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U.S. Immigration Policy: Report of a CFR-Sponsored Independent Task Force

Speakers: Thomas F. McLarty III, President Of McLarty Associates, Former White House Chief of Staff and Task Force Co-Chair, Richard Land, President, Ethics And Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and Edward Alden, Bernard L. Schwartz Senior Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations, and Task Force Director
Presider: Mark Whitaker, Senior Vice President And Washington Bureau Chief, NBC News
July 8, 2009, Washington DC
Council on Foreign Relations

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ANYA SCHMEMANN (director, CFR Task Force Program): Good morning. Thank you for being up with us this morning.

I'm Anya Schmemann, director of the council's Task Force Program, and it's my pleasure to welcome you to this special event to release the report of the Independent Task Force on U.S. Immigration Policy. We have several guests here as well today, and we welcome all of you to the council.

You have heard that Jeb Bush encountered some airplane problems this morning, unfortunately, and is unable to join us today. But we are very pleased to be joined by Dr. Richard Land, a member of our task force, and I believe you have his bio. He is president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. Thank you very much for joining us this morning.

Let me say a few quick words about the council's Task Force Program and note a few people before turning to our panel. Task forces are nonpartisan, and they are independent from the Council on Foreign Relations. The council, as you all know, takes no institutional positions on issues. Task force members alone are responsible for the content of their reports.

Task force reports are consensus documents. Members endorse the general policy thrust and judgments reached by the group -- thank you -- but not necessarily every finding or recommendation. This task force on U.S. immigration policy was launched last June. It's chaired by Jeb Bush and Mack McLarty, and directed by CFR Senior Fellow Ted Alden. We thank them for their service.

Other staff people who were instrumental in this effort were Ted's RA, Andrew Rotus, and my own deputy, Swetha Sridharan. So thank you to them.

And we thank all the task force members for their very important contributions to this project, and we're very pleased to have a number of them join us here today.

We have -- let's see -- here in the front row, we have Don Kerwin; Richard Land, of course, on the panel; Eliseo Medina; Andrew Selee; Margaret Stock. Thank you for being here.

So without further adieu, let me turn things over to Mark, who will moderate our discussion. Thank you very much.

MARK WHITAKER: Good morning. I'm Mark Whitaker, Washington bureau chief for NBC News.

We are joined this morning by Mack McLarty, who you all know. He is the president of McLarty Associates and the former White House chief of staff under President Bill Clinton; Richard Land, who is the president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and a member of the task force; and finally, Ted Alden, the Bernard Schwartz Senior Fellow here at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Just a couple of reminders. We're on the record. Also, if you could turn off all of your cell phones, PDAs, BlackBerrys and other electronic devices, it'd be appreciated.

Now, let's start by putting the report in the context of the discussion that's going on now with the Obama administration on immigration reform. It's something the president has talked about. There's some question as to how quickly the administration will get to it. But from what we've heard so far from this administration, what are the points of similarity and what are the points of distinction and difference in terms of what you have recommended in this report?

MACK MCLARTY: I think, Mark, largely similarity. You're right; President Obama has discussed immigration reform most recently in a broad congressional meeting, and of course he and Secretary Clinton discussed in the campaign, as did the candidates in the Republican primary.

I think the issue is going to be timing and sequencing. I think the commitment is clear. And as far as the report is concerned, we hope and believe, with a lot of good work by the task force members who are here and those that are not, that we have addressed the issues, both from a policy standpoint and a political or congressional standpoint; we've framed them in a proper way. There are some things you can do without comprehensive legislation, but clearly the report strongly recommends the Obama administration and Congress move forward with comprehensive immigration reform.

RICHARD LAND: I think that's right. I think that there was a conscious effort on the part of the task force to try to get a little ahead of the curve; that we felt that this was a very timely moment, a kairos moment rather than a chronological one, where we -- where we could make a difference by thinking about these issues. We have a broad task force that represents a lot of different view points, coming up with ideas and framing them in ways that we hope will be helpful to both the administration and to Congress as they tackle these issues. And it was a conscious effort to be proactive rather than reactive.

WHITAKER: Ted, anybody --

EDWARD ALDEN: I think I would add primarily that what we have tried to do in this report is put immigration reform in a larger context. I think mostly what we have been talking about in this country over the past decade or so is the problem of illegal immigration and how to deal with illegal immigration, and we focus on that very much in the report.

But we make the argument, look, the stakes for American society in how we handle immigration are much larger than that. Immigrants are tremendously important to the overall health and success of our economy. We argue that they have been very important to our diplomacy. You go around the world, there are leaders in friendly countries all over the world who were educated in the United States, spent time here. Our immigration policy can and does help development abroad. We try to make the argument that we can't simply keep limping along with a broken system because the stakes are really too high.

And so I think, as the Council on Foreign Relations, we saw our mandate here to put immigration in a broader foreign policy context. It tends to be discussed almost purely as a domestic issue. And on the task force, you know, as Richard mentioned, a very broad group of Republicans, Democrats, we came together around a common belief that the stakes here for America's standing in the world are very high, and that's why we need to move effectively and swiftly on this issue, on fixing the many problems that we know about in the immigration system.

WHITAKER: I want to get back to the international implications and impact a little bit later. But first of all, these issues have been around for a long time. The Bush administration -- the last Bush administration tried to tackle them. They go back to the Clinton administration.

Why haven't we gotten further? What have been the political impediments and roadblocks that have kept us from getting further on these issues up to now?

MCLARTY: Well, Mark, the issue is a complicated one. There are some difficult choices to make. And the issue, obviously, has some emotion associated with it.

Having said that, I think, picking up on Dr. Land's comments, we do think that it's a different time and place. Not only do you have a new administration and a new Congress, but I think our report suggests that there really has been significant progress made in the area of enforcement and controlling the borders, and that's a very important pillar. It's not a be-all end-all, but it's a very important pillar in this discussion.

I think also, Mark, in terms of the attitude of the American people -- particularly regarding the international side, public diplomacy, our values around the world -- it's a different dynamic as well. So that's what we believe has a different context, a different dynamic now than in past administrations.

Having said that, we certainly didn't dismiss much of the discussion, debate and good ideas and consensus that has been reached, certainly, in the 2007 congressional debate.

LAND: Well, and I think it has to be -- if you're asking the question, why haven't we made more progress, this issue has been around. I think that there have been people in our society who have had a vested interest in this issue not getting fixed. (Chuckles.) There are people who have benefited from exploiting cheap labor and exploiting those who are undocumented workers, and they've had a vested interest in it not getting fixed.

