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Media Call: Border Security and U.S. Immigration Policy

Speakers: Edward Alden, Bernard L. Schwartz Senior Fellow, Director of Renewing America, Council on Foreign Relations, and Shannon K. O'Neil, Senior Fellow for Latin America Studies, Council on Foreign Relations, Author, "Two Nations Indivisible: Mexico, the United States, and the Road Ahead"
Presider: Robert McMahon, Editor, CFR.org
May 14, 2013

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OPERATOR: I would now like to turn the conference over to Mr. Robert McMahon. Sir, please begin.

ROBERT MCMAHON: Well, good morning, everyone. And welcome to this Council on Foreign Relations on-the-record media call. I am Robert McMahon, editor of CFR.org and I'll be moderating today's call on border security and U.S. immigration policy.

We are extremely well-equipped to dig into this topic by having on hand Senior Fellow Edward Alden, who is co-author of a just-released CFR report titled "Managing Illegal Immigration to the United States: How Effective is Enforcement?" And also Senior Fellow Shannon O'Neil, who's author of a new book, "Two Nations Indivisible: Mexico, the United States, and the Road Ahead."

I will talk to Shannon and Ted for a few minutes before opening up this call for questions. And I wanted to have them both start off with their perspectives on the immigration issue from each side of the border. Shannon, how is this situation different from 2007, especially from the perspective of Mexico, which you have been assessing in your new book?

SHANNON O'NEIL: You know, we see a lot of changes from Mexico over the last six or seven years. And that I do think will play into the immigration debates that we're just starting up, but also how we see and think about flows from Mexico going forward into the future.

And what's happened is, when you look back at the late 1990s or the early 2000s, which was really the peak of migration flows into the United States, they have dropped dramatically. And so for the last two years, the flows have been what demographers are calling a net zero, so a very similar number coming in every year as going out.

And there are a lot of reasons for this. One of the biggest reasons is economic. So obviously we've hit a rough patch the last few years here in the United States. And particularly over the last couple, Mexico has been doing much, much better. So there are more opportunities at home for Mexicans to stay at home.

Another reason, and Ted'll talk obviously about this more in detail, is the border buildup. And so that has made it much harder for Mexicans to come and go across the border, so discouraging some from traveling but also discouraging what had been for many, many years the modus operandi, which is that people would come for several months and then go back to Mexico. And so we're seeing much less movement back and forth during the year, over a couple years, that we did in the past from Mexico.

But the other really big change is demographic in Mexico. And you look at the average family size in, say, the late 1970s, and there were on average seven kids per family. You look forward to today, and there's just over two kids per family -- about the exact same number that we have here in the United States. And so as those numbers have changed, as family dynamics and family makeup has changed, you just each year have fewer and fewer Mexican kids coming of age, turning 18 every year. x x x year.

And that will continue into the future.

And then the final thing I would add to this is, as we've seen changing demographics, we've also seen changes in what people expect from family life. We've seen the rise of a middle class in Mexico. And one of the things that that middle class has cared about and used their disposable income to invest in is education. So over the last 25 years, the average number of years Mexicans stay in school has doubled. So when you're 15 years old in Mexico, perhaps 20 years ago you would have thought, I'm going to head north of the border and go look for a job, and now you're staying in school, you're going to finish high school and a third of Mexicans now go on to some sort of college education. So you're seeing a change in what the expectations are there.

So in looking forward for migration from the United States, we are going to see continued migration, whether it's because of differences in wages and the draw that you have here from the United States, particularly if our economy picks back up. You're going to see the draw of very close family links because so many people live on both sides of the border, have family and both sides of the border. But it's hard to imagine that we would ever again see the flows coming from Mexico that we did just 10 years ago.

