Diane talks with Annie Lowrey, staff writer at The Atlantic, where she covers economic policy.
Three Republicans joined ten Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee to pass broad immigration reform legislation. Next it goes to full Senate. The bill would bring the biggest changes in US immigration policy in years:There’s a thirteen year path to citizenship for immigrants here illegally, plus more border security and new rules for both high and low skilled workers seeking jobs in this country. Critics of the bill say it gives illegal immigrants an unfair advantage over those who have played by the rules. They also say the changes will mean fewer jobs for American citizens. Please join us to discuss prospects for immigration reform.
- Angela Kelley Vice president for immigration policy and advocacy, Center for American Progress.
- Fawn Johnson Correspondent, National Journal magazine.
- Mark Krikorian Executive director, Center for Immigration Studies.
MR. TOM GJELTENThanks for joining us. I'm Tom Gjelten of NPR, sitting in for Diane Rehm. Diane is visiting Louisville Public Media. The Senate Judiciary Committee gave bipartisan approval this week to sweeping immigration reform. The legislation offers a path to citizenship for about 11 million people now here illegally. Joining me to talk about the bill and its prospect in Congress: Angela Kelley of the Center for American Progress, Fawn Johnson of National Journal magazine and Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies.
MR. TOM GJELTENYou can join our conversation. Is it time for immigration reform? Our phone number is 1-800-433-8850. Our email is firstname.lastname@example.org. And if you want to send us a tweet, our Twitter handle is @drshow. And of course, you could also join us on Facebook. Good morning, everyone.
MR. MARK KRIKORIANGood morning.
MS. ANGELA KELLEYGood morning.
MS. FAWN JOHNSONGood morning.
GJELTENAngela, let's begin with you. Supporters of this bill are calling it a -- are saying this passage, that this approval by the Senate Judiciary Committee is a watershed moment. Do you see it that way?
KELLEYI do, I do. It was a very significant, genuine debate that the committee had over many, many sessions, ably led by Sen. Patrick Leahy where 300 amendments were filed, a couple hundred were considered, 48 Republican amendments passed. So it was -- I mean, it was real lawmaking where you saw lawmakers hearing each other out, reaching across the aisle and trying to come up with good policy. It was breathtaking. And so I do think it's a watershed moment. I don't think were done.
KELLEYIt's not a Rose Garden ceremony, but it's a significant step in the right direction. And moreover, the tone, members of both aisles, you know, Sen. Grassley, Sen. Cornyn, I mean, Sen. Cruz even were saying, we need to get to a solution. This might not be the bill that I'll vote for, but I'll vote to at least get it on the Senate floor to get the debate started. That's a big change.
GJELTENWe need to get to a solution. But what is it that had to be solved? What is the problem here that had to be fixed?
KELLEYYeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah. Well, there's 11 millions folks who are living in the U.S. without papers. Two-thirds of them had been here longer than 10 years. So we have a population that is out of status and that we need to do something about, and our best efforts at tough enforcement and rigorous deportation policies haven't changed that calculation. They're still here.
KELLEYSo that's the central part of the legislation, is dealing realistically with the 11 million, and at the same time, toughening up on the border, employment verification system, dealing with backlogs and coming up with a realistic future legal immigration system.
GJELTENWell, Fawn Johnson, as Angela said, more than 100 -- how many hundred amendments were considered, like 200 at one point?
JOHNSONYeah. It was somewhere in the realm of 160, I think, that they actually...
GJELTENAnd the legislation is 870.
GJELTENWhy did it have to be so complicated?
JOHNSONWell, this is a really complicated topic. And one of the problems that everyone who has tried to come and fix little pieces of the immigration law has found is that as soon as you tweak one, you create problems in another. And this is the reason why we now have this term comprehensive immigration reform that people are talking about because back in the early 2000s, late 1990s, there was attempts on a number of levels.
JOHNSONThere was high-skilled immigration that people wanted to fix, particularly in the tech boom. There was an agriculture problem that people were looking to try and find new agricultural workers. There were leftovers from the 1986 amnesty bill that people were still trying to fix. And I started covering it at that time.
JOHNSONAnd it was fascinating to watch these individual pockets of people working on these little pieces of legislation, realizing that the only way they were going to do anything is if you did this big, broad bill. But the problem, as we all know, is that whenever there's big, broad, complex bill, it creates all sorts of other problems in Congress, including numbers you have a hard time digesting at all.
GJELTENWell, Mark Krikorian, sometimes, when you get big, broad bills with hundreds of pages, you have to include provisions to satisfy every little constituency that -- whose support is needed for a bill of this magnitude. Does that create -- in your view, what does having a bill that comprehensive mean as far as the quality of the legislation itself?
