This event was part of the symposium, The International and the Domestic - Latin America and U.S. Policies and Politics, which was made possible by the generous support of the Ford Foundation and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.
HECTOR TOBAR: Welcome to the Council on Foreign Relations. This is the panel on immigration. And we'd ask you to completely turn off -- and not just put on vibrate, your cell phones and Blackberries and other wireless devices because they interfere with the sound system I'm told. And also, I'd like to remind everyone that this meeting, unlike many discussions in Washington, is actually on the record.
My name is Hector Tobar. I'm the former Mexico City bureau chief of The Los Angeles Times, and I have the honor of being the moderator of this discussion with two very distinguished guests and thinkers.
The first is Thomas "Mack" McLarty, known to many people -- not everyone in this room -- once former chief of staff to President Clinton; special envoy for the Americas in the Clinton administration; also worked with President Carter as a member of the Democratic National Committee; and has a long and distinguished career of service -- of public service.
Our other panelist is Edward Alden, who is the Bernard L. Schwartz senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations specializing in U.S. competitiveness. He was once the Washington bureau chief of The Financial Times; has won numerous awards for his coverage of trade, homeland security and labor issues; and he is most recently the author of the book, "The Closing of the American Border: Terrorism, Immigration and Security Since 9/11," published by Harper Collins -- and the Council on Foreign Relations.
The way this is going to work is I'm going to as a few questions here of our panelists for about 20 minutes or so, and then we'll open it up for questions. Oh, and I'll just introduce myself, also, as -- not just as a Mexico City bureau chief of The Times, but I also am the author of a book on the same topic, called "Translation Nation," which some of you may have heard of -- "Translation Nation: Defining a New American Identity in the Spanish-speaking United States."
So, Mack, starting with, you know, this incredibly -- you know, this topic. Our panel has a one-word title, which is "Immigration," but millions of words have been spoken on that same topic in the United States --
THOMAS F. MCLARTY III: (Off mike) -- for many years.
TOBAR: -- and for many years, but especially in the last four or five years, as the whole question of immigration, and American identity and national security all become intertwined.
But what do you think are the prospects of an immigration reform coming to pass in either an Obama or McCain administration? You know, it's been -- for the last 22 years we've been watching the United States political system punt, you know, the issue of immigration. Since the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, we see a series of stop-gap measures -- fences built, debates held -- and yet we continue along this path that we've been following for 22 years.
What are the prospects for an immigration reform in the next administration -- Republican or Democrat?
MCLARTY: Thank you -- Thank you very much. I am delighted to be here -- (off mike) Hector, thank you very much. I'm delighted to be here both with you and with Ted Alden, whom I've had the good fortune to work with on the CFR Immigration Task Force effort with Governor Bush, and with many distinguished and good friends of long-standing -- Ambassador (Shirakhan ?) and Ambassador Hills, among others.
Despite the understandable frustration, and the long period that you duly and appropriately note -- perhaps I'm an incurable optimist, but I think a realist as well, not yet quite a cynic -- and I think the prospects are good in either a Democratic or Republican administration, with Senator McCain or Senator Obama.
And I say that because in a close, but -- but the proverbial "no cigar," in terms of comprehensive immigration reform in the last session, where you had Senators Kennedy and McCain lead the effort. And I think, frankly, had it not been for some of the partisanship in Washington, and the general negative feeling that all of us, I think, -- or at least most of us are deeply concerned about, I think that bill might well have passed.
Not that there was not strong vocal outcry in many sections of the country, but I think it was a relatively small one, but certainly a loud and vocal one -- some on -- nightly contributors, I might add. But, a number of those most high-profile opponents were defeated in their elections, which I think is also telling.
But I think both Senator McCain and Senator Obama are running basically on either unity or, certainly on change -- it seems both. But also that implies a bipartisan effort, and both have taken, I think, generally constructive and positive stands on immigration -- comprehensive immigration reform. That does not mean some of the tough issues won't continue to be very difficult, both from the U.S. perspective and, frankly -- as Arturo and others well know, from the Mexico perspective, and Latin America more broadly.