MCMAHON: So the flow trends have clearly slowed, as you spell out, but we now have what's widely cited as this figure of 11 million or so of illegal immigrants. Many of them are Mexicans, as you say. There are family ties that are now almost a generation old. So -- and you say in your book, you know, the two sides need to be -- or the United States needs to be rethinking immigration border policies to, as you say, to encourage, not hinder, the legal movement of Mexican workers and their families. Do you -- do you see this as something that can emerge from the current debate?

O'NEIL: Yeah, I'm cautiously optimistic that we can -- that something will come out of this. And one is, because of these changes in Mexico, that some of the very heightened rhetoric and at times quite ugly rhetoric that we've seen over the last decade or so, if we -- if the flow is lower, if it flows less, then perhaps it takes a little bit of the heat out of this. So that's one change that I think is important.

The other change that we've seen that's really been quite dramatic just over the last six months or so is that the potential for the Latino vote -- which people talked about for many, many years -- it actually became a reality last November, and by most accounts, Hispanics, the majority of whom are Mexican of origin or their families are Mexican of origin, were quite influential in many swing states and pushed Obama and other senators and representatives and the like over the edge in terms of winning and get back to Washington or getting to Washington for the first time. So we see both parties, both the Democrats that have obviously the edge with Hispanic voters today, but also Republicans -- both of them are searching for a space to appeal to these voters, because this is the future of America -- a big part of the future of America. And so that, I think, is opening up the space for a broader discussion and some of the comprehensive reforms that we've seen.

And then finally, the other thing that I see quite different from 2007 in these immigration debates is the role of business. You look back in 2007, and to me they were almost absent from the negotiating table. And what we've seen over the last several months is that they are fully there. You have the high-tech sectors, the Facebooks and others who have made a big push to get a part of this discussion and make sure that guest worker programs and things are on the table.

But you've also seen traditional business, whether the U.S. Chamber of Commerce or others, also at the table, and this time reaching compromises with the labor unions and others in ways that they weren't able to, you know, six-plus years ago. So in there I see all of these factors coming together, what's changed in Mexico but then also what's changed here with the Latino voting demographic and others making a difference. So I'm cautiously optimistic that this grand bargain could come together.

MCMAHON: Thanks, Shannon. So huge changes in the last six years. And your recent report that you co-authored cites the fact that there's been this substantial decrease in the flow of undocumented migrants. It mentions that in terms of enforcement it could possibly explain about a third of the recent reduction in the flow.

But the report raises serious questions about how measurements are taken both at the border as well as the interior of the United States. Can you talk a little bit about that, some of the -- some of the main points the report is making?

EDWARD ALDEN: Yeah, thanks very much, Bob. And just want to quickly congratulate Shannon on her new book, which is wonderful, very readable. I highly encourage all of you to take a look at it.

And I would like to mention my co-authors on this paper. This was a big effort that involved two fine economists, Bryan Roberts and John Whitley, who for a number of years worked in the program analysis and evaluation branch at the Department of Homeland Security. John ran that organization for DHS. So these are two individuals who have spent a lot of time thinking about how to measure the performance of organizations, and particularly here in the border security context. So we really make four big points in the report that I will just run through quickly.

I mean, Shannon's point is absolutely accurate, that I -- there's no reason to believe, based on the demographics, on the economics, that we are going to see a large-scale resurgence of illegal migration from Mexico or from farther south in Central America.

But clearly, border enforcement is going to continue to be a real challenge -- obviously important politically in the current immigration reform debate. By all the metrics we used in our new paper -- and there are a number there that really haven't been talked about in public before. By all these metrics, there's been tremendous progress over the last decade -- the border patrol catching a significantly high percentage of those who try to enter illegally than it was able to do a decade ago, and there are dramatically fewer successful illegal entries. So the story on the enforcement side is one of significant continued progress.

The second point is that the Department of Homeland Security needs to do far more to measure outcomes and to report to Congress and the public on where things are working and not working in terms of border enforcement. And we spend billions of dollars every year on border enforcement. The overall figure for immigration enforcement is about $18 billion a year. And there's really no serious assessment going on in the government of what works and what doesn't work, and that's, at some levels, irresponsible with taxpayer dollars.

