Guest Host: Derek McGinty
The Department of Homeland Security announced last week that it has started deporting people who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border illegally within the last two years. Authorities apprehended 121 adults and children in raids in Georgia, Texas and North Carolina earlier this month. Despite an uproar from Democrats and immigrant advocates, officials say raids will continue. Authorities argue that they hope to send a message to prevent a repeat of the surge in illegal border crossings last year. Officials say more than 10,000 children crossed the U.S.-Mexico border in October and November. Guest host Derek McGinty and a panel of guests discuss what’s behind the new wave of deportations and reaction from communities and political leaders.
- Luis Gutierrez Twelfth-term Democratic congressman from Chicago, Illinois; member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus
- Steven Camarota Director of research, Center for Immigration Studies, an organization that supports allowing fewer immigrants into the country.
- Ali Noorani Executive director, National Immigration Forum, an immigrant advocacy group
- Pamela Constable Immigration reporter, Washington Post; author of "Fragments of Grace" and co-author of "A Nation of Enemies: Chile Under Pinochet"
MR. DEREK MCGINTYThanks for joining us. I'm Derek McGinty sitting in for Diane Rehm. She's having a voice treatment. Well, after immigration reforms failed in Congress, President Obama tried to use executive orders to shield some illegal immigrants from being deported, but now, the administration is deporting Central Americans who came here illegally within the last two years. A lot of Democrats are outraged about it.
MR. DEREK MCGINTYThey say the move jeopardizes their relationship with the president. With me in the studio to talk about these raids, Pamela Constable with The Washington Post, Steven Camarota with the Center For Immigration Studies and Ali Noorani with the National Immigration Forum. Thanks so much for coming in, all of you. Now, we're gonna talk with you in just a minute or two, but joining us on the phone right now is Congressman Luis Gutierrez, a Democrat representing the fourth district of Illinois.
MR. DEREK MCGINTYHe is on Capitol Hill. Congressman, great to talk with you this morning.
REP. LUIS GUTIERREZGood to be with you, McGinty.
MCGINTYCongressman, let me ask you this. You guys have now put out a letter with 135 signatures of other Democrats being very critical of the president's policy. What else does that letter say?
GUTIERREZWell, here's what the letter says. This is not an immigration issue. This is a refugee issue. This is a refugee issue at our border. The people did not come here illegally. We have an asylum process so that people can come seeking refuge in the United States. So if you come to the United States and you say that in my country, I am not safe. I am a victim of human trafficking, of rape, of torture and the government either is complicit in the torture, in that rape and human smuggling or jeopardizing my life or is unable to protect me, I can come.
GUTIERREZIt is not unsimilar to the situation of those fleeing Assad's regime today. They are refugees and so, too, are these refugees. And so what we're saying is, look, end these raids in our community because, McGinty, understand something. When they come here seeking refuge, they have gone through an arduous, dangerous process very victimized and then, the actual application that they're given isn't in a language that they understand. It's as though they arrive here and nobody says, I'm going to give you a fair process.
MCGINTYCongressman, I think that the dispute is over exactly what you say, which is whether or not they do have that status as refugees. And the president points out that we've had 100,000, whatever you want to call them, undocumented people come across the border just last year. The worry is that we'll see a situation that as we saw in 2014 with what they call a surge of children coming across the border. The administration wants to send a message that if you come that way, you're going to be sent back. What's wrong with that?
GUTIERREZHere's what's wrong with it is that we have an asylum process that, A, is broken. So McGinty, think about it one moment. Think about a gang banger, a drug dealer or murderer or rapist, those involved in drug sales or human trafficking. Guess what. If our government confronts them and jails them, they get a trial and they get a lawyer, McGinty, a lawyer. Yet, the victims, they are victims, who come here fleeing that rape and torture and drug dealing and gang banging, they don't get a lawyer.
GUTIERREZSo how is it that America is going to be true to its value if those who come fleeing here -- I would just say, look, it doesn't matter if you're Bernie Sanders or O'Malley or as recently as yesterday, Hillary Clinton, they are all -- the Democratic party across -- the only places in the White House which we're still struggling to come to understand this is a refugee crisis, not an immigration problem.
MCGINTYAll right. Pamela Constable...
GUTIERREZThey didn't come here illegally. They came here following the law.
MCGINTYCongressman, Pamela Constable has a question for you.
MS. PAMELA CONSTABLEI was interested in a comment you made at the rally in front of the White House last Friday. There wasn't really much chance to go into it in detail. Perhaps you could. You said, very strongly, that we, meaning the United States, are complicit. We are, in part, responsible for the scourge of violence and drugs that are, in part, driving these women and children to come to the United States. Could you explain a little about what you mean?
GUTIERREZSure. Be happy to. So what happens in El Salvador, what happens in Guatemala, what happens in Honduras -- they're not coming from Nicaragua which happens to be the poorest Central American country. There's no surge of people coming from there, right? Number two, they're not coming from Costa Rica. They're coming from these three particular countries. Why? Because that is where the drug lords and the drugs are being perpetrated and that's where they're holding -- so what happens to civil society is that it is so corrupt that it ceases to exist.
