Reaching for a New Deal: President Obama’s Agenda and the Dynamics of U.S. Politics (Russell Sage Foundation)

Funded by the Russell Sage Foundation, John Skrentny is part of a team of political scientists, led by Theda Skocpol and Larry Jacobs, who joined forces to provide “a detailed and sweeping set of assessments of the accomplishments, limits, and political dramas of the first two years of Barack Obama’s presidency during the 111th Congress.”  While Skrentny focused on immigration, other scholars analyzed a broad set of reform areas, including health care, the financial regulation, higher education, organized labor, K-12 education, energy and tax policy.


Employing a rich variety of data sources, a working group of nine leading scholars has analyzed and tracked the accomplishments, limits, and political dramas of the first two years of Barack Obama’s presidency during the 111th Congress.

Barack Obama won the presidency of the United States as the candidate of change, pledging to fundamentally transform domestic policy in many areas of national life—health care, environmental regulation, immigration law, labor policy, the financing of higher education, and taxes and revenue collection. As the Wall Street crisis escalated in the months before the 2008 election, financial system reform became one more item on Obama’s already extensive list of challenges. Obama’s election coincided with increased Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress, and many viewed the advent of his administration as a once-in-a-generation chance to significantly reorient U.S. public policy and reverse decades-long regulatory and tax trends that redistributed wealth and opportunity upward and widened the chasm between rich and poor.
Two years later, the record is mixed, and accompanied by political turnarounds. The Obama administration proposed redirections of federal activities in many key areas, and landmark legislation was passed that may fulfill some of the promise of Obama’s change-oriented presidency. Yet the key achievements remain invisible to many Americans, including pundits engaged in assessing the first two years of this presidency. And in a number of areas, changes have been limited by partisan polarization and obstructionist tactics in Congress, even as a fragmented and increasingly politicized media has blared extreme and conflicting messages about politics. Amidst the clamor, citizens have become increasingly disillusioned with Washington DC, as they face a sluggish recovery from a deep recession marked by persistently high unemployment and slow-private-sector job growth. Although polls tell us that Republicans have even less credibility than Obama and the Democrats, the GOP is poised to make major gains in the midterm 2010 elections. The American public, once flush with excitement over the possibility of a new character and tone for politics and governance, now doubts that government can be used for positive purposes to widen opportunity and overcome economic threats – and gridlocked politics in coming months may confirm their worst fears.
The project provides a detailed and sweeping set of assessments of the accomplishments, limits, and political dramas of the first two years of Barack Obama’s presidency during the 111th Congress. With support from the Foundation, political scientists Theda Skocpol (Harvard University) and Lawrence Jacobs (University of Minnesota) formed a working group on President Obama’s Agenda and the Dynamics of U.S. Politics. The effort started more than a year ago, and has involved nine leading scholars tracking the course and fate of Obama’s efforts to reorient domestic policy during 2009 and 2010. Working group members traced developments in eight specific policy areas: health reform, financial regulation, energy and climate change, tax policy, higher education funding, primary and secondary school reform, immigration policy, and labor law reform. They also shared insights to develop an overall perspective on Obama’s approach to domestic reforms amidst a deep economic downturn. Employing a variety of data sources, including public documents, speeches, media coverage, public opinion polls, campaign contribution records, and interviews with key actors, the scholars in this project identify what the Obama administration and its allies tried to do and when; trace successes, setbacks, redirections and failures. Each author explains what happened, probes the foreseen and unforeseen political consequences, and situates the efforts and achievements of the early Obama presidency in the context of previous federal policies. The papers tell us much about the workings and pathologies of U.S. politics today, and highlight the institutional and political constraints that channel and limit changes – especially changes intended to mitigate social and economic inequalities in the United States.

Pundits and politicians alike have compared Barack Obama’s ambitious policy initiatives to Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, which sought to alleviate the economic devastation of the Great Depression. One of the unique features of this extraordinary and timely set of readable analyses, collected in the volume Reaching for a New Deal, is that it analyzes immediate developments by using comparisons to a variety of historical episodes including the New Deal, the Great Society, and the Reagan era. These comparisons cast into sharp relief the ways in presidential calls for policy change are buffeted by different types of economic crises, changing public moods, shifts in civic engagement and interest group activity, and the impact of media norms and operations on public debate.

The volume is organized into three major sections. The first section considers areas where the Obama administration managed majored legislative breakthroughs. The second section looks at realms where action occurred primarily through administrative means under Cabinet direction. And the third section probes the deadlocks and political conflicts that have so far blocked decisive action on that analyze to address inescapable challenges in immigration, energy and climate change, and tax reform.
These first-rate studies take account of developments through the winter of 2010. The Foundation has published a book entitled Reaching for a New Deal: Ambitious Governance, Economic Meltdown, and Polarized Politics in Obama’s First Two Years, in 2011.
CONTENTS (PDF)

INTRODUCTION
Reaching for a New Deal: Ambitious Governance, Economic Meltdown, and Polarized Politics in Obama’s First Two Years
After 2008 brought a decisive victory for Barack Obama and enhanced Democratic margins in the House and Senate, many observers felt the door was open for a second New Deal, especially because candidate Obama had highlighted growing inequalities in the United States and promised to redirect federal benefits, taxes, and regulations to enhance opportunity and security for the middle class. The usual institutional obstacles to rapid policy change slowed progress on presidential priorities; and Democratic majorities were always certain to wane by 2010. Extraordinary circumstances also proved daunting. Unlike FDR in the 1930s, Obama took office just as a financial and economic crisis was starting. He joined with the previous Republican administration to bolster Wall Street and the banks, but did not or could not forestall rising and persistent unemployment. Republicans decided on a strategy of all-out opposition to the President’s initiatives, hoping to benefit from economic sluggishness and public disillusionment in the 2010 midterm elections. Partisan polarization is at an all-time high; Senate filibuster practices are now routinely invoked to stall all sorts of decisions; and today’s media structures and practices magnify oppositional voices and make it hard for the President to get any consistent message across to most citizens.
Despite all of these obstacles, President Obama and his allies have achieved major legislative breakthroughs in health reform, higher education reform, and financial regulation. In addition, Administration officials have used regulatory powers to promote labor and school reforms. But major national dilemmas about immigration, energy and environment, and taxes remain unresolved, as attempts at compromise legislation have stalled in Congress and partisan posturing runs to extremes. The future for Obama’s presidency, whether or not he wins a second term, will be even more daunting than the first two years, as Republicans gain ground in Congress and the public becomes increasingly frustrated with the inability of the federal government to promote job growth and tackle national challenges. Obama has made a start on the second New Deal he promised and his administration is determinedly implementing reform legislation. But it remains to be seen whether new steps will be rolled back or undercut, and whether further efforts to use federal powers on behalf of broader opportunity and security for most Americans can make headway in a stormy political environment, in which anti-government conservatives and interests determined to preserve privileges will have greater leverage.
LEGISLATIVE LANDMARKS

Hard-Fought Legacy: Obama, Congressional Democrats, and the Struggle for Comprehensive Health Reform
On March 23, 2010, President Obama signed into law a landmark in U.S. social provision, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010. For many decades, reformers and previous presidents had sought reforms to expand health insurance coverage while also controlling rapidly rising health care costs. All had failed, until Obama and Democrats in Congress brought a fifteen-month process to successful legislative conclusion, enacting Affordable Care with bare majorities of only Democratic votes. Early in 2009, Obama chose the risky course of making comprehensive health reform a top priority, despite the fact that he took office during a major economic crisis. His White House set broad themes for reform and stressed long-term cost controls, and then let Congressional committees work out compromises with major health industry stakeholders. Republican ideas were solicited and incorporated into major bills. But when Republican Congressional leaders turned to all-out opposition, legislation could advance only through intricate compromises between liberal and moderate to conservative Congressional Democrats. Final legislation almost failed when Senate Democrats lost a seat and could no longer break a filibuster.
But in the end, the election of Republican Scott Brown not only failed to stop reform, but opened the door to a more egalitarian version of health reform passed by majoritarian procedures. Affordable Care is now on the books, yet must be implemented at the national and state level in an intricate process stretching over the next five to ten years. Opponents are calling for repeal — or, failing that, for major changes in spending, regulations, and taxes. Looking forward, and taking for granted a less propitious political environment in Congress, President Obama’s signature health reform seems likely to survive as a legislated framework, but it may experience modifications that will, in the end, make the law less effective at regulating business and health care practices that lead to inexorably higher costs, and less beneficial to lower and middle-income Americans.