I think what's interesting, Hector, in the campaign, unlike in the primary, we haven't heard much about immigration by either candidate. I generally think that's more positive than not, although a bit -- it cuts both ways. But I think, frankly, from the Republican standpoint, Senator McCain is not talking much about immigration; did not talk about it at the convention very much.
I think the Republicans, under President Bush 43 -- who had, I think, real prospects of broadening the Republican outreach to the Hispanic community, being governor of Texas, and being fluent in the language, and having real identification with many Hispanic groups here and more broadly, but that has not been real successful, frankly.
And so, I think Senator McCain has chosen not to talk about that. And I think that, frankly, has been just fine with Senator Obama --
MCLARTY: -- in his campaign.
MCLARTY: But I think it's also a larger issue -- or I, at least, would like to think it is, and that is it's, frankly, a recognition that, as important, timely, complicated as immigration reform is, it does not need to take front-and-center, with loud, shrill, boisterous voices, when we have such serious challenges as the economy, security, energy, education, infrastructure, health care reform. I will stop there, but you get my point, hopefully, or I made my point, hopefully, clearly.
So I think, on balance, the fact that immigration has not been front and center in this campaign thus far is, I view more positive than not. So, that's a long way of saying -- to sum up, I think the prospects are encouraging for the next administration, but not necessarily in the first year, which we can come back to. Thank you.
TOBAR: Ed, since 9/11 -- 9/11 brought immigration front and center as a topic of national security. As we all know, several of the people involved in the 9/11 plot were people here with legal visas. What has been -- since then, what has been the implication for United States policy, especially when its largest neighbor, and most important neighbor -- the neighbor that shares, you know, a border where millions of people literally, you know -- millions of people cross every day, what has been the implication of that shift in Bush administration policy of immigration as a national security issue? What's been the impact on U.S.-Mexico relations in our -- in terms of what it means for the Mexicans and their relationship with the United States?
EDWARD ALDEN: Thank you very much, Hector. And, thank you, Mack. I'm absolutely delighted to be on this panel -- honored to be on this panel with you. And with Hector as well, who's work on this whole range of issues has been absolutely first-rate.
The book that I've written, which is coming out next week, "The Closing of the American Border," did not start out -- and, in fact, isn't primarily a book about U.S. relations with Latin America or with Mexico, it started out with my interest and concern over what was happening, particularly for people from Arab and Muslim countries trying to come to the United States after 9/11.
When the Bush administration looked -- I mean, this was immediately, on the first evening of 9/11 -- what can we do to try to prevent a repeat of this horrible tragedy? They immediately seized on the whole range of immigration enforcement tools as one of the most powerful weapons they had. They were worried about the possibility that there could be a second wave of terrorists already in the United States, hiding somewhere in the country, waiting to carry out their plot.
How were they going to find these people? They had no particular intelligence that was helpful in doing that. And the method they lighted on was immigration tools, because the people that they were most concerned about were all foreigners. They were here mostly on temporary visas. And, as is the case, not just with Mexicans and Latin Americans who come over but, in fact, the 40 percent of people who come here legally on temporarily visas, there were a lot who were here illegally, who had overstayed visas.
And this became the weapon that the administration used to round up, hold and question these people. And the story I tell kind of builds from there. There were a whole series of measures that the administration put in place to try either to identify people who might be here -- and use immigration law as the authority to hold them, question them and, in many cases, I'm sorry to say, a lot of it was terribly abusive, there were people who where held for months and months and months with no due process at all; and then, on the other side, using the screening mechanisms that you have with the visa system to keep people out of the country. And many people were kept out of the country for long periods of time -- sadly, people that this country badly needs, foreign students and highly skilled people, people we really want here.
