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The Future of Immigration Reform

Speaker: Edward Alden, Bernard L. Schwartz Senior Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations
Moderator: Christopher M. Tuttle, Director, Washington Program, Council on Foreign Relations
April 29, 2010
Council on Foreign Relations

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CHRISTOPHER TUTTLE: Good morning, and welcome all to this morning's Council on Foreign Relations media call on the future of immigration reform. I'm Chris Tuttle, director of CFR's Washington program, and we're joined today by CFR's senior fellow Ted Alden. He is the author of the "Closing of the American Border: Terrorism, Immigration and Security since 9/11," and more importantly was the project director for CFR's independent taskforce on U.S. immigration policy last year, which was co-chaired by former Florida governor, Jeb Bush, and former White House chief of staff, Mack McLarty.

He has written and commented extensively on the subject of immigration and U.S. immigration policy including his piece this week, entitled "Arizona's Alarm Bell for Immigration Reform." That article, as well as his full biography, are available at the cfr.org website.

But before we begin, I'd like to remind everyone that although it should be obvious, this call is on the record. I don't have to tell the reporters on the line that it's been an active week on this topic between the new law related to citizenship documentation in Arizona to the back-and-forth and forth again between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senator Lindsey Graham on the prospects for immigration reform during this final session of the 111th Congress. There has certainly been no shortage of stories to cover.

With that, I'd like to turn things over to Ted for some opening remarks and then we'll go to your questions. Ted, go ahead.

EDWARD ALDEN: Thank you very much, Chris, and thanks to all of you for calling in this morning.

I just wanted to start off for a few minutes by putting the recent discussions over the prospects for comprehensive immigration reform into some context. While I do think that there is a genuine opportunity for progress here, I agree with President Obama's repeated statements that the only way immigration reform is going to pass is if it is a bipartisan bill. Whether that's possible this year or not remains to be seen, but it is highly unlikely that legislation will pass unless there is some significant degree of bipartisanship.

So what might a bipartisan bill look like? Well, if it happens, it will probably look a lot like the recommendations that we made in the independent taskforce on U.S. immigration policy, which, as Chris mentioned, was co-chaired by a Republican, former Florida governor Jeb Bush, who has been speaking out on this subject quite a bit in the last couple of days, and a Democrat, former White House chief of staff, Mack McLarty.

To give some background, the report of the taskforce was released last summer in July 2009. It was the product of close to a year's work and involved bringing together a variety of people on all sides of the issue to see if there might be some common ground on immigration reform.

Some of the participants included former Bush administration officials, such as Robert Bonner, who had been head of Customs and Border Protection at DHS, and Fran Townsend, who was President Bush's Homeland Security advisor in the second term, as well as long-time strong immigration reform advocates like Eliseo Medina, who is the executive vice president of the Service Employees International Union, and Raul Yzaguirre, who was for many years the president of La Raza, the Hispanic rights group, and was recently nominated as President Obama's ambassador to the Dominican Republic.

So what the report showed, I hope, is that there is potentially a lot of common ground, more common ground than is often recognized between Republicans and Democrats on the issue of immigration reform. Let me just talk about a handful of the areas of agreement. There is no question at all that the current system is a mess and is very costly to the United States. The way we do immigration policy doesn't help our economy as much as it should, and it doesn't represent American values in the way that it should. So that was the starting point for our discussions.

I want to talk a bit about border enforcement because this has become very much -- it's for a long time been the issue and it's very much the issue on everybody's mind with the situation in Arizona. I think there is basically no significant differences between Republicans and Democrats anymore on the need for tough border enforcement. But there has been a lot of misunderstanding about how much has been achieved so far.

If you look at DHS Secretary Napolitano's testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee two days ago, she complained quite reasonably that on border enforcement, the goal posts keep getting moved. The Bush administration promised to increase the number of border patrol agents from about 10,000 in 2004 to 20,000, a doubling. And that target has now been hit under the Obama administration.