KRIKORIANWell, the first -- I would have to say the first point is Congress shouldn't be passing anything that's comprehensive. I mean, if -- it's simply a mistake regardless of the policy area, I mean, whether it's banking, whether it's anything else. The reason we have a 900-page bill is political. In other words, it's a way - it includes elements that appeal to a whole variety of interest groups that have been stitched together to create a kind of political coalition to push the bill. There's no logical or policy reason.
KRIKORIANMost of these things have to be in one bill. And so the result is you have legislation that cannot be comprehended that contains all kinds of elements that people really aren't aware of and won't really see the implications of. And really, legislating in this way is an example of congressional hubris. The idea that 535 people in Congress actually can come up with this overall kind of plan for a huge portion of our society is hubris. We should be doing it a chunk at a time, see how it works, see what's broken, what does work, what doesn't work and fix it.
GJELTENWell, do you think that something is broken? Do you think that there was a problem here that had to be solved or fixed? Or are you even disputing that?
KRIKORIANWell, I am disputing that we need to do anything rather than nothing. I mean, there are -- this is worse than doing nothing. But there's clearly problems that have to be addressed. There's no question about it. But you know, the -- and see I -- the verb I would dispute. Solve is not the word. Immigration, just like a whole variety of other areas, is never going to be solved. It's simply managed, either better or worse, in different ways.
KRIKORIANAnd so much of the rhetoric surrounding this legislation has assumed that this is something we can get out of the way, get off the table. That doesn't happen. It's like saying getting taxes out of the way. I mean, this is a permanent feature of a modern society, and we have to decide how we're going to best run it.
GJELTENWell, Angela, I think we can all agree that this certainly is ambitious legislation. Let's go over some of the historic or most significant provisions in this legislation.
KELLEYSure, sure. The legislation would provide for -- a program for those who are here without status and have been here since the end of December of 2011 who go through background checks to come forward, give their information, basically register for a program, and in exchange, they would get work authorization and protection against deportation. They would have to reregister. They have to show that they've been working and paying taxes.
KELLEYThey go through another background check after six years, and after 10 years, another background check, continue to show that they've been working, that they've been paying taxes, that they've been learning English. And they'll be paying a fine at the initial registration period, at re-registration and at the end when they're eligible to get green cards, which will total $2,000 per person. After three years of having a green card, they'll be eligible if they meet all the qualifications to naturalize and become U.S. citizens.
KELLEYSo this is a program that leans right into the fact that we have a large undocumented population. It's a long rigorous road with significant requirements, but it does get realistic about the fact that we can't deport everybody here who's here without papers. We've been unsuccessful at doing that. So that's a central portion of the bill.
GJELTENAnd this is not the first time that we've seen a path to citizenship offered illegal immigrants. How does this differ from previous paths to citizenship that were proposed?
KELLEYYeah. So decades ago in 1986, there was a -- there was an immigration bill that had a cutoff date from 1982 that passed in 1986, that for those undocumented immigrants that they could come forward and basically register and get green cards and, over time, naturalize. There were flaws in that bill, one I just described, which is that there were four years where the people who are here that weren't covered by the program. That law also didn't take into account the people who were going to come in the future.
KELLEYIt didn't consider what sort of immigration system is in our nation's interest, what kind of workers do we need in what sort of job sectors. This bill is very forward-looking. It is ambitious. I agree with Mark on that. But I don't think that the status quo is acceptable. We need people to come with visas that are needed workers, not with smugglers. We need to know who's in the country and have them come forward and register for this program. I think it's ambitious, but I also think it's an answer.
GJELTENOK. Fawn, so this bill was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee. It still has to go to the full Senate, and of course, it still has to go to the House. And I think even some of those that supported it in the committee were just voting to get it out of committee and into full debate. So they -- whether they will actually support it in the end is unclear.
GJELTENMeanwhile in the House, we just saw yesterday the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Republican Rep. Bob Goodlatte scheduled a hearing, which he titled S. 744 -- that's in the title of the bill -- and the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986: Lessons Learned or Mistakes Repeated? What does that tell you about the attitude that Rep. Goodlatte and the House Republicans are going to take toward this legislation when it comes over to their side?
JOHNSONWell, I was at that hearing yesterday, and it was -- it really illustrates, I think, the biggest barrier to having this legislation actually pass and get to the point where it can get to President Obama's desk because members of the House, many of them -- not all of them, but many of them agree with Mark. They think that immigration should not be tackled in this huge, ambitious way. They would like to see it done slightly in easier bites.
JOHNSONAnd they also are very afraid that the promises of border security, which we have not yet talked about in this bill, are just that, empty promises that will not be fulfilled in the Obama administration. And that was one of the first things that the Republican -- I believe both Chairman Goodlatte and Lamar Smith, the Republican from Texas who is a big opponent of this bill, ask the witnesses. They said, is there anything in this Senate bill that would prevent the president from essentially ignoring border security complaints? That's what they're going to be arguing as this moves forward.