So the question -- your question, how does, how did this ultimately relate to Mexico? Well, what happened is -- you know, certainly the strengthening of enforcement on the southwest border was not a new story; and we'd seen it throughout the 1990s, particularly in your home state of California, but also, I think to a lesser extent, in Arizona, we had seen it ramped up -- but after 9/11, when immigration enforcement became the tool of choice for the administration.
Well, inevitably, if you're using immigration enforcement as your way to keep bad people/terrorists out of the country, you're mostly going to end up arresting the largest population of people who are here in an unauthorized capacity, which is Mexicans and Latin Americans.
And so, you know, just some numbers: If you look at what has happened with enforcement since 9/11 -- you know, the budgets for Customs, Border Patrol, which didn't exist -- (inaudible) -- 9/11, but they basically doubled; the Border Patrol, the Border Patrol had grown from 4,000 agents to about 10,000 between '93 and 2001. We've now -- and this was proudly announced on the DHS website, you can get a regular hourly update on the numbers -- the current number, I checked last night, 16,873. And the pledge is that we're going to be at 20,000 -- so that's a doubling since 2001 -- by the end of this administration.
Deportations, the numbers fluctuate a little bit, but 2001, 2002, we were talking about 150,000 people a year, roughly, processed through deportation. We're not double that. We're now 300,000. And then, of course, you know, you all know about the fence, which is -- which now again, they update it regularly, we now have 344 miles built. Their goal is --
ALDEN: -- 670 by the end of the administration. There was a story in The Washington Post yesterday about cost overruns. It doesn't look like they're going to make it. But the result of this -- you know, what I would argue is that while there's no question there was vastly increased enforcement in the 1990s, without the shock of 9/11 the United States would not be doing right now what it is doing on the southern border.
There has been an incredible militarizing of the entire effort. And I think the way you justify that -- and you hear it, is that, well, if we don't do this, how do we know that a terrorist might not come across the border? Now, in all my research I have not found a single example of a terrorist using the southwest border of Mexico as a way into the United States. And there are many examples on the northern border. I mean, I can give you chapter and verse on the northern border.
But, nonetheless, because we've chosen immigration enforcement, and because most to the problem of illegal entry is on the southern border, that's where the vast majority of the enforcement expenditures have gone. And we can talk more about some of the consequences of that, but.
TOBAR: Well, when you travel to that border, it's really -- well, first of all, the absurdity of the idea of sealing it off, sort of, comes home to you. I mean, I've stood on that border at places where there is no fence, and you can walk back and forth across. There are some border communities that have long -- many border -- most border communities have long traditions of this back and forth flow. There are some smaller border community that still have parties on the border -- you know, volleyball games, and they'll have -- (inaudible) -- on one side, and then they'll have the hamburgers on the other side; pass them back and forth. (Laughter.)
But yet now this has become a -- the issue of this, of this desert that we're trying to seal off -- and I've heard it said by some immigration experts, that if we sealed off the entire land-border then the illegal immigration flows who pass at the Gulf of Mexico would be like Gibraltar, you know, in Africa. It would be that kind -- we would see that kind of immigration flow.
But that image of a country trying to close this enormous land-bridge between itself and Mexico is now a dominant image in Latin American media. And, you know, you go to Guatemala -- my family's from Guatemala -- and go to Guatemala and you, invariably, pick up a newspaper and there was a raid in Massachusetts, 20 Guatemalans are deported. The image of them arriving at the airport, or getting on the plane, the ICE plane somewhere in Texas, that has now become a dominant image of Latin America -- excuse me, of the United States in Latin America.
And I'm wondering, Mack, what is -- are we causing long-term damage to our relationship with Latin America by our current policies on immigration?
MCLARTY: I would reluctantly have to say, potentially, yes. And I think you, Hector, understand it very well, and made the fundamental point, now, with this age of communication, and pictures being instantly available. You know, a picture is sometimes worth more than many words -- not always -- take journalists and writers. But, my point is, it does portray an image, and it does portray a certain view of the United States.