And I think that there's also been this debate back and forth between border enforcement versus immigration and a way -- finding a pathway to legal residency. And we feel and the task force has felt that you can't do one without the other; that you've got to have both, that it's at both ends; that otherwise you don't have the critical mass of support you need for political reform because there's a feeling among many people that if you don't have border enforcement, then if you -- if you find a -- if you provide a pathway to legal residence and citizenship, then it will just create another surge of people coming here illegally in order to benefit from that.

And so you have to do both. And I think the fact that the government has gone ahead in the absence of comprehensive reform and has gone ahead with strengthening border enforcement and putting a lot more people on the border has helped make another attempt at comprehensive reform more feasible.

WHITAKER: Since Governor Bush isn't here, I'm going to ask you to channel him. (Laughter.) I mean, obviously, he had a lot of experience with this issue in Florida. I'm sure it came up in some of the discussions in the task force. What would he say about the political obstacles and constraints if he were here?

ALDEN: What I do do know -- (chuckles) -- is it's a tall order, and I wouldn't presume to speak for him. But I think what he would point to is simply the fact that our experience over the last 20 years or so has not been a good one on the illegal-immigration front, I mean, there was legislation that Congress passed in 1986 that was supposed to address this problem, and it got much worse after 1986. And there are lots of reasons for that. There's been lots of analysis about why the '86 act didn't work. But the fact is that we have millions of people living in this country, working in this country who are not authorized to be here, and that is a -- that's a big political problem. It offends a lot of Americans. It offends a lot of legal immigrants.

And so you have to find a way to get past that problem, and it's particularly difficult in the Republican Party. It's a very divisive issue in the Republican Party. And I, you know, applaud Governor Bush's courage for taking on this issue because he feels very passionately about it. He thinks that immigration is one of the fundamental strengths of the United States, and that we need to find a way to get on a better path. And so I think he and others on the task force have been willing to take this on politically even though it's a hard sell, in a large measure because the experience post-1986 has largely not been a good one.

WHITAKER: Want to drill down a little bit on the point that you were just making, Dr. Land. In terms of the tension between, on the one hand, getting tough on illegal immigration, on getting tough on border security, but at the same time creating a pathway for the illegals who are already in this country to get citizenship.

Now, this has been talked about often in terms of amnesty. The report comes out in favor of something else, something you call "earned legalization." Could you explain that, what that means, how that works and why, ultimately, you decided to reject amnesty as a way of dealing with this issue?

LAND: Well, in order to get the political support necessary and the support of the people to have that earned pathway to citizenship, you've got to convince the people that you're securing the borders.

I must confess that, during this whole discussion as I've listened to it over the past several years, the idea that what was being proposed by Senator McCain and by Senator Kennedy or by President Bush was amnesty, you know, people who think that, they need a course in remedial English because amnesty is what President Carter gave to those who avoided the draft and who came back from Canada with no fines, no penalties, no community service, no anything. The McCain-Feingold legislation, I actually sat down and went through it and counted up how long it would take for an undocumented worker to progress to citizenship and it was 13 years. That's not amnesty.

So when you have to pay fines, when you have to learn to -- and take a test that you've learned to read and write and speak English, when you have to go through various other hoops, and when you go to the back of the line from those who have come in legally, that's not amnesty. That is an earned pathway to citizenship.

MCLARTY: Mark, I would add a couple of points.

First of all, I think it was absolutely the strong feeling of the task force members, by each individual, that we did not agree with amnesty, just a blanket dismissing of those who had come here illegally; that there had to be a very serious, purposeful earned pathway of steps taken close to the 2007 legislation, not identical. That's number one.

Number two, I think this entire issue kind of comes under the heading, you know, if it ain't broken, don't fix it. Whether they're proponents, critics or whatever, I think everyone or largely everyone agrees the current system is not working in an optimum manner. Issues must be addressed. It must be changed. It must be fixed to really reflect the realities, to make the policies square up with the realities.

Finally, on the issue of the undocumented immigrants who are here, it's not a perfect situation. It's a difficult issue. There's no need to say it any other way. But it is reality: How do you deal with those 12 million people who are here -- many of whom who have been here, are contributing to our workforce and our economy?

So I think our view is, let's deal with that, but let's also look forward regulating the flow of legal immigrants and stopping the flow of illegal immigrants. That's really, I think, the essence of what we've tried to achieve in our report, and I think we've gotten pretty close to that.

WHITAKER: In terms of the undocumented workers that are already here, do the businesses that have been employing them, do they have a role in that?

MCLARTY: They do.

WHITAKER: And what is it?

MCLARTY: Well, I think one of the improvements that I have seen in recent years and the report strongly addresses is very, very strong enforcement measures of the businesses that hire illegal immigrants. There have to be very tough sanctions for that because what happens, Mark, in terms of job creation and wages, obviously, when you go to that gray market and are not paying minimum wage, not supplying benefits, you're undercutting the American worker as well. So I think you have to have not only strong enforcement at the border, but you have to have strong enforcement in the workplace as well.

WHITAKER: But can they also play a role in helping them get documented, to get on the path toward getting citizenship --

MCLARTY: Yes.

WHITAKER: -- if they want them to stay and sponsor them and so forth?

MCLARTY: I think many, many responsible businesses will do exactly that. I mean, I think businesses in many cases people that have worked with them for a number of years, they may or may not know they're undocumented because now it's very difficult to determine that.

And that's another important point. It's a technical point, but it's an important point of the E-Verify. I think employers have to have a very clear manner of where they can hide people and feel like they are legal and they have a safe harbor in that regard. If they hire illegal workers, they need to be -- they need to be punished. But I don't think there's any question mark. The vast majority of businesses, for their own self-interest and just doing what's right, would be quite supportive and responsive, both businesses large and small, to help workers who have a sincere desire to become citizens get on that pathway and move them forward. I think that's the American way.

LAND: And I do think that the proposals we made in the report will quickly distillate out the responsible employers from the exploitive employers, and will help make it easier to identify those that are exploiting and taking advantage of undocumented workers.

WHITAKER: And how does the report address the issue of the drain on public resources? Because, again, I think that's one of the things that makes this whole immigration issue so volatile and so controversial, is the idea that immigrants here, undocumented illegal immigrants in particular, but just immigrants in general, are putting a strain on a health-care system, on an education system that is increasingly overburdened.

ALDEN: I mean, I would argue, if you look at the evidence, there just -- there is not a lot of good evidence for that. I mean, there is in particular state situations -- in border states, California, Arizona and others -- where there have been burdens on the health and education systems. But if you look generally at the contributions of immigrants to the economy, they have been extraordinary and they've been across the board.

