Diane leads a panel discussion about Jacqueline Woodson's memoir in verse, "Brown Girl Dreaming," winner of the 2014 National Book Award for young people's literature.
The Obama administration took a blow last week when the U.S. Supreme Court deadlocked on an immigration case. But the bigger blow might be to the families affected by the ruling. The 4-4 tie in U.S. v Texas, affirming a lower court decision, in essence consigns 4 million undocumented immigrants to limbo for years. President Obama had sought to defer their deportation. Many of those opposed to Obama’s immigration proposals characterized the high court ruling as reining in executive overreach. Immigrant advocates say the effect will be to devastate families. Diane and guests discuss the Supreme Court’s ruling and what it means for America’s undocumented immigrants and future immigration policy.
- Fernanda Santos Phoenix bureau chief, The New York Times
- Angela Kelley Executive director, Center for American Progress Action Fund; senior vice president, Center for American Progress
- Mark Krikorian Executive director, Center for Immigration Studies
- Jose Antonio Vargas Journalist and founder of Define American, a non-profit seeking to shift the conversation around immigrants, citizenship and identity
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. U.S. immigration policy has gone nowhere in Congress for several years and last week's tie vote by the Supreme Court in an immigration case was a major setback for President Obama and millions of immigrant families. Now, many are looking to the presidential election and a few Senate races this November to determine where immigration policy goes from here.
MS. DIANE REHMAnd in the studio to talk about implications of the Supreme Court ruling, Angela Kelley of the Center for American Progress and Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies. Joining us from KJZZ in Phoenix, Fernanda Santos of the New York Times. I hope you will weigh in with your ideas. Give us a call at 800-433-8850. Send your email to email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. And thank you all for joining us.
MR. MARK KRIKORIANGlad to be here.
MS. ANGELA KELLEYThank you for having us.
MS. FERNANDA SANTOSGreat to be here.
REHMAnd I'll start with you, Angela. Remind us how the immigration case, US v. Texas, came before the court.
KELLEYSure. President Obama announced a number of executive actions in November of 2014. The most prominent one applies to people who are here without states, undocumented people, who've been here since at least before January 1, 2010, and who have a U.S. citizen child. And the proposition was that people who fell in that category and who did not have a criminal record would be eligible to come forward and on a case by case basis, if they're determined to not be a security threat, of course, that they could just simply work authorization and permission to remain in the U.S. for two years.
KELLEYThis was building on an existing program that he announced two years before for Dreamers, young undocumented people. The case was enjoined by a district judge in Texas. The fifth circuit affirmed the district judge's very expansive injunction, which just meant that the program didn't go forward.
KELLEYAnd the Supreme Court, because we don't have a full complement of judges, didn't reach a decision. They came down with nine words, that have massive impact on 5 million people, and said, we can't decide. So the court process is not going to unfold and I would predict that we're going to be back in front of the Supreme Court. Hopefully, by then, we will have nine justices, as we should, and that the Senate will do its job and confirm a justice.
KELLEYAnd I suspect that we will prevail, but it is a very long wait for many people who have deep ties to this country. And I predict that it is going to have implications for the Latino vote in the 2016 presidential election.
REHMAll right. And before we go into the impact, let's turn to Mark Krikorian. What's your reaction to the Supreme Court ruling?
KRIKORIANAngie's summary of it is basically correct because what -- the reason the case got to the Supreme Court is because of the injunction. In other words, the -- really wasn’t fully the issues here, the substance of the issues, whether the president is allowed to do this, whether he followed the law wasn't really fully fleshed out. It was just -- the original ruling just said this has to be put on ice. It has to be put in limbo pending a full decision about whether it's permitted or not.
KRIKORIANAnd the thinking was if you did it and you gave millions of people work permits, social security numbers, drivers licenses, access to EITC and state programs, that you can't really undo that. And that's, of course, the White House's thinking. They wanted to get it done so it couldn't be undone. And the judge said, look, this has got to be put on hold until its actually fully vetted and that was -- that essentially what it is. And now, what it does is goes all the way back to the court, the lower court so that now there can be a fully examination of whether this is permitted or not.
KRIKORIANAnd then, it'll be appealed one way or the other and come before the Supreme Court in a year or two.
REHMSo you believe that the Texas court will reexamine the whole issue?
