example, critics of illegal immigration, critics of immigration in general will say if employers were forced to raise wages, if employers were forced to offer better conditions, if they didn't have access to these people with no papers who are willing to do almost anything to earn money to send home to their families, et cetera, what would happen?
CONSTABLEIt was very interesting. Gov. -- excuse me, Sen. Beason, when I talked to him the other day, and I said, you know, these employers are complaining they cannot find Alabamians to do these jobs. And his response was, it's going to take time for our workers, our youth, our young people to sort of get used to the idea of doing these sorts of difficult, less desirable jobs that they once did. He said it's going to take a transition period. I'm not sure that's going to happen.
CONSTABLEI've talked to so many people who say they don't think Americans are ever want to going to pick -- going to want to pick tomatoes again. And I also think it's true possibly in the upper reaches. I remember I did a story recently about skilled immigrants, and I talked to some Indian Americans who were working in the backrooms of high-tech companies, crunching lots of numbers. And I said, are there any Native Americans in your company?
CONSTABLEAnd they said, well, they're all in the marketing department. They don't want to do what we're doing. And I'm talking about people with Ph.D.s. So I think it's really interesting to see if we could sort of do -- if we could test this whole thesis and somehow magically, for a month or something, say, OK, nobody -- no immigrant visas, no illegal immigrants. Let's see. Are Native Americans willing and able to do these jobs? I wonder what would happen.
SMITHWell, that's a good question. We have a number of callers waiting, as you might expect on a subject as controversial as this. Let's go to Russell in Hickory, N.C., who's been very patient. Welcome to "The Diane Rehm Show," Russell.
RUSSELLGood morning. Good morning.
RUSSELLGreat conversation this morning. But I just heard for the second time mentioned that Americans are not willing to accept the jobs that are left vacant, and it just -- it strikes me as shocking what our country has been through the last four, five years in the economy. And I wonder, is that just -- I don't know -- is there some verification of that? Is there some way to verify that fact? It just seems to me that with so many people out of work, that it would be crazy not to be able to find someone who could fill those jobs.
SMITHIt does seem strange, Russell. Steven?
CAMAROTAWell, we've had some tests of this, right? We had several enforcement actions. Say, seven Swift meat processing factories were -- they swept through and took out about 20, 25 percent of the labor force in 2007 as part of an enforcement action. And what research showed was basically they were able to replace all those workers. None of the factories shut down. Now, they did have to treat workers a little better. They had to change hiring practices.
CAMAROTAAnd they had to pay somewhat more. They offered more bonuses. We've had a lot of cases. There was a leather goods factory in Massachusetts a few years ago where they swept off the illegal immigrants. They replaced the workers. But let's talk about meat and poultry very briefly. There's a lot of good research. Those jobs in meat and poultry pay 45 percent less in inflation-adjusted terms today than they did in 1980.
CAMAROTANow -- and what that shows us is, yeah, you're going to have to increase wages. But that's not a bad thing. It makes the poor better off in this country. The bottom 20 percent of the labor market counts for less than 10 percent of GDP. So even if we gave those folks a big raise, we don't have to worry that it would spike inflation. And we have all these social programs to support them. How about we just let them earn a living wage by not constantly increasing the supply of workers?
CAMAROTANow, I just want to say Pam has a point that it will take time. Wages will have to rise. Employers are accustomed to treating workers a certain way, and they relied on the immigrant networks. They're going to have to go back and rely on domestic sources for labor and treat workers better.
SMITHOK. Angie, I can see you're not agreeing with this. We have to take a short break, and we'll get back and we'll get back to you. Coming up, your calls and questions for our panel. Please stay tuned.
SMITHWelcome back. I'm Terence Smith, sitting in for Diane Rehm who is out today with a cold. I'm joined in this discussion of immigration policy by -- on the phone from Essex, Conn. -- Pamela Constable of The Washington Post, here in the studio by Angela Kelly, vice president for immigration policy and advocacy from the Center for American Progress and Steven Camarota, who is director of research at the Center for Immigration Studies. Angela, as we went to the break there, you were shaking your head.
KELLEYI was. I was because I'm dismayed that Steve is trying to assess where my empathy begins and ends. I don't think it's appropriate for the show, and I sadly do have family members who are unemployed. So this issue does hit close to home for me. But I don't think that the answer to our nation's economic problems lies on the backs or the shoulders of undocumented immigrants. I think that's a much broader question. But where it does intersect with this issue is the reality that if people don't have authorization to work, then it is easier for employers to exploit those people.