Eliminating the Market Middle-Man: Redirecting and Expanding Support for College Students
Suzanne Mettler (Cornell University) evaluates the administration’s initial efforts to broaden access to college. She explains how Obama was able to recalibrate a student-loan system that favored private lenders—by establishing government-issued loans and generous tax tuition credits – yet at the same time lost traction on other initiatives, such as creating guaranteed Pell Grant funding.

The Contest of Lobbies and Disciplines: Finance Politics and Regulatory Reform in the Obama Administration
In July 2010, President Obama signed into law the most far-reaching legislative regulation of the American financial sector since the New Deal. This essay examines the legislative success or failure of the Obama Administration’s various proposals for financial reform, focusing upon five themes: (1) leverage restrictions and capital requirements, (2) restrictions on proprietary trading, (3) regulation of derivatives and swaps, (4) regulation of credit ratings agencies and (5) a consumer financial protection agency. I conclude that substantive and transformative statutory reform was accomplished in most of these areas, though critical proposals were watered down through lobbying, often in ways that eluded the public eye. The legislation leaves numerous decisions and operations for agency regulators to implement; this reflects both a penchant for delegation in the legislation, as well as the centrality of existing agencies as lobbying and framing agents in the politics of financial reform. Post-signing battles over appointments to the consumer protection agency and ongoing adjustments by banks to divorce their proprietary trading operations from their core services may intimate something about the legislation’s likely accomplishments. In perhaps the most subtle but substantial change accomplished in the past two years, reform politics pried open the previously restricted and privileged network of voices, perspectives and officials that participate in the making of American financial policy.

CHANGE THROUGH REGULATION AND ADMINISTRATIVE ACTION

The Unsurprising Failure of Labor Law Reform and the Turn to Administrative Action
This chapter analyzes the most recent attempt at labor law reform during the first two years of the Obama Administration. To account for failure, I argue that several long-term institutional and political obstacles present throughout 20th century American politics including the geographical concentration of labor, the conservative coalition in Congress, combined with antimajoritarian features of the American state, continued to be insurmountable for the labor movement. More short-term factors such as the Obama Administration’s policy sequencing, the role of interest groups, especially the Chamber of Commerce’s intense opposition, organized labor’s strategic choices, and declining public opinion of unions also help explain labor law reform failure in 2009-2010. However, in lieu of the unsurprising failure of labor law reform, President Obama has advanced some labor policy reforms through administrative politics—appointments and rulemaking—with the potential to strengthen unions politically.
Surprising Momentum: Spurring Education Reforms in States and Localities
Lorraine McDonnell (University of California, Santa Barbara) describes the Obama Administration’s K-12 agenda, and places it in the larger context of prior federal and state education policy, including the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (EASA). McDonnell traces the ideas and politics responsible for Obama’s agenda, and shows how stimulus funding—which requires state laws to fall in line with federal priorities—has sped up state-level educational reforms and provided the administration with unprecedented leverage for encouraging shared practices across the states. McDonnell also identifies the future challenges facing education reform.
FAILED BARGAINS AND INTENSIFYING CONFLICT

Obama’s Immigration Reform: A Tough Sell for a Grand Bargain
Immigration reform in the United States typically takes the same form as 1986′s Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA). That is, it creates a “grand bargain” that marries a legalization of millions of illegal immigrants with increased efforts at border control. IRCA failed miserably, and the number of illegal immigrants in the country at that time has grown to nearly 11 million. President Barack Obama, like George W. Bush before him, has sought a similar grand bargain to reform that would offer a plan to legalize the undocumented and increase border enforcement. Obama has not yet delivered for several reasons. The main reason is the negative meanings attached to grand-bargain reform arising from IRCA’s failure that taught opponents to not make more grand bargains, as well as the common view of illegal immigrants as undeserving of aid. There are several other obstacles to reform, including the great number of veto points for opponents to stop a bill, the Republican strategy of total opposition, the Great Recession, and the new front created by states such as Arizona creating their own immigration measures. Chances for reform appear slim but are most likely to increase if reformers move to incremental reform focusing on legalization for undocumented children and/or agricultural workers; if reformers gain more strength from a big push by evangelical groups or big businesses; or the GOP changes its strategy and seeks to back reform to appeal to the growing number of Latino voters. In that case, Obama could win reform even if Republicans take control of a least part of Congress. This would allow both parties to take some credit for immigration reform.

Cold Front: How the Recession Stalled Obama’s Clean-Energy Agenda
Judith Layzer (MIT) analyzes Obama’s attempts to address the looming problem of climate change by promoting a transition to a clean-energy economy. Layzer examines how efforts to pass climate change legislation were undercut by regional economic concerns and exacerbated by the economic recession. Layzer shows how the White House has used administrative tools to circumvent congressional deadlock and further some of the President’s goals in transforming national energy production.

Paying America’s Way: The Fraught Politics of Taxes, Investments, and Budgetary Responsibility
Andrea Louise Campbell (MIT) tracks the fate of Obama’s campaign pledge to return to a more progressive tax code by rolling back the Bush tax cuts for households in the top 5 percent of the income distribution, while increasing taxes on capital gains and dividends. Campbell lays bare the sources of Obama’s failure and anticipates coming debates over the budget deficits and federal tax policy.

Together, these timely and sharply drawn studies provide a vivid overview of the Obama administration’s agenda – and its successes, set-backs, and political reverberations. At a time when journalists, citizens, and analysts are all attempting to understand what is happening in a pivotal and tumultuous period in American politics, Reaching for a New Deal offers telling facts and bracing analysis. These studies deliver close-up examinations of the country’s policy challenges, accompanied by a big-picture understanding of what the first two years of the Obama presidency reveals about possibilities for—and limits on—change in U.S. public policy.

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A jumbled view of illegal immigrants (Los Angeles Times)

The Meg Whitman dustup is a metaphor for Californians’ conflicting views on the issue.

BY CATHLEEN DECKER   OCTOBER 2, 2010

With the tears of a housekeeper who claimed she was wronged by a candidate for governor, the issue of illegal immigration came roaring back into California’s political landscape this week, like a blast of uncomfortable deja vu.

After two news conferences by Republican Meg Whitman and two by her former housekeeper’s attorney, Gloria Allred, voters were left to sort through questions, some of which may be aired in a debate Saturday between the gubernatorial candidates:

Did Whitman do the right thing, or not, when she fired her housekeeper after being told the woman was an undocumented worker? Did she do the wrong thing, or not, by declining to alert immigration authorities? Legalities aside, did she have some sort of moral responsibility to help out a woman whom Whitman herself described as a member of her extended family, or was it appropriate to banish the woman with no further contact after firing her?

The answers may affect Whitman’s campaign for governor, but more broadly the whole emotional, televised, confusing mess was a perfect metaphor for the jumbled and contradictory views that Californians hold on illegal immigration.

The nation has been here before. Several of President Clinton’s early Cabinet choices were derailed because they had either employed illegal immigrants or neglected to pay taxes on them, or both.

California too has revisited similar situations time and again. In 1994, the state fought its way through a debate over Proposition 187, the measure that would have denied most taxpayer-financed government services, including schools, to illegal immigrants. That year, a Senate race between incumbent Dianne Feinstein and Republican challenger Mike Huffington exploded when he was found to have knowingly employed an undocumented nanny. The matter went nuclear because Huffington had argued that he would be tougher than Feinstein on illegal immigrants.