There's often this very static notion of the economy, that anybody using services is inevitably a drain without thinking about the contributions that these people are bringing to the U.S. economy, which are extraordinary. So I think it's just -- it's a very static way to deal with the problem.

Yes, there are particular states that have faced large burdens, and they have a legitimate complaint because immigration policy is a federal responsibility and they're paying the cost for policies over which they have no control. And we argue in the report that, you know, the federal government needs to step up to the plate on this. But I think if you look at the issue on the whole, it's just not an accurate way to look at the effects that immigrants are having on the U.S. economy and on the public purse.

LAND: Right. And I think, too, that -- I think that, personally, the report makes a compelling case that the security costs, the economic costs and the human costs of not doing something effective are much higher than any costs that would be incurred in fixing the broken system.

WHITAKER: Now, talking about the benefits, the report talks about what I think is a crisis right now in skilled immigration and the obstacles that highly educated, highly trained immigrants often who come here to study in our universities because they think they're the finest in the world can't stay, that they have to leave. Sometimes they -- you know, there was a story in The New York Times recently about one of the top people at Google, at one of the high-tech companies who has to live in Canada because he can't stay in the United States. Obviously, 9/11 played a role in that. But can you talk about the conclusions about how we got to this point and what you recommend to be done about it?

LAND (?): Go ahead, Ted. No, go ahead, Ted.

ALDEN: I think this forms a very important part of our report. This is where we start. I think it's a very central item, and it really has to do with the extraordinary competitive advantage that the U.S. has enjoyed because the most talented immigrants from around the world are attracted here. If you are the best in your field, the United States is often the first place you're going to look if you're living elsewhere in the world. And a lot of that has to do with our universities. I mean, we -- you know, for all the difficulties that our economy faces, the -- our universities are an extraordinary institution. You know, on any list of the world's 100 best universities, 60 or 70 are American universities.

So in the past, this has been a tremendous path for skilled laborers to come here, to study at American universities, and, in many cases, to remain in the United States; or, if they go back home, they end up setting up businesses that trade with companies in the United States. But we have really begun to lose that edge in the last decade. Some of it had to do with restrictions put in place after 9/11. Some of it had to do with other countries -- Europe, Canada, Australia, others -- waking up to the benefits that are brought by attracting foreign students.

And so we find ourselves now in a competition for these immigrants, and we aren't really stepping up to the plate. We put too many barriers in their way to come here to study in the first place. Once they graduate, if they want to stay here, there are quota restrictions in the H1-B visas and others that in any kind of normal economy prevent a lot of people from staying and working for American companies.

And finally, it's tremendously hard to make the transition from these temporary work visas to permanent residence. I mean, you have a situation where the province of Alberta in Canada has said to American H1-B visa holders, if you're tired of waiting five, 10 years for your green card, come to Canada and we will give you permanent residence. We want talented people like you in our country. And this is -- we're in a competition now that we never faced before, and we need to recognize that and respond to that.

And I think that's a very central recommendation in our report. For instance, we talk about a fast track for students who get graduate degrees from American universities, particularly in the sciences and engineering, to remain in the United States.

MCLARTY: I think three very quick points.

First of all, coming from the business world, clearly, the economy both in our country and around the world is changing dramatically. We see that in a very profound way. So science and engineering is going to be critically important as we reinvent/recast our economy, and there's no question that talent, mindpower from other countries that come here to study, can be so dramatically helpful in that regard.

Number two, I think with those students who come here, work, have these ideas, a very large percent of the patents and new ideas and so forth clearly are reflecting that kind of input from students who have come here to study. That creates jobs, good-paying jobs, new jobs, again, for American workers.

And thirdly, I think very importantly, that I have seen time and time again, and both of our sons have as well, when students come here to study, they are allowed to stay here to work and contribute. Many times they go home, start companies, endeavors in their own countries that obviously has links to our countries -- country and expanding markets around the world, and that is absolutely crucial going forward if we're to have a vibrant, full-employment economy here.

So those three reasons at the engineering and science levels are crucial to our economic well-being.

LAND: I would go beyond what the task force report says. If I had my way, every foreign student who graduated with a Ph.D. in science or engineering, I'd staple a green card to their diploma. (Laughter.)

WHITAKER: Well, I wanted to ask you, because one of the things that the report comes out in favor of is something called the Dream Act. And I think probably most of the people in the audience are familiar with it, but for those who aren't, maybe you can talk about what that is. It always struck me as sort of something that would be very hard to oppose, and yet it hasn't passed so far. So maybe you could also talk about why not.

ALDEN: I mean, the Dream Act is legislation that would allow the children of undocumented immigrants who -- and those who are actually here on temporary visas as well -- so those children, when they become 21, they lose their status in the United States -- to earn a way to remain in the United States by going to college or performing military service. They'd have to pass various background checks to show that they don't have criminal histories.

What the Dream Act does is it cuts through some of the arguments that you hear a lot in this debate -- well, these people came here illegally, they broke the law. We can't do anything to reward them, even if it's a very hard path of the sort that we're laying out in this report. The individual Dream Act you're talking about, I mean, they didn't have responsibility for coming here, right? They were brought here by their parents.

A lot of these individuals can make a tremendous contribution to this country. We talked, for instance, about military service. The U.S. military has begun in a very small way to recruit some of the children of people living here on temporary visas, these people who would lose their status when they become of adult age. We've recruited, what is it, about 1,000 now, that's --

SCHMEMANN (?): (Off mike.)

ALDEN: About 400 we've recruited, so very, very limited.

But these people are potentially tremendously valuable to our armed forces. We're involved in conflicts all around the world where language skills, the ability to integrate in these cultures, are crucial for the military. And you know, the Dream Act is a more expanded way, again, of looking at this; that these are people that we want to make a contribution to our society, through college, through military service.

So I agree with you. I think it's been held hostage to the larger debate, but it seems to me the benefits to the United States of the Dream Act are obvious, and it's one of the reasons Governor Bush insisted that we endorse it, that that had to be the centerpiece of this report.

WHITAKER: You talked a little bit earlier about the economic benefits versus the upfront cost, but we are now in a climate where there's a lot of sticker shock, I think, in terms of the costs of programs that are being proposed by the Obama administration, where state and local governments are going broke around the country. How should we think about this in the context of those economic problems right now?

MCLARTY: Well, as someone who believes in a balanced budget and worked toward that goal and outcome, I think all of us are concerned about expenditures at all levels of government and how we're going to fund that. I think a couple of points.

