May 28, 2017

Immigration Reform: What’s in it, anyway?

ImmigrationWhile we’ve all been kept occupied with the scandals rolling out of the Obama Administration, public policy has seemingly taken a back seat. This week, though, the nation’s attention has rolled back around to immigration, one of the most complex public policy issues facing our nation, right after healthcare and taxes and whether JJ Abrams can return honor to the Star Wars franchise

With the great need and complexities in mind, a bipartisan team of eight Senators have proposed legislation that is intended to comprehensively address the nation’s immigration problems.  Meanwhile, Utah’s Senator Mike Lee left that bipartisan group of senators over policy disagreements, including both the extensive reach of the reform (calling it “another thousand-page bill full of loopholes, carve-outs, and unintended consequences”).  With other Republicans, including possible candidate for the White House Senator Marco Rubio, supporting the legislation (for now), it is clear that rational minds can disagree on public policy, even from the same side of the aisle.

The content of that legislation, then, at least superficially, is the topic of this post.  I won’t get into whether I agree with it, because I don’t feel like I understand the law well enough to do so, at least not yet.   However, when Utah Policy Daily columnist Bob Bernick decided to attack Senator Lee for opposing what one poll found was a popular piece of legislation, I couldn’t help but wonder: how many people actually know what the legislation contains? It’s one thing to support immigration reform, and who wouldnt? but it’s another to support various pieces of it.

Since I suspect that there is a general lack of knowledge “out there” about the proposed legislation, I’ve listed below what the two sides are saying about it.  I leave it to you to make an informed decision.

Otherwise, you are vulnerable to being  manipulated by spin, whether from politicians or columnists, it doesn’t matter.

What follows, then, is a look at the poll, as well as the legislation itself.


immigration-nologo-2First, the poll…

Find the full poll at the bottom of the page. It says that 71% of Utahns support immigration reform, among other things.

Let me be honest–yes, I believe Americans want immigration reform. What person is going to say that they don’t think it should be reformed? Our immigration policy is currently a mess, and everyone of almost all political stripes thinks the system needs improvement.

However, I think that if you slap the word  ‘reform’ after any public policy (think “tax reform” or “healthcare reform”) and a poll could find a majority of people who support it. Add in something to the language indicating that it’s supported by both parties, and it is guaranteed to garner a majority of support.

That doesn’t mean that it is good policy. Perhaps it is. It is manipulative and it provides a great tool for manipulating elected officials. Check out this first question and how it is phrased:

There is bipartisan immigration reform legislation being debated in Washington. The bill would secure our borders, block employers from hiring undocumented immigrants, and make sure that undocumented immigrants already in the U.S. with no criminal record register for legal status. If a long list of requirements is met over more than a decade, it provides eligibility for a path to citizenship. Would you support or oppose this proposal?

For a bill that runs a thousand pages long, that’s a pretty succinct summation. No wonder 71% of respondents liked it. Secure the borders, make it harder for undocumented immigrants to compete for jobs, and restrict immigrants with criminal records from getting legal status.  Oh, and if people follow the law of the land, they’re eligible for a path to citizenship.

Using language to describe the proposed legislation like “tough, but fair,” “solve this problem once and for all,” and “bipartisan,” it’s hard not to agree with the proposed legislation.

But the devil is in the details. That’s why we pass these things in Congress and not by plebiscite. We’re relying on our elected representatives to read, analyze and pass legislation with a depth beyond sound bites, five-minute polls, and thirty-second commercials.

I may, or may not, agree with the current immigration reform package under negotiation in Congress, but I find polls like this to be completely pointless other than as a tool for manipulating public opinion and persuading on the fence policy makers.


Pros and Cons of the Immigration Reform Proposal:

So what does the bill do? Let me list the pros and cons, provided, as it were, by supporters and opponents (specifically, in the second case, Senator Lee, since he’s been mentioned here):

Official portrait of United States Senator (R-FL).