KRIKORIANIt's not guaranteed, obviously, but I think it's likely. I mean, I don't if Angie agrees, but I mean, I think it's likely. Now, the presidential election will happen in the interim and so it Trump wins, then it would render it moot because he would simply cancel the measures. If Hillary wins, then it will be even more important because she has pledged to use this kind of unilateral decree to go around Congress and issue, essentially, what amounts to an amnesty to many more illegal immigrants, not just the, say, maybe 3 or 4 million that this would've covered, but many more.
KRIKORIANSo the election is actually much more -- immigration is a much more salient issue because of this Supreme Court decision in the election than it would've been otherwise.
REHMAll right. And let's turn now to Fernanda Santos. I know you've been reporting on families affected by the Supreme Court's ruling. Tell us, especially, about Karina Ruiz.
SANTOSYeah, so Karina Ruiz's situation is very similar to the situation of many families that I met here in Phoenix. She comes from a family that has what people call a mixed status, meaning that some people are citizens, some are not. Some are documented, some are benefitting from DACA, the program for Dreamers that the president passed, the policy the president passed in 2012. Karina is one of those. She came to this country at the age of 15 with her parents from Mexico and she applied under this program from 2012 and she received a work permit.
SANTOSShe has been working. She has a drivers license. She also has three children who are American citizens. And her father -- she has a sister who is a legal, permanent resident so her father, who is undocumented, would've been able to get some relief from deportation under her sister's legal residency had the Supreme Court not reached this impasse that it did last week. So now, we have a family that has roots in this country, rooted primarily by the children who were born here and are growing up here.
SANTOSYou have a grandfather who has been away from Mexico for a long time, who has said, said to me and said to Karina, that this is the country that he sees as his own. He's been, you know, working because as we know, undocumented immigrants do work, whether it is legal or not, it is another question, but he does not -- no longer sees Mexico as his -- the place where he should be. And so now, all these lives, the future of this family sort of hangs in the balance because it's unclear where they're going to be, if they're going to be split up, if they're going to be able to stay together here and have some kind of legal situation in this country and no longer have the fear they've lived in.
REHMFernanda, you talk about the fear. Does that mean they literally live in hiding?
SANTOSWell, some of them do and that's a very interesting generational difference that exists in the whole immigrant movement, if you can call it that way. I remember when I started out reporting on immigration years ago in New York. I often would come across people who were undocumented and would say, I will talk to you, but please don't use my name or I don't want a photograph in the newspaper. But here in Phoenix, I came here to cover the southwest in 2012 for the Times and it was right after the 2010 law that Jan Brewer signed, the governor at the time, that gave police broad powers to stop and question people whom they suspected were in the country illegally.
SANTOSIt was right in, you know, at the height of Sheriff Joe Arpaio's enforcement of immigration laws, state immigration laws and workplace raids and traffic stops. It's all now tied up in a long-standing federal case in court. But the young people that I come across, not only are they not afraid to announce the fact that they are undocumented, but they want to make sure that you take their picture, use their name. They tell...
REHMOh, dear. What happened? Did we lose that connection? Okay. And perhaps, Angie, you can carry on with that.
KELLEYYes. I can anticipate what she's saying, which is that the younger generation of undocumented students and activists have really, you know, been much more comfortable in saying, look, we want to belong. We are American, all but on a piece of paper. We go to school with your children. We work alongside your children. And, in fact, as Fernanda was saying, just with the DAPA eligible adults, there are 10 million people who live in households with one of them.
KELLEYSo it's not as if the undocumented are all living just with undocumented people in one apartment building. We do have mixed status families. And I think that's why you're seeing activism not just by immigrants, but Latinos, generally, by the Asian community and others who are saying, look, enough is enough. We need to fix our broken immigration laws. What the president has done, we saw him do in 2012 for the Dreamers, has been an enormously successful program.
KELLEY700 and some thousand young people have come forward. They've gotten work authorizations. And what we've seen over the last four years of that program is that their wages have increased by 45 percent, right, because they're now able to get a job. 69 percent of them have a job that pays better so this is a smart program, in our view.
REHMAll right. Mark.
KRIKORIANCouple of points. First of all, as Fernanda and Angie have suggested, there really are no shadows anymore. I mean, just recently, a group of illegal immigrants had lunch with Congressman Gerry Connolly and it was tweeted out and there were stories about it. There's no shadows, if you're having lunch with a congressman. And the other point is that no one is losing their shield from deportation. President Obama is not going to be deporting the people who aren't going to be getting work permits because of the Supreme Court decision.