A year later, while preparing to run for president, then-Gov. Pete Wilson was stung by reports that he too had once employed an illegal immigrant as a housekeeper. Wilson, now the campaign chairman for Whitman, had been the chief proponent of Proposition 187. (His presidential campaign whimpered to an early end, for a host of reasons).

Part of the propellant for the 1990s fixation on illegal immigration was economic. The state was reeling from a recession and the shrinking number of military and aerospace jobs and facing a massive budget deficit. Conditions are arguably worse now, but the anger has been focused less on illegal immigrants than on politicians.

California has generally been moving toward greater acceptance of immigrants, even illegal ones. In 1982, the Field Poll found that only 19% of voters thought illegal immigrants had a favorable effect on the state. By this July, 34% felt that way. The proportion of voters who felt illegal immigrants had a negative impact had dropped from 75% to 56%. In 1982, 52% of voters felt illegal immigrants were taking jobs away from legal Californians; by this July, only 34% felt that way.

Some of the movement has come from the demographics of California, which is growing less white by the year. Part of it is sociological: People tend to become more understanding of illegal immigrants when they live with or near them. (The exception: A sudden influx of illegal immigrants or public focus on them tends to increase disapproval, which in part explains Arizona’s recent adoption of strict anti-immigrant measures).

“People who live in more diverse regions tend to be more positive” about illegal immigrants, said Hans Johnson, a demographer with the Public Policy Institute of California. Although he said he did not want to “paint a Pollyanna picture of California … Arizona is now at the forefront of those types of legislation and California is not. Maybe what’s happened is in California, people feel we passed out of those things with some changes in perception and attitudes.”

The shift has been reflected in the race for governor. Both Jerry Brown, the Democratic nominee, and GOP nominee Whitman have, from opposite political poles, genuflected deeply toward the moderate middle. When asked in Tuesday’s debate if he favored a pathway to legalization for illegal immigrants, Brown said yes, with a caveat.

“At the end of the day, we have a couple million people in the shadows and there has to be some process,” Brown said. Yet he added that, as attorney general, he forwarded the fingerprints of those arrested in California to immigration officials for deportation. “If we’re going to work on illegal immigration, let’s start with those who break the law.”

Whitman declined to support a legalization process but still emphasized she was not a 1990s Republican.

“I have been, by the way, I think balanced and very fair about this,” she said. “I have said from the beginning that I was not for Prop. 187. I just didn’t think it was the right thing to take a K-12 primary education away from children, and I also said I didn’t think the Arizona law was right for California.”

Mike Madrid, a GOP strategist who specializes in Latino matters, marveled at the change in rhetoric.

“You certainly wouldn’t have seen a Republican candidate 10 years ago saying that,” he said, noting that Whitman defeated a primary challenger who ran as tougher on illegal immigration. “It would have been more fire and brimstone.”

With the environment changed, the question remains: Will the focus on the housekeeper damage Whitman’s campaign? Many strategists suggested that the facts of the case are blurry enough, and Whitman’s positions moderate enough, that she will avoid the hypocrisy charges that flew at Huffington and Wilson.

The biggest danger, many said, was that voters might accept that she was duped by her housekeeper but also object to how Whitman treated the woman. That too would be completely in line with a populace that can love the illegal immigrant but disdain illegal immigration.

As with many issues, voters want it both ways on immigration, said John Skrentny, director of the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies at UC San Diego. Many want a small government but expansive government programs, he noted, or lower taxes but excellent schools.

“A lot of us have contradictory views on different things,” he said.

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2010 Guardian Study Guide (UCSD’s The Guardian)

BY NEDA SALAMAT  FOCUS EDITOR  
SEPTEMBER 28, 2010

BEST SOCIAL SCIENCES PROFESSOR – John Skrentney

One of the worst things ever invented — clocking in just after Furbies, but before fist-pumping bros — are three-hour classes. After sitting through five grueling courses, I know firsthand how tedious they can be. It takes a special kind of charm to make these gabfests into something students bother attending, but for sociology professor John Skrentny, it’s just another day at the office.

The cards seem to be stacked against him: a three-hour class that runs into the evening, lectures on the sociological nuances of law and a massive room that makes sleeping both inconspicuous and ideal. Instead, the man turned water into wine — he gestured, he chuckled, he paced, he joked. Skrentny’s teaching style is based on the Pied Piper, leading his students to their ideological destination before they even realize they’re following. Skrentny spends class time telling funny stories about his childhood, asking for students’ opinions on current sociological matters and discussing the facets of law. The man has turned teaching into a performance art.

Plenty of people will tell you his classes are easy and — true enough — it is possible to scrape by with minimal studying, which is a testament to his ability to make a complex concept seem simple. Soon, you’ll forget you’ve been watching the Piper play for the past few hours, paralyzed by his teaching finesse and ready to follow his analysis.

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‘Cynical’ policy tacitly encourages illegal immigration (The Orange County Register)

BY RONALD CAMPBELL   SEPTEMBER 14, 2010

SECOND OF FOUR PARTS.

On Nov. 6, 1986, President Ronald Reagan signed the bill that was supposed to end illegal immigration.

Instead, it became one of the biggest public policy failures since Prohibition.

The Immigration Reform and Control Act legalized most of the illegal immigrants then in the United States. To keep others out, it forbade businesses from hiring undocumented workers and threatened those who did with fines.

For a description of the law, see Government Accountability Office, “Foreign Workers: Information on Selected Countries’ Experiences,” September 2006 (GAO-06-1055).

Almost a quarter-century later, the undocumented population has soared from about 500,000 after the amnesty to about 11 million today. The primary reason: the breakdown of worksite enforcement, which Reagan had called “the keystone” of the 1986 law.

“Soared from about 500,000”: The law legalized 2.7 million out of a population estimated in 1986 at 3.2 million; see “Unauthorized Aliens Residing in the United States: Estimates Since 1986,” by Ruth Ellen Wasem, Congressional Research Service, RL33874, Aug. 25, 2009. “… to 11 million”: See “Illegal immigration estimates, 1986-2008,” spreadsheet derived from estimates from Congressional Research Service, Immigration and Naturalization Service, Department of Homeland Security and Pew Hispanic Center. “The keystone”: from Reagan’s signing statement.

“We’ve been running a very cynical policy for the last 15 years,” said Doris Meissner, the government’s top immigration cop from 1993 to 2001. “What we are saying out of one side of our mouth is, ‘We will make it harder for you to cross the border. … But there will be a job for you when you get here.’”

Interview, Doris Meissner, Dec. 17, 2009.

“The ’86 Act was built around this idea of workplace enforcement,” said Meissner’s successor, James Ziglar, who headed the Immigration and Naturalization Service from 2001 through 2003. But when the INS tried to carry out the law, “members of Congress whose districts were affected started to complain. … So it just didn’t get funded.”

Interview, James Ziglar, Feb. 9, 2010.

Over the decades, presidents and Congresses of both parties have chosen other priorities for immigration enforcement – securing the border, deporting people already in jail for violent crimes, preventing illegal immigrants from getting jobs at nuclear plants or airports.

Despite the post-9/11 crackdown, more than 500,000 illegal immigrants entered the country each year between 2000 and 2006. The flow began to ebb only in 2007, when immigrants encountered a much more formidable foe than the Border Patrol: the Great Recession.

“More than 500,000”: “U.S. Unauthorized Immigration Flows Are Down Sharply Since Mid-Decade” by Jeffrey S. Passel and D’Vera Cohn, Pew Hispanic Center, Sept. 1, 2010. Also see “Illegal immigration estimates, 1986-2008,” Register compilation of estimates by Department of Homeland Security, Congressional Research Service, Pew Hispanic Center and others. The illegal immigrant population rose from about 8 million in 2000 to about 12 million in 2007 before declining to 11.1 million in 2009. Pew, which does the most widely cited studies of illegal immigration, estimates the annual inflow at 850,000 from March 2000 through March 2005, 550,000 from March 2005 through March 2007 and 300,000 from March 2007 through March 2009.

Federal immigration policies largely ignore the millions already here and almost entirely ignore the reason they illegally crossed the border or overstayed their visas: jobs.

