Whose jobs are done by illegal immigrants?

BY CHRIS COLLINS   NOVEMBER 18, 2010


Vanessa, an illegal immigrant, has harvested fruit in Kerman, Huron and Madera for four years. Until this summer, she had never seen a white face in the fields.

Then one day, four teenagers showed up at a cherry orchard. They didn’t speak Spanish, and they didn’t seem to know what they were doing.

“Everybody was surprised to see them there,” Vanessa said.

It didn’t go so well for the newcomers. Within an hour, all four had quit.

At the heart of the debate over illegal immigration is a question that burns as hot as the afternoon sun hovering over the Central Valley: Are illegal immigrants doing the work that no one else wants, or are they stealing jobs from Americans and dragging down their wages?

To some extent, both are true.

As Vanessa’s story shows, some jobs might go unfilled — even in tough times — without illegal immigrants.

But there are drawbacks. Illegal immigrants push down wages for legal workers in food-processing, factory and service jobs, economists say. Because illegal immigrants will work for almost any wage, employers have little reason to pay other workers more. Sometimes jobs that low-skilled Americans would be willing to do, such as washing dishes and cleaning bathrooms, are instead taken by illegal immigrants.

Illegal immigrants help the nation’s private-sector economy by providing cheap labor — something that is especially critical for the Central Valley. But their competition with low-skilled American workers and their strain on local government budgets cancel out that boost for that nation’s overall economy, some economists say.

In the end, illegal immigration in the Valley means businesses are big winners while many blue-collar workers lose out.

Farmworker groups have tried to prove that we need illegal immigrants. In 2006, as Congress was considering immigration reform, immigrant workers around the country either stayed home or joined protests for the May 1 “Day Without Immigrants” economic boycott.

In the central San Joaquin Valley, the United Farm Workers of America estimated that tens of thousands of field workers didn’t show up for work. Restaurants, landscape contractors, food manufacturers and growers all struggled to make it through the day with skeleton crews.

With immigration reform again on Congress’ agenda, the UFW has tried to bring attention to the role of illegal immigrants, which it says account for half a million farmworkers. It launched a campaign in June called TakeOurJobs.org that invited anyone to sign up online for a farming job.

The campaign was mostly meant to grab headlines — and it did. UFW President Arturo S. Rodriguez was invited to appear on Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report” to talk about the campaign.

“Americans do not work in the field because it’s very difficult work, requires a lot of expertise and the conditions are horrid,” he told host Stephen Colbert.

More than 10,000 people registered on the website; only 11 people actually went out to work in the fields — including Colbert.


Economists say illegal immigrants play a key role in the nation’s economy: Their willingness to work for low wages helps keep American businesses competitive and lowers the cost of goods and services.

But their economic benefit is very small. One researcher estimated that it represents only the slightest fraction of the country’s gross domestic product — 3 cents for every $100 the economy generates. That means that most businesses are only marginally more efficient thanks to illegal immigrants, although some businesses that rely heavily on them — including those in agriculture — benefit greatly.

Illegal immigrants also offer another advantage: They are much more mobile than legal immigrants, who often have more family ties or are required by law to work for the employer who sponsored their visas. They follow the booms and busts in the construction industry and are “much more responsive to changes in the economy,” said Michael Fix, senior vice president of the Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington, D.C.

From 2002 to 2006, the number of illegal immigrants living in the country increased each year by about 500,000 during the economic boom, climbing from 9.3 million to 11.6 million; but from 2007 to 2009, during the height of the recession, the total decreased by more than 1.5 million. During the 1990s, the illegal immigrant population grew the most in the mountain states and Southeast — places where job growth was strongest.

The role of illegal immigrants has become even more critical because Americans are, on average, much more educated now than half a century ago. The economy needs immigrants to fill the low-skill jobs, some economists say.

In an ideal world, the United States would let in enough foreign workers to do the jobs unwanted by most U.S.-born workers, said Gordon Hanson, an economics professor at the University of California at San Diego, who grew up in Fresno.

But America’s restrictive immigration system doesn’t allow that. So illegal immigrants fill in the gaps by being the first to enter the country when there are jobs and the first to leave when jobs dry up.