Official portrait of United States Senator (R-FL). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Proponents of the immigration reform package say that the bill:

  • Contains the toughest border immigration enforcement measures in U.S. history

    • Within 6 months of bill’s enactment:1. Border Security Plan: DHS must create, fund and initiate a border security plan.2. Border Fence Plan: DHS must create, fund and initiate a border fence plan
    • Within 5 years of bill’s enactment:3. Border Security Metrics: DHS must achieve 100 percent “border awareness” and at least 90 percent apprehension rates in “high-risk sectors” of the U.S.-Mexico border.
    • Within 10 years of bill’s enactment4. Border Commission: If DHS fails to achieve the metrics in trigger #3, a Border Commission of border state officials and stakeholders is required to create & implement a plan to achieve 100 percent “border awareness” and at least 90 percent apprehension rates in high-risk sectors of the U.S.-Mexico border.5. Employment Verification: A universal E-verify must be implemented.6. Visa Overstay Exit System: A Visa exit system must be implemented at all international airports & seaports.
  • Would not allow any work visas to be issued if the unemployment rate in a certain area is above 8.5 percent, which is the norm in many cities.
  • Expands the highly skilled H1-B visa program from 65,000 to 110,000 and removes the requirement that counts family members against the quota.
  • Establishes a guest worker program for lower-skilled workers that ensures our future flow of workers is manageable, traceable, and fair to American workers.
  • Guest worker visa program would be established to ensure an adequate agricultural workforce to safeguard food supply.
  • Linking Temporary Status to Security Triggers: No undocumented immigrant is eligible to apply for temporary status until the border security and fencing plan is in place. After being in the temporary status for at least ten years, no currently undocumented immigrant can attain permanent residence, unless the border security, employment verification and exit system triggers have been achieved.
  • Pathway to Citizenship: Once the first security triggers are achieved, undocumented immigrants will be able to come forward, submit to and pass background checks, be fingerprinted, pay fines, pay taxes, prove gainful employment,  prove they’ve had a physical presence in the U.S. since before 2012 and going to the back of the line, among other criteria. Criminals and those who don’t meet these criteria will be deported.
  • No Federal Benefits: Undocumented immigrants will not be eligible for federal benefits. This legislation contains a partial repeal of Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act to bar undocumented immigrants from receiving its benefits. Once they are eligible to apply for permanent residence, this bill strengthens current “public charge” law that stipulates no immigrant can obtain a green card if they can’t prove they can support themselves and won’t become government dependents –by verifying that they are earning at least 25 percent above the poverty level and are gainfully employed. They will have to do verify this more than once, at different parts of the process. Current law, which we do not change, also bars permanent residents from receiving federal benefits for the first five years of that status.
  • Legalization Is Not Immediate, Automatic Or Irrevocable: Status can be revoked if immigrants commit a serious crime or if they fail to comply with the employment requirement, the public charge requirement (which goes hand in hand with the employment requirement), their tax obligations and their physical presence obligations.
  • Fairness to Legal Immigrants: For undocumented immigrants who avail themselves of the process outlined in this bill, they will face a longer, more costly way forward than if they had come legally. They will have to pay fines legal immigrants don’t have to pay, and they will have to wait behind all those who applied to come legally before them until the backlog of legal immigrant applicants is cleared. Plus, whereas aspiring legal immigrants won’t have to wait until the security triggers are met, those who are here illegally today won’t be eligible for permanent residence until at least ten years have elapsed and security triggers are achieved.
  • DREAMers: Young undocumented immigrants, whose parents brought them to the U.S. illegally or overstayed visas, will be eligible for permanent residence in five years and citizenship immediately thereafter, provided they meet all the prescribed criteria.

And if you’ve read all that, you deserve a medal. Please share your opinion on it in the comments.

Official portrait of United States Senator Mik...

Official portrait of United States Senator Mike Lee. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Senator Lee’s objections, which I am sure he could more than adequately expand upon but which are more succinct for the venue in which published them (KSL), are not on the basis of opposition to immigration reform, but the form of immigration reform. The proposed legislation, he says,

  • Provides immediate legalization without securing the border;
  • Rewards criminal aliens, absconders, and deportees and undermines law enforcement;
  • Contains national security loopholes and facilitates fraud in our immigration system;
  • Creates no real penalties for illegal immigrants and rewards them with entitlements;
  • Delays for years the implementation of E-Verify; and
  • Does not fix our legal immigration system.

His proposal for dealing with the issue, then, is a more gradual, piecemeal approach. Look, he’s saying, grand laws end up creating all sorts of long-term problems. Just look at Obamacare for a recent example. Rather than do it all at once, let’s do a piece at a time.