The Obama administration, like the Bush and Clinton administrations before it, has focused on the border and on immigrants who break non-immigration laws.

In testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee in May 2009, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, the former governor of Arizona, said, “A scattershot approach where DHS targets any and all of the around 12 million people in the United States illegally does not amount to an approach that maximizes public safety.”

Testimony of Secretary Napolitano before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, May 6, 2009.

These policies have contributed to California’s growing dependence on immigrant labor. Some 1.75 million California workers, one of every 11, is here illegally.

“One of every 11”: 1.75 million unauthorized workers in a work force of 19 million, or 9.3 percent. See Passel and Cohn, “U.S. Unauthorized Immigration Flows Are Down Sharply Since Mid-Decade,” Sept. 1, 2010. Their estimate of the total work force is about 500,000 more than the Census Bureau estimate used in these stories. See also “A Portrait of Unauthorized Immigrants in the United States” by Jeffrey S. Passel and D’Vera Cohn, Pew Hispanic Center, April 14, 2009.

“What you observe in the data is not like the weather,” said Steven Camarota of the Center for Immigration Studies, a group that favors restrictions on immigration. “It’s the result of policy choices.”

Interview, Steven Camarota, Nov. 18, 2009.

‘CLOSING THE BACK DOOR’

Illegal immigration became a hot issue in the early 1970s when labor unions persuaded House Judiciary Chairman Peter Rodino, D-N.J., to introduce a bill to fine employers who hired illegal immigrants. It went nowhere.

“Declining Enforcement of Employer Sanctions” by Peter Brownell, Migration Policy Institute, Sept. 1, 2005.

In 1981, a presidential commission on immigration, headed by Notre Dame University President Father Theodore Hesburgh, recommended employer sanctions as a means of “closing the back door to illegal/undocumented immigration, (and) opening the front door a little more.”

Cited in “DHS and Immigration: Taking Stock and Correcting Course,” by Doris Meissner and Donald Kerwin, Migration Policy Institute, February 2009.

After several tries, Congress passed a compromise bill containing employer sanctions in late 1986.

The new law scrapped a 1952-vintage loophole that had allowed employers to hire illegal immigrants for jobs those workers legally could not hold.

But the sanctions contained in the 1986 law were, by design, weak. Congress set the fines low and the government’s burden of proof high: Businesses had to “knowingly employ” illegal immigrants.

Business and civil rights groups had objected to employer sanctions, Meissner recalled. If the provisions had been any tougher, the bill would have died.

Workplace arrests of undocumented immigrants plunged 85 percent in the first full year after the passage of the 1986 law. They slowly recovered, peaking at 17,552 in 1997, midway through Meissner’s eight-year tenure as INS commissioner under President Clinton. Then they fell again.

In 2008, one of the bigger years for worksite enforcement, the odds of an undocumented immigrant getting busted on the job were about 1 in 1,300.

The maximum fine for a business that “knowingly employs” undocumented workers is $11,000, a fraction of the amount charged in other countries. In Germany, for example, the maximum fine is 500,000 euros ($640,000).

But the potential amount hardly matters because few employers are fined or even threatened with a fine. In 1992, the INS issued a record-high 1,461 notices of intent to levy a fine. In 2009, it issued just 172 such notices.

PLAYING IMMIGRATION COP

From the start, worksite enforcement has been unpopular with employers. It requires a boss to play immigration cop, sorting through as many as 26 forms of identification to spot the fakes.

Some employers ignore the requirement or pay it little mind. Mariela, a 28-year-old illegal immigrant and Highland resident who speaks unaccented English, got her first job at a restaurant without showing any identification. Her current employer accepted a photocopy of a crudely forged Social Security card.

Illegal immigrants surveyed by retired UC San Diego political scientist Wayne Cornelius and his students said that while most employers asked for identification, almost half of the employers knew they were unauthorized and another 11 percent probably knew.

Raids and audits are rare, but the consequences for the employer can be devastating.

After an audit of employee documents in the early 1990s, immigration authorities told Poway landscaper John Mohns to dismiss 50 of his 150 employees – “really good guys that we had put a lot of effort into training.” But his ex-employees were not deported. Instead, Mohns said, most of them “went down the street and got a job with my competitors.”

An Immigration and Customs Enforcement raid at six Swift & Co. meatpacking plants on Dec. 12, 2006, resulted in the arrest of 1,300 Swift employees and cost the company $30 million, Swift Vice President John Shandley testified.

Swift had been participating since 1997 in E-Verify, the federal government’s voluntary Web-based program for confirming that workers were legal. Every one of the arrested Swift workers had passed an E-Verify check.

“Simply put,” Shandley testified four months after the raid, “a company cannot legally and practically do more than we have done to ensure the legal workforce under the current regulations and tools available from the government.”

POLITICAL ‘THIRD RAIL’

No wonder then that Meissner calls worksite enforcement “a bit of a third rail” or that her successor, Ziglar, says that “nobody wanted to touch it.”

In 1999, responding to pressure from Midwestern congressmen, Meissner told top INS career official Mark Reed to find a way to drive undocumented immigrants out of Nebraska. Reed sent meatpacking plants letters identifying thousands of workers whose employment documents did not match federal databases.

As a result, “3,500 people fled the state of Nebraska,” Reed said. “Two weeks later, all those people (who had urged action) kicked me out of their state for ruining the economy.”

Ziglar, the INS commissioner from 2001 until 2003 when it was dissolved into the Department of Homeland Security, had no better luck making worksite enforcement politically palatable.

He remembers watching a congressman on television complaining about lax INS enforcement.

“I was literally watching it on TV and a spokesman brought in a letter he had sent” complaining that INS raids were hurting the harvest in his district, Ziglar recalled. He wouldn’t identify the congressman but said that he was a fellow Republican.

BORDER WAR

Instead of funding worksite enforcement, Congress poured money into border enforcement. And funds have continued flowing in ever-larger amounts since 1993, even as the undocumented population nearly tripled.

In 2003, UC San Diego economist Gordon H. Hanson calculated, the federal government devoted 53 times more man-hours to the border than it did to worksite enforcement.

In 2009, the Department of Homeland Security budgeted $126.5 million for worksite enforcement and 27.8 times more – $3.5 billion – for the Border Patrol. DHS spent more money training the workers who X-ray luggage at airports than it did on worksite enforcement.

Even within the agency that enforces immigration laws inside the borders, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, worksite enforcement is a stepchild. In 2009, the agency devoted just 5 percent of its man-hours to worksite enforcement.

The Border Patrol had 3,200 officers when the 1986 act passed and 4,000 when Bill Clinton became president in 1993. By the time he left office, it had more than doubled to 9,200 agents. Under President George W. Bush, it doubled again, to 17,500.

Last year, under President Barack Obama, it had 20,000 agents – far more than the FBI.

In addition to expanding the Border Patrol, Congress in 2006 authorized a high-tech border fence to discourage illegal immigrants from crossing the 2,000-mile frontier with Mexico. Average cost per mile: $2.91 million.

For all the billions spent and the thousands hired, it is unclear whether the border crackdown has worked.

At least a third of illegal immigrants walked right by border guards. They entered legally and overstayed their visas. Despite more than a decade of effort, the government is still struggling to track the comings and goings of tens of millions of foreign visitors.

The undocumented population, about 4.5 million when the border crackdown began in 1993, swelled to 12 million in 2007. It declined to 11.1 million in 2009, the first drop in decades.

The Bush and Obama administrations have claimed partial credit for the drop. But it also coincided with the deepest recession in 75 years.

The Great Recession has hit illegal immigrants particularly hard, giving prospective immigrants reason to stay home. Federal Reserve economist Pia Orrenius reported last year that immigrants are especially vulnerable to a downturn because they are less educated than other workers and more likely to work in construction or other recession-sensitive jobs.

While the recession has discouraged prospective immigrants and caused 1 million immigrants to leave, millions more are waiting it out.