Many economists say illegal immigrants have hurt the wages of low-skilled U.S.-born workers. One economist, Harvard University’s George Borjas, concluded that wages fall by 3% to 4% for every 10% increase in the number of workers in a particular skill group.

In other words, more competition for jobs means lower pay. He found that the average wage of U.S.-born high-school dropouts decreased by 5% to 8% from 1980 to 2000 because of competition with immigrants.

This trend has been especially true in industries that have increasingly employed illegal immigrants. Since 1980, for example, the average wage for meatpackers has dropped 45%, adjusted for inflation, according to government data.

The Center for Immigration Studies found that one company had to raise its pay after being forced to fire illegal workers. In 2006, federal immigration agents arrested 1,300 employees at six meat-processing plants owned by Swift & Co., where an estimated 23% of the workers were illegal immigrants. After the raids, the company advertised heavily for new workers and paid employees bonuses if they recruited others.

Within five months, the plants were running at full capacity again — a sign that the company could operate without illegal immigrants, according to the report. Meanwhile, wages increased slightly at two of the plants and four offered signing bonuses.

Some experts say employers pay illegal immigrants less than other workers because they are less willing to demand a raise or draw attention to their legal status — and that drives down the wages for all workers. Researcher Anita Alves Pena, an economics professor at Colorado State University, found in a study earlier this year that illegal immigrant farmworkers earn 5% to 6% less in hourly wages than legal immigrant workers.

Gerardo Gomez, who crossed the border with his future wife in 1989 and now lives in Madera, spent years working in the fields because other employers wouldn’t hire him without a real Social Security card and green card.

“If there was a job, I was willing to do it — it didn’t matter what,” Gomez said. “But the jobs that paid more money required documents. Just to clean and work in the hospital required documents.”

Finally, in 1994, he got a job working for a small construction company that built fireplaces. His boss paid him about $7 an hour while the other workers — all of them legal immigrants or U.S.-born — were paid $10 an hour. When Gomez asked for a raise, his boss said, “OK, but first bring me your papers.” Gomez knew he couldn’t complain.

Not all economists agree that illegal immigrants hurt American workers. Giovanni Peri, an economics professor at the University of California at Davis, contends that when the economy is growing, the employment of low-skilled immigrants creates jobs that are typically filled by U.S.-born workers. A construction company that hires five new roofers may promote one of its U.S.-born workers to supervisor — a job that requires English proficiency — or hire a U.S.-born clerical worker.

Peri noted, however, that the recession has made it more difficult for U.S.-born workers to compete with illegal immigrants for jobs.

Some American workers are fighting back.

A class-action lawsuit against the SK Foods tomato-processing plant in Lemoore claims the company knowingly hired hundreds of illegal immigrants over several years to save millions of dollars a year in labor costs. The Chicago attorney who filed the lawsuit, Howard Foster, estimated that the so-called “illegal immigrant hiring scheme” depressed the wages of other workers by at least 15% and made it easier for the company to get away with “deplorable working conditions” because illegal immigrants were less willing to complain for fear of losing their jobs.

Foster has filed similar lawsuits across the country in the past decade with some success — and said he will likely file many more.

“Workers call me and e-mail me almost every day asking, ‘Can you help me? Can you represent me?’ ” Foster said, noting that many of the calls are from the Central Valley, where he said the food-processing industry is “rife with illegal workers.”

The lawsuit says SK Foods’ management knew it was hiring illegal workers because many couldn’t speak English, presented documents that were obviously fake or had previously been hired by the company under a different name. Company CEO Scott Salyer denies that illegal immigrants were hired, according to his attorney.


So what would happen if there were no illegal immigrants? Because the central San Joaquin Valley is heavily dependent on them, a mass deportation would certainly hit the agriculture industry hard, at least in the short term. But it would also be easier for other less-educated, U.S.-born workers and legal immigrants to find jobs, and their wages could improve.

“The truth be told, if we were to eliminate illegal immigration over the next five years, the impact on the economy wouldn’t be that large,” Hanson said. “But it would hit parts of the country very hard, particularly Fresno. The farmers would have to change what they do and some would go out of business or would have to move toward much less-labor intensive crops.”