And I think if you look -- I'm somewhat heartened on the positive side, if you look at the campaign, both candidates are talking about the values of the United States. Both have a positive view about immigration, and issues more broadly. But there's no question that one of the fundamental tenets of any relationship, particularly people-to-people, country-to-country, is mutual respect and mutual trust of how you treat your friends, allies, neighbors, and how you deal with those that do not agree with you.
Now, adversaries -- and certainly adversaries that mean harm, that's a, obviously, a totally different category. But, yes, potentially, it can do, I think, serious damage, and already has done some.
TOBAR: Well, you know, there's also a lot of buzz in Latin America about, you know, the growing independence of many governments, the growing presence of the Chinese. I had the pleasure of writing a story about the potential construction of a Chinese canal through Nicaragua, which I don't think is going to come of anything, but still there was a lot of buzz about that.
But, it is something that I think is "defining" for Latin America at the moment. But moving to, once again, this idea of enforcement and the shield, who is -- who are some of the people who are being now shut out, or are finding it more difficult to enter the United States -- people that we need? Is that one of the -- is that one of, part of, the collateral damage of this, of this enforcement policy? And I know you talk about that in your book.
ALDEN: I mean, there's absolutely no question about that. You comment on the Chinese in Latin America, and I think, you know, some of this is inevitable. You know, there are other countries that are rising. They have more to offer economically. That's not necessarily something to be feared.
But the question for the United States is, to a considerable extent -- on the issues I write about in this book and the issues we're talking about on this panel -- the United States has had no competitors in the world. I mean, we have more -- of the big countries, of the big countries, we have been more open to immigration than any other country in the world. And that remains the case. There are obviously some small countries that are -- have higher percentage terms.
But, for our economy, what's been -- I'll be careful how I say this, because I actually think, you know, if you look at the numbers, workers at both ends of the scale are very important. I mean, what a lot of immigration experts argue, and you can see it in the numbers, is that the United States has a lot of people who are educated at, kind of, the mid levels. We have a lot of high school grads, people with some university, you know, community college grads. We have fewer people at both extremes. We have fewer people with less than a high school education willing to do menial work of various sorts.
And we actually, compared to immigrant population, we have fewer people at the very high end -- kind of, graduate degrees and Ph.D.s. And so we benefit at both ends of the market. A lot of my book focuses more on the high end, and the universities have been the big draw there. American universities are, by every account -- particularly at the graduate level, but at the undergraduate level too, the best in the world, bar none -- by far, the best in the world. I mean, you do any sort of reasonable global list -- you know, like a U.S. New & World Report kind of list of the 50 best universities and, you know, 38 of them are American.
And one of the things that happened after 9/11 -- that disturbs me greatly and, obviously, disturbed the universities greatly, is for the first time in 40 years you began to see a significant fall-off in foreign students coming to the United States. And, you know, the chart went kind of this, it fell after 9/11; it's now kind of dipped back up, so we're at a level just kind of where we were prior to 9/11.
But, in the meantime, Europe, Canada, Australia, even Japan, their numbers have been going up like that. So, what we're seeing is that -- that because of how difficult we have made it for people to come to this country, people with choices, particularly people at that -- at that highest end, the -- the, you know, the most advanced researchers, the people -- they have a lot of other choices, and they're exercising them.
And I think that -- that the long term consequences for this economy are potentially quite severe.
MCLARTY: I think, Hector, just a couple of quick points to affirm and add on to what Ted just -- just said. I can't tell you how many examples and anecdotes I could cite in my time both in the -- when I was privileged to serve in the public sector, and in the private sector now, where you encounter either a government or a business leader of a large business or a mid-size smaller business that has had some exposure to the United States at an earlier time when he or she was a student. Now, you know, obviously coming from my beloved home state of Arkansas with the heritage of Senator Fulbright and Fulbright Scholars and so forth, that is something that I readily identified with and took great pride in. But just one example after the other where that clearly has made a positive difference or has a positive view on how they relate to the United States.