GJELTENAnd, of course, you mentioned the border security provisions. There are a number of other provisions in this bill that have been controversial and that -- whose passage needed to be very carefully negotiated, the visas for high-skilled workers, for low-skilled workers and a number of other provisions as well, which we'll be talking about when we come back after the break.
GJELTENMy guests are Fawn Johnson, correspondent for National Journal magazine, Angela Kelley, vice president for immigration policy and advocacy at the Center for American Progress and Mark Krikorian, who is the executive director at the Center for Immigration Studies. We're going to take a short break now. Stay with us. We'll be right back.
GJELTENWelcome back. I'm Tom Gjelten, sitting in today for Diane Rehm, and we're talking about immigration reform and the six -- 500-page -- 800-page -- excuse me -- 800-page bill that was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee this week. We are getting tweets and Facebook messages and emails and phone calls already. You can join us, 1-800-433-8850, or send us an email, email@example.com.
GJELTENI have one tweet here, who -- from somebody whose name is not identified here, "Border policy is not going to be fixed by immigration reform. What about deterrents? Too many people die on the border." OK. That's something we didn't get into in the first part of the program. What are the provisions for improving border security? This seems to me, Mark, to have been the big issue throughout the debate over this legislation. Which should come first, a path to citizenship or improved security at the border?
KRIKORIANYeah. I mean, that is the basic architecture of the bill is the problem, from my perspective. In other words, there's no amendments that are going to change the fact that it legalizes the illegal immigrants upfront within a few months and then promises enforcement in the future. And as Fawn pointed out, there's real fear, I think, of virtual certainty that those promises will not be kept.
KRIKORIANAnd see, this is this the interesting thing when you step back from the debate. You can pretty much determine where a person will fall on, you know, for this bill or not based on what their explanation is for the failure of the 1986 amnesty in the past, as Angie suggested. A lot of people who were for this bill say the reason it failed 25 years ago is because it didn't increase immigration enough.
KRIKORIANAnd so that somehow immigration is going to happen whether we want it or not, and so we need to accommodate it somehow. I would disagree, immigration is actually now double what it was back then, legal immigration alone, and the guest worker immigration is even much higher than that, more than doubled. My explanation, and I think for those who are fearful that this will simply repeat the experience of '86, is that the enforcement promises simply weren't kept.
KRIKORIANAnd in this legislation, the illegal immigrants all get amnestied right away. They get work cards, Social Security accounts, driver's licenses, the whole thing. And whether or not they get green cards is what's tied to the enforcement objectives. But frankly, it's kind of like when you download Adobe Acrobat. You get the free version of it. You don't pay to get the premium version for the most part. Well, people aren't -- for the most part are not going to get this -- the premium green card.
GJELTENMark Krikorian is executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies. Fawn Johnson, as Mark says, this was the most contentious issue. How was it worked out? What was -- give us kind of a 30-second brief of the debate and how it was finally resolved.
JOHNSONWell, I actually think the best example to explain that would be to look at one of the chief sponsors of the bill in the Senate, Marco Rubio from Florida. He is, you know, solid conservative Tea Party favorite. And what he will describe, and has multiple times done so on news programs, is his arc in terms of understanding why you need to deal with the undocumented population, at the same time, you deal with border security.
JOHNSONHe was a border security first guy, especially in the campaign and when he was, you know, sort of looking at his presidential candidacy. And then when he started to get into the issue and he was one of the first ones that came out and said, hey, we really need to look at this because we're losing votes in the Latino population. When he really got into it, he realized -- and he will tell you this -- there is no way that you can actually secure the border unless you deal with this undocumented population.
JOHNSONAnd I think -- I have viewed him as the person who was supposed to be the, you know, the conversion candidate, the conversion character that other conservatives can follow and feel comfortable with. Now, that argument has problems with it, and there are, you know, people like Mark, who are going to disagree with that all the way to final passage or until the bill dies. But it is the kind of thing -- that's how the bill came together.
JOHNSONActually, I think, Rubio was, in fact, the linchpin who made the rest of the group coalesce and agree that they were going to have this bargain. It was -- and that's what it is: Legalization for really tough border security and the employment verification system, which is genuinely real this time. It was not real in 1986.
GJELTENAngela Kelley, what do you see -- how is the border going to change if this legislation were to be passed in its current form?
KELLEYSo I think it's going to continue to be build on what has been steady success at the border. We are investing $17 billion a year at the border. We've got -- when IRCA was passed in 1986, there were 3,000 border agents at the Southern border using flashlights. We now have 22,000 border agents with the highest, the most latest technology available to them. It is an ongoing strategy and a national priority, and it has to be.