In fact, the only way to guarantee successful reform of the entire system, and ensure we are not repeating the mistakes of the past, is through a series of incremental steps that ensure the foundational pieces — like border security and an effective entry-exit system — are done properly.

What do you think? Do you feel like you’ve got enough information to make an informed decision? Do you want comprehensive reform like that being proposed, or would more incremental steps work better?


Utah Immigration Poll Toplines 6.13.2013

About Daniel Burton

Daniel Burton lives in Salt Lake County, Utah, where he practices law by day and everything else by night. You can follow him on his blog PubliusOnline.com where he muses on politics, the law, books and ideas. He is active on social media, Republican politics, and has been named to PoliticIt’s list of the “Top-50 Utah Political Opinion Leaders” on Twitter. You can reach him directly at dan.burton@gmail.com

  • Charlie

    Nice job Daniel. Clearly, the comprehensive approach is the only way to get this done this year Congress. If this bill is not accomplished it will not be addressed for another 7-10 years as quoted by Senator Hatch. You can kiss the hope for the majority in the House, Senate and the White House if we as Republicans don’t embrace the Hispanic vote. They are watching with a very close eye. This “Gang of Eight” bill is not perfect but has bipartisan support unlike Obamacare. It is more than fair and strict plus out economy would be better off with a modernized system where we know who is in our country and who has left. Hispanics, Asians, Immigrants at their core are should lean towards being Republicans. Ask Marco Rubio. He knows the only way to win the WH is he will have to win the Hispanic vote. Have we forgotten the 2012 elections already? If any area of the bill that I feel could be strengthened it would border security. Plus, I think it was extremely arrogant of Senator Lee to vote against having the bill debated on the floor. Really? Come on. Not even to debate the bill? I wish Lee would swallow his pride and learn from his Señor Senator.

    • I get what you’re saying Charlie, and I agree that we need immigration reform. However, we have to be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. I don’t know that this package is the wrong package, but government’s efforts to pass broad sweeping legislation has rarely, if ever, resulted in creating unforeseen effects that magnify more than the problem they were intended to solve.

    • Keith Seegmiller

      Do we want to solve the problems associated with illegal immigration or do we want to gain much more of the Hispanic vote? By Democrat’s definition, those two goals are complimentary. To Republicans (if you can paint them all with one brush) the two goals are mutually exclusive. Same old problem: The Demos are setting the agenda and all the GOP does is try to react. It’s a lose, lose game and the GOP is getting really good at playing it.

      • Charlie

        The last time I checked we tried to set our own agenda on immigration reform in 2012 and what happen to us?

  • Keith Seegmiller

    First, It seems irrational to push this great cause for mainly political purposes. I know it’s a reality, but it irks me that our system has been reduced to this bassackwards way of doing things.
    Second. The details of the proposal are so comprehensive, the numerous required processes so complex, the ability to facilitate them (let alone enforce) them so challenging, the infrastructure and bureaucracy needed so immense, that I seriously doubt that any portion of it could be made to function properly to accomplish stated goals, even if we could assume efficiency and integrity in the departments of the federal government tasked with administering it (and what, in recent years–weeks really–gives us any reason to make such assumptions?).
    Therefore: I tend to like Senator Lee’s piecemeal approach: Let’s take one portion of this complex process at a time, simplify it, make sure we can do it and then get it done right before we go on to the next portion. It might take longer this way (or it might not), but there’s a much greater likelihood of success.

    • Charlie

      The problem with Senator Lee’s approach is it only is it will takes years to pass it piecemeal. Our economy can’t wait that long, our high tech industry, agriculture farm labor will suffer. By our in action or slow moving action will put us at a disadvantage because other country’s are going to snatch up the top talent that we educate in our universities but can’t stay because we can’t offer them a visa. Don’t we send our Seantors to Washington to deal with big and crital issues. So why can’t they deal with it now with a comprehensive bill?

  • What do you think the chances are that the House will pick up the Senate’s draft?

    • Charlie

      That is great question. If I had the answer I would be on a number of national talk shows. My gut says that the house will pass a couple of separate bills that can make the Senate bill stronger and then go to conference at the end of the year (last possible moment) and make a final bill that the majority congress can live with.

      • You SHOULD be on national talk shows.

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