The department, for some sound reasons, rejected the standard that they'd used for many years, which was called operational control. And we can talk about that more in the questions if people are interested. I think there were good reasons for the department to get rid of that standard, but they've been promising, for the past two years, to come up with a new metric to assess progress on the border, and have failed to do that. And it's a real lack in the current debate that DHS hasn't come forward with that.

The third point that I want to make is that the numbers -- the analysis that we offer in this study -- and I would mention other tremendous work recently by the GAO in a December report and a brand new report that's out from the Congressional Research Service. If you look at these reports in tandem, there's a real opportunity here to shift the debate over border enforcement.

The right question is not the one that we've been asking for two decades and was clearly the question in the 2007 debate, you know, which is how many border patrol agents do we have on the border? How many miles of fencing do we have? How many cameras do we have? All kind of measures of input and effort. The right question is, what level of law enforcement success do we want as a country, and what are we willing to pay for it? What percentage of the people trying to enter illegally do we want to apprehend? How much do we want to drive those numbers down?

So is a 50 percent apprehension rate -- if we're catching one of two people who tries to enter illegally between the ports of entry -- is that good enough? And that's roughly the number we come up with in this report. And if not, what would it take to get to a 60 percent or a 70 percent or an 80 percent? There's a -- there's a little appendix at the end that looks at the Cold War border between East and West Germany, which is one of the most secure borders in modern history, and the Germans were very good at gathering data on outcomes at that border.

And what they discovered that about 5 percent of the people who tried to escape from East Germany to West Germany succeeded. So the apprehension rate on the inter-German border in the Cold War was 95 percent, and that was a border with, you know, no-man's land, barbed wire, floodlights, shoot to kill orders -- all sorts of things that we would never do on the border with Mexico.

MCMAHON: And a wall -- and a wall, should we say.

ALDEN: And a wall -- and a wall. So we need to -- we need to have a real debate over what it is -- what sort of goals we're trying to reach in terms of border enforcement.

And then, just quickly, one final point. Obviously, border enforcement can't be treated in isolation. I mean, we talk a little bit in the report about workplace and interior enforcement. If there's little good analysis of the effectiveness of border enforcement, there's basically none at all on workplace and interior enforcement.

I mean, the Department of Homeland Security could not give you a sensible answer to the question of, does it make more sense to hire an additional workplace inspector and to beef up worksite enforcement, because that will deter illegal immigration to the United States -- does it make more sense to do that or to hire additional border patrol agents? They've done no sort of analytical work to help answer that question. So that's a huge lack.

And then, finally -- which gets to the point you asked Shannon about at the end -- obviously, there's a balance here between enforcement and new legal options. We talk a little bit about the experience of the 1950s, when the U.S. had a very large temporary worker program called Bracero, and there were, of course, all sorts of problems with Bracero. And there were of course all sorts of problems with Bracero, we're not talking for -- about reviving Bracero. But if you look at the 1950s, you had pretty tough border enforcement and a big temporary worker program. And there was very little illegal migration from Mexico to the United States in the 1950s. So you have to -- looking at that experience, what we conclude is the combination of tough enforcement that discourages people from coming illegally and reasonable, legal options, either for temporary work or permit work in the United States, really would go a long way to maintaining control over that border going forward.

MCMAHON: And we should also mention obviously the -- this immigration reform effort is a sweeping one that involves skilled workers as well and also some other things that you've focused on quite a bit as part of the Renewing America Initiative, Ted. But we'll stick with this considerable focus on the -- on the border for now and see if it opens up in the questions.

I want to remind everybody on the call, this is a CFR on-the-record media conference call with Senior Fellows Shannon O'Neil and Edward Alden on border enforcement and immigration. And, Operator, at this point, I'd like to open up for questions, if we can.

