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Glimmers of Hope on Immigration in the Senate


The US Senate appears to be on the verge of getting some sort immigration deal cobbled together. In a bid to attract Republican votes, the Dem-controlled body proposed adding to its bill provisions for greatly strengthening border security. Reuters reports that Harry Reid could test the vote as early as Monday, with a senior Democratic aide confidently predicting the amendment could pass with more than 60 votes.

In our view, there are three things the US really needs to do on the immigration front:

One is to open a door to the millions of illegals to help them regularize their situation. It’s bad for America to be divided between two permanent classes of residents. It hurts low income earners because illegals are more likely to accept substandard wages and other working conditions in order to evade detection. And it’s both morally wrong and pragmatically a bad idea to keep millions of people in a kind of shadow state.

Two is to secure our borders. No law can be 100 percent effective, but a situation in which borders are so porous that hundreds of thousands can cross them every year is unacceptable both socially and from a security point of view.

And three is to have a sensible immigration policy that responds to the concerns of Americans about the total quantity of immigrants. In an age of mass mobility and huge global differences in standards of living we have to cap the number. Debating the size of that cap is a perfectly legitimate thing for people to do; there are very valid arguments pro and con any given level of immigration.

The contours of a sensible debate about a cap should take several things into account, however.

Skills: at VM, we tend to favor encouraging immigration in areas where bottlenecks in the labor supply help force up costs (we say lay out the welcome mat, for example, for doctors and health care professionals), or for those whose skills or resources make it likely that they can make a substantial contribution to the economy.

Balance: we think that the numbers of unskilled immigrants should be thought about with the well being of low income American citizens in mind. We don’t think it’s helpful to open the floodgates to unprecedented levels, for example, when low income Americans are having a hard time finding work.

Absorption: there are legitimate questions about absorption capacity from a cultural and social point of view. America is a nation of immigrants, and a healthy flow of immigrants can help keep us a young and dynamic society. But we should look at the country’s ability to assimilate and welcome people at any given time, and that should be a factor in immigration policy.

In general, though, it looks to us as if the Senate bill, while not perfect, has improved markedly. With luck, a few more tweaks in the House could give us a bill that centrists in the liberal and conservative camps can accept. That would be a genuine accomplishment and reflect well on DC’s ability to get at least some of the nation’s vital business done.

[Statue of Liberty photo courtesy of Shutterstock.]

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  • wigwag

    Whether enough Republican votes can be rounded up in the Senate to pass the 60 vote threshold the Senate minority leaders insists on actually doesn’t matter all that much; an acceptable bill is unlikely to emerge from the House of Representatives.

    The whole issue is politically calamitous for the Republican Party. Given the number of Hispanic and Asian Americans who voted for the Democratic presidential nominee in the last election, there was virtually no way that the Republican nominee could cobble together a winning coalition; this problem is only likely to grow worse for Republicans.

    The idea that the Republican problem with Hispanic and Asian immigrants will be solved if the GOP allows an immigration bill to pass is ridiculous. The immigration act of 1924 was advocated by the Republican Party (the Chief Sponsor was Henry Cabot Lodge) with the stated purpose of “preserving the idea of American homogeneity.” It’s target was to dramatically reduce immigration from Southern and Esstern Europe; more specifically the idea was to make it harder for Jews and Italians to migrate to the United States (the 1924 Act was revised in 1965 and has remained in place with minor modifications ever since). At the same time that Republican politicians were expressing contempt for Jewish and Italian immigrants, big city Democratic ward leaders were on the docks at Ellis Island helping them find jobs and housing and registering them in the Democratic Party.

    90 years later, this history resides in the collective memory of second, third and fourth generation Americans of Jewish and Italian decent. They still vote Democratic in large numbers even when Republicans better represent their interests. It could take another century before Republicans have a real shot at competing for the Jewish vote; the GOP’s chances with Italian-Americans are only marginally better.

    Passage of an immigration bill won’t solve the GOP’s problem with Latinos. The children of the last big wave of Mexican immigrants are reaching voting age. They will long remember the GOP’s rhetoric about immigration and they will vote accordingly. Citizens of Latino heritage are not stupid; they know perfectly well that while Democrats were trying to find ways to legalize the status of their family members who came here illegally, Republicans were focused on building better fences. Whatever the merits of doing that, politically it’s a disaster for Republicans.

    History is repeating itself; the GOP’s hostility to immigration in the 1920s alienated important American voting blocks from the Party for generations. In the last decades of the 20th century and the first decades of the 21st, the GOP has alienated the first of what is likely to be many generations of Latino and Asian voters.