KELLEYIt is easier for those folks to get paid less, and U.S. workers are disadvantaged. If we legalize people -- we know from the last legalization program back in 1986 that there is an increase in wages. Analyses that we have done at the Center for American Progress, that if you legalize people, that within the first few years that you will increase in tax dollars, 4.5 to $5.5 billion in new tax dollars, over 10 years, the GDP cumulative increase, $1.5 trillion.
KELLEYIt is a smart move to get people on the books and to have people coming with visas when we need them, when our economy is stronger, not with smugglers. And we also know that if we try to deport everybody, tear folks away from their family members, it's $285 billion over five years. That's not how we want our government resources to be used. It makes a lot more sense to get these folks on the books. And, you know, as I said earlier, the announcement by the president covers a very limited group of people who are already here, right?
KELLEYWe're not talking about bringing new people in. These are young people, many of whom now want to go to college. They want to earn a degree. They want to get a master's degree. They can work legally, and they can get jobs. That's just the kind of folks that we want entering our economic bloodstream. So this is a smart program.
SMITHAll right. Let's -- here's a specific case that has come in in one of the many emails we have received here. And, Steve, maybe you can help with this. The -- Richard in Northwest D.C. asked this question, "Can you shed light on the likely effect of this policy change to one local family facing deportation proceedings? The family has been in the U.S. for more than five years. The kids are teenagers, not yet 16. Might this family be permitted to remain in the U.S. for two years or just the kids?"
CAMAROTAOh, it seems very likely that what will happen is that the whole family would be allowed to stay. It's almost inconceivable that the administration would grant deferred action for the children and not the parents, and that's sort of, like, the unstated part of this.
SMITHYou mean on some appeal?
CAMAROTANo. They have the authority to grant the -- if they have authority to grant deferred action to the children, they certainly have authority to grant deferred action to the adults. There's nothing -- there's no impediment now. This kind of thing is now limitless. Once you set the precedent, you could grant it to anybody you wanted. So it seems very unlikely that they would.
CAMAROTANow, there might be a case where a particular adjudicator or officer does go after the parents, and then the parents would have to make that decision. But in general, it seems extraordinarily unlikely that that will happen on a large scale, but it will certainly happen in the individual cases. The parents will be allowed to stay with their children.
SMITHAll right. Let's take another call. This is from Miguel in San Antonio, Texas. Miguel, welcome to "The Diane Rehm Show."
MIGUELGood morning to you all. Thank you for taking my call.
MIGUELI just wanted to make a comment. As a young Hispanic American, I, of course, welcome what the president has done, but I think it's important to take the strategic context of what -- of the decision that was made. The timing is very important because, as the point was made earlier, the president is basically saying, I'm going to go ahead and do this whether or not Congress thinks I have the authority. And he's kind of hedging his bet based on the fact that 2-to-1 Americans support what he's doing.
MIGUELAnd the idea that he had said that he was going to run against the do-nothing Congress seems to play in here. I mean, this is a very narrow enactment that he's made, and it's going to be supported by people. And I think the Congress is going to be hard-pressed to fight against it with, you know, the backlash from the public.
SMITHSo you're suggesting there's a little bit of politics on this.
MIGUELI mean, I think there's more than just a little bit of politics. I think it's actually kind of easy to see through.
KELLEYWell, look, I think it's a smart policy. And, you know, anything that the president does now, from what color of the tie he chooses to wear, everybody's going to, you know, discuss as a political decision. Obviously, this one is appealing to Latino voters. And, as we found from Bloomberg today, a poll, it's appealing to all voters, evidently. So, look, it's a smart political move, yes. Will it pay dividends up till November? Who knows? We also have a Supreme Court decision that's going to come down, so there's going to be a lot more discussion of this issue.
KELLEYThere's going to be a lot more questions asked of both Romney and Obama, what's your vision for immigration policy. So we'll see how it shakes out. I mean, Romney will have to find a voice on this issue sooner rather than later. And this is an issue that -- look, Congress has tried to pass the DREAM Act as recently, as you said earlier, in December of 2010. In the House, we had 208 Democrats supporting the DREAM Act and only eight Republicans. And in the Senate, very similarly, there were only three Republicans that supported the DREAM Act and 52 Democrats and independents.
KELLEYSo there is a party imbalance here where Republicans have made it impossible to get the DREAM Act legislation through in the Senate where, of course, you have to have 60 votes to stop debate. So, I mean, the president has acted within his authority. It's a sympathetic group of people. There's a national consensus that we shouldn't be deporting kids. And does it help him in November? We'll see.
SMITHMm hmm. Steve, I wonder what you think of that and the general reluctance that Mitt Romney has displayed to get into this debate.
