Anyone who has been keeping close tabs on the immigration debate in Washington over the last five years can attest to the fact that it has all of the ingredients for the perfect political storm. For starters, U.S. immigration laws are so arcane that only a handful of legislators truly understand them. As a result, many policy makers search for simple, sound-bite driven solutions to problems that are far too complex for quick fixes. The complexity of the issue is made even more difficult by the fact that the immigration issue is not easily defined by party labels. Supporters and opponents of various immigration proposals come from both parties and span the political spectrum. This makes it difficult for party leaders to determine where, when, and how to discuss the issue. Finally, and perhaps most destructively, the topic of immigration evokes intense emotions that are easily stirred by politicians and pundits who play to the fears and insecurities of the electorate rather than deal with the issue honestly and pragmatically. It is the emotional nature of the debate that really has whipped the political winds into a fury over the last five years.
Access to an independent judiciary with the power to hold the government accountable in its dealings with individuals is a founding principle of the United States. In contrast, imagine a system where there is no access to independent judgment; where, instead, the referee works for the opposing team. The House of Representatives took a step away from this founding principle by passing the Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act (H.R. 4437) on December 16, 2005. A provision of the bill would erode access to independent judgment by severely restricting access to the federal courts for individuals in removal (deportation) proceedings. This provision is part of a long string of efforts by proponents of restrictive immigration policies to limit the jurisdiction of the federal courts over immigration cases.
Benjamin Johnson, Director of the Immigration Policy Center, discusses the futility of an enforcement-only approach to immigration reform and the need for a more comprehensive strategy to deal with the problem of undocumented immigration. In this new "Perspective," he argues that immigration cannot be treated simply as a law-enforcement issue. Rather, the United States must begin managing immigration as a national resource.
The most striking thing about today’s immigration debate is how many times America has been here before—and how many times it has made the same mistakes. With respect to David Letterman, here is a list of the biggest errors that U.S. policymakers have made in designing immigration policy. As Congress wrestles to find the right mix of immigration enforcement and immigration reform, it should keep in mind what it has done wrong in the past so that it has a chance to get it right this time.
IPC Research Fellow Dan Siciliano told the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee that immigration is directly responsible for billions of dollars annually in U.S. economic growth. Siciliano, who also is Executive Director of the Program in Law, Economics and Business at Stanford Law School, explained to the Committee that "if the United States were to reform the immigration system to better address the demand for foreign-born labor, the economic benefits of immigration could be even greater than what we have already experienced."
As we have seen in the last month, segments of the United States media, policy leaders, and populace continue to be obsessed with the issue of undocumented immigration to the United States. Turn on CNN and you may find Lou Dobbs chastising President Bush for failing "to enforce immigration laws that would slow the invasion of illegal aliens." Open the Los Angeles Times, and you can read about California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger singing praises for the Minuteman Project, the volunteer group of Arizona vigilantes formed to patrol the U.S.-Mexico border. Open a paper in Las Cruces, New Mexico and you can read about Mexican workers in Chihuahua, Mexico waiting for the right time to cross the border illegally to find work as ranch hands in New Mexico or in construction in Chicago. In Boise, Idaho a letter to the editor complains about illegal immigrants and "[contractors] willing to pay cheap wages under the table...in lieu of hiring American citizens."