KELLEYAnd what the bill does is it zeroes in on having effective control of the border. It says that the secretary of Homeland Security has to develop a plan for how to enhance what is already, like I said, a much more secure border. We have probably the lowest rate of people crossing illegally into the U.S. in 40 years right now because of effective border enforcement. It requires enhancing the fencing strategy that's already started. Over $4 million are allocated again in the bill to add to what is a very generous financial allocation that goes to the border.
KELLEYBut, you know, Fawn is absolutely right. Beyond the border, we have a solid employment verification system that the bill smartly implements for all employers to follow, an entry-exit system at airports and at seaports that was expanded in the committee markup. So the bill has a comprehensive enforcement plan that works in concert with the legalization program. So both sides, frankly, are getting to the solution that's needed.
GJELTENMark, as Angela said, border -- illegal border crossings have undoubtedly declined in recent years. How do you explain that, and what is the significance of it as far as you're concerned?
KRIKORIANThe -- I mean, there's a number of reasons a border -- the border crossings, border arrests -- really, we're not sure, but border crossings themselves almost certainly have gone down. Part of it is enforcement. I'm delighted to hear that Angela says that enforcement works. But it's not just enforcement, of course. It's the bad economy. In fact, crossings are back up now. There's a surge in South Texas. Illegal arrests of illegal immigrants have doubled in the past two years.
KRIKORIANSo this isn't solved in any sense. It's something we're going to have to keep managing. But I think this talk about the enforcement elements of the bill is important because there's no reason we can't do all of these things now, implement them, see how they work and then we can talk about legalizing the illegal immigrants. That issue isn't going to go away. For instance, E-Verify, that's the name of the online system that -- for verifying the employment status of illegal immigrants.
KRIKORIANThat should be made mandatory for all employers now. Phase it in over a number a years. It's not even going to affect existing illegal immigrants unless they leave jobs and get new ones because it only checks new hires. The entry-exit system that was referred to, this is important because close to half the illegal population came in legally on some kind of student visa, tourist visa and then just never left. And if we don't know who leaves, we don't know who's still here.
KRIKORIANAgain, it can have no influence on the illegal immigrants who were here. It's not going to be rousting people out of their homes. It's to make sure there's no new illegal immigration and likewise with the border. Angie's right. Border efforts have, in fact, been increased significantly. But even with the border patrol at the much larger size it is now, it's still a third smaller than the New York Police Department. So the idea that we're sort of finished and done in enforcement is just not true.
GJELTENOK. Fawn, we've talked about the path to citizenship provision in this legislation and the border enforcement provisions. What are the other major provisions, the other major issues that had to be resolved in order to move this bill along?
JOHNSONThe piece that has been most lobbied, I would argue, is the one that we haven't really discussed in length, which involves new work visas for a number of different kinds of people who were coming in to do jobs that, in theory, Americans won't do. And so the bill does -- has a number of places where it addresses this...
GJELTENWon't do or are not qualified to do?
JOHNSONWell, yeah. That...
GJELTENBecause it's both low skill and high skill.
JOHNSONRight. So maybe -- let's talk about the high skilled first.
JOHNSONAnd then we need to move to low skilled. They're two separate arguments, but a lot of them, they have very similar tensions in them. So in the high skill area, you get the high-tech community, who has been arguing, especially as the economy is starting to recover, that they really need access to the entire globe's worth of highly skilled workers. And in order to do that -- the system that we have now doesn't really work.
JOHNSONThere's an H-1B visa category that it's capped at 65,000. And in the last -- just last month, the Department of Homeland Security ran out of those visas for the coming year in a matter of days. So, clearly, there's a demand for that, but that's actually not really an answer. That's a temporary visa. It only lasts three years. But employers use that visa because it is much more difficult to bring somebody in and sponsor them for a green card. It can take years, and they can't afford to wait years. So they're trying to get a fix going on.
JOHNSONAt the other end of the spectrum, of course, you have the labor unions who -- and there are numbers of them who argue that you don't really want all these highly skilled workers from India and China coming in and taking jobs from American engineers who need work. So they reached a compromise. This was -- the last senator to support the bill in committee was Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, a Republican, who committed to vote the bill out of committee because they managed to tweak the H1B provision such that it was a lot easier for companies to actually get them.
JOHNSONThe underlying bill actually increases the cap a little bit, not as much as business wants, but it's pretty good. Same tension's on the low skill side. There's a new work visa program for them, but there's a lot of question about whether or not the visas are enough to accommodate the employment need.
GJELTENAngela, let me read you an email from Bobby in North Carolina. He says, "Those who favor immigrant rights say they take jobs Americans don't want. But when you see a construction site, they are operating heavy equipment. Americans do want and need those jobs." How -- why is it that there is this perception that...
GJELTEN...immigrants actually are taking jobs that Americans want, U.S. citizens want?