REHMMark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies. After a short break, we'll resume our conversation, take your calls. Stay with us.
REHMWelcome back. Joining us now by phone from Aspen, Colorado, Jose Antonio Vargas. He's founder of Define American. That's a nonprofit group seeking to shift the conversation around immigrants, citizenship and identity. Jose, before I ask you a couple of questions, tell us about your own background, how you got here, where you went and how you managed.
MR. JOSE ANTONIO VARGASThanks for having me.
VARGASSo I was born in the Philippines, and my mother sent me to live with her parents, my grandparents, in California when I was 12. So I arrived here in the States in 1993.
REHMNow wait a minute, you're saying that you arrived alone? You got on a plane, arrived from the Philippines by yourself.
VARGASActually I was with a guy that I was introduced to as my uncle, and then I found out later on that he was actually the guy who smuggled me here.
VARGASSo I didn't know, yeah. I was 12. I didn't really know what questions to ask. I was on a plane. But, I mean, for all intents and purposes, yes, I was alone. Then I found out when I was 16, when I went to apply for a driver's license, that I was here illegally and that the papers that my grandparents had given me were actually fake. So that's how I found out. So I'm one of many undocumented young people who were brought here as children.
VARGASAnd I'm actually one of the five million, about five million people who would have qualified for this executive order that unfortunately the Supreme Court couldn't make a decision about.
REHMYou also could have qualified under the DREAM Act, except for one year of age.
VARGASYeah, I was four months older when the first DACA, for when the first Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program got introduced. I was four months older, so yeah.
REHMOkay, so now tell us about Define American, the group that you have founded.
VARGASYeah, you know, and I also happen to be gay, and I actually came out of the closet about being gay when I was in high school because it was kind of hard being in the closet about being both here illegally and being gay. So I figured I had to get out of one of these closets. So I got out of that one much earlier on. And I'm only saying that because, you know, in this country the culture in which we understand gay people and LGBT rights are significantly changed, right, so much so that, you know, last year the Supreme Court voted on same-sex marriage and legalizing same-sex marriage.
VARGASIn many ways, the culture in which we understand immigration and undocumented immigrants in this country is what we really need to work on, and in many ways the fact that the Supreme Court couldn't come to a decision, I mean it was a non-decision decision, says that we have a lot of work to do when it comes to changing the way we think about immigrants and changing the way we think about this issue as not about politics, right. This is not about Republican or Democrat. These are about millions of people's lives who are directly impacted by this.
VARGASSo I actually live in Los Angeles, that's where my home is, and about 500,000 people would've been directly -- could've been directly impacted by this executive order and who are now having to figure out what are we going to do. You know, like it's an election year, nothing's going to get passed. We don't hear anything about immigration reform. And now, you know, this very significant, significant improvement, this thing that we've been waiting for unfortunately isn't going to happen.
VARGASI actually have to explain it to my grandmother. You know, my grandmother is here as a naturalized American citizen, and I made the mistake of being a little too optimistic. I told her that the court was going to be on our side. And so it's been really difficult to explain to her that I'm still stuck, I'm still here in limbo, and I don't know kind of what to do about that.
REHMNow what does that mean for your day-to-day life, Jose? You are there in Aspen, Colorado, but I gather you live in California. Is that correct?
VARGASYeah, I'm actually here in Colorado for the Aspen Idea Festival.
REHMYes, I understand.
VARGASBut, I mean, what it means is, you know, as a 35-year-old man, you know, I haven't seen my mother for 23 years. It's 23 years this coming August. So I -- if this executive order had followed through, I could have gone to the Philippines for the first time and seen her in person for the first time and be allowed to come back to the United States. So that was one thing that I was really looking for.
VARGASWhat it means is, you know, I'm still kind of in this perpetual state of limbo, which is -- millions of us are in. And when I'm talking about the work that Define American does, what I'm trying to do is, you know, what we're trying to do in the organization is to raise the level of moral consciousness about this issue, which I think in some ways, you know, it's been really hard being, you know, an undocumented immigrant in the Obama era, right.