GUTIERREZMany people in the United States, I and you and others listening, think, well, you just pick up the phone and you dial 911. No. The government there is so corrupt that they are partners with the drug dealers. We know that. El Salvador, for example, is now the murder capital of the world. Why do I say we're complicit? Listen. Let's face it. It is the insatiable demand for drugs. The guns in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala are American guns. The money that fuels it and the drugs that are being consumed in the United States.
GUTIERREZSo let's face it. It is the failure of the war on drugs that is also crippling those societies.
MCGINTYCongressman, I want to go back to the numbers for just a minute because...
MCGINTY...tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants have come across the southern border. Right now, we're talking about 121 people being deported and the administration says, hey, these people have had some due process. Again, what's wrong with taking a look at those folks and deciding that they've got to go back?
GUTIERREZYou know, Derek, thank you. Great question. Two things I want to say quickly. Number one, we know The Guardian and other publications have already published this, the people that we have sent back have been murdered subsequent to us sending them back by the very people they fled from. Number one. Number two, they already -- they had seven cases that were sent down to the detention centers around the San Antonio area in Texas. Of those seven, six of them have already gone before judges and have appealed the decision and they said there has not been due process.
GUTIERREZSo number one, let's remember that this is the same as if you and I went and somebody tried to take everything we had away from us and they took us and they had the best, the best lawyers in the world saying, you know what, we're going to take all your stuff away from you. But guess what, you don't have a lawyer. And then, everybody says that that was fair. No. What we have is a process in which these people have not had a lawyer. They did not come here illegally. They came here seeking refuge. Our laws of the United States of America have established that they are asylum seekers and that is the process we want to see.
MCGINTYCongressman, but wait a second, Congressman. You're talking about an administration that has taken a lot of heat for taking administrative actions to stop so many deportations. Now, they say there are some folks that do have to go and you're saying, even that's too much. What could they do?
GUTIERREZThis is what they can do. They can take some steps. Number one, we need regional cooperation. The fact is that the Obama administration requested $800 million for these three countries in order to bring security to the streets and the villages and the population in these countries. They're asking for a billion more this year. There's a reason for that, Derek, because it's unsafe. Number two, we should allow them to seek asylum in their countries, which we can do so that they don't need to make the arduous trip all -- a very dangerous and arduous trip here.
GUTIERREZNumber three, we should change our asylum system so that there's translators. Don't you want a country in which people are living in fear and come fleeing in which these -- we understood what it was, their petition was, that there was a translator there and that they have a lawyer? Our asylum system is a broken asylum system. I don't want to see anybody die because our system is broken. Plus, Derek, do you know the administration changed this policy? Because it was a failed policy. It was a discredited policy. Let's not go back to a failed and discredited policy of deportation.
MCGINTYCongressman Luis Gutierrez up on Capitol Hill, Democrat from Illinois, we thank you for your time.
GUTIERREZThank you, Derek.
MCGINTYAnd I know you're having a press conference in the next hour and a half or so...
MCGINTY...to talk about this letter that you're releasing with 135 Democratic Congress members signed on. Right?
GUTIERREZThank you, sir.
MCGINTYAll right. Thank you. We appreciate your time today. I'm Derek McGinty sitting in for Diane Rehm and if you want to join our conversation, the number here is 800-433-8850. My guests here in the studio talking about this immigration, perhaps the beginning of another immigration crisis, Pamela Constable, immigration reporter for The Washington Post, Steve Camarota, he is the director of research at the Center For Immigration Studies and Ali Noorani is the executive director of the National Immigration Forum, an immigration advocacy group.
MCGINTYAll right, folks, let's talk about what we heard from the congressman. He basically said, look, this policy needs to stop and there's no room for the administration to do anything like what it's doing. What do you think about that, Ali?
MR. ALI NOORANIWell, first of all, thanks for having me, Derek. It's great to be here. We believe that the administration's policy here is a -- it's faulty logic, quite frankly. To think that families who are fleeing violence and rape and murder in these terrible Central American countries are going to not come because we are deporting people is just -- it's wrong. But what the administration should be doing is actually going through a process through which these people can make their case for -- to remain in the United States and that's not what's happening here.
MR. ALI NOORANIOf the 122 individuals who were detained over the last two weeks, there's been a great effort by some immigration attorneys called the CARA Pro Bono Project. They interviewed 13 of the families who were detained. Twelve of those families are found to have standing so that their deportations were put on hold. In fact, three of those families were taken off the plane on the tarmac before they were being sent back. So this is -- over 27 percent of the individuals who were detained were found to have a case that they could make to remain in the country.
MR. ALI NOORANIThat is a clear indication that this is a process that is broken and that the administration needs to go back to the drawing board and insure that people have access to information, access to legal counsel and we actually have a refugee processing system.
MR. STEVEN CAMAROTAWell, look, let's put the numbers in perspective. We think in the last two years, about 240,000 illegal immigrants have come into the United States. They've basically turned themselves into the border patrol. This is unaccompanied minors and families with children. We're talking about 121 arrests so far and 77 deportations, trivial doesn't even begin to represent what's happening here. It's just a tiny fraction of the total. And all these people have seen judges. They've all had their case before the immigration courts.