KELLEYYep, Yep, Yep. Absolutely. And that's very much at the heart of what the bill is also trying to solve, is trying to look at what kind of workers do we need as our economy gets stronger, because what we know is that when our economy was strong, that we have 500,000 people a year crossing the border, illegally coming to work. We only had 5,000 visas, though, in low-skill worker categories, and that, fundamentally, is the mismatch.
KELLEYSo what the bill attempts to do is through the combination of better enforcement that we've already discussed and also, frankly, a creative way of having a bureau within the Department of Homeland Security -- of demographers, economists -- assess our labor market. Do we need folks in what kinds of jobs? How many visas does our nation need? And these very basic questions to address the dynamic economy's needs like ours have never been answered before.
KELLEYWe've always had a static number, which has caused backlogs for people who are trying to come to the country legally and then people who come illegally. So I think that the email goes right at the heart of what the bill is trying to do, which is to put forward a sensible system that considers American workers so that we don't have people who are paid less under the table and aren't paying taxes, but we have people who are aboveboard who we know we need, and we work to hire Americans first.
GJELTENAngela Kelley is vice president for immigration policy and advocacy at the Center for American Progress. I'm Tom Gjelten. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." One more email here, and I think this is going to go to another issue that we haven't really talked about that much, and that has to do with the family unification. Now, as I understand it, folks, I think that the -- what I've heard is that the vast majority of immigrants coming to the country legally today are coming under the provisions of previous legislation that allowed families to be reunified.
GJELTENThis -- who is it? No -- again, no name on this one. "My first reaction to the path to citizenship is that it is not fair to those of us who are trying to do the right thing. My ex-husband has a green card. My son has his U.S. citizenship, and I am about to receive my green card, da, da, da. We have combined French-U.K. citizenship. I am sad we cannot sponsor her daughter when the rest of the family is in the U.S. legally.
GJELTEN"For us to sponsor her would take 10 years, and she must remain unmarried." Mark, why don't you just, Mark Krikorian, fill us in, first of all, on what current immigration policy allows in terms of family unification and how it would change under this legislation?
KRIKORIANWhat we -- our immigration system now is mainly geared toward letting relatives of people...
KRIKORIAN...who are already here, sort of a nepotistic immigration system. More than two-thirds of the people who get green cards lawfully get them because of family relationships, and actually half of the rest get them because they're the immediate relatives of people getting green cards for other reasons. And the categories are not just husbands, wives and little kids of American citizens, which there's really no dispute about at all.
KRIKORIANIt's also adult sons and daughters of American citizens with their own families, and especially the siblings, the adult brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens. And what this leads to is a kind of endless chain of migration because if you're letting somebody's brother in, well, the brother has his own spouse, the spouse has her own parents and spouses, and so on. And so you end up with the immigration flow kind of pretty much everybody at some point having access to the United States 'cause everybody's related to everybody else.
GJELTENFawn -- go ahead.
KRIKORIANWhat this bill would do is, to some degree, narrow it, but not as much as it seems. First of all, everybody in the queue -- and there's four million people already in queue -- everybody would get in essentially right away or within a couple of years. So that's why this bill, in the first decade of its operation, would actually double legal immigration, from one million a year to two million a year.
KRIKORIANWhat it did is it eliminated the category for brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens and adult sons and daughters who married sons and daughters U.S. citizens. On the other hand, though, what it took is it didn't really eliminate those categories. It simply hid them in a different part of the legal immigration stream that came up with this point system where you get different points for different characteristics.
KRIKORIANThe way this is run, for instance, in Canada is it's based on your education, your age, your skills, that kind of thing. And they have those provisions in there, but they also put in provisions if you have a U.S. brother and sister, that sort of thing. And so it's -- they basically took some of the family unification provisions, apparently narrowed it by appealing to the concerns that people like me have, but really just kind of snuck them into a different part of the legal immigration system.
JOHNSON...I think it's important to point out, though, that just from the point of view of this emailer, I don't know her specific situation, but the members who are sponsoring this bill want to make sure that any of those people who are already in line get taken care of. So I don't know the specific situation, but it sounds like actually if this bill passed, that person would have a quicker path into the green card than they would under current law.
GJELTENActually, it does say -- she does say her daughter would have to remain unmarried in order to qualify, which I think goes to the point...
JOHNSONWell, yeah. But if she's already put in the sponsorship process, that can still go forward. So -- but basically what they're doing is they're trying to grandfather in everybody who's already in line. That's an important factor to know.
KELLEYThe -- so over a 10-year period, this family backlog would be cleared out. The categories that are eliminated will not be immediately eliminated. So there is a period of time where the person could file a petition for somebody. And no one gets a green card who is an undocumented person before the family backlog is cleared out, before the employment backlog is carried out.
KELLEYSo those who have tried to play by the rules and have been stuck in a broken immigration system will not be disadvantaged. Their petitions -- and they still have to qualify. They have to meet all the requirements, but they will get processed before any undocumented person.