OPERATOR: Yes, sir. (Gives queuing instructions.)

Our first question comes from Joel Millman with The Wall Street Journal.

MCMAHON: Yes, please go ahead.

OPERATOR: It looks like Mr. Millman has removed himself from the queue. (Gives queuing instructions.)

We have -- we have a question from Elisa Weirsma (ph) from ABC News.

QUESTIONER: I just wanted to ask, I haven't -- I haven't read the reports yet, but I was just wondering: So your studies are focused more on Mexico and immigrants coming from Mexico? What about illegal immigration from elsewhere? Have -- has there been any kind of -- has there been there any kind of data done on that, you know, people that maybe come from other countries and end up staying or anything like that? Is there any kind of records of other --

MCMAHON: Ted, you want -- Ted, you want to take that?

ALDEN: Well -- Shannon, do you want to talk a little bit about Central America? And then I'll talk about the issue of visa overstay, which is people coming from other places.

O'NEIL: Sure, so what we have seen is one of the big areas where people come from as well is from Central America. I mean, Mexico was always the biggest flows-in and about a third of the immigrants in the United States, so one of the biggest areas. And it, as I was mentioning before, has decreased substantially in the last several years.

Central American flows have not decreased, so those continue to come. I mean, one thing though is in terms of just absolute number of people from Central America, there's just fewer people, that Mexico is, you know, a country of 117 (million), 120 million people; Central America altogether is, you know, somewhere between 40 (million), 50 million people. So the numbers that are coming from Central America are lower. And the hurdles are greater, just because of the distance that individuals need to come.

But there are quite strong ties, both in terms of labor market movement and so networks for people who do make it here from Central America to easily or quite -- or fairly easily insert themselves into the U.S. labor force.

And there are increasingly very strong familial ties, so generations that have been here from -- whether it's El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and other places, so communities. And people are coming for both of those reasons, for family reasons as well as work reasons. And on that front, we have yet to see the declines that we've seen in Mexico.

Some of the demographic trends that I talked about in Mexico, they are also happening in Central America. But they aren't as far along as they are. But the trends are there. So you can imagine that we'll see some of the changes there. But what we haven't yet seen in Central America is a very steep decline in overall fertility rates, so that the number of kids per family, they're still a bit higher. And we haven't yet seen really the growth of a middle class, of this increasing prosperity, at least in some segments of the population that have been a big benefit in Mexico and that'll also help to reduce the migration north.

QUESTIONER: Thank you.

ALDEN: Yeah, so Mexico is by far the largest source country for unauthorized immigrants; Central America -- (inaudible) -- to Central America next. So the rest of the world, much smaller, so you know, we're talking some from Pakistan, some from India, some from South America, so the numbers here are much smaller now. But the main way people from other countries come and remain in the United States illegally is they travel on a legal visa and then they overstay their visa. They just don't go home. They fly here and they're legal when they come, but the six months or whatever term their visa is for expires, and they don't go home.

We discuss in the report the -- there has been significant progress -- more needs to be made, clearly -- but there's been significant progress in trying to assess and track the problem of visa overstays. So everybody who comes to the United States now, post 9/11, is fingerprinted. If you're coming by air into the United States you're fingerprinted so we know when you arrive.

There's a much better system now for matching that up with departure records. So we have a pretty -- the Department of Homeland Security has a pretty good sense of whether people are leaving on time. There are some holes in the system, but it's a much, much better system.

Again, it's frustrating because the department has promised for several years now to report to the Congress an overstay rate for each country -- a visa overstay rate. And they have pretty good data on this, but are still not reporting this number. And it would really help in the analysis.

A very good recent study by the demographer Robert Warren, looking at visa overstays in the decade of the 2000s, and the numbers are down quite dramatically. The evidence is that there are 80 percent fewer people overstaying visas than there were a decade ago. So the story on visa overstays in some ways is an even better story from the perspective of trying to control illegal migration than the -- than the border story.