Number one, the amount of investment really to make the system work -- to make it more contemporary, streamlined, efficient, which we need to have; it's just absolutely essential in the modern-day world and developed country -- is, first of all, a very small amount. I know we've gotten a little bit casual with large dollars, but these are truly very small amounts of investment.

Secondly, very, very small compared to what we are already authorized and spending on enforcement. And I support that, but you can't just shortchange other -- particularly in the technology area of just processing visas and other essential elements in the immigration effort. You just can't shortchange that in this world.

And thirdly, I think the costs of not doing this are significantly greater.

So I think it's an investment, again, in business parlance with a very high return on investment. So that's how, I think, it can be fully justified.

LAND: I think the task force report makes a pretty compelling case that, without significant reform along the lines that we've outlined, that there will be a gradual decline in our economic wealth and in our national security if we don't -- (audio break). How do you put a cost on that?

Plus, when it comes to the earned path to citizenship, a good many of those costs will be borne by the people who are undocumented workers as they pay fines to move through that process.

MCLARTY: And, Mark, the system is largely now -- not totally, but largely -- self-financed using fees and other forms of revenue, as a final note.

WHITAKER: Before we open it up to the audience in the Q&A, I just want to get back to the international dimension. This is a Council on Foreign Relations report. This is an issue that, I think, is talked about in the media largely in domestic terms. But can you all address what you see as both the challenges and the opportunities in terms of our position in the world, issues of national security, and our relations with the rest of the globe in terms of our immigration policy?

MCLARTY: Well, two important aspects that I would note, and I'm sure Dr. Land and Ted will have some additional thoughts.

First, I think it speaks directly to our values, and how we portray those values to the world and to public diplomacy. So I think it's very much a foreign policy, international issue, certainly, as well as a domestic issue. I simply don't see how we can say that we are a country of diversity, a welcoming country, a country that respects the worth and dignity of the individual and not have a comprehensive, thoughtful immigration program.

Number two, as I've already noted, I think the benefits from an international standpoint, both from an economic standpoint, business standpoint, trade standpoint, but if you look also at a political and diplomatic standpoint which goes right to the heart of world stability. If you look at the number of leaders around the world, whether they be presidents or members of the Cabinet that have had an opportunity to study, work, live in the United States, and that firsthand experience in our country with our people just makes a dramatic difference in our ability to forge relationships around the world.

So those would be the two aspects that I would underscore that go directly to our national interests, go directly to our economic interests, and go directly to our security interests, and go directly to our standing in the world.

LAND: Well, I would say, you know, first of all, it does relate to our values as a nation, which are, I think, in many ways embodied in the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor, that we are a country that welcomes those who want to come. And you know, America is a unique country. We're a country where anybody can become an American by affirming our secular creed, which is the Declaration of Independence, and affirming those values.

I also think that, you know, if we're talking about foreign relations, that is inevitably related to security issues and it's inevitably related to economic issues, because if you don't have a strong and vibrant economy, you're not going to be able to have the kind of national security and project the kind of power that can have the kind of influence that we want America to have in the world.

And you know, we are at the place now where, for the first time in a long time, we're sort of at the end of a population boom in the world, and there's actually an increasing dearth of the kinds of engineers and economists and scientists that the world needs. And the country that is the most able to attract the most of that critical mass of brainpower is going to be the country that's going to have the lead in the future in determining the world economy, and that inevitably relates to security.

And we have a head start because of the kind of nation we are and have been. But that doesn't guarantee that we're going to get across the finish line first unless we take positive efforts, and I think that this report lays out some of those efforts.

WHITAKER: Ted, a lot of our allies have even more resistance to immigration than we do -- in Europe, in Asia, Japan, in particular, other countries -- and their own political controversies surrounding immigration. Is this something? And what does the report say about the need to integrate and coordinate immigration policies around the world in addition to moving forward at home?

ALDEN: Honestly, it doesn't a lot because I think -- as you point out, I think immigration is a great advantage for the United States. I think, historically, we've done it better than most other countries in the world. So we're starting from a good position, and a lot of what we're saying in this report is let's not allow ourselves to lose this edge that we've built.

So, yes, there are cooperative measures that can be done. Particularly, I think, when you're talking about Mexico, there's a need to build cooperative relationships between neighbors for which immigration is such an important issue. But generally speaking, I actually think we have -- we have a bit more of a kind of American national interest approach in this. What we're looking at is what's good for the United States and how do we maximize the benefits for the United States of our immigration policy? And that's really the take we have on this issue and the report.

WHITAKER: Great.

Questions? We have microphones. Want people to -- going around, the microphone. Arnaud? Just identify yourselves first.

QUESTIONER: Arnaud de Borchgrave, CSIS. I have not had the advantage of having read the report, but I'm wondering if you got into deportations. How many a year are we running now? And at what cost?

MCLARTY: Arnaud, I'll let Ted pick up with some of the specifics. But we did talk about deportations. We talked about trying to use some thoughtful criteria for deportations to, frankly, use common sense and good judgment about people who had committed serious crimes that clearly need to be dealt with in one way, and people who maybe had a small misdemeanor 10 years ago that -- we've seen a recent article in The New York Times about that, where someone got caught in the system and it's just -- the outcome was a dreadful one and one that none of us would be proud of.

So we did address that. I don't know that we addressed it in specific numbers, Ted.

ALDEN: The numbers are in the report. I mean, we're deporting -- the United States is deporting about 350,000 people a year now. We're moving -- (inaudible) -- we're moving about 350,000 people a year now, which is about triple what it was a decade ago. And a very high percentage of these are being kept in jail until they're deported, and the cost of maintaining anybody in jail are very high.

One of the things we argue in the report is that we should be looking much more carefully at alternatives to detention. I mean, obviously, if people have committed crimes, they're serious criminals, if they pose some kind of danger to society, you want to incarcerate them until they're deported. But there's lots of evidence that for people who have committed immigration violations who are potentially on the path to deportation, that you can monitor them and allow them to remain out in society, remain with their families while the proceedings are going on.

So I think we've been far too aggressive in jailing these people as a matter of course, and the numbers are big and it's very expensive. We talk about the drain on public resources. That's a big drain on public resources.

QUESTIONER: And the costs?

ALDEN: Well, the cost of keeping, you know, an individual in jail are about $90 a day. So, you know, do the math. It's big.

WHITAKER: You say it tripled in the last decade. Was there a dramatic increase after 9/11? And has it stayed at that level since then? Or --

ALDEN: It took a few years, but it really ramped up if you start to look at the numbers beginning in 2004 or 2005. So yes, there was. Yeah.

QUESTIONER: Allan Wendt. (Off mike) -- noticed in your report, there's additional dissenting views. Robert Bonner raises the issue of our practice -- (audio break) -- automatic citizenship -- (audio break) -- born in the United States -- (audio break) -- that, short of actually amending -- (audio break). Was this issue discussed? If so, what was the sense of the panel? And then, secondly, it also raises the question of our current immigration policy based largely on -- (audio break) -- based system. Was that also discussed? What was the sense of -- (audio break)?

MCLARTY: Yes, it was discussed, both issues, robustly and thoroughly, I think -- (laughs) -- as Richard and I and all the other panel members recall. I think, first of all, I would make the overall point that Governor Bush and I were pleased that there was a large measure of consensus in the report. And I think we tried to address the specific and difficult issues. And I think we reached a consensus on those issues with open and vigorous and direct discussion and debate. And I think, as largely is the case in these types of reports on the Council on Foreign Relations, you usually have a number of dissenting opinions. That is not unusual. In fact, that is the norm and that is the case here.

On the two specific issues that you note, Director Bonner was a very active participant in our discussions, made a real effort to be at the meetings even though he lives and works in California, which we appreciated. But there was an overwhelming, I think, majority that took a different position than his opinion in terms of citizenship if a person was born here. There are other countries that have very different laws in that respect, which Rob and others pointed out. But that was not the feeling of the majority of the members.

As far as the family reunification being a key criteria, it was strongly felt by the members of the committee, majority of the members of the committee, that keeping families together, united, was an important, critical point. I think the entire aspect or entire issue of human dignity and respect kind of was throughout the report; at least, hopefully, was the case.

But I do think, Ted, we made a real effort also to emphasize the types of skills, the types of criteria. So in a sense, we tried to balance those issues on the last point. I think we came to about the right place in that regard.

LAND: I think that if you look on page 91 of our recommendations, we addressed that second issue. And there was clearly some disagreement among the task force members about how we define family and how widely it would be talked about, and left open the possibility that we might have to restrict it to immediate family members and siblings in the future because of -- just because of the numbers issue, and that we might have to look at what's in the economic best interests of the United States in terms of the people we're letting in instead of family reunification. But I think that those last two paragraphs on page 91 pretty much give a consensus of where the task force was on that issue.

QUESTIONER: Diana Negroponte, an immigrant -- (laughter) -- also mother of five immigrants from Honduras. I bring the international aspect.

How did the task force address the issue of security threats by potential immigrants? Most of us in this room have the horror story, and without taking your position on the panel, a colleague of mine at Georgetown University, Ph.D. graduate, goes home to Bolivia, is an Aymaran Indian, and cannot get back because the process of determining whether he is a security threat is wrapped in mystery. Did you address this, and how?

MCLARTY: We certainly tried to, and I believe we did. And there is, obviously, a very careful and important balance to be struck between security issues and having an open society and a welcoming attitude toward visitors here and immigrants as well.

I think, Diana, the key issue that runs -- one of the key issues that runs throughout the report is there has been measurable progress, important progress in terms of technology and our ability to sensibly, efficiently have both immigration procedures, checks and verifications, as well as security matters. And we specifically talked about after 9/11, which was obviously a defining, horrific event that changed our psychology and changed our practices and ways of life here in many ways. But we have made great progress in adapting to that and doing things in a much more sensible manner.

And I think, for example, when you had those of the Muslim faith or whatever that were screened in a different way, that was largely before the other types of verifications and technology that we now have in place.

So that was the balance we tried to strike in the report, mostly as it related to immigration and security, but of course, it applies more broadly as well.

So I think you raised an important point. We hope we got it right. We think there is a balance to be struck. And we had Fran Townsend, as well as Rob Bonner and others that have been directly involved in security matters and law enforcement matters, who had a considerable amount of knowledge, expertise, experience here who were direct contributors to the discussion. And I think we hit the right balance in terms of security and, yet, openness.

ALDEN: I would just add to reinforce Mack's point -- and I see there's some DHS folks in this room -- I mean, there has been tremendous progress on this front since 9/11. I mean, before 9/11, we knew almost nothing about millions of millions of people in this country. And since 9/11, we've gradually been building a system that allows us to identify accurately, including taking fingerprints, people who are coming in to this country. And, you know, there's a measurable improvement in security as a result.

The question is, do you, on top of the systems that we have put in place, which are a lot more effective than what we had on 9/11, need these extra layers of special screening? And a lot of the problems we've seen have to do with that. You raised your example. I've been in touch recently with a number of Indian and Chinese H1-B visa holders, one of whom was working for Intel here in the United States, another was working on HIV vaccine technology in a university here. They go back home for family reasons, a death in the family, marriage, and they have been stuck there for months.

There was one young man I've been talking to that's been stuck for 17 months back in India, waiting for his security review to be completed. To give credit to DHS and the State Department, they have announced recently some changes to speed up this process, make it more sensible and rational.

We argue in the report for the same thing, dealing with visitors coming here from Muslim countries. If you look at the travel numbers in the United States after 9/11, they went down from everywhere for a couple of years. But they've largely recovered from most countries where you need visas, from the Visa Waiver countries in Europe. The exception is Middle Eastern countries, and the numbers are still way down. And a lot of it is that, you know, if you're a young man and you're coming here from a Muslim country, you get pulled aside into secondary screening at the airport every time. You spend two or three hours. They ask you a whole series of questions. We have systems in place now, and Mack mentioned we've got Rob Bonner, the former head of Customs and Border Protection, who was the architect of a lot of these measures, on the commission. He believe that we have enough other systems in place that we don't need to do this special extra layer of screening for people coming from Muslim countries. It's unnecessary, hurts our image in the world, discourages people from coming here and learning what the United States is about.

So there's a lot in the report that speaks to this question. We can -- we can be a secure country, but we can do it in a way that maintains our tradition of openness and our welcoming to immigrants.

LAND: We also suggested some changes in the way we approach those who are seeking refugee status.

WHITAKER: Can you talk to us a little bit more about that?

LAND: Well, we need to be more sensitive to the fact that there are people who are genuinely in need of refugee status and that this is certainly one of the central values of our country; and that, too often in the past, there has been a sort of a "you're guilty until you prove you're innocent" mentality. And we think there ought to be more of a "you're innocent until you're proven guilty" mentality; that there is a significant need to make those applying for refugee status to be more sensitive to that.

ALDEN: We are, as a matter of course, incarcerating most of these people while they're waiting for their determinations. In a lot of cases, that's simply not necessary.

MCLARTY: I think, Mark, importantly, to keep this a bit in context -- and not to speak for Governor Bush, but I think it was a viewpoint that he stated a number of times during our discussion. I want to be sure that we leave what we believe is the correct impression in our discussion today. We were very mindful of enforcement and security at the border. We were very mindful of security measures that we just discussed.

On the other hand, if you look at the potential negative impact on our national security, unless we take some comprehensive measures, that, in our judgment, also poses real risk. And the same is with our economy. You can make arguments about loss of jobs with immigrants, which I think are pretty difficult and strained arguments to make. But you certainly make them, particularly in this economic time of unemployment. But I think you can make so much of a stronger case that getting our immigration policy right strengthens our economy.

So I just want to keep these in balance and not leave the impression that we did not very much focus on security and enforcement, but at the same time seeing a broader picture.

LAND: I think that's one of the most valuable parts of this report. It -- you know, it helps people understand that this is a -- this is important to the future national security and the future economic growth of our economy vis-a-vis the rest of the countries in the world.

QUESTIONER: Thank you. I'm Anthony Johnson, the Jamaican ambassador in Washington. Thank you so much for inviting me and also my colleague ambassadors from the Caribbean.

I wanted to ask if you had looked at two issues which we have not seen ventilated, because I don't know, they're not dealing with Ph.Ds or people who have nuclear science -- Enrico Fermi and so on -- (laughter) -- ordinary people.

One is, the group of Americans, people born here, who are dependents on persons who get deported, because often people are deported for what we regard as rather flimsy grounds. For instance, if you're unemployed and they pick you up, you're likely to get thrown out. Now, the person didn't get unemployed because he didn't want to work; he was laid off. And that's one of the grounds. However, he is back in Jamaica, St. Lucia or wherever, trying to restart his life, but up here, he's left kids who have to go to school and who have a problem. And his wife or maid, whatever you call it, partner, has a difficulty. She often shows up the very next day in the congressman's office and asks what's going on, you know, my husband went out to buy milk and they picked him up and so on. That's one issue.

The other issue are the H2-B visas, which can apply to nuclear scientists, but more often apply to jobs which Americans don't want because the people who employ them need either to have conditions that are not pleasant. So it's a ski lodge and you're up there and you're going to be -- you have to live in the premises and you have to be on call 24 hours a day, people drive in at 2:00 in the morning, you have to get out of your bed in the dead of night and so on. Those people, the owners of these businesses, say that they cannot recruit local people because they will not do it. And the record is that those people do not overstay their time. They work for 90 days, 180 days, whatever it is that they're given and they return to their countries. But the problem is that your economy, these are micro niches of your economy which require low-paid, highly inconvenient tasks, that's what the guy has to offer. And I wondered if those two issues have been addressed in the report? Thank you.

ALDEN: We did actually. We did address both those issues, the first you mentioned largely in the context of our recommendations on earned legalization.

I mean this is a problem, this is a fundamental problem with what we're currently doing on the enforcement front. I mean, there was a recent study by Pew that showed I think it was 75 percent of the unauthorized immigrants currently living in the United States have American relatives of some sort or another with children or spouses or other American relatives.

So these people are deeply integrated into the United States, and there are tremendous human consequences from just pulling out one person, particular bread winner, and deporting them. So that's a very strong argument for providing some sort of earned legalization program.

On the second point, we argue in this report -- and this is -- you know, we haven't gone into this in a lot of detail, but the issue of temporary work programs is obviously a very contentious one with the Congress. We chart a middle ground here. We don't argue for a large-scale temporary worker program for all sorts of different jobs. But we argue for an expansion of seasonal work programs of all different sorts, the H2-B being one example, which is quota capped at the moment. And in the economy the way it is right now, that's not so much of a problem. But in a normal, healthy economy, that is a big problem.

And so, I mean, these are the sort of temporary work programs that make a lot of sense. People can come to the United States for part of the year, earn a lot more money than they could earn back home. It's good for them. It's good for their families back home. It's good for our companies because, as you point out, these are jobs that are hard to fill. A lot of these programs have not worked very well, and we make recommendations on trying to improve them.

MCLARTY: I think one important point, again, just to be certain that we're keeping things in perspective, the report deals not just with illegal immigration, as important as that is, but it also deals with legal immigration. And right now in this economy we clearly need jobs more than workers in this particular economy.

What the report underscores is the need for a flexible immigration policy to match the flow of workers needed for the jobs available. And the current system really doesn't provide for that.

So I just want to be sure we're kind of keeping this in the proper context -- not just a flow of additional workers, but a flexible flow to match the economic needs and realities in our country.

QUESTIONER: Hi. I'm Frank Finelli with the Carlyle Group. I'd like to just ask a follow up on some of the national security comments.

We have seen, when you look at the table of the top 20 firms that are H1-B visa requestors, at least 15 of those are IT firms. And as we're seeing across industry, much of the hardware and software that's used in this country is not only manufactured now overseas, but it's developed overseas by scientists and engineers who were educated here in the United States.

We're seeing a lot more activity around cyber-security, certainly noteworthy attacks here very recently. It's becoming an increasingly dominant set of requirements across not only to the Department of Defense, but the Department of Homeland Security and the critical infrastructure that's held in private hands. Was there any discussion or any interest from DOD or DHS as you undertook this review on the security things about what can be done to try to generate a more effective group of IT experts here in the United States, many of which are coming to the U.S. institutions, academic institutions from overseas and often returning back? This potentially puts us at a competitive disadvantage going forward.

MCLARTY: Yes. And I think your question largely is the answer as well. I mean, clearly we have less talented students here studying -- or put another way, more talented students studying in other countries that are gifted, talented, really have a tremendous ability to develop these kind of technology and scientific advances, we're going to be put at an increasingly disadvantage. Where if they come here -- and I kind of like Dr. Land's approach of the green card being handed to them or carefully put in their billfold or purse as they graduate -- then, obviously, that's going to strengthen, I think, our system, our security needs.

But again, I think, Frank, you raised a very good point in terms of the security measures that are needed in this interim, if you want to call it that, as we hopefully get some reform here in this area. Yes, we were mindful of that. Ted, you might want to be a little more specific in that regard. But I think you make the basic point of the need. I mean, you're right; about the 15 out of the top 20 and what's being developed overseas. That underscores the need to get the best and brightest here and to keep them here -- or, if they go back to their countries, at least they have a link here.