KRIKORIANAlthough the undocumented people are already working here, and they're going to have legal work authorization.
GJELTENOK. Mark Krikorian and Angela Kelley, we're going to take a short break right now. When we come back, we'll take your phone calls.
MS. TOM GJELTENWelcome back. I'm Tom Gjelten, sitting in today for Diane Rehm. And we're talking about immigration reform and the legislation that just cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee this week. And judging from the number of emails we've gotten and tweets and the phone calls, there's a lot of interest out there in this issue. And we're going to be going to your calls in a moment.
MS. TOM GJELTENMy guests are Angela Kelley, who's vice president for immigration policy and advocacy at the Center for American Progress, also Fawn Johnson, from National Journal magazine, who's been covering the debate on the Hill, and Mark Krikorian, executive director at the Center for Immigration Studies. Let's go first to an email here, who asks, "What provisions, if any, does the new legislation propose for the DREAMers?"
MS. TOM GJELTENAnd by DREAMers, I think she's talking about or he's talking about those immigrants who have come here as children, perhaps illegally, but then either want to join the military or do something else, sort of in conformity with the American dream. Does this bill address the next path to citizenship? What are the provisions in here, Fawn Johnson, for the -- that under what we previously thought off as the American DREAM Act?
JOHNSONRight. It's essentially the American DREAM Act is in the bill in more or less the same fashion that has been proposed over the last several years. And the provisions speed up essentially the legalization path for those kids. These -- the qualifications, I think, are going to be debated a little bit as they move forward in committee. But we're talking about essentially people who are roughly at the age of 16 to 30-ish who were brought here by their parents, came here basically without any choice, and they are undocumented. But they also are more or less Americans.
JOHNSONThis is the...
GJELTENAnd they want to be. They want to remain Americans.
JOHNSONRight. This is the most sympathetic argument for immigration reform that I have seen go forward. People really don't want to see these kids be deported. Some of them already have. They don't want to see them have any kind of problems for this. So that's a piece of the bill. It's in there. It's intact. They get a few special things that some of the other undocumented don't get. I think that it's five years that they have to wait for their green card rather than 10.
JOHNSONIf they join the military, I think it goes even faster. So they are taken cared of in the bill.
GJELTENOK. Let's go now to Damian, who's on the line from Dallas, Texas. Good morning, Damian. Welcome to "The Diane Rehm Show."
DAMIANThank you. You know, so much praise for this bill. But, you know, the bill listed out of committee in part because Democrats caved to hull a threat by Republicans and allowed the amendment that addressed the gay and lesbian people to be stripped from the bill. It seems to be an example of Democrats caving on LGBT issues.
DAMIANIt's a complete failure to stand up for the security of LGBT family. And it's unlikely that something to replace it would be brought up in the full Senate. So how does this bill, which now has left behind the LGBT committee, how is it really a success when it finds its beginning -- part of its process of beginning was leaving people behind?
GJELTENOK. Let me put that question to Angela Kelley. I think what Damian is talking about here is a compromise that was in a view of sponsors the bill they felt was needed. Why don't you explain what the issue was?
KELLEYThat's right. So this is about bi-national same-sex couples that are applying for their partner to get a green card who are not currently able to do that under our immigration laws. And there had been legislation introducing the past that would have given them that ability to do so. And the main sponsor of that legislation was Patrick Leahy, who led the judiciary committee markup. And Sen. Leahy, in a very emotional and heartfelt moment at the very end of five, six days of markup late on Tuesday night, brought the amendment up and asked his committee members, what should we do?
KELLEYWhat are the consequences of me putting this amendment forward? And the Republicans who have been part of the Gang of Eight that drafted the bill and who are on the committee, Sen. Graham, Sen. Flake, said very directly with a lot of respect to Sen. Leahy, if you put this amendment forward, it will break up the deal. The deal will be destroyed. That will considerably weaken the bill going to the Senate floor.
KELLEYThe Democrats on the committee -- the first one to speak was Sen. Feinstein from California, and all the Democrats in the committee come from states that have marriage equality. And they said to Sen. Leahy, they all owned the decision jointly, don't bring the amendment forward. This is a key issue. This is blatant discrimination. But this is not the forum, this is not the venue for solving that problem. Debate is not over though on this.
KELLEYLet me just make two more quick points. We've got the Senate floor. We had the Supreme Court that is going to come down with a decision next month on the Defense of Marriage Act, which if it strikes that down will open up a lot of opportunity for bi-national same-sex married couples to apply for each other. And we also have administrative relief that we can pursue.
KELLEYSo the debate is not over. And for the LGBT community and many folks recognize this, there are 267,000 undocumented people who are LGBT. They have a lot to gain by this bill moving forward. And there are also other provisions related to asylum and detention that are of special interest and concern to the LGBT community.