MCGINTYAll right. Coming up, more on our conversation on the U.S. policy regarding undocumented immigration into this country. We'll be back in a minute.
MCGINTYWelcome back. I'm Derek McGinty sitting in for Diane Rehm. We're talking immigration and the president's policy of deportation, trying to prevent a possible surge of illegal immigrants and unoccupied -- or unaccompanied children, I should say, into this country as the year moves forward. Steven Camarota is director of research at the Center for Immigration Studies. Ali Noorani is executive director of the National Immigration Forum. Pamela Constable is an immigration reporter for the Washington Post, also author of the book, "Fragments of Grace."
MCGINTYAnd, Pamela, you had a question for Congressman Gutierrez as we talked to him earlier basically talking about the politics around this and whether we had a role, the United States, that is, in making this thing worse than it had been.
CONSTABLEWell, I think it's true that there are a number of American policies -- wars going back to the 1980s in which we supported what turned out to be repressive governments in those countries. There are a lot of factors tying this crisis and the pull factor -- the push factor as well as the pull factor bringing these families here. And he's obviously right about the drug epidemic that's been the case in this country for a long time. But I think it's important to point out, specifically regarding these particular immigrants -- these children, these families that have fled -- when this surge started a year or two ago, the Obama administration did a lot to help these people.
CONSTABLEIt treated this as a humanitarian crisis. It welcomed them to the country. It gave them the chance to resettle with their families, not be detained for long periods of time, while awaiting what every single one of them knew was going to be an eventual deportation hearing. And legally they were entitled to asylum hearings. Many of them for various reasons did not get those hearings. Either they didn't understand what was available to them, they did not have legal representation. The system is broken but it does exist.
MCGINTYWhat kind of criteria has to be met for someone to be judged able to get asylum?
CONSTABLEIt's a good question. You have to have what's called a well-founded fear of persecution, which is a very hard thing to prove. And in many cases, people can't prove it because they don't have things like hospital records or police records or really any documentation. That's one of the hardest things for these people.
MCGINTYYou know, I think a lot of Americans just say, hey, wait a second. Is the law being enforced here? And we've split ourselves into a couple of different camps on this. One side says, you know, push them all out. The other says, let them all in. Is there some objective standard that we can use to say, certain folks should stay, certain should go, and it be fair?
CAMAROTAWell, look, the way asylum -- now you could change this -- the way asylum works is that you personally have a fear of being persecuted because of your race, your religion, your political activities, not because you live in a country that's poor, not because you live in a generally chaotic country. If you want to change the asylum system to say, look, if you come from a poor place that's not nice to live in, then we'll take you, then you could do that. But the law is very clear. And overall every -- well, almost all these hearings have shown that these folks don't qualify for that. They come from poor, bad places. But that doesn't mean they qualify for asylum. And I would point out that the 77 people who've been deported all had their case before a judge.
CAMAROTALook, the bottom line is, there's a saying among immigration lawyers, it ain't over until the alien wins. And that's what they want -- constant appeal, constant review, until the United States just says, the heck with it. You've been here forever. You can stay.
NOORANIWell, Steve did a great job of laying out asylum law but he forgot one very specific criteria, for those who have a well-founded fear of persecution and are a member of a particular social group. Now, if you're a woman or a child living in these communities in these countries -- like a country like El Salvador, which is the murder capital of the world -- you are a member of a social group that is very likely to be murdered, raped, extorted. We, as a country, the values that we believe in, I feel -- and I think the majority of Americans would agree -- believe that these women and children should have their day in court.
NOORANISo when you asked for -- about a fair process, Dennis, what is missing here is that an individual's ability to make their case with the access to information, the access to counsel, and if you actually want to have a front-end solution, in addition to that $750 million toward -- for Central American countries, actually create a refugee processing program in country or at least in the region. This administration has been talking about this for two years and they have yet to put this kind of program in place.
MCGINTYHave they not done it because it's become a political football?
NOORANII think they've done it -- they have not done it because frankly, we, as the United States, tend to believe that Central America just doesn't exist. And we only think it exists when, you know, these types of crises occur. So I just think we have to recalibrate our understanding of our neighbors to the south.
MCGINTYAll right. I want to take some phone calls. Lots of listeners would like to get involved with our conversation today regarding this immigration issue. 800-433-8850 is the number. And Lee in Fort Worth, you're on the air. Go ahead.
LEEHi. I called because listening to this and being in Texas -- we're a border state, so we see a lot of illegal immigrants. And my point is this one, we have laws in place for a particular reason, to be enforced. There was a point when we referred to people who came here without documentation as illegal aliens. We now, in the interest of being politically correct, refer to them as undocumented immigrants, when in effect they've violated and broken a law.
LEEWhile I'm sympathetic and empathetic to the women and children and families and what their needs are, at what point do we begin to enforce the law so that we do not degenerate into a state of anarchy and have people here from everywhere of all sorts basically weigh on our resources to the degree that people who are here legally and have paid into the system either don't have resources or don't have access to them?
MCGINTYAll right, Lee -- thank you.
LEEThat's my comment and my question. Thank you.
MCGINTYAll right, Lee, thank you for that. And I think you're expressing the sentiment of any number of Americans about this issue.