And now, just to put that number in some context, that compares to fewer than 4,000 border patrol agents 20 years ago, which is extraordinary growth by the standards of any government agency. If you look at another statistic, which is the total number of people apprehended at the border, this is the best measure that DHS has of how many people are trying to cross. They don't know the ones they miss but they know the ones they catch. And certainly the effort to apprehend people has been increasing, not declining. So it's likely that we're actually catching a higher percentage of border crossers than we used to.

Well, if you look at the figures for 2009, the total number of apprehensions at the southwest border was 540,000. And that is the lowest number we have seen since 1972, compares with a figure of more than 1.6 million in 2000 and still over a million even a few years ago back in 2006. I actually think the number of people trying to cross now is significantly lower than it was in 1972, and I can go into detail in the Q&A if you want. But there's no question that there has been substantial success at the border in discouraging illegal crossings between the ports of entry.

DHS also estimated in a report that came in February that the total number of unauthorized immigrants in the United States had fallen by 800,000 over the previous year, to an estimated 10.8 million. That's the second straight year of decline and the first time since 1986 -- and remember, 1986 was when the Congress passed the law that legalized close to 3 million immigrants who were living illegally in the country at the time -- the first time since 1986 that the number of unauthorized immigrants in the United States has actually fallen.

Much of this of course is the weak economy. People come here for jobs and the jobs have not been here. But if you go back and look at the data during the similarly deep recession of 1980 to '81 when unemployment was actually slightly higher than it is currently, there was nothing like the same decline in illegal crossings. And in fact, during that recession, the total unauthorized population continued to grow.

So it is time to move past the nonsensical claim which is repeated again and again that the federal government is doing nothing to secure the borders. A great deal has been done.

A third item, workplace enforcement -- and I'll be briefer on the next two. There was a strong consensus -- there was in the taskforce, I think there is broadly in the country -- on the need to cut off the jobs pipeline for unauthorized workers. That's the magnet that brings people here. And that's why our taskforce supported the continued expansion of the E-Verify program, despite the problems that it still has. And the DHS under Napolitano is continuing to move forward with this program.

And we also called for much tougher penalties against employers who hire unauthorized migrants. And we're also seeing a ramping up of this in the current administration. Again, I can talk about that more.

And then just finally, there was a strong consensus, and I think there is across the political spectrum, on the need to reform the legal immigration system, to reduce the backlogs and to increase legal work opportunities. Some of this could be in the form of new temporary worker programs, though the taskforce argued that these visas should leave the door open for people at some point applying for permanent residence.

But, again, there was a bipartisan consensus on our taskforce that we need to make legal work opportunities more accessible for potential immigrants, in part to discourage illegal migration. As I argued in the article that Chris mentioned, you want to change the incentive structure so that coming here to work legally becomes easier, coming here illegally becomes much harder.

So then to conclude, why, given this sort of consensus, is it still so difficult to make progress? As we all know, the hardest issue remains the question of what to do with the nearly 11 million immigrants who are still here, the so-called amnesty problem.

Now, the taskforce, at the insistence of Reverend Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention, who is one of the conservative speakers speaking out strongly in favor of immigration reform, he pushed back very hard in our discussions on the claim that a legalization program would be amnesty. His favorite line is amnesty is what President Carter gave to the draft-dodgers. It's a wiping clean of the slate.

The programs that have been talked about all involve people paying hefty fines, paying back-taxes if they're owed, demonstrating a long work history, showing evidence of English learning, waiting a long time for permanent residence and citizenship. It's a series of tough conditions that would clearly be there in any bill that has a chance of getting through the Congress. And Reverend Land argued very strongly that that's not amnesty.

But I think the bigger issue really goes back to the 1986 bill, which is the last time that the United States offered legalization to unauthorized migrants living here. And the fear is that, as happened last time, it may just encourage more people to come illegally in the hopes of benefiting from a legalization.

