For some time, everyone in Washington assumed that if any major piece of legislation had the chance to pass this year, it was going to be immigration reform, because at last Republican and Democratic interests had come into alignment. Democrats have wanted reform, including a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, for a long time. Republicans have finally realized that telling Latino voters "We don't like your kind" every couple of years is very bad politics. So with bipartisan "gangs" in both houses of Congress working on reform packages, it appeared that things were moving toward passage.
Until the last couple of days, that is, when things began looking bleak.
When the Heritage Foundation released that study showing that immigration reform would cost American taxpayers a gajillion feptillion bazillion dollars, people were obviously going to pick it apart and reveal its flaws and tendentious assumptions, which they did. But today came something else interesting. Dylan Matthews read the dissertation written by one of the authors, Jason Richwine, in which Richwin writes that "The average IQ of immigrants in the United States is substantially lower than that of the white native population, and the difference is likely to persist over several generations." In order to deal with the problem, Richwine suggests IQ-testing everyone who wants to immigrate, and taking only the smart ones. As Matthews describes it, "Richwine's dissertation asserts that there are deep-set differentials in intelligence between races...He writes, 'No one knows whether Hispanics will ever reach IQ parity with whites, but the prediction that new Hispanic immigrants will have low-IQ children and grandchildren is difficult to argue against.'" Well now.
So: does this provide even more reason to reject the Heritage study Richwine co-wrote? In other words, how much weight should we give to someone's repellent views on a topic when evaluating an empirical piece of work they produce? If you conclude that Richwine has bad intentions, can that be all you need to know to reject what he has to say about the costs of immigration reform?
You'd think, based on the media blitz promoting the conservative Heritage Foundation's recent study—which claims immigration reform will cost the country $6.3 trillion dollars—the organization would be using its full web presence to promote their work.
Not so on the think tank's Spanish-language site, Heritage Libertad.
If you've read or heard anything about immigration today, it probably had to do with a just-released Heritage Foundation report claiming that immigration reform will cost America eleventy bazillion dollars, or as the enormous headline on their web site screams, "The COST of Amnesty TO YOU." If you're interested in a point-by-point analysis of why the assumptions and omissions in the report skew things so absurdly, you can read Dylan Matthews or Alex Nowrasteh, but you have to hand it to Heritage: despite the questionable quality of the work and its obvious intent to scuttle immigration reform, they've gotten a tremendous amount of attention for it.
That's partly a result of good timing (nobody else had attempted to put a dollar figure on reform, so they were the first), and partly due to what I'm sure is a large and skilled communication staff. The way these things work is that your policy people write the report, then your communication people work the phones and email to get reporters to write stories about it, bloggers to blog about it, and members of Congress who find its conclusions pleasing to talk about it when they give floor speeches or go on TV. Most think-tank reports fall like drops of rain on the ocean, little noticed by all but a small circle of people intensely interested in whatever the topic is; this is one of those rare ones that gets much more attention. The Heritage communication department is no doubt pretty pleased with the job they did.
But the topic—what kinds of financial costs are associated with immigration reform—is something that no one on either side actually cares about, not really. Because money isn't anyone's primary consideration.
In July of 2010, Russ Feingold did the principled thing. After weeks of markup and debate, the liberal Wisconsin senator voted against Dodd-Frank. "My test for the financial-regulatory reform bill is whether it will prevent another crisis," Feingold said at the time. "[The bill] fails that test." Ironically, Feingold's fortitude only served to further weaken the legislation. In order to break a filibuster, Dodd-Frank's sponsors had to appease conservative Massachusetts senator Scott Brown, who opposed a "bank tax" that would have made financial institutions pay for the new regulatory regime. The provision was stripped from the legislation, costing taxpayers $19 billion.
Gay-rights advocates should keep this scenario in mind as the Gang of Eight tries to push immigration reform through the Senate. Given that more than a quarter million undocumented immigrants are LGBT, the movement has a broad interest in seeing comprehensive reform with a path to citizenship succeed. But gay-rights supporters have also been pushing for a specific provision in the bill recognizing LGBT families, who under current law are ineligible for family-based immigration. President Obama's immigration proposal, released in February, contained such a provision. But few were surprised that the bill unveiled by the bipartisan group earlier this month contained a legalization program for the undocumented but made no mention of LGBT families. This is no doubt a shortcoming in the current proposal, and one that groups like Immigration Equality, which advocates on behalf of gay and HIV-positive immigrants, should fight to fix. Immigration Equality has already said that the current Senate bill "does not reflect the values or diversity of our country" and that "we are watching—and we will remember—which lawmakers stand with us, and which stand to the side, when this critical vote happens." The Human Rights Campaign and other prominent gay-rights groups have similarly condemned the current Senate bill.
Since the 2012 election, there's a story we've heard over and over about Republicans and the Latino vote. After spending years bashing immigrants, the party got hammered among this increasingly vital demographic group in this election, whereupon the party's more pragmatic elements woke up and realized that if they don't convince Latinos that the GOP isn't hostile to them, they risk making it impossible for themselves to win presidential elections. They've got one shot on immigration reform: pass it, and they can stanch the bleeding, or kill it, and lock in their dreadful performance among Latinos for generations.
This story is mostly true. But I'm beginning to wonder if it isn't already too late for the GOP to win Latinos over. It's going a little far to suggest that Latinos could become the equivalent of African-Americans, giving 90 percent or more of their votes to Democrats in every election. But is it possible that so much damage has already been done that even if immigration reform passes, Republicans won't see any improvement in their standing among Latinos?