CONSTABLEI think it's important to remember that there was -- there has been a very long, difficult effort to bring about immigration reform in Congress. There have been very, very good proposals pass the Senate, never got through the House. The system is not working because politically it has not been allowed to work. And so what's happening is that it's being taken off piecemeal. Little pieces are being cut away. President Obama did, by his executive actions, help something like 700,000 young illegal immigrants stay, in order to go to college and work and have the potential to possibly become citizens someday. Other people would like to break off other pieces and just build a wall across Mexico, for example.
CONSTABLEBut until there is some sort of comprehensive overhaul of the immigration system, we're going to keep on seeing these flashpoint, these crises and these piecemeal problems.
MCGINTYI want to go back to this idea of sending a message to others who may be thinking about making the trip to the United States from very terrible situations in bad countries. Steve, what do you think? Does that work? Will that have an impact if you send some people back? Can you let folks know that coming here is not your best option?
CAMAROTASure. All kinds of history shows that enforcement makes an inordinate difference. We know that the illegal population, based on very tiny efforts in Arizona by the state, caused by most researchers to cause that population to fall by half. We know that after the amnesty was passed back in 1986 and there was some promise of enforcement, there was a massive decline in apprehensions. But soon as everyone realized it was a paper tiger, then illegal immigration just resumed. The bottom line here is, you've got a quarter of a million people from Central America arriving recently and you deport 1,000 of 1 percent, no one takes that seriously. So this isn't anything serious.
MCGINTYSo you're saying what the president is doing is not going to accomplish that message.
CAMAROTAYeah. It's just window dressing. It is entirely meaningless in the context of the scale. We believe 240 new illegal immigrants come into the United States from Central America every day. If, in the last few weeks, we deported 77, again, meaningless.
NOORANIWell, I want to go back to Lee's question and concern around just the massive -- the feeling that the law on immigrants isn't being enforced. I mean, the fact is that our current federal immigration law enforcement force is the largest federal law enforcement force in the country. And we're spending billions -- hundreds of billions of dollars every year enforcing a system that just does not work. So we can go down the path of trying to fix legislation, which we would advocate for. Or we can stick with the status quo, which leads to this current mess and frankly, you know, a situation where folks are putting their lives on the line to make very, very hazardous decisions.
MCGINTYYeah. But the fact is, I think we can all agree, that nobody likes to see a surge of thousands or maybe even tens of thousands of unaccompanied children coming across the border, desperate to find a place there they can be safe. Nobody wants to see that happen again.
NOORANIExactly. And that's why I think that, you know, this administration's effort to send a message is going to fail. When Steve talks about, you know, decreases in apprehensions on folks who are here illegally, that's because of the economy. How bad -- do we want our economy to go into the tank again so that our undocumented immigration problem increases?
CAMAROTAI was talking about 1986, after the IRCA was passed, where we were promising...
NOORANIBut you actually talked about the Arizona piece. And that was at the exact same time that...
CAMAROTABut research showed that it was the enforcement. Because in places where the economy was similar, you didn't get the same decline. But the bottom line is, this is trivial. It's -- and trivial doesn't even capture how small it is. If you're -- you've got to enforce the law. The reason we enforce our laws is we have lots of priorities. Yes, we want to at least let some legal immigrants. But we already have 47 million people in poverty in the United States. We have record rates of non work among our less educated. And that's exactly who these folks compete with. And that's the reason we enforce our laws.
CAMAROTAWe know from data from the Census Bureau, 73 percent of Central American immigrants in the United States, households headed by them, access one of the major welfare programs. There's enormous cost and there's good, solid reasons why we have laws.
CONSTABLEI think it's important to put what Steve said in a little perspective. You know, it's only 77 people that got deported and 121 that got raided this past week. But the United States deports people every day. Until now, the Obama administration has said and has done its policy of focusing on three categories of illegal immigrants: suspected terrorists, people who have broken criminal laws as well as being here illegally, and people who have just crossed the border. People in those three categories get deported all the time. In fact, this administration has a very high record of deportations and has said it's going to focus on those kinds of people.
CONSTABLEThis is the first time that I know of that they've actually said, okay, now we're going to start deporting people that you might feel some sympathy for. And so I think it's really important to point out this is not -- this is really an exception.
MCGINTYI agree. It's important to point that out. Thank you for the perspective, Pamela. Let's go to our phones again, 800-433-8850. And Marty in Saint Louis, you're on the air.
MARTYYeah, how you doing? I think one of the major things is -- and everybody's kind of circling around it -- is the money thing. The people who are hiring illegals and how the government, yeah, you don't want to make it that the system is broken, because we're going to keep the system broken. Because if the system worked, there wouldn't be any money in it. It's like the drug industry. It's like slavery. It's like a lot of things. If you take the cost -- the money out of it, then you have a better chance of reducing the issue. But you've got lobbyists that are fighting to keep this going because there are people benefitting off the cheap labor of illegals and stuff. It steals...
MCGINTYMarty, you make a superb point, I think. And it's actually a point of diversion within the Republican Party between big-business Republicans who support more immigration and want to take advantage of that labor and others who say, wait a second, we don't want any of these people.