One of them is Luciano, an illegal immigrant who welds iron doors and window frames in Anaheim. During the boom, he worked 45 hours a week. He now works 15 hours a week. He stays, he says, because of his daughters, both born in the U.S. “We want the girls to have a better future.”

BOON FOR COYOTES

Surveys of illegal immigrants by Cornelius, the UC San Diego political scientist, have showed consistently that most immigrants make it past the Border Patrol. Although about 45 percent are caught at least once, 97 percent eventually succeed.

The buildup on the border has made one big difference, however: It has forced immigrants to rely on immigrant smugglers, known along the border as “coyotes.” Coyote fees have risen nearly in lockstep with Border Patrol staffing. A one-way trip that cost $500 when the 1986 law was passed and $722 when the border campaign began in 1993 cost $2,848 in 2008.

Here’s another way of looking at it. In 2007, when taxpayers spent $2.3 billion on the Border Patrol, coyotes collected perhaps $800 million to sneak immigrants past the guards.

Hard evidence is scarce, but rising coyote fees might force undocumented immigrants to stay put rather than go back and forth between the U.S. and Mexico. In a 2001 study, Cornelius wrote that by driving up coyote costs, the government might be “keeping more unauthorized migrants in the United States than it is keeping out.”

Luciano’s wife, Martha, last visited Mexico in 2000. She was caught on her first attempt to return north and took a “very rough” trek through the desert to finally make it home to Orange County. She has not dared go south again, not even to see her grandson born in late 2009.

“We empowered alien smugglers,” said Reed, the former top INS official. “Now they (immigrants) have to bring their families with them because they can’t go back and forth. … It will be worse tomorrow than it is today.”45

E-VERIFY BLUES

“The border is really symbolism,” said Tamar Jacoby, president of ImmigrationWorks USA, a business-backed group that lobbies for expanded immigration. “It’s in the workplace that it has to happen.”

Interview, Tamar Jacoby, Sept. 24, 2009.

If she is correct, the future of worksite enforcement rests with E-Verify. But despite 14 years in development, E-Verify has yet to deliver on its promise: a simple, near-instant way for employers to make sure their workers are legal.

Congress mandated the Basic Pilot, predecessor of E-Verify, in the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996. Basic Pilot was one of three electronic verification pilots authorized by the 1996 law; the other two were dropped in 2003. See “Immigration Enforcement: Preliminary Observations on Employment Verification and Worksite Enforcement Efforts,” Government Accountability Office, June 21, 2005 (GAO-05-822T).

E-Verify was designed to combat the use of fake documents, a problem since the beginning of worksite enforcement. But while E-Verify can detect document fraud, it cannot detect identity fraud – the use of real documents borrowed or stolen from legal workers.

E-Verify cannot detect identity fraud: “Findings of the E-Verify Program Evaluation,” Westat, December 2009.

The result: Undocumented workers more likely than not will get a pass from E-Verify. That was among the findings of the most recent review of the program by the government’s social science consultant, Westat. The consultant found that 54 percent of the time E-Verify wrongly says that an undocumented worker is eligible for a job.

Westat, “Findings of the E-Verify Program Evaluation,” December 2009.

E-Verify also wrongly tries to deny jobs to naturalized citizens. The system issues false warnings that a particular worker is not authorized 1 percent of the time. But naturalized citizens, who are legally equal to native-born Americans, are 32 times more likely than natives to get a false warning, requiring them to prove the U.S. government wrong or lose their jobs.

Westat, “Findings of the E-Verify Program Evaluation,” December 2009.

The agency that runs E-Verify, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, said in response to the Westat report that E-Verify “accurately detects the status of unauthorized workers almost half the time” and is “much more effective” than hand-checking documents, as most employers do. The agency also is making it easier for naturalized citizens to challenge false warnings.

“Westat Evaluation of the E-Verify Program: USCIS Synopsis of Key Findings and Program Implications,” USCIS, Jan. 28, 2010.

About 780,000 of the nation’s 7.7 million workplaces use E-Verify. Legislation to mandate E-Verify for all hires is pending in Congress.

“780,000”: This is the number of offices, including branch offices, using E-Verify; e-mail from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services spokeswoman Mariana Gitomer, Aug. 30, 2010. Between Oct. 1, 2009, and Aug. 14, 2010, 14 million prospective employees were run through the system. “7.7 million”: This is the most recent number of business “establishments,” a term that includes branch offices and thus is comparable to the E-Verify number; from U.S. Economic Census, 2007. “Legislation to mandate E-Verify”: HR 2028 by Rep. Sam Johnson, R-Texas, and HR 2083 by Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif. Broader immigration reform bills, including the outline released by Senate Democrats in May, also mandate E-Verify.

Reed, the former INS official, is skeptical about E-Verify. It was very good at spotting fake green cards, he said, but “it’s got a huge blind spot” for undocumented immigrants who claim to be citizens.

Interview, Mark Reed, Sept. 24, 2009.

He places more hope in the Obama administration’s strategy of auditing employment documents at businesses suspected of hiring unauthorized workers.

In July 2009, ICE issued 652 audit notices – more than it had issued in the entire previous year. It announced 1,000 more audits last Nov. 19.

“In July 2009”: ICE media release. “Nov. 19”: ICE media release. ICE does not have an estimate of the annual number of audits it has conducted; in its July 27, 2010, reply to a Freedom of Information Act request from the Register, the agency said it does not centrally track the number of audits.

By using audits instead of raids, Reed explained, “One agent can go after 300 companies rather than 300 agents go after one. … Now they’ve got some real economies built into this thing. They’ve got a nuclear bomb now.”

The question, he added, is whether they’ll use it.

View the article »

Illegal immigration drops (The San Bernardino Sun)

Jose Zapata Calderon, a professor of sociology and Chicano studies at Pitzer College in Claremont, pointed to research out of the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies at UC San Diego that found fewer immigrants wanted to cross the border last year, because jobs are scarce.


BY JOSH DULANEY   SEPTEMBER 11, 2010

SAN BERNARDINO – Gerry Gates is a concrete contractor who has seen his fair share of illegal immigrants looking for work in front of home improvement stores.

But their numbers are thinning, he said Friday as he loaded parts and equipment into his truck outside a Lowe’s store on North Hallmark Parkway.

“It doesn’t seem like there’s as many guys,” Gates said.

A study released this month by the Pew Hispanic Center might bear that out.

The annual number of illegal immigrants coming into the U.S. was nearly two-thirds smaller from March 2007 to March 2009, than it had been from March 2000 to March 2005, according to estimates by the center.

That has translated into an overall reduction of 8 percent in the number of illegal immigrants living in the U.S., to 11.1 million in March 2009 from a peak of 12million in March 2007, according to the estimates.

Researchers said the numbers represent the first significant reversal in the population growth of illegal immigrants over the past two decades.

Those who assist them said the numbers show that illegal immigrants are hard-working people who are looking for jobs, but they can’t find jobs in what some say is the worst economy since the Great Depression.

“It’s not that immigrants or Mexicans want to take over the United States, like some of the arguments we hear on the other side from the Minutemen and the Tea Party,” said Emilio Amaya, director of the San Bernardino Community Service Center. “Immigration is tied to jobs.”

According to the Pew center’s estimates, California had the largest number of illegal immigrants in the 2009 labor force, with 1.8 million.

The illegal immigrant population was 9.3 percent of the labor force in California, which was a larger share of the labor force in any state except Nevada, which stood at 9.4 percent.

While Gates isn’t seeing as many immigrants in Home Depot parking lots, Amaya is seeing fewer in his office.

He said his group is dealing with a 20 percent decline in clients over the last two years.

“Last year was very difficult,” he said. “Our services are tied to the communities we serve, and we are noticing a huge decrease in services and donations from the community.”

Some, armed with their own anecdotes, dismiss the findings, saying the Pew Hispanic Center is pushing agenda-driven research.

“I don’t believe anything they say,” said Rick Oltman, spokesman for Californians for Population Stabilization. “I talk to the Border Patrol agents and rangers on the border, and they’re basically seeing the same ebb and flow of (illegal immigrants) as they were before.” Oltman said the research demonstrates an open-borders bias that seeks to change and deflect the immigration debate.

“If the government knew what the number was and the word got out, you would have more than 70 percent (of Americans) supporting the Arizona law,” he said.

Others disagree, saying the center’s findings are consistent with other research.

Jose Zapata Calderon, a professor of sociology and Chicano studies at Pitzer College in Claremont, pointed to research out of the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies at UC San Diego that found fewer immigrants wanted to cross the border last year, because jobs are scarce.

“What comes into play is the economic crisis that began in 2007,” Calderon said. “They don’t leave their country just out of wanting to. They leave because of the lack of jobs and the lack of security in terms of survival.”

Calderon said because of that, all the tough talk on border security is meaningless.

“Migration patterns will not significantly change with domestic immigration policies,” he said. “A long-term solution is really putting pressure on those companies (in other countries) who are not paying these workers very much, and that is something that the trade agreements have not addressed in the past.”

Amaya said stepped-up enforcement is having at least one counter effect.

“People decide to stay here,” he said. “They bring their own families because they are not able to go back. In the past, I would see these people come to the United States, work three to six months, go back, then (return) in a year. Now they bring everybody.”

Download: Pew Study

Read the Article »

Immigration and California (The Orange County Register)

The Orange County Register has released the first two parts of a four part series which looks at Immigration and California.  Director Emeritus Wayne Cornelius was referenced in Part 2 of the series as shown below.


Immigration and California: The series at a glance »

Part 1: California’s addiction to immigrant labor »

California relies more on immigrant labor than any other state and almost any developed country. That’s the result of decades-long economic and demographic shifts as well as political choices.

Part2: ‘Cynical’ policy tacitly encourages illegal immigration »

More than 10 million undocumented immigrants have moved to the United States since Congress vowed a crackdown in 1986. A key reason: the government’s failure to lock them out of jobs.

Illegal immigrants surveyed by retired UC San Diego political scientist Wayne Cornelius and his students said that while most employers asked for identification, almost half of the employers knew they were unauthorized and another 11 percent probably knew.

“Current Migration Trends from Mexico: What Are the Impacts of the Economic Crisis and U.S. Enforcement Strategy?”, by Wayne Cornelius, UCSD Center for Comparative Immigration Studies, presented to congressional staff June 8, 2009. Copy provided by Cornelius to the Register. “Almost half”: 49.6 percent, according to the survey of illegal immigrants.

Part 3: Who wins, loses from mass immigration to California? »

Immigrants have driven down wages in low-skilled trades. But they’ve made life easier for middle- and upper-income Californians.

Part 4: Immigration reform: Touching the third rail of U.S. politics»

Changing U.S. immigration policy means grappling with polarizing choices – like amnesty and a national ID card.

Few Nations Give Guarantees Like 14th Amendment (NPR)

CCIS Director John Skrentny was interviewed on NPR’s All Things Considered.


 

TRANSCRIPT:

GUY RAZ, host:

Now, many opponents of so-called birthright citizenship point to other western countries where birth doesn’t equal citizenship. And as U.C. San Diego sociologist John Skrentny points out, not a single European country allows it.

Dr. JOHN SKRENTNY (Co-Director, Center for Comparative Immigration Studies; Sociologist, University of California, San Diego): We’re an anomaly in many ways. And the ease with which one can be a citizen is one of them, which is not to say that there’s no other countries in the world that have citizenship laws that are similar to ours.

On the one hand, there are what are called ethnic nations. Ethnic nations tend to have what are called jus sanguinis citizenship laws. And you can tell from the words sanguinis, there’s this notion of blood there.

RAZ: Blood.

Dr. SKRENTNY: Yeah, if you know Spanish at all, sangre. And the idea there is that the nation, the people are bonded together through ancestry. That is the most common conception of nationhood or peoplehood in the world.

The other notion of nationhood is generally understood as a civic notion of nationhood. And this is the idea that folks are bonded together by where they are, by locality and by the ideas that they might share. And that’s what we have in the United States. There are folks who say that, you know, to be an American is to embrace an idea.

RAZ: If legal scholars who supported this idea of either changing the 14th Amendment or passing a statute that would end automatic citizenship by birth, if they were looking for precedents, they might look overseas. There are many countries that have passed laws in recent years that, you know, effectively deny automatic citizenship to people born in those countries.

Australia did it in 2007, New Zealand in 2006, Ireland in 2005. Why couldn’t that be done in this country?

Dr. SKRENTNY: Well, the difference is numbers. The United States receives more immigrants than any other country in the world. Throughout the 1990s, we were receiving between 700,000 and a million new immigrants a year. About a third of those were undocumented.

And so if you are not going to grant birthright citizenship to the children of undocumented immigrants here, you’re going to have just a much larger number of folks who are effectively stateless, who don’t have any country to call home, who it’s not obvious where you would deport them.

The likelihood is that many of them would end up staying, and the likelihood is that they wouldn’t have access to rights in the United States. They would be excluded from different programs. And for many Americans, they might look at that situation and say, is this the kind of country that we want to be?

RAZ: John Skrentny, let’s imagine for a moment that the 14th Amendment does get repealed. Do you think it would have a dramatic impact on illegal immigration in this country? Do you think you would see the numbers of illegal immigrants drop?

Dr. SKRENTNY: No, I don’t think so at all. And, again, the experience of Europe is helpful here. Europe is becoming a very diverse place. And you hear on the news, you know, increasing numbers of Muslim populations there and non-white populations in Europe. A lot of that happened in the 1950s and 1960s when European states were bringing on guest workers who were supposed to just stay for a few years, many of them brought their kids. And when they brought their kids, they tended to stay.

And in the United States, we have a similar situation. Most – the vast majority of the migrants who come here are coming for economic reasons. They bring their kids because they want to be with their kids because they love them. They’re not making rational, long-term calculations on this as much as they are just short-term trying to get by.

RAZ: That’s John Skrentny. He is the co-director of the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies and a professor of sociology at the University of California in San Diego.

John Skrentny, thank you so much.

Dr. SKRENTNY: Thank you.

View the Interview »

Staying Put: One Man’s Thoughts On Crossing The Border 36 Years Later (KPBS)

BY AMY ISACKSON   JULY 22, 2010  

Despite the economic downturn, the desire to work and live in the U.S. continues to drive migrants north. As part of our Envision series “Crossing the Line: Border Stories,” we bring you the story of one man who understands that desire well.

Rogelio Mendez comes from the village of Tlacotepec in Oaxaca. It’s about 1,700 miles south of San Diego, nestled in the Sierra Madre mountains.

Rogelio_t250
Rogelio Mendez is from Tlacotepec, a Oaxacan village that has a long history of migration to San Diego County. Mendez is working on an irrigation project in Tlacotepec that he hopes will create jobs, because he doesn’t want more people from his village to have to risk their lives crossing the border. (Photo by Julien Pearce)

Many people there speak the indigenous language Mixtec. Half the homes have dirt floors. But many of the cars have California license plates. And, like other villages dotted around Oaxaca, people can rattle off the names of freeway exits in San Diego.

That’s because, for the last 70 years, men like Rogelio Mendez have headed north to San Diego to find jobs. “We’re the kids
of an ex-bracero. They told us that in the United States the
dollar was worth something, more than the Mexican peso,
” says Mendez.

Mendez sits in a wooden chair in the living room of the small pink stucco home he rents in Spring Valley, and travels back in his mind to that first border crossing.

“It was 1974, when I was really young. My cousin brought me and my dad and big brother. We found my cousin’s relatives in Colonia Libertad in Tijuana. One of the kids helped us cross,” recalls Mendez.

In those days, there was barely a fence. “There was barbed wire. There were a few fence panels, but there were a lot of holes,” says Mendez.

There weren’t motion sensors or infrared cameras like there are these days. “The Border Patrol wasn’t so strict. You could cross where you wanted to,” muses Mendez.

Mendez, his dad and his brother eventually landed work in the fields in California. “We didn’t have money or food. We ate tomatoes and a plant we recognized from Oaxaca for three weeks, until our first check arrived,” he says.

DSC_0173_t250
Tijuana’s Colonia Libertad neighborhood butts up against the border fence. This is where Rogelio Mendez first crossed the border illegally in 1974. He says then you could cross where you wanted to. (Photo by Julien Pearce)

They lived in a canyon. When the picking season ended, they went back to Mexico.

Mendez repeated this pattern for a dozen years.

His brother taught him how to do roofing and his wages went up.

In 1986, along with nearly three million other illegal immigrants, Mendez earned residency in the United States under the immigration reform act.

Mendez went through ups and downs, but he was able to work most of the time. He says, “We were able to send home four or five-hundred dollars a month. I built a house in
Oaxaca.”




Mendez brought his family to San Diego.

In 2004, 30 years after he first crossed the border, he bought a home here. Many of his friends and family from Oaxaca did, too. “We all bought. Then we all lost. I think we are in the worst crisis in the United States,” laments Mendez.

The economic crisis is visible on street corners across San Diego County, like this one in Vista. Men read the newspaper and tap their toes as they wait for someone to drive by and offer them work. The men say some days eight hours pass and they still don’t get jobs.

Jorge Ruiz has picked up work on North County street corners for 20 years. He also earned his residency with immigration reform in 1986.

He says he used to earn $20 to $30 an hour. Now, it’s $8. He hasn’t worked in two weeks.

“A lot of the time, you just have to endure the hunger. It’s tremendous suffering. I don’t have anything. And the family in Mexico, they say, hey, what about your kids here and paying for their school? But, I haven’t worked. I’m living out in a field,” says Ruiz.

He says many of his friends who can’t make rent anymore moved back into the canyons.

Mendez says, even so, it’s still more attractive to stay here than go back to Mexico. “Many people don’t leave because their kids were born here. Even if they’re just working once or twice a week, they can dress them. If they go south, there’s no work,” he says.

UCSD Professor Wayne Cornelius studied migration in the small Oaxacan village where Mendez is from.

He says people there and in villages throughout Mexico have been hit by the economic downturn in the U.S. and Mexico. “It’s been far more severe in Mexico than it has been in the United States. So it’s required a great deal of ingenuity to ride this out on both sides of the border,” says Cornelius.

Mendez says he has an idea.

He’s working on plans, with three San Diego engineers, to tap into underground aquifers in his village back home to irrigate hundreds of acres of arable land.

“A big water project like that will need machines and workers. We’ll create work. And why will they come here if they have work there?” questions Mendez.

He says a reliable water source will grow new crops and new life in the village.

Wayne Cornelius says that might provide an incentive for older people to stay put. But for 17-year-olds raised on the idea that they’ll go north, farming doesn’t compete with the possibility of, say, an iPhone in the U.S.

View the article »

The Border’s Bottom Line (KPBS)

BY JOANNE FARYON   JULY 20, 2010
 

What are the true costs of illegal immigration in California? KPBS Reporter Joanne Faryon brings us a report on the financial implications of the state’s large illegal immigrant population.

SAN DIEGO — Three million unauthorized immigrants live here in California. The statistics raise an important economic question – just what are the financial implications of such a large undocumented population?

It’s a question Martha Torkington asks herself often. She owns a horse ranch in the south westerly edge of San Diego County.

“You can look up on the hillside and see the tracks. They look almost like water tracks but they are human tracks coming down,” Torkington says, pointing to the faded yellow tracks that traverse down the hillside across from her property.

border_fence_tx700
Border Patrol at the fence which separates the U.S. from Mexico in southwest San Diego County. (Photo by Julien Pearce)

On the other side of the hill is Mexico. Torkington has seen her share of unauthorized immigration trickle past this hillside.

“The ones who do want to come in and contribute and participate in the United States, we want them. The other side is we don’t want to support them. It’s tough. It’s a tough situation.”

Just whether unauthorized immigrants cost more than they contribute is a complicated question.

“Immigration most sociologists will tell you have short term costs but long term benefits,” says John Skrentny, a UCSD sociology professor and director of The Center for Comparative Immigration Studies.

“The fiscal impact tends to be positive for the federal government and negative for localities and states,” Skrentny says.

A few years ago the Congressional Budget Office looked at the various studies of the financial impacts of unauthorized immigrants to state and local budgets.

Their report looked at health care, law enforcement, and education.

About two million school age children in the U.S. are unauthorized immigrants. By law, all children have access to public school regardless of their immigration status. Studies estimate it costs between 20 and 40 percent more to teach kids who are not fluent in English.

Richard Barrera is president of the San Diego Unified School district. He says the benefits of educating all kids far outweigh the costs.

“We realize that every kid we educate is going to be a contributor to our community and our country. We all benefit when we educated children. “

Many of the financial impact studies conclude that at the local and state level, the cost of providing education, health care and law enforcement cost more then unauthorized immigrants pay in taxes. Especially here in California, the state with the greatest number of unauthorized immigrants. However, at the federal level, and over the long-run, it’s a different story.

”It would be different if were getting waves of undocumented elderly who would come here and impose immediately all kinds of costs on the health care system and they wouldn’t be working and they wouldn’t be generating much tax revenue they wouldn’t be generating much wealth that would be a different story,” Skrentny says.

Studies also show half of all unauthorized immigrants file income tax returns and many pay sales and property taxes.

Richard Barrera believes the debate over the cost of unauthorized immigration is being fueled by bad economic times and politicians offering easy answers to complex problems.

“They want an easy answer and they want to be able to say if we only took a group and their families and we rounded them up and took them back across the border, that our lives would get easier.”

Martha Torkington points to a black knit cap she sees on the hillside as she tours a journalist along the hills separating the U.S. from Mexico.

martha_points_t250
Martha Torkington points to tracks on the hillside across from her property. (Photo by Julien Pearce)

“That’s a perfect example of a piece of clothing you’ll see on the trails that they follow,” Torkington says.

The cap is a hallmark of an illegal trek made in the dark – migrants wear black to cross in the night and then discard their clothes for more “American-looking” clothes, Torkington says.

There are also two U.S. Border Patrol trucks making their way through the hills and a series of lights that almost make the hillside look like a ballpark.

It turns out one of the largest and most tangible costs of unauthorized immigration is right here in front of Martha Torkington’s property.

It is the cost of keeping undocumented migrants from
jumping the fence and crossing over this hill.

This year the U.S. Border Patrol will spend $3.6 billion patrolling the country’s borders — almost triple the amount spent 10 years ago.

View the article »

Immigrant cycle familiar to United States (Arizona Republic)

BY ALIA BEARD RAU   JULY 3, 2010

When it comes to immigration, the United States has come full circle . . . again.

As Arizona’s new immigration law pushes the issue into the national spotlight, decades-old arguments over government policy, economic needs and human rights are being raised in a politicized confrontation over what it means to be an American.

On one side, many fear illegal immigrants are taking their jobs, spreading violence and changing American culture. On the other side, many believe the tide of opposition will result in discrimination, racial profiling and the denial of constitutional rights.

As with previous immigrant waves, a chorus is rising among many citizens that something must be done. Politicians are responding with new laws. Immigrants are leaving.

Throughout America’s history, this pattern has repeated over and over: There’s a need for immigrant labor; immigrants arrive; residents become fearful; laws are passed trying to stem the flow or make life difficult enough that the immigrants will leave; immigrants leave; there’s a need for labor.

Historians say the cycle can be seen with the arrival of Irish immigrants starting in the 1820s, Chinese in the late 1870s, Germans and Italians at the start of the 1900s and Mexicans over the past 100 years.

“We go through it every 20 years or so,” said Arizona State University Mexican history professor Jaime Aguila. “It leads to a massive debate about what it means to be a U.S. citizen and what it means to contribute to the economy of the United States.”