I recently tried to look into this issue a bit more deeply in response to a question for the record I got from the House Homeland Security Committee, where I testified last month. And the question was essentially this. Look, we are talking as a country about the possibility of legalization. Isn't that just encouraging more people to come here illegally, to take advantage of that?

And if you go back and you look at the data between 1981 and '86 -- 1981 was when the Congress the last time around began talking about legalization, and 1986 was when the bill was passed -- in that five years, there was in fact a surge in illegal crossings, especially in the last year.

Now, the bill said, look, you were only going to be eligible for legalization if you'd been in the United States since 1982 or you were a special agriculture worker, but in practice it was easily subject to fraud, and people clearly figured that out. I think there's no question that the '86 bill encouraged people to come to try to take advantage of the legalization.

But if you look this time around, the pattern has been utterly different. Since 2004, when President Bush first began talking again about immigration reform, the number of illegal border crosses has plummeted. And what that tells me is that the United States is not doomed to repeat the mistakes of 1986.

If the Congress passes a sensible reform bill, along the lines laid out by the taskforce -- and that's very much what Senator Schumer and Graham have been talking about in the bill that they were working on -- a bill that includes tough border enforcement, tough workplace enforcement, new temporary and permanent work visa opportunities, and a sensible earned legalization program, there's no reason we can't get this right this time around.

So with that, Chris, I'm happy to take questions.

TUTTLE: Okay. Great. We are willing to -- right now, look at questions from the group. Do we have any questions from the group, operator?

OPERATOR: At this time we will open the floor for questions. If you would like to ask a question, please press the star key followed by the one key on your touchtone phone now. Questions will be taken in the order they are received. If at any time you would like to remove yourself from the questioning queue, please press star-two. And once again, to ask a question, that's star-one.

Our first question comes from Sam Logan with Intelligence Weekly.

QUESTIONER: Hi, good morning.

ALDEN: Good morning.

QUESTIONER: I hope I'm coming through okay on your end.

ALDEN: Very clear.

QUESTIONER: With Jane's Intelligence Weekly on this.

I've been asked to look specifically at Arizona and public security. I know you've been focusing on the federal level, but obviously a lot of the news and interest right now is in Arizona. To what extent do you think some of the claims come out of the sheriff's office in Tucson, for example, that if this law does indeed go into force, that they will be hampered with looking for illegal aliens thereby allowing real criminals to run amok, as it were, in Arizona? Thank you.

ALDEN: Well, I mean, as you know, from looking into it, there has been some division among law-enforcement officers in Arizona. But nationwide, there has been a pretty broad consensus that involving local police forces heavily in immigration enforcement is potentially counterproductive. And we address this in the taskforce, and we argue that this was a major factor that had to be considered in involving local police and any sort of enforcement efforts.

The difficulty is this: You've got a law in place. And to some extent, you already have procedures in place that allow this, that if people have any sort of contact with law enforcement, there's a potential that they're going to be asked for documentation that they're in the country legally. And the danger is that, do people then want to steer absolutely clear of the police?

So, you know, if, for instance, the police are looking for information on gang members, drug cartel activity, smuggling gangs, well, where are you going to gather that information? You're going to gather that information from people in the community who may have contact with those individuals. Well, if those people fear that if they have any contact with police authorities, they're going to be asked for documentation and put into deportation proceedings, that is going to make them reluctant to cooperate.

And there's a more general concern, simply that people are going to be reluctant to report crimes. I mean, would you report domestic violence or other petty crime if by reporting such a crime you come in contact with police officers who now have a right to ask you for proof that you're in the country legally. And if you're not, you're going to hesitate to make that kind of phone call. So that's the concern that local law enforcement officials have about exercising immigration powers in the way that the Arizona law contemplates.