I was recently on the Purdue campus, and I think Purdue, if I have my facts correct, has the largest number of foreign students of any university in the United States. That's largely -- well, one, it's a large institution; but two, it has major schools in engineering and agriculture which have traditionally attracted foreign students, and is rather conservative in their -- their philosophy, and very frustrated, very concerned, because their students are down dramatically.
And Ted makes the right point: what you see now are universities in the United States establishing relationships in China, the Middle East and other countries, and our students going to other countries to study.
Now I am all for that. That's great; both our sons have taken advantage of that, which I'm pleased and proud about. But it needs to be the proverbial two-way street.
So finally, I think, Hector, too, it is not just governments in Latin America who have this sense of confidence in dealing with others and looking outward, it is businesses in Latin America that have the same view. So I think that landscape has changed, and we need to go with that flow, acknowledge that reality and not be insular and frankly get left behind in increasing competition.
ALDEN: I mean you see this with companies. The classic example recently has been Microsoft's decision to open its new research facility in Vancouver across the border instead of in Redmond where all of its other research is done. And the stated reason was we can't get the people we want. We can't get the talent from around the world that we need in the United States, so we'll go somewhere else --
MCLARTY: And just one other example: a CEO said I'm going on the board of an Indian company because I can't get access to the Indian talent here in the United States, and my best way to understand and attract those students that I am going to need in my company -- I intend to get them -- is frankly to spend more time in that relationship than serving on -- a similar responsibility here.
TOBAR: Well, I'm going to throw out one more question for both of you, and then open it up to questions from our audience here. And it's a political question, which is that, you know, we talk about immigration reform, and we talk about it in terms of the global economy. But for millions of Americans, this is a local issue. You know, it's a bread-and-butter issue. It's an issue not just in Los Angeles or Miami or in New York, it is also an issue in rural Georgia, in rural Tennessee, in Idaho; in fact, it's hard to name a state where it isn't a local issue.
And my -- my question for both of you is what are the prospects for selling immigration reform in this political climate where it is such an emotional issue for so many people. There are, you know, a good wing of the Democratic Party, especially southern Democrats -- southern Democrats don't want to be associated with the word amnesty, you know, at all. So --
MCLARTY: I'm just glad to hear you mentioning southern Democrats, Hector.
TOBAR: The ones who are left.
MCLARTY: As a species, yes, exactly.
TOBAR: So your thoughts on that, and then we'll open it up to questions.
MCLARTY: Well, I think probably we -- we -- you suggested, Hector, quite -- quite appropriately that we perhaps need to take about a half a step back in some of our comments, not that I think we don't feel very strongly about them, but I think all of us need to well understand, acknowledge and appreciate that many of the concerns, feelings and even fears about immigration are real and palpable in our country, and you can't be dismissive of that or ignore them. They have to be addressed and dealt with.
Is there a smaller group that is shrill and just, you will never be able to talk any kind of perhaps reason or in a constructive manner? Yes. But there's a much larger group that has great concerns and anxieties that I think a dialogue and progress -- dialogue needs to be established and progress can be made.
You're right about -- and I think that's at the fundamental heart here -- you don't have just border states, Hector, anymore, of California and Arizona and Texas. You have now the immigration -- has really, really been so much increased in so many states, and I think in many states, including Arkansas and many others, this is a rather new phenomena. And so you don't have quite the familiarity and the techniques of dealing with this.
Having said that, most of the governors have been quite responsive and constructive of assimilation programs. And I think they're getting better at that. I think they're devoting more resources to the assimilation. I think that's absolutely key.
But I was struck when I landed in Omaha, Nebraska, in the heartland. The front page headline in the Omaha Herald was a hearing, a townhall hearing, on immigration --
MCLARTY: -- front page. The last paragraph by an 80-year-old citizen said it all: this is the biggest commotion I have ever seen in Omaha. (Laughter.) But she went on to express, I understand the issue better, and I think we can solve this, but we probably never will.