GJELTENOK. Well, you know, it's interesting to me that this bill had bipartisan support because we haven't seen compromises negotiated on Capitol Hill in quite a while. And whatever you think of this particular compromise, it's interesting that there was a compromise.
KELLEYIt's a lot of give on both sides.
GJELTENVery quickly, Mark.
KRIKORIANI think part of the reason you see that, though, on this issue is that immigration is not a conventional right-left issue like taxes or guns or abortion. It's an up-down issue. It's elites versus the public in all areas, unions, business. So my point is that it's bipartisan, but it's Republican, high immigration people getting together with the Democratic high immigration people.
GJELTENInteresting. Let's go now to Dennis, who's on the line from Raleigh, N.C. Good morning, Dennis.
DENNISGood morning. How are you?
GJELTENI'm good. How are you?
DENNISGood. I really just have a comment regarding immigration in regards to students and recent college grads. I'm a recent college grad here in North Carolina, and I have several international friends. Well, a lot of them are now having to go back to their country and places of origin because companies do not want to sponsor or take the time to sponsor recent college graduates or current masters graduate or students, excuse me, for their internship because they don't sponsor the visa. Apparently, it is getting way too expensive, and they'd rather just hire, you know, their own citizens.
GJELTENDennis, let me ask you. Do you find your friends who have received this college education here in this country, do they want to stay here?
DENNISThey do. They very much want to do. But unfortunately, I'd say out of the six friends that I have that are international, only three are still in the country.
DENNISThey had to leave.
GJELTENAll right. Let me, at this point, read an email from Bill on this issue. Bill says, "I work in the high-tech industry supporting a NASA contractor. And what I see in the high-tech visa issue versus American high-tech employee issue revolves around the fact that high-tech companies can get the same or very similar skill sets for much less money when they bring foreign labor stateside." Fawn Johnson, this was also something that was hotly debated, and we saw American organized labor weigh in on this issue for this reason.
JOHNSONAbsolutely. And actually, I love that you combined that email and that phone call together because we're talking about really the flipside of the same problem. The caller that called in about his student international friends, it sounds to me like the situation, if he's describing it accurately, that employers don't want to pay the sponsor certain students. Then the labor market probably is working as the lawmakers intended to, which is what they want is they want employers to go to the American first.
JOHNSONAnd if you want to sponsor a foreign national for a green card or for any kind of thing, it should cost you a little bit more. It should be a little bit of trouble. Not a ton, but it should give -- you should have to -- want to go for the American first. So the bill does make it a lot easier for employers to hire college graduates, international college graduates right out of college, particularly in the STEM fields, science, math, et cetera.
JOHNSONBut the idea is that you still want to go to the Americans first. But then when you're looking at the high-tech side, this is a hotly debated issue. And expect it to keep on going as this moves to the House and the Senate -- or to the Senate floor and then to the House because the labor unions think that the H1B visa program in particular really does make it cheaper for people to bring in a computer programmer from China, say.
JOHNSONSo what they're trying to do is they're trying to put more protections into the bill, meaning that you have to pay more if you want -- maybe perhaps more than you would pay an American worker. And you also have to go through a number of bureaucratic steps, including things like having a recruitment process that goes for 90 days beforehand.
GJELTENJust to show you how complicated this issue is, visas for hire or low-tech skilled workers, I have an email here from Masai. (sp?) He writes, "I've been in the U.S. legally already for more than 12 years, six years on a student visa, six years under an H1B visa. My employer has filed for an employment-based green card, and I'm currently on an H1B while I wait for another five years for a green card.
GJELTEN"Till then, I can't work anywhere other than with my current employer. I cannot start a business. My spouse cannot work, et cetera. And now, somebody who's been here illegally all along can already start working with anybody they want." So that's kind of -- Angela, that's kind of like a third perspective on this issue.
KELLEYYep. That's exactly the reason why we need to this comprehensively, right, because we can't deal with one problem without, frankly, being unfair or not solving the other. So in the case of the person who sent the email, look, you've go somebody who has been educated. He wants to put down roots in this country. He wants his spouse to be able to work if she would want to work. You know, they want permanency, right? They want to be able to build a future.
KELLEYBut because of our broken immigration system, they are living year by year, and they're beholden to an employer. I mean, this is exactly why labor has come together. All of labor is united and reached across the table to the Chamber of Commerce and said, we need to make a deal on this. And it's because they want to protect the American worker. But they also want to protect foreign workers so they're not put in exactly the kind of position that that person is in.
GJELTENMark Krikorian, I have a big question for you. As the executive director for the Center for Immigration Studies, your organization is critical of immigration, I think it's fair to say. Do you think that immigration is good for this country?
KRIKORIANIt's -- it has positives and negatives like every other policy that we have, and so we have to decide what kind -- what immigration, immigration of who, what categories, that sort of thing. And I don't mean to get details, but, for instance, is the immigration of legitimate spouses or minor children of U.S. citizens good? Yes.