CAMAROTALook, the United States, especially at the bottom-end of the labor market -- and Marty's right. It is an experience is an outright decline in real wages. We have a record number of people with a high school degree or less not working in the United States. And they don't come up at all in this conversation.
CAMAROTAAnd the fact is this dramatically increased job competition by tolerating illegal immigration, letting folks in -- whether they're from Central America, Mexico, Europe or anywhere else -- if we want wages to recover at the bottom end of the labor market, if we want to improve the rates of work, we cannot keep flooding with increased supply of -- whether it's legal immigrants through green cards, whether it's tolerating illegal immigration or new guest workers like the ones that Congress just passed as well.
NOORANIWell, we think that the only ones that are winning right now is the crooked employer. The crooked employer is the one who is able to push down the wages of the American worker -- the legal -- person who is here legally, as well as the person who is here unauthorized. As long as that crooked employer is able to take advantage of this broken system, we're all losing. So the way to fix that problem is to actually legalize every -- require the legalization of undocumented and ensure everybody's competing for the same job at the same wage. Otherwise we're going to have this problem where the folks who are winning are the crooked employer and the folks that are losing is pretty much everybody else.
MCGINTYAli Noorani, he is the executive director of the National Immigration Forum. Steven Camarota is the director of research at the Center for Immigration Studies. And Pamela Constable is an immigration reporter for the Washington Post. She is also the author of the "Fragments of Grace." You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Immigration policy is our conversation, our topic today. 800-433-8850. And we'll go back to the phone lines. Jonathan in Boynton Beach, Fla.
JONATHANThanks for having me on the show. So I have a question how -- to either your callers or you have some wonderful speakers on today -- how you plan or how everyone plans on -- to integrate all these immigrants into society? And I'm a United States veteran. So I've been all over the world and I've seen how other countries live and how their people are treated. And I think from the warmth of the hearts of Americans, we want to take people in. But of course we want to be safe as a country. And I think that the political game -- the tug-of-war of money, as your last caller discussed, is an issue. So rather than work harder, why don't we work smarter as a country?
JONATHANAnd I propose an immigration tax, put people into this country and have them be able to pay while they're getting their citizenship and learn about our country and about our beliefs. And as they're doing that, we put Americans to work. We use the dollars of the people that are smart from other countries, that want to work, that are motivated, and we use those dollars to help us build our economy up in multiple ways, in many ways.
MCGINTYCertainly an interesting idea, Jonathan. Anybody, thoughts on that one?
CAMAROTAWell, the research on whether immigrants right now pay enough in taxes generally shows that they don't relative to their use of public services. But it's not because of illegal status and it is definitely not because they don't work. It's that such a large fraction of the foreign born or immigrant population has very little education. About 28 percent haven't graduated high school when they arrive here as adults. That's about four times the native born. And that very large low-income population tends to use a lot in public services and make less tax payments. Fifty-one percent of immigrant households access the welfare system, based on Census Bureau data, it's about 31 percent for the native born.
CAMAROTASo you're not going to be getting some kind of surplus by letting immigrants in. If you legalized illegal immigrants, many already pay taxes, but they pay taxes commensurate with their education, which is pretty modest. If you wanted to use immigration to sort of create a fiscal boon, you'd need a completely different system of selecting highly skilled people.
MCGINTYBut there is the argument that the influx of workers and population has made up for the slow population growth in this country. And now we are actually better off as a country, economically, because of illegal immigration.
CAMAROTAOh, and legal immigration in particular. Remember, the United States has one of the highest fertility rates of the world without immigrants, right? Because, for whatever reason -- unlike Europe, Japan and South Korea -- Americans choose to have more kids, excluding the immigrants. And immigrant fertility is falling very rapidly. It's only about 2.2 now per child, per woman, among the immigrants. They're not really making America a whole lot younger. There's been a lot of study of this. It is making our population much larger. The immigration will add 80- to 100-million people to the U.S. population over the next 50 or 60 years.
CAMAROTAThat's a good question. Do you look at that and say, wow, that's more pollution, congestion and sprawl? Or do you think, oh, that's more opportunity for business? I think you could make a pretty strong case, when you're already 320 million people, adding 80 million more can create some real issues.
MCGINTYAll right. We're going to continue this conversation. I'm Derek McGinty sitting in for Diane Rehm. Your calls and questions in just minutes. Please, stay tuned.
MCGINTYWelcome back to "The Diane Rehm Show." I'm Derek McGinty, sitting in for Diane, and we are talking immigration in light of the administration's policy of starting to deport immigrants who have gotten here illegally in hopes of stopping or sending a message that another surge should not happen across the southern border. Pamela, I wanted to ask you, you had a reaction to the statement regarding whether or not immigrants are a boon or a net bust for this country.
CONSTABLEYeah, I've done quite a lot of work on this topic and in fact have used some of Steve's reports and taken them into account. But I think it's important just to say what's sort of the, you know, the dirty truth in all this, is that, you know, how many Americans, even poor Americans, would like to spend all day picking okra in 110 degrees, would like to spend all day cutting off the heads of chickens in freezing, freezing factories, would like to clean toilets in hotels.