VARGASI mean, President Obama has deported more than two million people, you know, during his presidency. Donald Trump, you know, has -- has won, has become the presumptive Republican nominee on the back of the opposition to immigrants. You know, we have never seen an anti-immigrant Republican nominee quite like this in modern presidential history, right, and now the Supreme Court decision.
REHMSo on the whole, how would you characterize the ordinary person's attitude toward immigrants in this country, not the Donald Trumps, not the President Obama, the ordinary person?
VARGASI think the ordinary person in America doesn't quite know or isn't quite aware of the facts of this issue, right, the fact that illegal border crossings from Mexico to the U.S. are actually -- are at its lowest level since the 1970s. I don't think the ordinary American knows that undocumented workers pay billions of dollars in taxes and Social Security. I don't think the ordinary American knows the many countless families that have gotten split, that have been broken up because of this system that we can't fix, that we can't seem to find a solution for.
VARGASI don't think the average American knows what it's like to be in this country, you know, that dares you to dream really, really big, right, yes, you know, puts these limitations on you in terms of providing some sort of a process. Now I, you know, actually the number one question that I get asked, and which you might find interesting, the number one question I get asked in the five years I've been doing this, I've been out as undocumented for the past five years, people ask me all the time why don't I just make myself legal.
VARGASPeople actually think that I'm deliberately...
REHMYou can do that, yes, exactly.
VARGASThey think all I have to do is show up at some office, fill out a form, right, and poof, I'm an American taking their welfare away from them.
REHMSo what are next steps for you?
VARGASWell, I'm actually trying to figure out personally what those next steps are. What I do know is, you know, as the founder of Define America and as, you know, one of the millions of undocumented immigrants who are trying to do this work is I think we need to really focus on shifting the way Americans understand this issue. You know, we must shift the culture of this issue if we're going to impact the politics of this issue.
VARGASI think we need more undocumented people to come out. Now this is a dangerous thing I'm asking, right. This is a risk I'm asking people to take is tell, you know, tell your neighbors, tell your co-workers, tell the people that you go to church with, you know, that you're one of these people, that you're one of these undocumented people. And if you are an ally of ours, if you're a teacher, if you're a mentor, if you're a co-worker, you're a neighbor, you're a classmate, come out in your support, you know, of being an ally.
VARGASWe must grow this movement. We must raise the moral stake of this issue and the moral consciousness in which people understand the issue.
REHMJose Antonio Vargas, he's founder of Define American, a undocumented immigrant who came to the U.S. as a child. Thank you so much for joining us.
VARGASThank you so much for having me.
REHMAnd now back to you, Fernanda Santos. What do you think of Jose's idea that people who are undocumented should simply come out and tell their neighbors, tell their friends about their plight?
SANTOSI think this strategy has already been very successful. When the Dreamers movement began, when young undocumented immigrants came out and said do something for us, we are Americans, we grew up in this country, we have been going to school in this country, we want to stay here, in fact many of them know English but don't know the language from the country of their birth, they eventually were able to pressure the Obama administration into signing -- into enacting this policy that has allowed them to reprieve from deportation. So they have allowed -- they have been allowed to live and work legally here. So it's been an effective strategy so far.
KRIKORIANYou know, what Jose described is political activity, in other words sort of making the case and all that. That's what politics is. What President Obama is not politics. What he did was go around Congress, which was explicitly refused to do the things he wanted to do. This is -- these are the...
REHMAngie, you disagree.
KELLEYYeah, I'm shaking my head vigorously.
KRIKORIANThese are the elected representatives of the people.
KELLEYNow look, what the president was perfectly within his authority. It's what he did within -- on -- in 2012 with the DACA program. The Senate passed a bipartisan, comprehensive immigration bill. There were Republicans and Democrats, every single Democrat and a number of Republicans, that voted to fix our immigration laws. What did the House Republicans do? Nothing. They didn't introduce a single bill. They didn't move a single bill out of committee. They didn't move a bill to the floor.
KRIKORIANThat is, no, no...
KELLEYLet me please finish, Mark.
KELLEYNo, let me finish. They absolutely could have, and at any time, please do your job, they can move legislation forward. What the president has proposed and what is in effect with the deferred action for Dreamers is not supplanting. It can exist alongside. And frankly if Congress did its job, then we wouldn't need the executive order.
KRIKORIANExcuse me, Congress did do its job. It is an action to not pass legislation.
KELLEYInaction is not doing your job.