CAMAROTAYeah. And I think that as long as he's not able to articulate a position and point to the Americans who are harmed by this, those who face the job competition, point to the constitutional issues that are profound, point to the fraud in the administrative incapacity that it will create and -- while acknowledging there are really legitimate humanitarian concerns that have to be balanced, and that's why it's up to Congress to deal with these kinds of questions.
CAMAROTABut if he just continues to fumble, which I think he will because I think he's getting advice from people who don't know what to tell him, I think that enforcing immigration laws is generally always popular. We know, two to one, the public supported Arizona's law. Even the most recent polls show that despite it being excoriated by folks. Now, we have a situation where there's no leadership on this. I can't think of virtually any public official who's come out and pointed out the constitutional questions, the administrative incapacity, pointed to the job competition.
CAMAROTAFor example, a law like Arizona's 2007 law that requires e-verify for all employers, this law, by giving work authorization to a million-plus illegal immigrants, completely short circuits that law. Georgia has one. Alabama has one. So this does significantly increase job competition. It increases job competition for all those jobs that require accurate documents and Social Security numbers like security guard. That's a job that generally people with not a lot of education do.
CAMAROTABut illegals generally stay out of it because there's a lot of vetting for those kinds of jobs. Now, with the work authorization and identity documents that come with it, it's clear that they'll be able to compete for those jobs. So had Romney come out and pointed to those folks -- and it's not too late, he could -- and the constitutional questions and the administrative issues, I think, you know, he could have done well and shaped public opinion. But what I think is more likely is he'll just continue to fumble and -- to the extent that there is a narrative, it'll be the President Obama who's clear of what he wants.
SMITHMm hmm. All right. Let's take another call. This is Jodie (sp?) in Margate, Fla. who has been very, very patient with us. And, Jodie, welcome to "The Diane Rehm Show."
JODIEThank you. Welcome. Hello to all of you. I have a question. I've known many people who have immigrated. I don't understand. When these people know that they are going to be here for a long time and not going back to their countries, why didn't they put in for American citizenship right away?
JODIEAnd for the children, I know when it comes to about 21, they're supposed to declare their allegiance to United States. Also, at 16 years old, they're ready to graduate in two years from high school. That to me is very, very, very little. I can't believe he put it to 16. Everybody that's here now, OK, they can stay with that. But I don't understand why...
SMITHAll right. OK. All right, well, let's see if Angela or Steve can help you with this.
KELLEYRight. Jodie, really good questions that a lot of people I think have. So let's start with the last thing you said, which is this program is in two-year increments. You don't have to finish high school in two years or is not that requirement. As a matter of fact, I don't think you can even begin to apply for this until you're over the age of 15, just because minors won't need to a work authorization and they won't deport them. So there is no requirement that you have to...
SMITHAnd didn't you say, Angela, that it has to -- you have to have been in this country...
KELLEYYou have to have been in the United States for five years.
SMITHFor five years.
KELLEYRight. So, rest assured, nobody's being -- is going to be pushed through high school. But really good questions about why don't people just get in line, why don't they just get in line for their visa, and it's because there is no line, because our immigration laws haven't been updated since 1990. So if you take a person who is coming in as a nanny, as a landscaper, to work in a restaurant, there are only 5,000 visas a year in the entire United States for that kind of low-skilled worker.
KELLEYWhen our economy was stronger and we had people coming to work because there were jobs that needed to be filled, we had as many as 500,000 people coming a year illegally for those 5,000 visas. So there's no line for them to wait in. It's really actually difficult to get a green card in this country. You have to have a very specific type of family relationship, where you have to have an employer willing to sponsor you.
KELLEYAnd, right now, the backlogs for any kind of employment visa are super long unless you're basically graduating with a master's degree in a STEM, science, technology, engineering or math field. So there isn't a line to get into, and that's exactly the reason. I think Jodie's question just goes right to the heart of why we need to overhaul our immigration laws so that we've got the right number of people coming in, they're coming in legally, and we know who's here.
SMITHSteve, I know you're anxious to get in on this.
CONSTABLE(unintelligible) I'd like to add something.
SMITHYes. Go ahead, Pam.
CONSTABLEYeah. I think it's really important to remember that in our history, immigration both legal and illegal has fluctuated greatly with demand. If you looked at -- and this also goes to the last caller's question -- a lot of immigrants who come here don't think they're going to stay forever. There have been immigrants coming from Mexico for many, many years to work in seasonal jobs and go back, both legally and illegally. This is a long, long tradition. It's not only people coming to get in line to become citizens.