Well, I think that gives some hopefully indication we have some ability to do it. But I think you're going to have to deal with in terms of a comprehensive program. You do have to -- and that's the reason I wanted to take a half a step back -- and I think John McCain recognized this, particularly after the primaries, to his -- to his credit, and I respect him for it. You have to start with security, that -- that after 9/11, you have to start from that marker and premise.
There's a right way to do that, in my judgment, and a wrong way to do it. And we're perhaps more on the wrong path than the right one. But you have to start from that security base and then build out from there. But I think in -- in terms of building out for comprehensive reform, you have some compelling issues from a security standpoint. If we've got undocumented immigrants, whether they be from Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and the Middle East or wherever, to me, that is a major security threat.
So you've got some compelling arguments to make, including our military -- which Ted and Anya and I and others have seen -- that have been served so well in many cases by people who get their citizenship while they're serving in our military in Iraq. That is something I think that goes right to the heart of the feelings and patriotism of this country. And obviously you have the economic issues.
So that has to be, I think, presented in the right way, communicated in the right way. There has to be a bipartisan effort. And, of course, at the end of the day, as Arturo (so well understands, because we've labored with this issue for many years now, you've got this issue of what are you going to do about the undocumented people who are here that have their families, who are contributing to this economy -- how do you deal with the A-word? How do you deal with that fundamental issue of justice and what is consistent with the rule of law?
So those are the issues. But I think -- I think they can be done. But I do want us to take -- I want us to have a proper perspective in this discussion, because we have a tendency to get perhaps a little forward-leaning, and we need a balance here in order to be effective.
ALDEN: I'll just make a very brief comment, Hector, because I hope you will answer your own question, because you've written very well on this whole set of issues. As is so often the case, the problem -- the problem of immigrant communities moving much farther into the heartland, I think is at some level a result of American policies. It's a consequence of part of the enforcement policies I'm talking about.
If you go down -- you know, you look, for years there was a circularity in the relationship between Mexico and the United States. A lot of people would come up from Mexico, work part of the year, or work for a couple of years, go back, make money. There was a kind of natural flow to the labor market.
And the result of that was that a lot of the Mexicans, or other Central Americans who had come up from Mexico didn't move very far from the border. They didn't bring their families over in a lot of cases, so there was a back and forth.
Well, as soon as you -- as you begin to tighten the border, and getting across the border is not an issue of just walking across -- you know, wading across the river when the Rio Grande is low or walking across an undefended border; when suddenly you have to pay a coyote $1,000 or $2,000 or close to $3,000 now, you're not going to go back. Once you come you're going to stay. Well, if you're going to stay, you're going to bring your family, right, because, you know, nobody wants to be away from their family for five years or 10 years, I mean, you do it for six months out of the year, or maybe even for a year is manageable.
And so once you've done that, once you've made the decision that you here and your family is here, you know, why stay in California? Why stay in Arizona? Why not go where the opportunities are?
And as you've written about, you know, as these communities get established, they attract more people once you have a small community. And so we -- we I think as a consequence of our own enforcement policies, we've created that dynamic, which has now created the political problem that we have to address in trying to do immigration reform.
TOBAR: I'll just say briefly my own experience as the son of Guatemalan immigrants, a Californian and a national correspondent traveling across the United States is that, you know, these -- immigration tends to promote a lot of different emotional responses from the communities where immigrants establish themselves.
And, you know, first -- the first period is this, you know, love affair and, God, these people work so hard, they have such strong family values, and you saw that play itself out in Los Angeles in the '80s and you saw it play itself out in northern Georgia, for example, in the late '90s and the early part of the century, and then comes this sort of like -- you know the -- the people realizing that this population is becoming more and more permanent. And then there's sort of an anger and a backlash. That played itself out in California in the '90s. And there is gradually a kind of acceptance and realization that the place that people call home has fundamentally changed. But that's just the American story that constantly repeats itself.