KRIKORIANLegislation gets passed by one house or another all the time. It is not law until both houses pass it, and it's signed by the president. The problem with this measure is actually beyond immigration. What the president has done, and this is in other areas of law that I'm not -- that are not my specialty, environmental law and health care, et cetera, is essentially attempt to rule by decree because he can't get things through Congress that he wants to get through.
KRIKORIANAnd you know what? The Constitution is set up to make it difficult to pass law. There's no provision in the Constitution that says if the president wants something, but Congress doesn't give it to him, he gets to do it his own.
KRIKORIANAnd that's what the support, that's what Angie and her allies are saying.
KELLEYI think the question I have to ask you, Mark, is so what's the solution? You know, what are we going to do with the 11 million people...
KRIKORIANSolution is political.
REHMWait a minute.
KELLEYLet me frame the question, with 11 million. The average number of years that they've been here is 13. These are not accidental tourists that are just hanging out for a little while. These are people who have roots in this country, they have children in this country, they contribute mightily, they want to belong and are willing to come forward and undergo any screening that you put before them so that they can belong. Even in a temporary way they're willing to do this, which is all the president can do. What you would you? Is it the Donald Trump plan? Are you going to deport them all?
KRIKORIANYou're making a political argument, which makes sense, that what you do is you go and tell voters...
KELLEYNo, I'm asking you a policy question.
KRIKORIANNo, but it's a political question. You're saying that this is something that you need to make the case to voters so they vote in a different way to persuade their representatives to vote for something you want. That's fine. Knock yourself and do it. But you have failed to do that, and you don't get what you want if the elected representatives of the people won't vote for it, and that's what you're saying.
SANTOSWhat's so interesting is that, you know, my experience covering this story from the ground is that the -- the families that are going through this process are frustrated equally with Republicans and Democrats. They appreciate the fact that President Obama had this policy that allowed the young immigrants to have some measure of legalization. But they very much blame the president for something that Angela talked about, which is the number -- the very high number of deportations that are happening right now.
SANTOSAnd this election year here in Arizona is particularly meaningful because you have Donald Trump ballot and also Sheriff Arpaio. So it's -- they're using that to turn out the Latino vote.
REHMAnd you're listening to the Diane Rehm Show. Many of our listeners want to weigh in on this discussion. Let's go first to Illuminata, who is in Durham, North Carolina. You're on the air.
ILLUMINATAGood morning, Diane.
ILLUMINATAI wanted to say that you are awesome.
ILLUMINATAOkay, I wanted to echo pretty much what the ladies on this show are saying. I teach Spanish at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and occasionally when I do my job right, students will privilege me with, you know, information, such as I'm actually an illegal immigrant. And I have had a number of these students, and I cannot tell you how American these kids are. They are glued to their telephones, their iPhones, and they text just as much as my Anglo students. They go to the basketball games, and they participate in the rivalry with Duke. They're studious.
ILLUMINATAAnd in some ways I would say that they even work harder because many of these kids are the first ones who have had the privilege of getting educated and particularly being in a good university. And they work so hard, and they're so grateful, and most of them are politically engaged, they want to become lawyers, they want to become doctors, they want to do exactly what every American child that goes to the university wants to do.
REHMAll right, and now let's hear another perspective from North Carolina. Jeff, you're on the air.
JEFFHello, how are you, Diane? Thanks for having me.
JEFFI listen to your show all the time. My opinion of this is, and it's just an opinion, they're still illegals. I understand they're here. My family immigrated from Europe, Germany, back in the early or the late 1800s. They came in and assimilated, and they came here through the system, and the children were born here, and subsequent generations are now legal. When a person breaks the law and sneaks over the border of a country and has a child, and that child automatically becomes a citizen, and now we want to have the parents or the family benefit from the crime just because of the 14th Amendment.
REHMWhat do you say to that, Angie?
KELLEYYeah, no, I appreciate that we have a broken system and that folks have broken the law. But it is the law that needs to be updated and the reality that folks are here, that they are contributing, that we absolutely must make sure that they come forward, that they pay taxes, that they pay a fine, that they speak English. I mean, we don't -- it doesn't have to be an easy path, but we have in the past passed legislation that has just gotten much more realistic about what we're going to do with these folks rather than pretend we're going to deport them.
REHMAngela Kelley, she's with the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Short break here, more of your calls when we come back. Stay with us.