QUESTIONER: And am I correct in looking at this and understanding that this is sort of a blanket extension of, I believe, the 287(g) statute whereby an ICE agent can deputize a local policeman?

ALDEN: I mean, it's a blanket extension in the sense that they've been given power. I mean, if the law implemented, they're given power by the state to carry out these enforcement activities. Under 287(g), you have to have an agreement in place with the federal government, and that agreement puts in place certain restrictions on state and local enforcement of immigration laws.

So this law would expand that dramatically by giving a state legal framework to allow that to happen rather than in effecting and deputizing a federal authority, which is one of the constitutional issues that's going to be raised, is whether the state has the authority to do that or not.

QUESTIONER: And sort of my last follow up would be then -- would your understanding be that policemen who do fall into this -- for example, in Phoenix where, as we know , the sheriff is pretty aggressive, do you think they would be given a blanket mandate to go after? And this is where the issue of race profiling comes up and so on.

ALDEN: Well, I mean, there's been a lot of discussion about -- you know, I mean, there are obviously efforts in the law to prevent blanket racial profiling. But I think the issue in Phoenix is going to be whether the local authorities actually direct their police officers to carry out the law fully, and we just don't know that yet. There's a lot of resistance in Phoenix so I don't know the answer.

QUESTIONER: Okay, thank you.

TUTTLE: Other questions from the group?

OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Chandrakant Pancholi with Overseas India Weekly.

QUESTIONER: Hi. Good morning.

ALDEN: Good morning.

QUESTIONER: Looking at the unemployment picture that we have in this country -- right, more and more people remain unemployed and are going to continue because of progress of technology -- (inaudible) -- how do you think that Congress will react to this when any immigration bill comes in? And secondly, what is your plan for temporary workers?

ALDEN: Two answers. On the first, there's no question that the unemployment picture makes it harder to do an immigration reform bill, even than it was a few years ago when the Congress last discussed it.

One of the ideas that we advanced in the taskforce -- and we borrowed this, to give credit where credit is due, from a 2006 report by the Migration Policy Institute -- is the idea of creating a standard commission in the federal government that would look at economic trends and make recommendations for overall levels of immigration. Most countries are far more strategic than the United States in trying to adjust their annual immigration levels to take into account the state of the economy, demand in particular industries and elsewhere, and the United States has never developed the capacity to do that.

So I think the broader argument here is that at a time of high unemployment, that's not a time that you necessarily want to ramp up legal immigration numbers substantially, but you want to have a mechanism that allows you to adjust with the state of the economy.

I do think there is a very strong argument to be made that allowing in more skilled immigrants, in particular, so through initial temporary programs like the H-1B visa or other mechanisms that could be envisioned in allowing those people o get on the path to a green card, that the economic benefits of that are significant.

There's a lot of -- we go into a lot of detail in the report about science and engineering and the importance that immigrants have played in those fields in the United States, the remarkable innovations that have come out of immigrant entrepreneurs, and that's where the job growth comes from. All the job growth, all of the real job growth in the United States economy comes from new companies.

And so we need to be encouraging talented immigrants as part of the mix that allows an economy to grow and create the jobs for the future. That's how we get out of the unemployment situation that we're in now, not by restricting the number of immigrants in a significant way.

QUESTIONER: And on the temporary workers?

ALDEN: The temporary workers, we -- you know, what we recommended in the taskforce is an expansion of temporary worker programs, but we argued that -- and, you know, this may vary from sector to sector, but we argued that there should be an opportunity for people to seek permanent residence if they want to.

Our concern is what has happened in Europe, where you have people who've worked there for many years under temporary programs that don't have the prospects for citizenship. The danger is you create a kind of second-class set of individuals in your country. So we were enthusiastic about the expansion of temporary programs, but with that caveat, that there ought to be an avenue for people, if they want to, to seek permanent residence.