CONSTABLEIt's very hard to find Americans to do it, A. B, the key question is would they do it if the wages were higher, and that's something Steve has addressed in some of his research. We don't really know the answer to that question. there's all sorts of theories on both sides. But the fact is that there are many industries in this country, not all because of corrupt ownership, but there are many industries in this country that would not survive if it weren't for immigrants and particularly illegal immigrants.
MCGINTYAll right, I want to take some questions from your email and other social media postings. This one came to our website from somebody calling themselves RSB Sale. What is the asylum policy of Mexico? Why don't these refugees from Central America stop there, where at least people speak their language? That's a good question, Ali Noorani.
NOORANIWell, this is why I think that we -- that this administration needs to establish a regional refugee processing program in Central America. So that way people are able to go through a process near their homes, near their communities, and then with -- in partnership with Mexico and other countries be able to go to countries that are safer. At this point, and this is a good thing, America is the shining light of hope for these individuals.
NOORANIAnd you know what? I am proud of that. My parents were proud of that, and that's why they came here. We do not want to shut our borders and shut down immigration to the U.S. That is not in our long-term interests. So let's set up a process through which these people can go through so that whether they can come to the U.S., to Mexico or to any other country that is safer than El Salvador, they actually have the opportunity to do that.
MCGINTYBut he raises a good point in light of what we're talking about here, is that these people are refugees, a great number of them in any case, who are running for their lives, and they could stop in Mexico, but Mexico is also a poor country that has lots of drugs and violence, and maybe they don't want to.
CAMAROTARight, I mean look, the idea of asylum policy is you are fleeing for your life, not in search of a much better country to live in. If that's the case, if they really are asylum-seekers, they can all apply in Mexico, Mexico grants asylum. But what's happening here is what they really want is to get to the United States.
MCGINTYMaybe they want both.
CAMAROTARight, what they want is a better life in the United States, and if that's going to be our asylum policy, let's pass that law, let's tell the American people asylum is about helping desperately poor people, not people fleeing for their lives. Now remember, we have a very generous legal immigration system, over a million legal immigrants a year. That's permanent residency. That's the green card. Many come from Central America. You would then have to rewrite the law to say no, it isn't just whether you have family or an employer or win the visa lottery, that's our current system, you can also come if you come from a poor country.
CAMAROTALet's tell the American people that's our new policy. If not, if you want to preserve the integrity of the asylum system, you have to let them apply in Mexico because that's what asylum is supposed to be about.
NOORANIMexico, along their southern border, has actually put a lot of changes into place over the last few years. So they have increased their border controls along the south -- their southern border so that there's a better sense of who's coming into the country, and if those individuals are caught crossing, they're detained along the Mexico-Guatemala border.
NOORANIThey've also instituted, in essence, a temporary visa program so that individuals can come to Mexico to work and then return. These are small fixes, but they have proven over time to stem some of the flow. The problem here is that individuals, yes, they still want to come to the U.S., and we have to provide them a refugee processing system so that they can do that.
MCGINTYI want to read an email from Dan in Sacramento, California. He says, isn't it likely that those angry over the Obama administration's deportation raids and activities have misdirected their anger? Instead of being so angry at Obama, who has taken the overwhelming amount of criticism for the lack of action on failure for changes in U.S. policy on this issue, it's really Congress, both Republicans and Democrats who failed to make any improvements to immigration. Obama is simply enforcing the law while doing what he can to shield those he can.
CONSTABLEExactly, and as we said earlier, he has taken a number of executive actions to help a number of different kinds of illegal immigrants stay longer, you know, be temporarily shielded from deportation and particularly Central Americans. Because of the wars that went in those countries, many, many Central Americans who live here have what's called temporary protected status that actually lasts for many years.
CONSTABLEAnd it's also important to point out that these women and children who have surged across the border are not coming randomly on their own. One hundred percent of them are coming to join families who already live here and in many cases have lived here for many, many years. So it's not as if they suddenly decided that they want to come to the United States because it's the land of liberty. It's where their families are.
CAMAROTAI just want to second that. Because we've tolerated illegal immigration for so long and not sent folks back, more people just keep coming.
MCGINTYLet's get to Gary, who's in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Gary?
GARYHi, thanks for taking my call. I would hope that all your listeners would take a look in your closet, and you'll probably find a shirt that you paid 30, 40, 50 bucks for, and it has a tag that says made in Guatemala, made in Haiti, made in Bangladesh, where somebody got pennies to make that shirt. Whatever legal arguments you can put up there, it's just totally outrageous to suggest that we can't afford to help these people. They live in poverty so we can live in luxury, and that's the sad truth.
MCGINTYWell, let me ask you this question, Gary.
MCGINTYI used to have this conversation with my dad all the time, and he would say, look, America is the sort of country where if everybody in the world could come here, most of them would. So we have to put some kind of limit, right, Gary?
GARYWell, we seem to not put the limits on the corporate interests. We put borders up to keep the workers south of the border. But we open up the borders so that we can reap the profits. What's the fairness in that? You cannot blame these people for wanting to come here, and you can make your legal arguments, but you can't say that we cannot afford to help them. That is just ridiculous.