Some economists say employers need to do just that: change. They say farmers have become addicted to cheap labor rather than shift to less labor-intensive crops and invest in technology that would reduce the need for fieldworkers.

In the 1970s, after the end of the Bracero program that brought in thousands of seasonal Mexican workers, farmers were forced to grow tomatoes with thicker skins that could be harvested with machines, reducing labor costs. Soon they were picking twice as many tomatoes with half as many workers, Camarota said.

Philip Martin, an immigration and farm labor expert at the University of California at Davis, offered another example: Farmers in the Central Valley used to always be “screaming about a labor shortage” needed for the raisin grape harvest. Now a method called dried-on-the-vine harvesting allows them to use fewer workers.

Without illegal immigrants, similar changes would have to happen — although they would inevitably have some consequences.

“Would some farmers go out of business? Yeah, but we would see a restructuring of that industry,” Camarota said.

Some economists also say that if farmers paid better wages, more U.S.-born workers would be willing to work in agriculture.

Experts also say the cost of food would rise only slightly if wages increased. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates, for example, that the wages for production workers account for only 7% of retail beef prices and 9% of pork prices.

“Illegal immigration is not necessary for the functioning of a modern economy,” said Mark Krikorian, director of the Center for Immigration Studies. “But certain industries have gotten accustomed to it, and they benefit from it.”

Not everyone agrees increasing wages would work. Manuel Cunha, president of the Fresno-based Nisei Farmers League, an association of agriculture businesses in the Western U.S., said farmers would have to dramatically increase wages to convince U.S.-born workers to take a job in the fields — and even if they did, many would probably work just long enough to make a little money and then quit.

Cunha said that raising wages would hurt growers, whose No. 1 cost is labor. Grocery chains would turn to foreign countries to buy cheaper food, he said.

Besides, he said, most workers born here are unwilling to work mind-numbing food-processing jobs or do back-breaking fieldwork — no matter what they’re paid. According to government data, 98% of farmworkers in California are immigrants.

Some experts say there’s also a cultural stigma to working in the fields that would be difficult to overcome if farmers had to depend on U.S.-born workers.

“They’re doing a lot of jobs other people simply won’t do,” said John Hernandez, executive director of Central California Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. “I’m not going to go in there and slaughter a cow.”

Alfred de la Cerda, a pastor in Orosi, said that when his U.S.-born son was 18 and waffling on whether to go to college, he suggested his son try fieldwork. Every day, the teenager came home exhausted. After two weeks, he quit the job and enrolled in Reedley College instead.

Said de la Cerda: “The truth is, no one born here will go out in the fields.”

Read the Article »

Are taxpayers stuck paying the bill for illegal immigrants?

Illegal immigrants still help the economy because their cheap labor drives down the cost of products and services, an issue The Bee will examine Thursday. But those savings are canceled by the cost to government services, at least on a national level, some economists say.

In the Central Valley, their positive and negative impacts are amplified because of our dependence on them. Businesses benefit in a big way while taxpayers cover the costs.

“Residents have to pick up the tab, and employers get away with paying those workers less,” said Gordon Hanson, an economics professor at the University of California at San Diego and CCIS Research Associate.

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Even though many are paid under the table for housecleaning, yard work and day labor, most work for companies that deduct taxes from their pay. Illegal immigrants also pay sales taxes and property taxes.

Several research organizations estimate that about 55 percent of illegal immigrants are paid on the books, with taxes withheld. The Center for Comparative Immigration Studies found that 75 percent of illegal immigrants in 2006 were taxed.

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Pregnant pay premium to get into US



Development: On 11 November the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) published a report on the prices illegal Mexican immigrants pay to get into the US.

Significance: The DHS working paper argues that the effort and expense the US has put into reinforcing its southwestern border between 1993 and 2006 has pushed up the price illegal migrants have to pay to get into the US. The DHS reckons that the price illegal migrants have to pay people traffickers jumped from US$600 a head in 1993 to US$1,500 in 2007. Pregnant migrants usually pay even more. The DHS working paper found that 95% of first-time crossers used people smugglers in 2006.

The DHS admits that its estimate of the cost of being smuggled into the US is at the lower end of the spectrum. The Mexican Migration Field Research and Training Program survey (MMFRP) puts the 2006 price at well over US$2,250.