REHMAs we talk about immigration, the decision of the Supreme Court to send back to a lower court a decision, which means that undocumented immigrants do not have status here in this country, here's an email from Edward, who says I keep hearing guests describe the immigration system as broken, and they are never challenged. The U.S. indeed has an existing immigration law. The guests may not like the existing law, but it is there. It is entirely inaccurate to describe the law as broken. And Mark, I'm sure you'd agree.
KRIKORIANWell, I mean, there are changes I would want in the law. I think there are a lot of things that need to be changed. But the first thing that needs to be fixed is the first thing that's broken, is the complete lack of political will by the political class to actually enforce the law, and let me just give you an example. You had Jose Antonio Vargas on the air just earlier in the show. He was brought here as a kid, at 12 years old, came at least ostensibly legally, in other words through an airport.
KRIKORIANWe have no system to check people out when they leave, if they're foreign visitors, to make sure that when their time is up, they leave. If we'd had such a system, we would've been able to identify the fact that this illegal immigrant, that this person came in and became an illegal alien once their permission to be here expired and maybe have sent him home when he was 13 instead of remaining her for, you know, the rest of his life.
KRIKORIANThat's the kind of thing that happens. When you don't enforce your immigration laws, you end up with kids who have grown up here and don't really know other countries that create, actually do create a kind of argument for legalizing them. I'm actually in favor of amnestying people who came here very young and have spent their whole lives here, but the problem is you can't -- that can't be the first thing you do, it has to be the last thing you do to make sure there's no people like that again.
SANTOSWell, one thing that I hear a lot from people here in Arizona and also in others parts of the country where I've covered immigration stories is that we have already spent a lot of taxpayer money educating these children. A lot of these children are our valedictorians, they are accepted into Ivy League schools, they are given scholarships, yet when it comes to that point in their lives, they're denied the opportunity to basically exercise all the great things they've learned through our public school system and contribute to society, give back, get a decent job, get a great education somewhere.
SANTOSAnd so the question that a lot of people ask, and maybe it's a question that both Mark and Angie can talk about, is the idea that what is the point -- what is the argument to justify having invested so much in the education of these children since they can just enroll in a school and then say, okay, now you're 18, you can go to work, you can go to college, go back to your country that you don't even know.
REHMHow do you respond, Mark?
KRIKORIANI mean, I don't -- this isn't necessarily my solution, but the logical conclusion of that objection is that, well, then they shouldn't be allowed to go to school so we're not investing the money. I mean, if that's the argument you're giving, then the inevitable corollary is, well, then they should be barred from public schools so we don't invest this money. My solution is you don't let these people in in the first place. And I'm sorry, but the valedictorian, the point, it's true, some of them are valedictorians, some of the kids who were brought here illegally. Some of them are gang members and killers. Neither one of those is a justification for a policy one way or the other.
KELLEYYeah look, we actually have a lot of data about what happens when you give these kids a chance. Because of the DACA program, in the last four years, we have about, like, as I said, 750,000 young people who have come forward. We know that their wages are going up, and we know that 92 percent of them have sought greater educational opportunities for themselves. They're contributing more to their families, they're buying cars, they're getting credit cards.
KELLEYSo this is only a two-year program, right, and the next president can take it away, and if it's President Trump, and I don't think it will be, but we know that that's one of the very first things that he's going to do. But my point is that we have deported, in the last eight years, two million people. So when Mark talks about there's no will to enforce the law, tell those two million people and tell their children, who have been left behind without their parents.
KRIKORIANIs that the kind of country we want to be?
REHMHere's an email from Becky. If the House leadership would allow a vote, then they could pass immigration reform. But they allow a minority of their party to block votes, thus ignoring the will of the majority of House and the country. This is not democracy.
KRIKORIANDemocracy is not you take a referendum one way or another on the law. It's you follow the procedures set forth in the Constitution. And there's all kinds of legislation that could've passed the Senate, for instance, that had a majority of senators behind but that the minority of Democrats filibuster, for instance, just to give you an example. That's the way democracy works.
KRIKORIANGeorge Washington described Congress as the saucer you pour the hot tea into to cool it off before you drink it. We don't have direct democracy, and we shouldn't. We have steps you have to follow so that ultimately if the public is strongly enough in favor of something, then it can become law. The problem is that Angie and her allies have not persuaded enough people to support their position and vote for it, and that's the problem.