At a time when the backlog of cases before the courts has reached staggering proportions, Republicans on the House immigration working group have come up with a proposal to lengthen judicial waits beyond all imaginable horizons.
The xenophobia has already begun. Senator Rand Paul in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid today urged him to reconsider immigration legislation because of the bombings in Boston. “The facts emerging in the Boston Marathon bombing have exposed a weakness in our current system,” Paul writes. “If we don’t use this debate as an opportunity to fix flaws in our current system, flaws made even more evident last week, then we will not be doing our jobs.”
Shortly after Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev detonated bombs near the finish line at the Boston marathon, killing 3 people and injuring over 200, conservatives opposed to immigration reform began exploiting the tragedy. Their goal? Derailing or delaying the 844-page Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013. The bombings cast a pall over hearings on the immigration bill in the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday, where Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano fielded questions about the asylum process used by the boys' family to enter the country. Questions were also posed about the Department of Homeland Security's entry-exit system, which tracked the older of the two brothers' six-month trip to Russia, but not his re-entry.
The big Politico story today is on the potential gains Democrats could reap from comprehensive immigration reform. But rather than go in a sensible direction—that Democratic support for reform will strengthen the party’s ties with Latino and Asian American voters, giving the latter a further stake in Democratic success—Politico argues that immigration reform will transform the electoral map by delivering millions of new votes to Democrats.
We've all seen how the bombing in Boston, as so often happens with events like this, brought out the best in the people who were there. But it also—not surprisingly either—brought out the worst in some other people who were back in Washington. It gave them the opportunity to let loose their most vulgar impulses, the satisfaction they get from stoking fear, and their absolute disdain for so many of the things that make America what it is, has been, and continues to be.
You'll recall that after September 11, the phrase "this changes everything" was repeated thousands of times. In too many cases, what that meant was, "This gives me the opportunity to advocate changes pulled from the darkest recesses of my imagination, the things I never would have dared suggest before. This is our chance." We can toss aside those pesky constitutional amendments that protect against unreasonable search and seizure or provide for due process, because we never liked them anyway. Hell, we can even torture people. This is our chance.
Not many people are saying that the Boston bombing "changes everything," but we need to be clear on this: It changes nothing. There is no new reality to which we must adapt.
Wednesday's release of the Gang of Eight's 844-page immigration-reform bill has taken a backseat to the coverage of the Boston bombings, currently hurtling toward a tense denouement. Immigration-advocacy organizations pushed back their press calls, and the senators behind the bill cancelled their press conference altogether. But the bill represents a sea change in the way the United States handles immigration. With a wide path to citizenship for the 12 million undocumented immigrants currently in the country and a major overhaul of the family- and employment-based immigration systems, it is a decisive shift away from the economic protectionism and anti-immigrant vitriol of the 2007-2008 immigration debate.
We don't have health insurance, suckers! (Flickr/Elvert Barnes)
As the various "gangs" in the House and Senate were writing their immigration proposals, it became clear that to win the support of Republicans, the provisional legal status undocumented immigrants were going to get had to be punitive. No coddling those law-breakers; if they're going to get on a path to citizenship, it had better be an unpleasant path. It had to last for a long time—10 years, in the end. And there had to be a requirement that during that time, you couldn't get any federal benefits like food stamps or welfare.
Marco Rubio has had a pretty charmed political life. He rose quickly through the ranks in the Florida legislature, won a Senate seat without too much trouble at the tender age of 39, then suddenly found himself the "Republican savior" a mere two years after arriving in Washington. At a time when the GOP is desperate to appear to Latinos, he's a young, smart, dynamic Latino who could be their presidential nominee in 2016. What could go wrong?
Immigration reform, that's what. Many elite Republicans feel, and not without reason, that while supporting comprehensive reform might not win them the votes of Latinos, opposing it will pretty much guarantee that those votes will be lost to them. And Rubio almost has no choice but to be one of the leaders, if not the leader, of the party in that effort. He can't be the Great Latino Hope if he isn't. Trouble is, lots and lots of rank-and-file Republicans, particularly the kind who vote in presidential primaries, don't much like reform the way it's shaping up. Sure, under the "Gang of 8" plan in the Senate it'll take 13 years for a current undocumented immigrant to become an American citizen. But for many in the party's base, that's about 113 years too quick. Enter the MarcoPhone. Wait, what? Get a load of this:
The chances for real, comprehensive immigration reform to be passed through both houses of Congress and signed by the president, the first such reform in decades, now look greater than ever. This is in no small part because the issue has split conservatives, meaning there will be no united Republican front against it. Republican leaders are eager to show Latino voters that they aren't hostile to them, even as the powerful Heritage Foundation mounts a campaign against reform (their current charge is that reform will be too expensive). Big change on election night, he says, was that the people opposed to legal immigration lost. The Steve Kings and so on aren't even part of this discussion. "I'm in favor of legal immigration, I'm just opposed to illegal immigration" has long been a Republican talking point; it's at last becoming a reality, as the forces within the GOP who are most opposed to any kind of reform that doesn't involve higher fences are becoming marginalized. Even the Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO are working together to press for their own version of immigration reform, and each house of Congress has its own bipartisan "gang" feverishly negotiating something a majority of lawmakers can support.