NOORANII would want -- I just want to jump here. We believe that, yes, we need to have a regulated system. We need to have a system that manages the flow of individuals into the United States. That just does not exist at this point. There is no way for somebody -- there are very limited for somebody to come here through a legal process. So they're having to make these decisions. That's why, getting back to the caller from Sacramento, this does rest on the shoulders of the members of Congress.
CAMAROTAWell, remember the Senate passed a bill that legalized all the illegal immigrants, basically, and doubled legal immigration, both guest workers and took our green cards, which were about a million a year, and put it up to two million a year, at least for the first decade. And when that bill hit the House, and people started to look at that, they said this is crazy, and the thing stalled. There's no public support for doubling legal immigration to the United States, and that's why the bill didn't go anywhere.
CAMAROTASo when people say reform, we need to do this, it's hard to get in, remember America already allows 1.1 million green cards a year and hundreds of thousands of guest workers.
MCGINTYBut as you have said several times, Steve, the system is not working. So then how would you make it work better, considering the 12 million that are already here and the fact that you have so many who are trying to get here?
CAMAROTABefore you think about an amnesty, the first step is to actually enforce the law. With all due respect to Pam, we have a different read on the numbers. The fact is every year of the Obama administration has seen a decline in actual interior enforcement. What they did was they took people they caught at the border, transported them into the interior, processed them there and then counted that as an interior enforcement.
CAMAROTAEven the number of criminal aliens in the last three or four years has actually declined. The Obama administration, when the final history is read, and the actual numbers are all released, but we pretty much have it now, will be the administration of massive cutbacks. And all they did was paper over and cook the books. But most people now know, even AP, the Los Angeles Times, has all reported the books are cooked. There's no way that they're actually enforcing the law, especially in the last five or six years.
MCGINTYSo enforce the law, that's your...
NOORANIOr to put a finer point on what Steve's trying to say here is that he wants to see the mass deportation of 11 million people before we actually fix the system. If we as a country wanted to see the mass deportation of 11 million people, think about the 122 people...
MCGINTYWell let me ask Steve, is that what you're saying?
CAMAROTANo, no, I think if we actually enforce the law. If illegal immigrants could not get jobs...
NOORANIWhich to the fullest extent...
CAMAROTAIf the United States would not give benefits, if we had a president who said enforcement is value, we could begin to see...
MCGINTYOkay, so we had a presidential candidate who talked about self-deportation. Is that what you're talking about here?
CAMAROTAWell, let's put it this way. During the Obama administration, all the research shows 2.5 million new illegal immigrants came and settled in the United States, but that number was roughly offset by those who got legal status, those who died and the number who go home. There's enormous churn in the illegal population. If we enforced the law, and illegal immigrants couldn't get public benefits, couldn't get jobs, and they knew that, many more would go home, and over time the problem takes care of itself.
CAMAROTAThen at the end of that procedure, if you want to have an amnesty for folks who are leftover, we can talk about that.
CONSTABLEOne thing that hasn't been mentioned, and I always thought it was a very successful program, there have been attempts to revive it, I think it would be a very good idea, the old bracero program. There are millions and millions of people, from Mexico in particular, who came to this country every summer to work, and they went home at the end of the summer. And it worked very, very well. The program was phased out. It wasn't renewed.
CONSTABLEThere are lots of people in Mexico and Central America, aside from the issues of violence, which we have to deal with, who would be very, very happy to do that. What they really want is to work. They want to earn a decent living.
MCGINTYBut because of the political gridlock in our Congress right now, no kind of reform can get through.
NOORANIBut, I mean, what we found over the last few years is that there is actually an unlikely set of allies to this issue. We have found that conservative Evangelicals, law enforcement and business leaders, not just at the elite national level but at the local level in places like Georgia, South Carolina, Idaho, Iowa, are taking a position in favor of immigration reform because they realize that their communities not only are changing, but their communities will survive because of the contributions of immigration.
NOORANISo we are actually pretty optimistic about the future because this emerging force of unlikely allies I think will convince Republicans that this is the right thing to do.
MCGINTYLet's take another phone call. Michelle in Miami, you're on the air.
MICHELLEHi, good morning, thanks for taking my call.
MICHELLEI've been working in the immigration -- as a prosecutor for over 15 years. And the one thing that really strikes me is nobody is taking an approach that allows the immigrants to make a financial decision, an informed decision, about how much it costs them to be here. And we're able to quantify in the insurance industry how much everything costs, from a thumb to an eyeball to an arm. Why can't we quantify the amount of money that's been paid on public services and let the immigrants if you want to stay here, you need to pay back all the public services that you have consumed in the time that you've been here, and then they make an informed decision about whether or not they want to stay. So part of the incentive goes back onto those immigrants, as opposed to...
MCGINTYWell, let me ask Steve if that would fit into his sort of legalistic approach on this.
CAMAROTAWell if you -- look, there's a lot of research on the skill profile of Central American immigrants. They have about a 10th-grade education, on average. People with that skill set in modern America, legal immigrant, native born or, in this case, illegal aliens, don't pay anywhere near enough in taxes to cover their consumption of public services, not because they're lazy...
MCGINTYAnd she's saying set up a regime that would allow them to pay that back.