REHMAll right, I'm going back to the phones. Julika in Lansing, Michigan, you're on the air.
JULIKAThank you, Diane. My comment is that I know firsthand what it's like to be illegal in this country, not myself, I'm actually a legal immigrant, I came here when I was 18, but someone who was very near and dear to me is still legally here. And she can't drive. Her kids are homeschooled. She can't do anything because she's afraid that she will be sent away and not be able to come back. It has some real-life implications, and it's really painful.
JULIKAAnd when I hear Mark talk, or when I hear Jeff from North Carolina talk, I don't feel like they're talking about immigrants as if they are people. They're like a second-class citizen feeling that I get that makes me really uncomfortable. The question that I have for all of you is if we do want to change immigration, how do we do it effectively? Do we do it at a local level, in cities and states? Do we work on laws and on our representatives there? Or is it a federal process? Is it going to be top-down? It doesn't look like it's working top-down with President Obama. I really appreciate what President Obama is trying to do, but it -- he's getting blocked. So I'm...
KELLEYThat's a super-astute point by the caller that what we're seeing is more and more state and local governments stepping in and doing everything that they can to help integrate folks, to make sure they can get driver's licenses or identification cards, because look, I mean, that's -- this is the communities where they live, right, and we're not all -- they're not on hold waiting for the courts to act or the House of Representatives and the minority that isn't moving a bill forward, contrary to Mark's political analysis.
KELLEYSo you do see I think a great change in how state and local lawmakers are responding.
KELLEYThey're getting much more realistic.
SANTOSI think there's also the other way around, right. Arizona's an example of a state that has enacted laws to make it harder for undocumented immigrants to live and work here. So it goes both ways. I don't think it's just helping. It's also, you know, imposing the types of restrictions that they feel the federal government has not been able to enforce.
REHMAll right, to Maria in Baltimore, Maryland, you're on the air.
MARIAThank you so much, Diane, it's such a privilege to be here, and thank you for all that you do. I was the chair of the Governor's Commission on Hispanic Affairs for Governor Martin O'Malley for both of his terms, and it was an honor to do so. And one of the examples I want to give you all is a young man named Jonathan Jayes Green. Jonathan came from Panama with his family. His uncle was serving in the United States Army. And he came here and -- to take care of his uncle's home while his uncle was deployed. Long story short, there was an issue with his documentation with his family. They had a bad attorney, which is very common, unfortunately, in the immigrant community that takes their money and do nothing. Long story short is Jonathan Jayes Green is a remarkable young man who on his own has graduated from (unintelligible) .
MARIAGovernor -- I'm sorry, Senator Cardin, when he graduated with on stage and talked specifically about Jonathan and his many contributions to the community, not just the immigrant community, the community overall. And as soon as DACA was available, Governor O'Malley hired him to be the administrative director of the Governor's Commission on Hispanic Affairs and Caribbean Affairs.
MARIAJonathan has since -- now I'm very blessed to have him on my team, and he's the director of community engagement. At the moment he's at the Aspen Institute on a program to be able to talk about the impact of these young people. So long story short is I heard what the gentleman said about, yes, there's good people, and then there's gang, well, like in everything, there are, and we don't want the people that are not -- that are here committing crimes.
MARIAWe want the young people who are more -- there's more beautiful young people like Jonathan who are here contributing to our community, and that's what we need to do. My parents came here. There was a pathway when they came here. I wouldn't be here if it weren't because the pathway, my father fought in World War II, and my mother came as a seamstress, and they had a way to come in. There is no way anymore, and we need to help the people that are here. We need to look at the amnesty. We need to do comprehensive immigration reform. It has to happen.
MARIASo that's what I wanted to say (unintelligible) .
REHMAll right, Maria, and thank you so much for calling in. Mark?
KRIKORIANYou know, she made an important point. She said, look, there's no way for people to come in. That's simply false but also true. The false part is that we take one million legal immigrants a year. We give one million green cards a year, more than any other country anywhere in the world, in fact more -- we take more immigrants for permanent resettlement than all the other countries of the world who do that put together.
KRIKORIANBut at the same time, there are hundreds of millions of people who would want to come if they could. Those people cannot come. And what the supporters of illegal immigration, because that's what we're talking about here, they're supporters of illegal immigration, are saying is that if you want to come but can't, you should be able to just come on your own and break the law and be allowed to stay, and that's simply unsustainable.