What is fascinating about the DHS working paper is how tentative its conclusions are. It points out that there is little evidence on whether people smugglers have tried to lower their unit costs by smuggling other goods (such as drugs) into the US alongside people.

The links the DHS does make are pointed: it cites an academic study which suggests that a 10% decline in Mexican wages compared with US wages leads to a 6% increase in border apprehensions. In the past 12 months border apprehensions have dropped by 17%, year-on-year, to 473,000. This suggests that potential Mexican migrants now calculate that the risks of crossing into the US are higher than the potential rewards.

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“What Does East Asia Tell Us about Europe? The Case of Immigration Policy”

The Center for European Studies

The Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies is dedicated to fostering the study of European history, politics, culture and society at Harvard. Through our graduates, who go on to teach others about Europe and to many other roles in society, the Center sustains America’s knowledge base about Europe, an important contribution to international understanding in difficult times. 

Harvard University
Friday, November 5, 2010
2:15 PM – 4:00 PM, Cabot Room, Busch Hall

John Skrentny
Professor of Sociology
University of California-San Diego

Exclusion and Inclusion in an Expanded Europe Study Group

View Full Agenda»

A Chance to Get Immigration Reform Right

AEI Study Outlines Principles for Regulation of Low-Skilled

NOVEMBER 3, 2010


Recent immigration reform proposals, such as Arizona’s SB1070, have focused on curtailing illegal immigration through increased border enforcement and deportation of unauthorized residents. But border enforcement is expensive and often ineffective. In addition, while foreign workers benefit the U.S. economy–whether they’ve entered legally or illegally–they also increase the tax burden on U.S. citizens. In Regulating Low-Skilled Immigration in the United States (AEI Press, 2010), Gordon H. Hanson, director of the Center on Pacific Economies, outlines principles for immigration reform that will balance these fiscal costs and benefits. Successful reform, he argues, must attract in-demand workers who have strong incentives to assimilate and be economically productive, but will not place excessive demands on public services.

Hanson outlines three broad choices policymakers must make concerning the mechanisms that govern immigration:

  • Whether to regulate the entry of immigrants using prices or quantities: The current regime of legal immigration is primarily quantity-regulated, as Congress determines how many visas are available each year. However, a price mechanism, such as a visa processing fee, would attract workers with higher incentives to be productive during their time in the United States. A visa processing fee would also generate revenue for the federal government and help to offset the fiscal burden immigrants place on public services.
  • How much variance to allow in the number of work visas: Current policy places strict caps on the numbers of visas issued, but a more flexible approach would benefit the economy by allowing immigration to increase during times of expansion and decrease during times of contraction. During times of economic growth, wages would rise and demand for visas would grow, pushing up their price. The government would receive a signal to increase the visa supply to keep prices stable. Accordingly, when the economy slows down and demand for visas falls, government would decrease the supply.
  • How to balance the fiscal cost of immigration with incentives for assimilation: Easing the path to U.S. citizenship for legal and illegal immigrants would mean greater demands on public services, but it would also benefit the country by encouraging important investments in U.S. society, such as pursuing higher education, purchasing a home, and becoming active in community organizations. A method of balancing the fiscal costs and benefits would be a graduated system of residency rights, whereby an immigrant could earn increased benefits and eventual citizenship through demonstrated productivity and compliance with visa regulations.
  • When the Obama administration addresses immigration reform, as it has promised to, it “should seek first to do no harm,” Hanson writes. “Constructive reform requires allowing low-skilled immigration to occur under a legal framework that respects market mechanisms and treats immigrants as individuals with the potential to contribute to U.S. society. Unless Congress recognizes and understands the successes and failures of low-skilled immigration policy to date, we risk losing another chance to get reform right.”

    Gordon H. Hanson is director of the Center on Pacific Economies and a professor of economics at the University of California, San Diego.

    Read the Article »

Stephen Lee — Unauthorized Migrant, Information Policy, and Workplace Enforcement.

 

Seminar to be held in ERC 115 at 2:00 pm.