ALDEN: And I mean, just quickly, I think this has been a debate in the export control world for a long time, that you just need to target security measures narrowly. There are tremendous advantages that accrue to the United States from being a center of scientific openness. You want the best scientists from around the world to come here, to collaborate here, to work here. You want free exchange with their colleagues abroad. And to the extent possible, you want to facilitate that. If there are security issues that are raised by foreign scientists coming and going back home, you need to try to deal with those, but you need to try to target as narrowly as possible.

There's no magic bullet on this one. It's an issue that's been debated in Washington for a long time. And I think we come out in the same place that a lot of reports on export controls have come out, which is target narrowly, target on the critical technologies that we're worried about, the critical bits of knowledge, but don't have broad controls that discourage scientific collaboration.

WHITAKER: I know there are some other members of the task force here. And do any of you have any comments or anything that you want to say?

MCLARTY: This is -- they're uncharacteristically quiet, I might add. (Laughter.)

WHITAKER: Do you have a question?

QUESTIONER: Hi. My name is Anna Navarro. I have two questions.

One is on timing. We saw this fail already in the past. I think a lot of it is has to do with timing. We saw President Bush put a lot of the political capital he had trying to get this passed, but frankly, by the time he tried it, he didn't have that much political capital left. So one of the questions would be, what do you think would be the correct timing to try to get comprehensive immigration reform finally done under this president, who I also want to point out promised the Latino community many a time during the campaign that it would happen during the first year?

And then the second part is, another of the things that failed the last time was the perceived lack of public support for comprehensive immigration. Senators were getting booed. They were getting bricks mailed to them. They were being flooded by calls against. What are the pieces that need to be in place so that there is public support for comprehensive immigration reform?

MCLARTY: Legislative matters of these types are always a challenge, whether it be the first year or then approaching midterm elections or in a second term, or whatever the political chapter that the presidency and the Congress are in.

I think we strongly feel that the timing is right to move forward on this legislation. I view it in my experience in government not unlike some of the specific issues that we dealt with in the first year, including the North American Free Trade Agreement, which was already on the table and needed to be addressed even though we had a large agenda -- not quite as large as this president, but a large agenda of the economic plan, deficit reduction, welfare to work, health care and other major legislative initiatives. And yet you were able to target one or two specific pieces of legislation and move those forward on a bipartisan basis. I think that is in the art of the possible with this president and this Congress.

To go back to the elements that you suggested in your question, we do believe that the enforcement measures, the fact that you have 20,000 agents now on the border, that's up dramatically from 3,000 just a few years ago. You have much better systems and procedures in place, strong cooperation from Mexico in that regard. And I think also you actually have, in many ways, a window of opportunity now where you have a migration flow that's down due both to better enforcement, more effective enforcement, but also because the jobs are not available here to get immigration policy right in this environment. So for all of those reasons, we believe it's a good time to proceed.

As far as the political landscape, you know, having been involved in the process for many years, there is a nexus of policy and politics. You can't not recognize that in any democracy, in any legislative agenda. And the Hispanic population is clearly growing in terms of numbers and influence. But I don't think this needs to be looked at in a political bargaining standpoint.

Every presidential candidate has certain policies or goals that he or she wants to accomplish if they're elected. President Obama is no exception to this. But this is, we believe, the right thing to do and the right way that, again, can address a system, a major, important element in our overall economic and national security and public diplomacy fabric that is not working properly. That's the real impetus for moving forward with immigration reform.

And again, I emphasize Senator Schumer and others have given very strong statements on the immigration issue. But I believe strongly it needs to be done in a bipartisan way. And that's the way the administration is approaching it.

LAND: Yeah, I think that some things have changed. I think the timing's better now. I think that -- I know that there were some significant discussions within the Bush administration on whether they could do this simultaneously or they had to do it sequentially, do enforcement first and then reform. And they decided to swing for the home run, and so did Senator McCain. And obviously, they came up short.

But what's happened since then, I mean, this incredible increase in border agents and effective security, the building of sections of fence and smart monitoring, has made a difference. And I think that that's absolutely critical to getting this passed, getting significant legislation passed, because if the people are convinced that the government is serious about enforcing border security, not closing the borders, but enforcing the border -- you know, the American people understand that the federal government can do what it puts its mind to doing. The Internal Revenue Service comes to mind. (Laughter.) They can enforce the laws that they choose to enforce.

I also think it's important to note that some of the most vociferous critics of immigration reform lost their elections. And this, I think, has reminded some politicians that the nativists have lost every one of these debates in our country's history politically. They end up losing and they end up losing big for a long time. They lose whole segments of the population for a long time. And I don't think that that lesson has been ignored by people in Washington.

QUESTIONER: Noah Pincus from Duke University.

On that question of simultaneity or sequentialism, the report, as I understand it, comes out in favor both of earned legalization, and, in particular, of serious workplace verification as a centerpiece, not just the border dimension.

MCLARTY (?): Yeah.

QUESTIONER: Did you discuss and did you conclude anything as to whether that's a both and -- in other words, they're both good things and we should do them in their own time and way? Or is it a both if -- are they linked? Does one need -- do legalization and then the workplace verification? Or do you need to have verification established before legalization can play out? How does that dynamic between the two of them work out? Or are they just set side by side?

MCLARTY: I think there are a number of elements in the report and a number of recommendations that are really equally important and critical, and really have to be done essentially at the same time. You can't have strong signals and measures for workplace enforcement, which we think is absolutely imperative to really have the stick, if you will, for employers that hire illegal immigrants. You just cannot tolerate that. There will always be a gray area perhaps, but we need to get that down to a very small, small portion. But you can't have that kind of approach to enforcement without having a way to verify legal employment. And the technology is quickly becoming available, is largely available to do that now.

So that's crucial. I think the earned legalization, the pathway to citizenship, which has been discussed now for several years, there are some pretty clear elements there of a logical, sensible path to citizenship -- assimilation, language, paying a fine, getting in line, the basic components. So to me, at least, those really are part of a comprehensive approach, have to be done and to generate at the same time.

Will there be some sequencing or different levels of progress being made in some of the technology and so forth? Sure there will be. But I think you have to have a comprehensive approach. I think we largely know what those measures are. We're already, frankly, making good progress in almost all of the areas. It's the political will and leadership to get this done in the right way.

ALDEN: I mean, I would just add, I think, you know, there are -- there are issues doing it either way. If you say, well, we'll get a comprehensive verification system in place before we move to earned legalization, then there's the question of, well, what happens in the interim? Are there more people who come in, hoping to be part of the earned legalization program? If you do it the other way, the issue is, do you have enough on the enforcement side to prevent the kind of new surge of illegal immigration like we saw after 1986?

So this is something that is going to have to be debated out in the administration and Congress. I think there are problems either way. I think, basically, we think both are important and we should be moving forward on both, and we didn't get into really precise and details on exactly how you sequence them.

LAND: I think, realistically, unless it's done close to simultaneously, it won't get done because there's not enough trust among the people on the various sides of the political debate that if you do employee verification, that they'll then go ahead and do the earned path, or if you do the earned path, then there will be border enforcement and earned legalization. I just think that it's going to be one of those -- it's going to -- it's going to come close to the, you know -- like Gorbachev and Reagan, you know -- (laughter) -- trust but verify. And I think it's going to have to be -- it's going to have to be close to simultaneous to have the political consensus to get it done.

WHITAKER: Any more questions?

QUESTIONER: Hi. My name is Kevin Appleby. I'm with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

From the Catholic Church perspective, the long-term solution to illegal immigration is economic development in countries, third-world countries. Looking at the push factors, sort of our answer to a border wall and to 20,000 border agents on our border as far as the eye can see. I see that you did note that in your report. You made a suggestion the U.S. government should look at this more in depth, but you didn't go into the detail that we were hoping you would on this.

So my question is, did you discuss this issue in terms of global economic development; talk about -- especially about how the trade agreements, the economic agreements that we enter into may cause the push factors, cause some of these migrants to come across the border? And if you did go into the detail, could you share with us what your thinking was?

MCLARTY: It certainly was an important topic of discussion and debate. A report like this one that is centered on comprehensive immigration reform and can only really cover realistically so much in a report that's focused and targeted and meaningful, and readable and digestible I might add, which hopefully this one is.

In terms of the development of other countries, though, you raised a couple of very key points.

First of all, there is the argument of a brain drain from the lesser-developed countries; immigrants come here, they stay, their countries lose that kind of leadership and brainpower in their countries. I think there's a point there, but I don't think a compelling one. We think a much stronger point: people come here, they're educated at the better universities in the world -- not that there's not some other great universities around the world. Many times they return home, then, to start businesses, develop in their own country, have links to the United States, as I've already noted before.

Secondly, of course, remittances are crucially important in developing countries of legal immigrants that have jobs here, good-paying jobs. They send those remittances home.

Thirdly, in terms of trade agreements, an area that I've certainly been involved in for many years, you make very fair points in terms of the trade agreements. I think we didn't specifically get into that area in this report, but I think that we were mindful that there is a(n) important role of developing countries to have job creation and opportunities in those countries. But I think -- we think the way to help support that at least is with a sound, thoughtful immigration policy here, and to make certain that our policies are administered in a very humane, sensitive, respectful manner -- part of the overall discussion as well.

Ted, you and Dr. Land maybe you want to add to that.

LAND: Well, we did have some discussion about this, particularly with relation to Mexico.

MCLARTY: Yeah.

LAND: And the inevitable special relationship that the United States has with the United States of Mexico, the fact that there's no other place in the world where you have two countries that share a large common border where you have as large a difference in living standard as you do between the United States and Mexico. And until that question is addressed, we're going to have pressure on our border. And it was also discussed that the population boom in Mexico is coming to an end for lots of different reasons, but there's not going to be the kind of pressure that there has been in the past.

But there was some discussion about, particularly the need to try to figure out ways to partner with Mexico as a special case because of the long-term relationship with the United States, the close proximity and the large Hispanic population. But it was felt -- the consensus was that that was beyond the perview of this report. But it was certainly discussed.

WHITAKER: I have one last question before we end. I just want to remind everybody that this discussion has been on the record.

Since we'd started out by talking about the desire of the panel to actually have some influence on the debate taking place now between the administration and on Capitol Hill, could you just briefly finish, each of you, by handicapping your sense of how optimistic you are that we'll get something passed. And I'll give you a couple of variables. One is, do we get something this year versus next year? And is it a comprehensive package or, as Mack suggested, is it possible that, politically, we may just have to settle for one or two elements of some of the things you've discussed?

ALDEN: You're going to start with me first. I've got the political experts here and I'm going to start with that first. You know, I think to some extent, obviously, immigration reform is hostage to other things on the Obama administration and congressional agenda. And I think it will depend to some extent on whether there is success in those areas and there is some momentum.

But if you look at the history of immigration reform efforts, they take a long time and it requires a lot of national discussion before we can come together as a country and move forward. And we've been talking about this now seriously since President Bush put it on the table in 2004, that's about five years; the '86 package, depending on you how measure it, took five, six, seven years.

So I -- I mean, I think we are moving into a place where the possibilities are reasonably good. I think we'll have to see some sign of economic recovery, so people are feeling more positive and hopeful. They can focus on the benefits of immigration, rather than worrying quite as much about the cost. But I'm optimistic we can get this done in the next year or two.

LAND: If something gets done, it will be more comprehensive rather than sequential. And I think it depends entirely on whether the economy begins to recover. If -- I mean, historically in America, if the economy is bad, it takes up all the energy and all the oxygen in the room. I mean, it's -- you know, n the last election in the exit polling, 63 percent of Americans said that their number one issue when they went into the polling booth was the economy. Next, at 9 percent, was terrorism. And then at 7 percent was Iraq.

I mean, to be frank, I don't think Ronald Reagan could've come back from the dead, changed -- gone into a phone booth and changed into a Superman suit and won the last election, I mean, after September 15th when the market crashed, it was over.

So, you know, if President Obama's policies turn the economy around, then, I think, this has got a significant chance. If it doesn't, the economy is increasingly going to take up all of the oxygen in the room.

I think it certainly is doable in the first term if the economy begins to rebound and there's not some intervening terrorist event, which I hope to God there's not.

WHITAKER: Mack, final word.

MCLARTY: Sixty-forty -- (laughter) -- would be my odds. And I think it will be both a political and a policy mistake if we don't move forward, both for the administration and Democratic members of Congress and Republican members of Congress.

Having said that, we all have to be realistic about the other issues before our country, the administration and Congress, including the economy, certainly, and health care. But I do not believe that's mutually exclusive with immigration reform.

I think hedging my 60/40 a bit, I believe we have made good progress in a number of areas that directly relate to a more sensible, purposeful immigration policy. I think we can continue to do that without comprehensive legislation and we should do that, whether it be by executive order or other administrative orders, which we note in the report.

But I think, largely, Mark, we know the right answers here from a policy standpoint. We really know what is in our own national interests, both from an economic and a security standpoint, and it's time to move forward.

WHITAKER: Mack McLarty, Dr. Richard Land, Ted Alden, thank you very much for this discussion, and also for a report that we hope will be important.

(Applause.)

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