QUESTIONER: Going back to skilled workers, do you think the taskforce has recommended or can recommend some percentage, that 30 percent or 40 percent should be skilled workers, because that is what immigration stands for, that we have imported skilled workers and unskilled workers at the other level because we have want for both of them?

ALDEN: Yeah, we -- well, actually there are different visas for skilled and unskilled workers. We did not make a recommendation exactly on numbers what the ideal split is, but we called very strongly, in particular, for easing the transition for students who come here, foreign students who come here as graduate students. And this is one of the recommendations in the Schumer-Graham Bill, if it ever sees the light of day, is that foreign students who come and graduate in science and engineering fields have a fast track to a green card. So we make a number of recommendations on the lines that you can take a look at in the report.

QUESTIONER: Thank you.

ALDEN: Thanks.

QUESTIONER: Thank you.

TUTTLE: Questions from others, please.

OPERATOR: Once again, if you'd like to ask a question, that's star, one on your touchtone phone now.

Our next question comes from Patricia Mello (sp) with Estado.

QUESTIONER: Hi. My question is, I was wondering what do you think is going to be the effect, if the states that have been saying they're going to boycott services and travel to Arizona, if they actually go ahead with this? What's the impact to Arizona and to the law?

ALDEN: That question is probably stretching me a little bit because I haven't looked precisely into the scale of the threat. There is -- there was an analogy some years ago, and I wish I could remember exactly when, when the State of Arizona was resisting declaring a holiday for Martin Luther King's birthday, which is now a national holiday, and the State of Arizona was resisting that. And as a result, there were a number of economic boycotts launched in an effort to pressure the state into declaring that a holiday.

In the end, the state did agree to that. So, you know, certainly you've got an economy there that relies heavily on tourists and other people who live part of the year. So there is the potential in that sort of economy for an economic boycott to have a bigger impact than it would in some other places, if people decide that, instead of going to Phoenix for their vacation, they're going to go to Florida or to New Mexico or some other southwestern state. That could have an impact, but I haven't looked at the numbers.

QUESTIONER: Thanks.

TUTTLE: Other questions.

OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Mollie O'Reilly with Commonwealth (sic) Magazine.

QUESTIONER: Hi. I'm just wondering, is there a foreign policy aspect to creating some kind of immigration reform legislation? You know, is our relationship with Mexico or with other South American countries something that has to be considered?

ALDEN: Well, again, this is something that we go into a lot of detail in the task force. There are a number of foreign policy aspects to it. We talk a lot in the task force, and I also, and this was really the subject of my book that Chris mentioned at the outset, about the damage that the United States did to its relations with a number of countries, particularly in the Muslim world, by some of the measures that were taken after 9/11 that made it very, very difficult for people to travel here, be it students or business people or tourists or others.

And so, there are, you know, openness has been one of the great strengths of the United States, and we argue in the report that we have to be very careful as we design measures to gain greater control of our borders, broadly. Not just land borders but airports and other ways in which people of coming into the country, that we don't sacrifice that openness that's been such a strength for the United States. With respect to Mexico, there are obviously numerous foreign policy dimensions to this. I think, you know, you have a stronger commitment than I've ever seen before between the United States government and the Mexican government to work more closely together to try to gain greater control over that border.

I mean, ultimately, the security problems that are of such a concern all along the border result from the fact that the Mexican government has limited control over its northern border regions, and the United States is looking at various ways to help Mexico try to gain that control. And Mexico is much more receptive to this than it has ever been before. I mean, just in the areas I focus on, you've now got U.S. customs and border protection officers working directly with their Mexican counterparts to improve Mexican inspection procedures so that Mexico, for instance, has a better chance of seizing weapons that are going south from the United States into Mexico to the cartels there.

So, yes, there are numerous foreign policy dimensions to it. I mean, one other I could mention is just the gang activity. And this is not something we thought about a lot, but a number of the gangs in Mexico and in Central America really had their origins in the United States. They were American prison gangs, and the United States would deport people back to these countries where they would link up with their fellow gang members who were still back in the United States, in effect creating transnational organized crime. And this was not something the United States thought about very much.