Professor Stephen Lee researches at the intersection of administrative law and immigration law and has been published in the Stanford Law Review and California Law Review. Prior to joining UCI School of Law, Professor Lee was a fellow at Stanford Law School, clerked for Judge Schroeder on the Ninth Circuit, and practiced at Skadden, Arps. Taking an expansive view of noncitizen rights, his current research examines the regulation of unauthorized migrants in the workplace. Professor Lee graduated from Berkeley Law in 2005.

UA-linked effort looks at crossers, effect of violence

Students interviewing hundreds of deportees

BY JAZMINE WOODBERRY for The Arizona Daily Star
OCTOBER 25, 2010

University of Arizona students are interviewing hundreds of deported illegal border crossers over the next year to document the connection between drugs, guns and violence on the border.

The study is funded by a $100,000 grant from the Ford Foundation, a private Michigan-based organization that awards grants to social-justice causes globally.

While the students’ research won’t be completed until early next year, preliminary returns from the surveys show that illegal border crossers are experiencing an increase in emotional and physical violence at the hands of smugglers and Border Patrol agents, said co-principal investigator Jeremy Slack.

The buildup of border enforcement and the overlap of drug- and human-smuggling appear central to a rise in violence over the last three years, Slack said.

“We are committed to tell this story by using their voices to tell the phenomena of the border,” he said.

UA students from several academic areas work with professors and students from partnering Mexican universities to conduct the interviews. They are talking with deported border crossers at shelters in Tijuana; Nogales, Sonora; Ciudad Juarez; Matamoros; and Mexicali.

The project stems from a dissertation by Daniel E. Martinez, a University of Arizona Ph.D. student and research visitor at Notre Dame. He was introduced to the shelters through Anna Ochoa O’Leary, who was awarded a 2006 Fulbright grant for her survey-based research with female migrants.

Initial data collected focused mainly on Mexican migrants in shelters near Tucson. But with the grant, researchers now can expand beyond the Tucson-Nogales area, and Martinez said this change will broaden preliminary data for an executive summary to be released next spring.

The Ford Foundation also funds the University of California-San Diego’s Mexican Migration Field Research Program, whose research is based on interviews with illegal border crossers. Researchers with that program conduct interviews in three Mexican communities with varying illegal-migration patterns and socioeconomic status.

A focus on how border enforcement is affecting migration is crucial, said Jonathan Hicken, a research associate with the Mexican Migration Field Research Program. The survey research adds a more human element missed in other, non-interview-based efforts, he said.

“It’s in our best interest for programs like this to start sprouting up everywhere,” Hicken said of the UA program.

to Read interviews

To read some of the interviews conducted by UA students with illegal border crossers, go to researchdiscuss.blogspot.com

Who’s paying for it?

To learn more about the organization funding the research, go to the Ford Foundation’s website: fordfoundation.org

Jazmine Woodberry is a University of Arizona student who is apprenticing at the Star. Contact her at starapprentice@azstarnet. com or 573-4128.

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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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Antje Ellermann — State against Migrants: The Politics of Deportation in Germany and the United States

State against Migrants: The Politics of Deportation in Germany and the United States
 


Seminar to be held in ERC 115 at 2:00 pm.

In her talk, which is based on her recent book States Against Migrants, a comparative study of the contemporary politics of deportation in Germany and the United States, Antje Ellermann examines the capacity of the liberal state to make and implement deportation policy.  By tracing the politics of deportation across the entire policy cycle—starting with political agenda-setting and ending with street-level implementation— Ellermann is able to show that the deportation capacity of the state systematically varies across policy stages.  While the capacity to pass deportation law is contingent upon strong institutional linkages between the public and legislators—allowing for the representation of diffuse interests—the capacity for implementation depends upon the political insulation of bureaucrats.  In addition to uncovering variation across policy stages, Ellermann also finds that deportation capacity varies across countries, reflecting differences in political institutions.

Antje Ellermann is Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of British Columbia.  She teaches and writes on the politics of international migration in advanced democracies, the study of the state and state capacity, and comparative public policy and its implementation. She is the author of States Against Migrants: Deportation in Germany and the United States (Cambridge, 2009). Her research on issues of immigration control, state coercion, and migrant resistance has also been published in Comparative Political Science, Politics & Society, West European Politics, and Government and Opposition. She has been the recipient of research grants by the Social Science Research Council in the United States, and, in Canada, by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council and the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade.