The New Fault Line in the Immigration Debate


People often ask, "what does 'comprehensive immigration reform' mean?"  At NDN, we believe it means an overhaul of the very broken immigration system.  This overhaul must not only include improved enforcement of immigration laws, but it must improve the current channels for legal migration, as well as provide a path to citizenship for those who are undocumented.  No part of the plan will work without the others.   

In a must-read editorial today, former Mexican Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Jorge Castaneda, and Tamar Jacoby address what true comprehensive immigration reform must look like.  They accurately point out, "President Obama looks to be gearing up to make good on his campaign promise of comprehensive immigration reform. But unlike in 2006, when Democratic and Republican reformers agreed on what was needed in an overhaul, this year there's a new fault line."

The authors' compelling point: 

...This year, in contrast to 2006, organized labor and many Latino advocates are thinking about slicing up the reform package and moving forward with a piecemeal approach: a bill that legalizes the unauthorized immigrants already in the United States -- call them the "stock" -- but makes no provision for those who will want to work north of the border in years ahead, the future "flow." 

The reasoning...with unemployment edging toward 10 percent, it's hard to argue that the United States needs foreign workers. And organized labor, particularly the AFL-CIO, has seized on the opportunity to graft its larger agenda onto the immigration debate. 

...But this view is shortsighted. Just as it would have been a mistake in a Republican era to pass an expanded temporary worker program but leave out legalization and a path to citizenship, so, too, would it be a mistake now to legalize immigrants who are here without creating a way for future workers to enter the United States legally...Consider U.S. politics. With no pipeline for future workers, McCain will not vote for the bill. Without him, there will be no other Senate Republicans. And without Senate Republicans, there won't be enough Democrats, given the inevitable defections among Blue Dogs, New Democrats and other moderates. 

But ultimately, the problem with "legalization only" is bigger than politics in either country. The economic downturn may have cut the traffic from Mexico -- as much as 25 percent, by some estimates. Yet once the economy begins to recover, demographic and economic reality will kick in again on both sides of the border. 

...The United States can recognize this reality and harness it -- or pretend it doesn't exist and live with the costs of denial. If these workers cannot enter the United States legally, they will find ways to enter illegally, no matter how much border and work-site enforcement is in place, no matter how dangerous the trip or how high the price. Hoping that people will stop coming is as illusory as thinking that those already in the United States will pack up and go home. 

...The bottom line is that the only way to stop illegal outflows from Mexico is to legalize them, adapting the law to reality, not the other way around.