You know, the job of ICE officials was to identify people who were deportable and deport them. If they happened to be gang members, well, that was a problem for Guatemala or El Salvador or Mexico. Well, increasingly, we're not looking at it that way. The United States is realizing that it has to work with these countries in trying to stop this sort of gang activity. There was a big arrest recently in the United States involving U.S. and Mexican cooperation on a human smuggling network. So, long answer, but there are many foreign policy dimensions to this.

TUTTLE: Questions from others, please.

OPERATOR: Once again, if you'd like to ask a question, that's star 1 on your touchtone phone now.

Our next question comes from Chandrakant Pancholi with Overseas India Weekly.

QUESTIONER: Hi. Did the task force come up with some numbers as to how many immigrants we will allow every year? And secondly, isn't -- (inaudible) -- the discriminatory policy between our northern border, which is Canada, and the Mexican? We treat both borders very differently. And third, can we come up with this Mexican solution somehow, because there is a need for, the southern states have always needed workers to work on the farm, and the immigration will continue, I think. The border crossing will continue because there is a need and they are supporting Mexico. So what is the solution there?

ALDEN: With the question of numbers, no, we did not propose a specific number, largely because we're arguing that the system needs to be much more flexible than it is, that we shouldn't have absolute fixed quota numbers, that there should be an ability for the numbers to rise and fall, depending on the state of the economy. So that was a way we dealt with that on the task force. On the northern border, I mean, I think we have to accept that they're very different problems. There's not an illegal immigration problem on the northern border. The main concerns of the northern border are security concerns relating to terrorism, and to a lesser extent, some drug smuggling concerns, particularly in the western part of Canada and the United States.

There has been a -- proportionately as big an increase in border patrol and customs officials on the northern border in recent years as there has been on the southern border, but the numbers are a fraction. You know, we're talking a couple of thousand agents on the northern border versus 18 plus on the southern border. So, so -- but, you know, the scale of the problem is just different. So I actually don't see it as discriminatory. I just see it as a different enforcement problem.

And then, finally, on the question of a Mexican solution, I don't think there is a purely Mexican solution, but again, one of the things we argue in the task force, and I think something that would be part of any comprehensive bill is that there need to be better mechanisms to allow people to come into the United States and work for shorter periods of time, agriculture being the biggest area. There's a need for seasonal workers there, and we have to improve the legal mechanisms that allow that to happen.

QUESTIONER: Thank you.

ALDEN: Thank you.

TUTTLE: Others.

OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Ken Sung (sp) with eTalk (sp).

QUESTIONER: Hi, good morning. I wanted to go back to the steel workers question again, and in particular, there was a -- (inaudible) -- bill introduced last year in the House which eliminates the H1B, like numbers for Ph.D. graduates from other countries. So I was wondering if there are any specific recommendations from the task force that's similar, and do you guys expect something like that to pass in the immigration reform?

ALDEN: Yeah, I mean, I don't. I, you know, there is controversy over the H1B program, though. But it doesn't tend to be controversy about foreign students coming into the United States and remaining to work in the United States. There is a pretty strong consensus in both parties that that's a good thing. The concern over H1Bs has more to do with certain companies that use H1B workers as part of an outsourcing model, as part of a model to do back-office functions for U.S. companies in other places, particularly India. And that involves bringing in workers temporarily to facilitate that. That's where the controversy over H1B has tended to be.

What we recommend in the task force, and what has been part of the bill that Senators Schumer and Graham were discussing is, is a fast track to green card status for graduates, particularly in science and engineering programs, from graduate programs at U.S. universities. For the United States, the biggest single advantage it has had in attracting skilled immigrants is the quality of American universities. There's no other country in the world that has the number and quality of universities that the United States has had, and we need to think of this as a competitive advantage.