KRIKORIANThat's something that's always been allowed. That makes up probably 40 percent of legal immigration now already, so, yes. The answer is yes. But then the answer is also no. Is it advisable to be importing large numbers of low-skilled workers regardless of occupation or what employers say? The answer is no.
KRIKORIANI agree with Barbara Jordan in that case, the late congresswoman who had an immigration reform commission in the '90s and said there is no excuse for any low-skilled immigration because of the low skills of those workers. Whether it's farming or, you know, any other kind of service work or construction or anything else, that shouldn't be allowed. That immigration is bad. So you can't say immigration is good or it's bad. Some of it is, some of it isn't.
GJELTENFawn Johnson, there was a big debate in the city of Washington recently about the economic impact of this immigration reform. Heritage Foundation came out with a report saying it was -- it would cost trillions of dollars, and there was a lot of pushback to that. What is the consensus right now on what the economic significance of this immigration reform would be, the impact on the economy and on the budget -- federal budget?
JOHNSONAnd I want to preface how I answer this question to protect myself by saying that this is still a hotly debated, you know, topic. However, I would argue that -- I'm going to say two-thirds of the economists out there would tell you that immigration is good for the country in general.
JOHNSONBut the Heritage study that came out points to a fact that is true of the economy generally, which is that if you have low-skilled people and people without high school degrees, they actually take more in terms of benefits from a country than they give back in terms of taxes. So this ongoing -- keep in mind that there are economists out there who are conservative, who do say it's good for immigration.
GJELTENFawn Johnson is correspondent for National Journal magazine. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And let's go now to Randy, who's on the line from Cincinnati, Ohio. Good morning, Randy. Thanks for calling.
RANDYHi. Good morning. And thank you for taking my call. I'm a dedicated listener.
RANDYFirst of all, I just want to -- I just have comment and a question. First of all, I wanted to say right up front, if my family is living in poverty in Mexico, I would be making every effort to get in the United States. So I have no issue with that. But it seems like that we're really using primitive measures and I just -- I'm just catching the latter part of the show, but census, border patrol -- and we've seen it dance around what I really believe is the heart of the problem.
RANDYAnd then the harder solution, which I think a lot of politicians -- most of the politicians have probably avoided it in the past because it was a hot issue, and that is business hiring at low rates. And I doubt that they ever pass those savings along to the consumer. And private individuals, some politicians/candidates who hire people to do the messy work are day workers.
RANDYAnd I don't buy into the fact that we couldn't get U.S. workers in the roofing, framing, dry walling if we were willing to pay maybe a living wage. So let me get to the question part. It just seems like in the past, there wasn't much -- or what was it that deterred enforcement in the past because it seems like it wasn't happening? And how is that going to be different in the future? And are the rewards for taking that risk going to still outstrip the risks?
GJELTENOK. Randy, you raised a really important question. I want to make sure we have time to discuss it. Angela, why do employers hire undocumented workers?
KELLEYBecause they can hire them cheaper, because they don't complain. They'll do what they say, when they say it, and however they want it done. So it's an exploitable workforce. And what the bill tries to do is in combination of putting forward the undocumented so that they have work authorization, eventual green cards and citizenship, they are able to make more money, pay more in taxes, maximize their skills, get better education and training.
KELLEYAnd then you've got the Bolivian, who is working now in a hotel but who is a nurse back in her home country, able to begin to enhance her credentials, work in a hospital and get back on track of being a nurse. It makes for a much more efficient labor market. And it will put employers because of the verification system in the hot seat in a way that we have never done before.
KRIKORIANA quick point...
KRIKORIAN...on this, Tom, is that the discount in the labor market for being an illegal alien, the appeal to employers for illegal workers specifically is not that big. The effect that illegal workers have is that they're flooding the low-skilled labor market. They are earning a little bit less, there's no question, because they're illegal but not that much. The relevant fact is that they are adding more low-skilled workers competing with Americans and earlier immigrations for those jobs and pushing the wages down.
GJELTENOK. We're unfortunately going to have to leave the discussion there. This has been a very lively hour. And I apologize to all our listeners who were not able to get on the show and get in your questions or comments.
GJELTENMy guests have been Mark Krikorian, executive director for the Center for Immigration Studies, Fawn Johnson, correspondent for National Journal magazine, who's been sitting in those mark-up hearings day after day after day, and she was accompanied there by Angela Kelley, vice president for immigration policy and advocacy at the Center for American Progress. I'm Tom Gjelten. I've been sitting in for Diane Rehm today. Thanks for listening.
ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Denise Couture, Susan Casey Nabors, Rebecca Kaufman, Lisa Dunn and Danielle Knight. The engineer is Erin Stamper. 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, D.C. This is NPR.
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