    Already we see evidence of this in Ststes like Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, California ( where the hostility of Latino voters has virtually destroyed the Republican Party) and even Arizona. Next up are Florida and eventually even Texas. If Latino immigrants give Democrats a fighting chance in Texas, Republicans might as well hang it up; they’re toast.

    As a political strategy nativism just doesn’t work. Unfortunately for Republicans, they still haven’t figured this out. If and when they do, it will be too late.

    • Anthony

      WigWag, your precis on National Origins Act is on target but is it solely nativism or perhaps interests mutually and, in many cases, rationally antagonistic to immigration proposal presently before senate. Specifically, the major parties aim to maintain the existing politico-economic system and the same relative distribution of its rewards. The Democratic party as it did when party welcomed European refugees of immigration see votes; the Republican party impolitically, as you infer, can’t nail down those votes. Yet, immigration reform as presently proposed may be viewed by some Americans (without nativist’s leaning) as social dynamic working against their present and long-term interest – but maintaining operative system. Essentially, the respective parties provide cover for status quo interests (in this case immigration) which may or may not be relevant to the welfare of Republic’s citizens. And that contention (public discontent vis-a- vis immigration) plays out currently with some latter-day opponents labeled nativist via party configuration; when in reality, the ready made pre-financed, pre-fixed parties are mechanisms by which electorate confirms predilections yet domestically the externals for common citizen looks little different. Nativism, party affiliation et al. may just provide convenient cover for extractive interests.

      • wigwag

        Hi Anthony; thank you for your thought provoking reply. In answer to your question, I don’t think that the only thing that motivates opposition to immigration reform is nativism. There are many substantive reasons to be skeptical of immigration reform including the idea that it rewards illegal behavior and that it makes the problems of America’s underclass even worse. Of course trade unions worry about immigration reform too.

        In the Republican caucus in the House and Senate, nativist bigots sit side by side with colleagues who have reasonable concerns about immigration reform. I sincerely doubt that Marco Runio will be the savior of the GOP when it comes to Latinos, but he’s clearly no nativist; he’s working hard on a compromise. So is Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire.

        Both of these Republican Senators have been excoriated by members of their own political party.

        Once you get beyond the substance and look at the politics, the GOP is building itself a hole it may never climb out of.

        • Anthony

          Thanks WigWag, it’s always a pleasure. I concur with all of the above and stipulate: the general public (all 300 million plus separate parts) if not for indulging irrelevant predilections would likely have more organized influence in determining public policy sans party label. Yes, ideology can cover nativist motives as a means to an end and educe mainstream identification of Republicans as antagonistic to immigration reform – costs yet to be calculated long-term (a hole it may never…).

          • wigwag

            There is one other reason besides nativism that the GOP dislikes immigration reform; sheer political terror. The best guess is that there are twelve million illegal immigrants in the U.S. If they became citizens it would be game, set and match for the Democrats.

            When they become eligible to vote, the undocumented will be even more inclined to vote Democratic than their colleagues in the country legally. If 50 percent of the formerly undocumented and newly legal Latino citizens vote, that’s 6 million new voters. If only 70 percent vote Democratic, that’s 4.2 million new Democratic voters. That would devastate the GOP.

    • ojfl


      there was no shift away from Republicans in the past elections. Much is being said about that but it is simply not true. Latinos have always voted Democratic, even with immigration reform and amnesty. Here is the data from Pew Hispanic:

      –1980 Jimmy Carter, 56% Ronald Reagan, 35% +21

      –1984 Walter Mondale, 61% Ronald Reagan, 37% +24

      –1988 Michael Dukakis, 69% George H.W. Bush, 30% +39

      –1992 Bill Clinton, 61% George H.W. Bush, 25% +36

      –1996 Bill Clinton, 72% Bob Dole, 21% +51

      –2000 Al Gore, 62% George W. Bush, 35% +27

      –2004 John Kerry, 58% George W. Bush, 40% +18

      –2008 Barack Obama, 67% John McCain, 31% +36

      –2012 Barack Obama, 71% Mitt Romney, 27% +44

      And the link:

      • wigwag

        Thanks for the interesting statistics, OJFL. There’s a huge difference between the 40 percent of the Latino vote George W. Bush received and the 27 percent Mitt Romney got. In all liklihood it will never be possible to be elected president again with less than 35 percent of the Latino vote.

        There are two other things to keep in mind: (1) the Latino vote is growing very quickly as a percentage of the total vote. This is awful news for the GOP. (2) 4 million American born citizens of illegal immigrants will reach voting age in the next eight years. Obviously they won’t all vote and they won’t all vote Democratic. But it is virtually certain that far more of these new voting age citizens will vote for Democrats instead of Republicans. Do you really think many of these children-citizens of illegal immigrants will vote for Republicans who want to deport their moms and dads and talk endlessly about building an electrified fence to keep out their uncles, aunts and cousins?