MCMAHON: Thank you for that question. Operator, is there another question, please?

OPERATOR: Oh, yes. (Gives queuing instructions). Sir, at the time, we have no questions in the queue.

MCMAHON: OK. So I'd like to just step in with what some other countries have done. And, Ted, you recently wrote an op-ed about how Canada has approached it -- specifically how Canada's conservatives have approached immigration reform. And that they're seeing, not surprisingly, a great deal of success. Could you talk a little bit about that because I think there are parallels for what the situation is in the United States at this point?

ALDEN: Well, I think the political lessons, which is what I wrote about in that piece, are very interesting for the Republican Party because in Canada you had a similar sort of situation to what the Republicans find themselves in now, which is you had one party -- in the -- in the Canadian case the Liberal Party -- which basically took most of the vote from recent immigrants to Canada. And overall immigration levels to Canada on a -- on a per capita basis are actually higher than they are to the United States.

So that was a very important factor in the Liberals winning majority government after majority government in Canada, because they swept the immigrant vote. There were other factors as well, but that was a big one. And so the Conservative Party, about 10 years ago, woke up to the -- to this fact and decided to be much more aggressive in its outreach to immigrant communities.

So it just was -- party -- senior officials of the party, particularly Jason Kenney who's their immigration minister now, spent a lot of time going out and talking to people in the immigrant communities. Canada's pool of immigrants is incredibly diverse, from more than a hundred different countries, talking to people in these communities, finding out what their goals were, meeting them, pressing the flesh.

There were some important symbolic gestures that the Conservatives made when they won a minority government, for instance apologizing for what's called the Chinese head tax, which was sort of Canada's equivalent of the U.S. effort to exclude Chinese immigration in the late 19th century. So good politicking, some important symbolic acts.

And the Conservatives tried to come up with a platform in terms of tax and spending policy that would also be appealing to immigrant voters. In the 2011 election, the Tories in Canada took a majority of the immigrant vote and won a majority government. So it does show that there are political openings here.

I mean, it's hard to -- you can't necessarily draw a direct analogy to the United States, but if the Republicans were to do here what the Conservatives did in Canada, it certainly looks like there is the potential for significant electoral gain there from a serious outreach to immigrant communities, which the party's just never done.

MCMAHON: Right. At this point, it's -- it appears like there is a political battle in store. There's a bipartisan effort in the Senate, obviously, to get through a reform package. There is a number of amendments being attached already. There's certainly going to be a fierce debate in the House if it gets out of the Senate.

Shannon O'Neil, could you talk a little bit about what you -- what you touched on before, which is the changing -- the changing landscape politically of immigration reform and maybe a little bit more about the way business and maybe -- you know, I think you have everything from business to evangelical Christians and others who are part of this movement that maybe weren't as outspoken as they were in 2007?

O'NEIL: I mean, I think this is a very different environment for those reasons is -- I mean, one is, is this role of business. So we've seen, you know, Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg come out. We've seen Laurene Powell-Jobs, you know, Steve Jobs' widow. She started a group that focuses particular on Dreamers. So, I mean, some of these businesses groups have obviously their own interests. They're trying to push those on the agenda, but what is different is that they weren't there the last time or they didn't feel comfortable speaking up in the way that they do now and reaching out to not just Washington but reaching out to a broader public through, you know, many of these avenues, social media avenues and the like. And so I see that as quite different.

What you also see, as I mentioned before, is it's not just high-tech industries, which obviously care about the ability to expand the number of visas for those in the high-tech sector systems, sectors and the like -- you see it also on the traditional side. So the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has been very involved. They've been negotiating with the AFL-CIO and this time have actually come to at least some agreement, something that they were unable to do the last time around, and some people think was what last sunk the last time around. And while it didn't pass and really what it matters is whether it passes or not, in 2007, it got very close; it was just a few votes away from a comprehensive reform passing at that time. So in looking at it now/forward, you see some of these groups that really want reform actually using some of their political muscle on the table.