KRIKORIANIf we double immigration to two million a year, what about the other people beyond the two million who want to come? Should the law be enforced against them? I mean, that's the question I have for a lot of these folks is, is there any immigration law, any limit that you would actually -- beyond which you would actually enforce and deport people.
KELLEYYeah, I mean, look, absolutely we need reasonable limits. Not having our immigration laws updated in a meaningful way since 1990 does not permit for reasonable limits. Right now there are only 5,000 visas a year for a person who wants to come as a lower-skilled worker, as a landscaper, as a nanny, to take care of my grandmother. When you have only 5,000 visas a year, you are going to have people who come with smugglers and not with a visa.
KELLEYThere isn't a line to get into. That was exactly Jose's point and a number of the callers' points. So we're not saying open up the borders and everybody come in, no. We're looking for a regulated, legal system so that we know who's coming to this country, and we match them up with an employer or a close family member. That's the solution.
REHMAngela Kelly of the American -- Center for American Progress, and you're listening to the Diane Rehm Show. And a caller from Elk Ridge, Maryland. Kanama, you're on the air.
KANAMAYes, Ms. Diane, how you doing today? Thanks for taking my call.
KANAMANow I don't even know where to start because I've been -- I came to the United States 1999. I'm illegal still. I have three kids. But (unintelligible) they are enforcing the laws because I was apprehended, and they took me to Texas, and they are deporting anybody who is illegal. If you have a felony, they're going to deport you. It don't matter if you're from Mexico, Africa, it don't matter, they will deport you. I was there.
KANAMAThe only reason why I was released back to the United States because they realized I've been living in the United States for 17 years, I don't have a point on my driver's license, never been in trouble, I have a wife who was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland, and I have three kids, and they've given me a work permit every year for me to work, but I'm illegal. That's how broken the system is.
REHMThat's an interesting point, Mark.
KRIKORIANWell, I mean, first of all, criminal deportations have collapsed along with regular deportations over the past four years. So even criminals who have felony convictions, many of them are not being deported. So, you know, it seems to me the obvious thing you do is deport criminals first, and yet as the -- Friday is the first anniversary of the killing of Kate Steinle by an illegal immigrant who had been repeatedly deported, who was a convicted felon and yet who was protected by San Francisco's sanctuary policy to not cooperate with immigration.
KRIKORIANSo how about the first change should be to abolish sanctuary city rules so that when a felon is identified as being an illegal immigrant or even a legal immigrant who's not a citizen, because you're deportable if you commit a felony, how about we start there and prohibit San Francisco and New York and L.A. and Houston from protecting illegal immigrant criminals, and then we go on from there.
REHMI'm sure you wouldn't agree -- disagree with that, Angela.
KELLEYWell of course not. I mean, look, whoever murdered that girl or commits any crime needs to be punished to the fullest extent of the law, whatever their immigration status is. It has nothing to do with it. But what -- what we also have to take into account is what does law enforcement think makes the most sense to keep our communities safe. And law enforcement officials have to grapple with the problem that if people are afraid to come forward because they're the victim of a crime, or they've seen a crime, because they believe that the police are going to turn them over to ICE, that makes us all less safe.
REHMFernanda, what do you see going forward?
SANTOSYou know, I guess it all depends on who becomes our next president, right. I don't think that a President Trump would have any interest in continuing these programs -- this program that the Obama administration passed, and I think that it would empower, in many ways, the more radical or active wing of the Republican Party to voice their opposition to any kind of change in immigration law in this country.
SANTOSPresident Clinton, of course, would be a different story, but the question becomes will Congress help her or work with her to get anything done.
REHMMark, last word?
KRIKORIANWell, the last word is that the first thing we need to do is earn the trust of the people that we are enforcing our immigration laws. That has to happen first, and there are specific milestones that we can implement that have not been implemented. Only then does the political class even have the right, it seems to me, to go to the public and say okay, we have fixed the problem that created all of this illegal immigration, now let's talk about maybe legalizing some of these people and tying up the loose ends.
REHMMark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, Fernanda Santos, Phoenix bureau chief for The New York Times, Angela Kelley, she's senior vice president for the Center for American Progress. Thank you all for a great discussion.
REHMAnd thanks, all, for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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