You know, if you are a smart kid from almost anywhere in the world, your ambition is to go to Harvard or to Yale or to Stanford or to one of the top American universities. And we as a country should see that as a tremendous opportunity to attract smart, talented people to the United States and encourage them, if they want to, to stay. I mean, many won't. Many will want to go back to their home countries, and there's nothing wrong with that. But we should make it easy for them to stay if they wish to stay. So that's one of the central recommendations in the task force report.

QUESTIONER: Okay. Thanks.

ALDEN: Excellent.

TUTTLE: Additional questions.

OPERATOR: At this time, I'm showing there are no further questions.

TUTTLE: Okay.

Ted, let's assume for a moment that the Democratic leadership decides to take up comprehensive reform this year, and let's further assume that many of the prognosticators, by no means all, are correct in saying it's unlikely a bill is going to get done in the current political environment, leaving the situation basically static.

Can you explain some of the things that, in your view, the administration can and ought to be doing in the interim that don't require new statutory authorization, administrative fixes, things that can be done through the promulgation of rules under existing authorities, that kind of thing?

ALDEN: There are, you know, there are a number of things that can be done at the margins that matter, and if, you know, if you go through the totality of the recommendations in the task force report, I'm encouraged to say that some of them are being done. I mean, one of the things you've seen for instance, is the effort to improve the detention system for those who are picked up and are awaiting the possibility of deportation. Often there are court cases where people are arguing for their right to stay, and you know, we argued in the task force report that the conditions for these people need to be far better and more humane than they have been in recent years, and that we should look at alternatives to detention.

A lot of these people don't need to be jailed while they're waiting for their court cases to proceed, and this has been a priority for the Obama administration. So I've been encouraged by that. I think a lot can be done on the workplace enforcement front. The farther along the United States is in terms of developing an effective verification system so that people who want to work have to show their eligibility to work, the farther along the administration is on that, the easier it is to proceed with comprehensive immigration reform.

There's clearly much more that can be done at the border, though. I think a lot of it is the need to go more systematically after the cartel activities. And I was very encouraged by the recent arrests involving a big human smuggling ring in Arizona. And so the possibility for U.S.-Mexican cooperation on that front, which can really begin to get at the roots of some of the insecurity that's driving the debate in Arizona. So I think there's the potential for progress there.

And then finally, just improvements in processing times in the legal immigration system. There has been a slowdown in applications of various sorts, so this has been an opportunity for DHS to get on top of some of these long backlogs that have been in place. And we're seeing a lot of progress there. So there are a number of things that can be done. But the big issues really do require legislation.

TUTTLE: Thanks. Other questions.

OPERATOR: At this -- oh.

Our next question comes from Max Brett with PBS News Network.

QUESTIONER: Hi, this is Max from the PBS News Hour. I was calling because I'd like to know whether the earned legalization programs that you think are so crucial in the reform debate, how would they be monitored and implemented? And would it require significant federal or state monitoring, or some combination of the two?

ALDEN: This is a -- I mean, this is a, this was a huge problem last time around, and it's going to be one of the biggest issues this time around, and I'm told by people in DHS that they are trying to prepare the groundwork, if a bill passes, so that they can handle the administrative challenge. I mean, you're talking about more than 10 million people who may come forward, seeking legalization.

The biggest problem is going to be trying to assure the authenticity of the claims that people make about work histories and other things. And that was a big problem the last time around. So the truth is, I -- you know, I have not heard yet from the administration a comprehensive explanation of how they will deal with this and how they will try to reduce some of the fraud problems.

QUESTIONER: Right, because it --

ALDEN: Like those in 1986.

QUESTIONER: It seems that so many undocumented immigrants would have been working in temporary, completely undocumented labor for the duration of their time in the United States, and it seems it'd be very, very difficult to prove, if not almost impossible.