And then the other factor I mentioned, which I'll just reiterate, is that we've seen a change in the voting landscape here. And where -- how do you capture the Latino vote? And, you know, I mean, I think this will be something not just for this particular issue but for many issues in American society and American politics: How do you incorporate these groups into our, you know, political party system, and where will they go? I mean, historically -- and recently we saw that the vast majority are voting Democratic. But it's not necessarily a done deal that they stay Democratic, and so I think both Democrats and Republicans are searching around for ways to appeal to this group.

Right now, immigration issues are a big way to do that, and in part I would argue is because of the heated rhetoric we've seen over the last decade or so. It's -- of course, some of these groups felt that it's sort of broadly painted everyone who's of Mexican origin or Central American origin, and that's why I think there's a lot of concern about these issues. But you look at polls of Latino voters, and they care about what most Americans care about: They care about education, they care about security, they care about economic opportunity, they care about access to health care. These are the things that they think about. And so in that sense, if and when we get beyond the immigration reform, which is obviously front and center now for this group as well as other groups, so the Latino voting demographic, there are lots of issues that different candidates from whatever side of the aisle could be appealing to this group.

But it's also an evolving group. Because as much as today we're focused on immigrants that are coming here to the United States, you know, these flows are slowing down. And so in terms of voting, it's those that are second and third, fourth, fifth generation are the ones that politicians should be, and are, focusing on.

MCMAHON: I just want to follow up on that, Shannon, which gets into some of the key points in your book, which is that Mexico continues to be this little-understood story in that there are -- there is certainly a very nasty drug war continuing, but it's also -- there's an economic success story that the U.S. stands to benefit, you know, widely from. And I wish -- I would like if you could actually go in that a little bit more about how the U.S. could, through informed policy and through perhaps more -- shedding more light on what's going on in Mexico, could perhaps benefit from an enlightened reform of immigration and benefit from Mexico's upswing?

O'NEIL: Well, one of the tensions in the U.S.-Mexico relationship over the last several years has been immigration reform. And this government and the one before this government in Mexico, it's not that they are entering into the debate in the United States. We saw -- if you go back to the early 2000-2001, when George Bush had just come in and Vicente Fox was his counterpart in Mexico, and newly elected as well, that administration really did enter into the immigration debate, and they came up here and they were pushing for immigration reform. And his foreign minister, the Mexican foreign minister, dubbed this term, you know, we want the whole enchilada, which was, you know, we want a big comprehensive immigration reform. And as we all know, it didn't work out for many reasons -- 9/11 being one of them.

Now you look at the Mexican presidents, and they're not entering into this. They see it, and -- we recently had a visit of Obama to Mexico, and the president down there, Pena Nieto, was asked about immigration reform, and he said, basically, that, you know, we wish the American president well; we know he has a bigger agenda, and we're not entering into this debate, because they see it as a domestic policy issue in the United States and one that they don't want to enter into.

But that said, if there was some resolution on this, in particular that took out some of the heated rhetoric that's surrounded immigration reform and often focused on Mexican immigrants and others, I think it would change a bit U.S.-Mexico relations, because it would take some of the tensions out and then let the two governments focus on other issues that are incredibly important.

And one is obviously security, and we've been working very closely with the Mexican government on security issues for the last five or six years, and that cooperation is evolving now under the new government in Mexico and the new term here in the United States for Obama. But there will be continuing cooperation there on how you improve security in Mexico that also then matters for the United States, given so much of the security threat comes from organized crime that spans the border.