        • ojfl


          while I do not dispute your assertions I am simply saying that the passing of immigration reform or its failure, will not change one iota the behavior of the Latino community. As you can see from the data, the election of president Clinton also drew only 25% and 21% of the Latino vote for president Bush and Bob Dole, both of whom were heavily involved in passing an immigration reform package under president Reagan.

  • BobSykes

    The obvious result of the proposed immigration legislation is that the current black underclass will be replaced by a Mexican underclass. This is well underway in Los Angeles where working class blacks have been displaced from their traditional jobs and where they are being ethnically cleansed from their traditional neighborhoods by Mexicans and Central Americans.

    Why our Ruling Class wants this is a mystery. Do they think Mexicans are more productive, more malleable or just additional supporters.

    The bigger mystery is why black leaders put up with this program. Faux black leaders like Barak Obama, Al Sharpton and organizations like the NAACP have long been coopted by the Ruling Class. But surely there are some in the Black Caucus who are opposed. Where is Marilyn Waters in all this? Her own constituents are now suffering the brunt of these policies.

    The future of America is ethnic fragmentation. We will see political parties based on ethnicity and ever evolving coalitions as ethnic groups and races seek to maximize their own benefits. The extensive and growing segregation of our society (much more than in the 1950s) will facilitate the rise of racial/ethnic parties.

    • avery12

      Why do they want it? Because they think hispanics still have babies, unlike most other dem client groups. The democratic party has a problem – democrats don’t reproduce much.

      • BobSykes

        That doesn’t wash. This is the most anti-black legislation since the slave laws of the colonial South. It is a frontal assault on a major constituency in the Democrat Party. That Republicans might wish to minimize black influence and power is understandable, but Democrat support is a mystery.

  • gunsmithkat

    Frankly I don’t know how WRM squares the circle of this: and the fact that over the next ten years this bill would legalize nearly 33 million low or no skilled immigrant workers.

  • Stephen

    “Two is to secure our borders. No law can be 100 percent effective, but a
    situation in which borders are so porous that hundreds of thousands can
    cross them every year is unacceptable both socially and from a security
    point of view.”

    This was supposed to have been taken care of with Simpson-Mazoli. Every piece of legislation passed of this nature made provisions for it. And yet, here we are…again. And so it will be again in another decade, or less.

    Whether or not a law is passed, no effective enforcement will occur. Period. Those in and out of government who wish it this way will have their way; whether it be within or without benefit of law, they will have their way. Thus it has been and thus it will always be; because, for decades and more this has not been an issue over which any significant number of politicians have had their livelihoods threatened – nor will it be: “Sound and fury signifying nothing.”

  • mgoodfel

    I think the immigration bill includes mandatory use of the e-verify system, which amounts to requiring government permission to work. That’s just going to increase identity theft and the underground economy. Bad news.

    I haven’t heard of anything in the bill that’s really worth having. Border security is pointless as long as people can enter the country as tourists and overstay their visa. In fact, it’s a mystery to me why anyone tries walking in through the desert. I can only assume they are so dirt poor that they can’t scrape up the money for the paperwork.

    More visas for high-tech workers or doctors would be nice, but it’s not worth the price of an e-verify system or some new class of non-citizen temporary workers.

  • avery12

    Should this pass, hiring an amnestied non-citizen would not subject employers to obamacare thresholds in the way that hiring a citizen does. Massive hiring discrimination against citizens and, no doubt, yet further increases in SSI and food stamp rolls.

  • ojfl

    Step 1 should only happen after steps 2 and 3.

  • Fat_Man

    Die Lösung
    Bertolt Brecht

    Nach dem Aufstand des 17, Juni
    Ließ der Sekretär des Schriftstellerverbands
    In der Stalinallee Flugblätter verteilen
    Auf denen zu lesen war, daß das Volk
    Das Vertrauen der Regierung verscherzt habe
    Und es nur durch verdoppelte Arbeit
    Zurückerobern könne. Wäre es da
    Nicht doch einfacher, die Regierung
    Löste das Volk auf und
    Wählte ein anderes?

    The Solution
    Bertolt Brecht

    After the uprising of the 17th June
    The Secretary of the Writer’s Union
    Had leaflets distributed in the Stalinallee
    Stating that the people
    Had forfeited the confidence of the government
    And could win it back only
    By redoubled efforts. Would it not be easier
    In that case for the government
    To dissolve the people
    And elect another?

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