ALDEN: Well, I mean, I think, you know, there is, you know, an awful lot of the work that illegal immigrants are doing is, this is not all, you know, kind of under the table, cash, gray market work. I mean, a lot of people are working for established companies. And so, you know, they'll be able to show paystubs. I mean, one of the reasons the Social Security system is running a big surplus is that people are working on phony Social Security numbers and paying into the Social Security system money that they're never going to see at the other end.

So there are an awful lot of people who will actually have a documentary record. But you're right. There are going to be people who won't, and that's going to be a very difficult thing for those who are administering this to figure out. And as I say, people in Citizenship and Immigration Services have told me that they're working on the preparations for dealing with this, if it happens. But I have not seen from the administration a detailed explanation of their implementation plans if this goes forward. So it's a good question.

QUESTIONER: Do you think that, given the concern about the security of the border, that would be a major issue in terms of any prospective legislation?

ALDEN: Well, I don't, I mean, I don't actually think it has anything to do with the security of the border. I mean, that's really, that's a different question. It has to do with whether someone is eligible for a legalization. So, I mean, it gets back to my comments I was making, you know. Are people going -- are we going to see a flood of border crossers by people who hope to be here in order to take advantage of a legalization?

And these would be people who, you know, are quite consciously thinking about in some way coming up with fraudulent evidence because you can be certain that any legalization, as it was in '86, is going to be, is going to have a cut-off date. You know, it's going to say, you have to have been here since some date that goes a while back. And I'm struck that, unlike the period from '81 to '86, we're not seeing that this time around.

And I think one of the reasons is that it's just an awful lot tougher to get across that border than it was in the early '80s. So people could decide in the early '80s, I want to get into the United States because I might be able to take advantage of a legalization. This time around, it's a lot harder to do that. So, I find that an encouraging sign in terms of being able to manage a legalization better than was done 25 years ago.

QUESTIONER: Thank you.

ALDEN: Excellent.

TUTTLE: Next question, please.

OPERATOR: Once again, if you'd like to ask a question, that's star one on your touchtone phone now.

TUTTLE: Ted, you and I spoke a little bit yesterday about how reform, if it does get taken up in the Congress this year, will necessarily have to be bipartisan. How is this issue different from, say, health care or other issues in terms of not just simple vote counting, but also implementation, and the politics of that implementation and the need to have both Republicans and Democrats on board?

ALDEN: I knew I could count on you to ask me the tough political question. I think that the truth is there are more divisions in both parties, in each party, on this issue than was the case in health care. I mean, in health care, it was much more of a partisan divide. I think with immigration reform, there clearly is a partisan divide, but it's not just a Democratic/Republican issue. There are concerns on both sides, and they're different. You know, I mean, the biggest concern on the Republican side is over the legalization amnesty question.

On the Democratic side, there's a lot of concern over labor market impacts, over, you know, what is this going to do to unemployment rates, and can we tell American workers that this is going to show positive benefits for the economy? So I just don't think that you've got a dynamic that allows you to do this just with one party. I really think that you need to, that it needs to be something that can win at least modest support from both parties.

In terms of implementation, probably, I mean there obviously will be state and local issues as we're seeing right now in Arizona. But most of the immigration remit falls under federal authority, so most of what needs to be done will be done by the federal government. So I think the problem is really more at the front end of getting support for a bill and less at the back end in terms of implementation.

TUTTLE: Okay. Any other questions for Ted before we wrap things up today?

OPERATOR: At this time, I'm showing there are no further questions.

TUTTLE: Okay, Ted, do you have anything more to offer before we close things out?

ALDEN: No, that sounds good. Thanks very much, Chris, and thanks everybody for being on the call.

TUTTLE: Yes. Thanks everyone and just as a final reminder, this call, obviously, was on the record, and please go to cfr.org if you're looking for transcripts or a recording of the call.

Thanks a lot. We'll talk to you next time.

Thanks, Ted.

ALDEN: Thanks, Chris.

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