But the other issue, which is the more positive issue, is, how do we grow together? And what we've seen over the last 20 years since NAFTA came into effect is, one, an explosion of trade between the two countries. So now it's half a trillion dollar worth of goods that goes back and forth across the U.S.-Mexico border every year. But more important than just the amount, which is sizeable and makes each country one of the other country's biggest trading partners -- more important than even that is what is now traded. And so, what comes across the U.S.-Mexican border now is not really finished goods, but it's pieces and parts.

And so, for something coming in from Mexico -- so quote, unquote "made in Mexico" -- almost 40 percent of that product, on average, was actually made in the United States. So we see today this dependency between U.S. workers and Mexican workers for their jobs, for their livelihoods and companies that now span the border.

And so as we look forward and we think about how the United States faces the world and globalization and competes with the likes of China and everyone else around the world, it's this regional economic platform that we've already deepened with our NAFTA partners, both Canada and Mexico. That is the path forward. And so if we can resolve the immigration issues, we can get to some of these as-important issues, particularly the economic side and how we work together to ensure the livelihoods of people on both sides of the border, because whether we like it or not, today, they are very tied to each other.

MCMAHON: Thanks, Shannon. Just a reminder to all on the line, this is a CFR media conference call on U.S. immigration and border enforcement. I'm speaking with senior fellows Shannon O'Neil and Edward Alden on the issue. And operator, I'd like to open up the call for any questions at this point.

OPERATOR: (Gives queueing instructions.)

At this time, we have no questions in the queue.

MCMAHON: I think it's also maybe worth mentioning there's a markup going on right at this moment in the -- in the Senate Judiciary Committee, I believe, on the immigration reform bill. So it's a -- it's a relevant discussion to be having.

I guess I'd like to add -- have Ted sort of -- maybe wrap up what his initial comments were on this call and then to Shannon as well. Ted, do you want to step in?

ALDEN: Well, I mean, just to conclude, I think we've covered a lot of the key points here, and I certainly agree with Shannon's summary on the importance of trying to move past the immigration issue so that the U.S. and Mexico can start talking about some other things. I think -- you know, obviously, the border enforcement piece that I've been working on is key in trying to satisfy a lot of lawmakers who are skeptical, worried that what we're going to see is a rerun of the 1986 experience when the U.S. passed a big legalization bill with the promise that the problem of unauthorized immigration would be resolved, and then the problem got much bigger.

So I think there are lots of reasons to believe this time around that the facts on the ground are very different for all the reasons we went over in this call. So I think there's every reason to believe that the United States can do a big immigration reform bill with an outcome that's much more positive than the experience was in the aftermath of 1986.

MCMAHON: Thanks, Ted.

Shannon, a concluding comment on this?

O'NEIL: You know, I would just add this: it's -- a lot of the debate that we've heard so far -- and I know it's just been the opening days in the Congress, but I -- undoubtedly, we will hear going forward is this idea that we need to secure the border before we start talking about many of the other issues within this big comprehensive reform, particularly the path to citizenship and those sorts of things, that you need border security before you get these other parts of the reform.

And I would say in some ways, we should be thinking about it in the reverse way. And particularly for Mexico, which I'll touch on, just because it is the biggest immigrant group and the biggest group of those that have come here illegally in the last several years -- if you look at Mexico today and you have a very close relative here in the United States, you will likely wait years and in many cases, over a decade, to come here legally. So you're asking families who want to bring a young child or a spouse or the like -- you know, bringing a 5-year-old kid, you might be asking them then to wait -- have that child wait in line until they were 15 to come and join the family in order to come here legally.

And if you don't have a close relative here and you're from Mexico, for many Mexicans, there's no line to get into. And so in that sense, if we would change some of these immigration laws and make it a reasonable amount of time to come or even have a line that someone can actually get into so they can come in a legal manner, then you would at the same time be improving the border security that so many people are worried about.

MCMAHON: And on that note, we will conclude this call. I want to thank Senior Fellows Shannon O'Neil and Edward Alden for taking part in this media conference call and to all you on the line. This concludes this CFR media conference call on border enforcement and immigration.

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