CONSTABLEAnd I think it's also really interesting. I was thinking about Alabama that so many people I spoke to there on all sides of the issue made the same comment. Nothing that we're doing now, neither what Obama is doing, neither what Alabama is doing, is a long-term solution. All these sort of -- these wide gamut of attempts to address the issue are happening because we don't have a comprehensive immigration law. And several people have said that maybe these scramble for policy will help make that happen.
SMITHOK. Thank you, Pam. I'm Terrence Smith. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." If you'd like to call us, do so please at 1-800-433-8850, or send an email to email@example.com. Find us on Facebook, or send us a tweet. Steve, I know you wanted to get on this.
CAMAROTAWell, I think this area where Angie was talking is probably the area where we disagree most. U.S. Immigration Policy is the most generous in the world. Every year, we allow 1.1 million-plus people to settle permanently in the United States. Most estimates show there are over 30 million legal immigrants living in the United States and about 1.5 million additional people on long-term temporary visas.
CAMAROTAWhat's happened over the last decades is legal immigration has been so high and so generous that this created very large communities that had then drawn in large numbers of illegal immigrants. All of the top legal immigrant-sending countries are also the top illegal sending countries. It's very common, as we've already heard, for legal immigrants to say to their relatives back home, hey, you can come and stay with me. I can hook you up with a job. I'll show you how to stay.
CAMAROTAOne of the things that's driving illegal immigration to the United States is our very high level of legal immigration. In the 1990s, Barbara Jordan, a fascinating woman, she was the first African-American elected from the South, headed an important commission that looked at immigration. And one of her recommendations, besides and first of all, was to bring those legal numbers down to something more common sense.
CAMAROTANot have these overwhelming number folks coming in, flooding the unskilled labor market, causing a lot of other social problems like illegal immigration itself will add about 80 million residents to the U.S. population over the next 60 years. And there were concerns about the environmental impact of that. And so what the Jordan Commission suggested was a more moderate phase of legal immigration, partly to help with controlling illegal immigration but partly to facilitate the integration and assimilation of immigrants.
CAMAROTAThe numbers of legal immigrants allowed in is now so large that in many places, it's kind of overwhelming the assimilation process. And it's driving illegal immigration. And so her recommendation, which I think a lot of folks think make sense, is to bring those numbers down to something more manageable, maybe half a million a year from over a million a year now for the legal immigrants.
SMITHYou know, this is such a fast-moving debate, and things are coming along so quickly. Angela, I wonder, this week, President Obama and Gov. Romney are both scheduled to deliver remarks with the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials. It's an annual conference they're having in Orlando at the end of this week. What are the challenges for both of them, for the president and his challenger?
KELLEYMm hmm. Well, I think for the president, it's going to be -- well, there's a lot of cheering that's going on from last Friday's announcement at Latino community. People are also going to be watching very carefully of the implementation of the program. There've been announcements by this administration in the past that they were going to issue guidelines regarding who would be deported and who wouldn't. And there's been a lot of criticism about how that had been implemented.
KELLEYSo I think that there's a still a little bit of the verdict that's still out. And, again -- and it is again against the backdrop of record-breaking deportations by this administration. I don't think that the Latino community that has been largely yelled at and insulted by Gov. Romney is going to race out to vote for him. But the question will be, will they vote at all? So I think that's the Obama political calculation.
KELLEYFor Gov. Romney, it's -- you know, frankly, he has just -- as I've said many times, he has dug himself in a very deep hole. In the primaries, he attacked hard to the right. And he has said that we should have undocumented immigrants self-deporting, I like Arizona laws, I wouldn't have voted for Justice Sotomayor, you know, like that.
KELLEYSo he is in trouble with the Latino community.
SMITHAll right. Listen, thank you, all three very, very much. Pamela Constable -- The Washington Post -- Steven Camarota, Angela Kelley, for a really good discussion. I'm Terrence Smith, sitting in for Diane Rehm. Thanks for listening.
ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Denise Couture, Monique Nazareth, Nikki Jecks, Meghan Merritt, Susan Nabors and Lisa Dunn, and the engineer is Andrew Chadwick. Natalie Yuravlivker 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 firstname.lastname@example.org, and we're on Facebook and Twitter. This program comes to you from American University in Washington. This is NPR.
Most Recent Shows
What President Trump's anti-immigrant policies may mean for the future of the GOP, then why some say Apple should help parents limit teen's time on iPhones
Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank explains some of the challenges ahead for 'Trump Tax,’ then singer songwriter Dar Williams talks about what she’s learned from a career of performing in small towns across America.
What the Alabama Senate race means for Republicans and Democrats, then dealing with sexual misconduct claims against members of Congress and President Trump.