CAMAROTAThey make about $12 an hour on average. Where are you going to get the money? They can barely afford it right now. Most of these families qualify for things like food stamps and the Earned Income Tax Credit and public housing.
CONSTABLEBut also we have to remember that these people all pay sales taxes. Many of them even buy house.
CAMAROTAThey pay billions but nowhere enough.
CONSTABLEThey're huge consumers. They're huge consumers. And B, many of them do pay taxes but particularly pay into Social Security, which they will never see the benefits from.
CAMAROTAIllegal immigrants pay at least $18 billion a year in taxes, but they don't come close to covering their use of public services, and again it reflects their educational attainment. No serious research shows that people with this skill set and the resulting income pay anywhere near enough in taxes to cover their consumption of public services. We can't tax them anymore.
MCGINTYI'm Derek McGinty, and you're listening to the Diane Rehm Show. Ali, you wanted to respond to that.
NOORANISo we can tax them, which if you can't pay your taxes, if this individual can't pay that tax, what will then happen? They're deported, getting back to Steve's original goal of mass deportation of 11 million people. So -- and the other problem with this is that you're actually not accounting for their contributions, whether it's income -- or sales tax, property tax but also their contributions in terms of contributing to the overall economy.
NOORANII mean, some of these communities are living and dying on the contributions and the labor and the purchasing power of immigrant communities. If we're all of a sudden going to levy them or burden them with an additional tax, I mean, I can't see the majority of conservatives saying, okay, you know, let's up the taxes of somebody who's contributing and working hard.
MCGINTYI've got to wonder what the cost is of our current gridlock. All of you have brought up the idea that we need to change the system, the system's not working, we need to do something else, but we aren't doing anything else because we can't agree on what that should be. What's the cost of that?
NOORANIIt's over $250 billion a year right now for federal enforcement of the immigration system, a system that is clearly not working. Over $250 billion, that's real money.
MCGINTYBut if you were enforcing any other system, you'd have to pay at least a good bit of that. Go ahead, Steve.
CAMAROTAWell look, the reason we're at gridlock is I don't see a labor shortage, I see a record number of people not working. I see low wages at the bottom. I don't think it makes sense to let every single illegal alien get amnesty, like Ali wants to do. I don't think it makes sense to double the number of foreign workers allowed in the United States.
MCGINTYOkay, well look, look, you know what? Let's...
CAMAROTABut that's what makes it hard to come to an agreement.
MCGINTYI want to get away from the extremes because you say he wants to let everybody in and let stay, and he says you want to kick everybody out. Let's say that neither one of those things is really true. You have to come sort of idea as to what's reasonable and possible, Pamela.
CONSTABLEI actually disagree with Steve on something he said about law enforcement. Or maybe I misunderstood him. I think law enforcement does help. I think that -- I mean, I hate to say it, but I think that these raids are going to have an impact. In every Latino and Central American community in the country right now, there is absolute panic. Why? Because people don't want to be deported, and they're afraid. Everybody knows somebody who's illegal. Everybody has...
MCGINTYSo you think they will transmit that fear to the relatives back home?
MCGINTYAnd some of them may not come?
CONSTABLEI do think that's the case, and the reason I think it's the case is because if you look at the contrary, when the surge happened, in the middle of 2000, spring of -- summer of 2014, a large part of it was driven by smuggler networks telling people the laws are lax right now, pay me 10,000 bucks, and I'll get you to the States. And relatives in the States paid those smugglers.
NOORANISo a consequence of that panic, at the local level, as local law enforcement, we talked to a lot of police chiefs and sheriffs across the country. They want to retain the trust of the immigrant community they have pledged to serve and protect. If that immigrant community is not reporting a crime because they're afraid of that officer showing up at the door and asking their immigration status, crime will increase in that community, and again, only the crooked are benefitting from a broken system.
NOORANIBut to get to your earlier question about, okay, what's the pragmatic compromise here, we think that the pragmatic compromise is yes, have a functioning enforcement system that treats people humanely, puts them through a process and makes the right decisions after that process, number one. Number two, have a functioning legal immigration system so that there is -- there are enough legal pathways for a person to go through so that they don't have to make this awful decision and enter illegally.
NOORANIAnd number three, require the undocumented to pay a fine, pass a criminal background check and register for legal status. That is a balanced approach that has deep support among Republicans and Democrats.
MCGINTYSteve, can you support that one?
CAMAROTANo, we tried it before. We had an amnesty in '86. We amnestied almost three million illegal aliens, and legal immigration was doubled. Remember when the reform advocates like Ali, instead of reform advocates like me, say they want reform, they want to double or triple legal immigration, and that's what the bill did that passed the Senate. At a time of no wage growth, they want to double the number of foreign workers...
MCGINTYAll right. That's going to have to be the final word. As you can see, we do not have a consensus on what we ought to do, and I guess that comes as no surprise. Steven Camarota, he is the director of research at the Center for Immigration Studies. Pamela Constable is immigration reporter at the Washington Post, and Ali Noorani is executive director of the National Immigration Forum. Joining us by phone earlier in the broadcast, Congressman Luis Gutierrez, Democrat from the Fourth District of Illinois. Thanks to all of you for being here. I'm Derek McGinty, sitting in for Diane Rehm. We'll be back after the news.