John Skrentny, director of the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies at the University of California-San Diego, said the unique characteristics of this latest wave – the increased impact on taxpayers and larger number of illegal immigrants – haven’t changed the cycle of response or the rhetoric.

Benjamin Franklin criticized Germans who lived among themselves, did not speak English or adopt American customs, Skrentny said.

“You hear that almost exact line of argument today,” he said.

Arizona’s responses to illegal immigration have included passing Senate Bill 1070, making English the official language, pushing for more border enforcement and requiring employers to verify employees’ legal status. The goal, SB 1070 authors have said, is to deter illegal immigrants from wanting to be in Arizona.

That goal is echoed in many of the laws passed by state and federal governments over the past nearly 200 years.

1820 to 1879

The first major immigration wave since the United States became a nation started in the 1820s and lasted until a recession in the late 1870s. The wave brought about 7.5 million immigrants, primarily from northern and western Europe. Specifically, about a third of those were Irish fleeing that country’s potato famine.

America, still booming from the Industrial Revolution, offered opportunity.

“When we look at history, you see that immigration goes up in times of economic prosperity and down when the economy is not doing so well,” said Michele Waslin, senior policy analyst with the Washington, D.C.-based Immigration Policy Center. The influx spurred opposition from many citizens, who said Irish immigrants were taking Americans’ jobs and opposed the immigrants’ religion. Politicians demanded laws to make it harder for foreigners to become U.S. citizens.

In 1875, the U.S. passed its first restrictive immigration law. It prevented prostitutes and convicts from entering the country.

“Throughout history, it is the laws that really define who is legal and who is illegal,” Waslin said. “At different parts of U.S. history, different groups have been illegal depending on what law there was at the time.”

1880 to 1929

The second wave of immigration spanned the 1880s to the early 1920s, falling off drastically during the Great Depression. It brought more than 23 million immigrants, primarily from southern and western Europe.

The majority were from Germany early in the wave and Italy later. Germans were seeking religious freedom and available farmland, while Italians were fleeing overcrowding, low wages and high taxes.

Also during this period, there was an influx of Chinese workers in search of available jobs building the transcontinental railroad.

“Chinese were coming here, and a lot of Americans were feeling threatened by them economically,” Skrentny said.

He said Chinese were barred from certain types of jobs, so particularly in California, many started laundries.

“In San Francisco, people started to feel uncomfortable that all the laundromats were owned by Chinese people, and so they passed a law that said laundromats couldn’t be made out of wood . . . and then began enforcing this law only on Chinese people,” he said.

At the time, nearly all laundries were made of wood.

The 1880 ordinance was deemed unconstitutional in 1886 by the U.S. Supreme Court, but there were several other state and federal laws passed during this time that also targeted immigrants of Asian descent.

In 1882, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, which prohibited Chinese laborers from coming to the U.S. It wasn’t repealed until 1943.

In 1913, California passed the Alien Land Law, which prevented Chinese, Japanese and Korean immigrants from owning property. Ten other states followed with similar laws over the next decade. In 1952, the California Supreme Court ruled the law unconstitutional.

In 1917, Congress began requiring immigrants to take a literacy test and barred people living in most of eastern Asia and the Pacific islands from immigrating to the U.S. These also were later abolished.

Aguila said Mexican immigration was encouraged during this period, mainly because farmers needed laborers to fill the vacancies left by the men who were serving in World War I as well as the decline in Chinese laborers as a result of restrictive laws.

“The belief was that Mexicans were more suited to do agricultural labor than Chinese because Mexicans would come in as migrant labor and once the work was over, they would go back,” Aguila said.

Job opportunities resulted in an increase in immigrants from Mexico, and resentment toward Mexicans began to develop.

The U.S. Border Patrol was created in 1924 to help prevent illegal entry across the Mexican and Canadian borders.

1930 to 1964

During the Great Depression between 1929 and about 1939, there was enormous public outcry that Mexican immigrants were taking jobs unemployed Americans needed.

“That caused a huge backlash with people who felt that Mexicans were overrunning their neighborhoods. . . . They were scapegoated as occupying jobs,” Texas Tech University history professor Miguel Levario said.

The response was a joint local and federal effort called the Mexican Repatriation, which lasted throughout the 1930s. It included raids, roundups and the denial of jobs to Mexicans. As with Arizona’s SB 1070, the goal was two-pronged: to enforce the laws and use them as a deterrent to persuade immigrants to leave on their own.

Either forcibly or on their own, hundreds of thousands of immigrants from Michigan to California returned to Mexico. Some who were forced out were U.S. citizens, though the exact number is unknown. “It didn’t do anything to alleviate unemployment,” Levario said.

He said the effort ended when farmers, employers and housewives began complaining that they were losing workers.

World War II again created a need for labor to fill jobs left by military personnel.

From 1942 through 1964, Mexican nationals were allowed to come to the U.S. through a temporary-worker program called the Bracero Program.

“By then, there are over a million Mexicans a year coming to the U.S. to work both illegally and legally,” Aguila said.

In 1954, the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service decided it needed to do something to stop the increased inflow of illegal immigrants and started what it called “Operation Wetback” to try to deport Mexican nationals. Modeled after the Mexican Repatriation, it involved a joint effort of local and federal law enforcement in California and Arizona.

Efforts included sweeps of Mexican-American neighborhoods and random stops and identification checks of individuals who looked Mexican. Again, there were cases of U.S. citizens being deported along with illegal immigrants.

To discourage re-entry, deportees were taken to central and southern Mexico before being released.

In all, hundreds of thousands were returned to Mexico, either forcibly or on their own.

Levario said Operation Wetback lasted about a year before being halted because of budget constraints and complaints from farmers that they were losing laborers they needed.

1965 to today

The most recent wave of immigrants began in 1965 when Congress replaced a system of quotas based on country of origin with one that uses different calculations to allocate a certain number of visas to each country. Preference is given to individuals who have either special skills or relatives who are U.S. citizens.

Since then, more than 100 million legal and illegal immigrants have entered the United States, with the majority coming from Mexico in search of jobs.

Aguila said the new system gave Mexicans about 30,000 visas a year.

“The economy in the American Southwest was demanding half a million to a million workers,” he said. “Setting a cap of 30,000 for Mexico encouraged more illegal immigration.”

He said in about 1970, federal immigration-reform discussions began again. In 1986, Congress passed new regulations that, among other things, required employers to vouch for employees’ immigration status, granted amnesty to certain immigrants who entered the U.S. before 1982, made it a crime to knowingly hire illegal immigrants and created a citizenship path for certain agricultural workers.

Again politicians promised that would secure the border and end immigration problems.

Levario said enforcement efforts did result in a decrease in immigration numbers.

“But it’s just a temporary Band-Aid,” he said. “Like in the 1930s, once the economy improves, you’ll see another spike in the numbers.”

Aguila said federal efforts such as the war on drugs and the increase of border enforcement helped increase the number of illegal immigrants in the U.S. by making it difficult for migrants to go back and forth between the U.S. and Mexico for work.

“Mexicans began to stay rather than go home and risk not being able to return when labor was needed,” he said.

In the past 20 years, the public backlash began to rise again.

Kansas attorney Kris Kobach, who helped write Arizona’s new immigration law, said this wave is the largest and longest-lasting the nation has ever seen.

And unlike with past generations, Kobach said, these immigrants are able to take more advantage of taxpayer-funded social services.

“That changes everything,” Kobach said. “The cost of illegal immigration to state governments and the taxpayers is so much greater than it ever was.”

In 1994, California voters passed Proposition 187, which prohibited illegal immigrants from using health care, public education and other social services. It was later deemed unconstitutional and never enforced.

“It was very similar to SB 1070, at least in its objective to make conditions so difficult for undocumented workers that they leave,” Aguila said.

Arizona’s immigration law makes it a state crime to be in the country illegally. It states that an officer engaged in a lawful stop, detention or arrest shall, when practicable, ask about a person’s legal status when reasonable suspicion exists that the person is in the U.S. illegally.

The law goes into effect July 29. Five lawsuits have been filed in federal court challenging its constitutionality.

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