So let's open it up now to questions. We now invite the audience to join the discussion, and they're going to be passing around a microphone. Simone (sp), is there a microphone? Oh, it's over here.
And please stand and state your name and affiliation, and please keep your questions and comments concise to allow as many members to speak as possible. So who would like -- there's a question over here.
QUESTIONER: Thank you. Philip Brenner, American University. As someone who's in the ivory tower, I would appreciate learning from those of you who are not, who have a better sense of reality, the role of corporations in this. The -- NPR reported this morning that the -- in part because there is no immigration debate going on in this campaign, anti-immigrant groups have seized the initiative to start a campaign that appeals actually to Democrats, progressive Democrats, arguing that immigration is bad for the environment. It increases consumption in the United States. It's bad for fiscal responsibility. So, I mean, the point -- it isn't their claims. The point is, why aren't corporations that would benefit from immigration, as Mr. Alden very correctly points out, the low end and the high end, why do they choose to leave and go to Canada the way Microsoft did rather than make the hard fight? It doesn't have to be made -- and it can be made in equally disingenuous terms. (Laughter.)
MCLARTY: Well, first of all, as far as consumption is concerned, I thought we were in the midst of an economic slowdown. So I think increased consumption is a good thing. That would be my first point; that you've got consumers and additional markets.
I think the argument to progressive Democrats, as you -- as you characterized the target of the anti-immigration efforts, will be a pretty tough sell. And I think -- I think the case is a very. very frail and fragile one. So I'm not sure that that anti group does not need to go and expend their energy and efforts in that area, and I think it won't -- won't yield much results.
You make a very good point about the business community, and Ted can certainly give his points of view there. I think when you look at major pieces of legislation, particularly relating to trade which Ambassador Hill has been such a great part of, and other issues relating to foreign policy or even welfare to work, you're going to need a bipartisan effort, and you're going to need strong business support in order to get that passed in Congress. That was at least our example on some of the major initiatives of that type. I think it has been for most every administration.
And I think immigration is one of those issues you can to a large extent galvanize the business community to support, which is not an easy task to do, either, one, to get consensus, or two, just to overcome whether it's, you know, reluctance to take a stand or just frankly disinterest and lethargy on the part of the business community to get really involved in legislation.
So I think there is a real opportunity there. But I think the policymakers are going to have to make it a reasonable and a reasonably easy route, or frankly, business leaders will do what they really to some extent are paid to do, they will look at that option, and then if it's just going to be too high a cost, and the probability of success is not good, they will be creative and take other approaches, which is exactly what you just suggest about Microsoft. It's just one example. There could be 10 more.
But I think -- I think the business community, certainly the U.S. Chamber, for example, has been very -- as Adrian and others know -- very vocal in support of immigration. So I think there is a coalition to be built there. There has to be something to coalesce around.
ALDEN: I would just -- I would make two quick comments. An observation on the environmental -- it's a little known fact, actually, the origin of some of the anti-immigrant groups here in the United States like the Federation for American Immigration Reform. Their roots were in environmentalism. It came out of California environmentalists who were concerned about the impact of high population growth on the environment. And most of the population growth in the United States now is from immigration.
So there's long been actually a -- a relationship between those two. This is an issue that roiled the Sierra Club for years, actually almost blew the Sierra Club apart, the question of whether the Sierra Club was going to be a sort of overtly, you know, slow population growth, anti-immigrant group. So there's a long history there.
On the corporations, right after 9/11, you know, they recognized this. Bill Reinsch at the National Foreign Trade Council was very active on these issues. He could not get a single one of his members to take it up. They all said, look, you know, we know this is a big problem. These post-9/11 border and visa restrictions are killing us. But if we stick our head up, we're going to get it chopped off because it will look like we don't care about the country's security.
So he could not get any of his members. I mean he -- you know, he would do things as sort of -- as a corporate lobbying organization. But the individual members couldn't stand up and say anything.
And lot of it was easier just to lose. They couldn't win this political fight. And then increasingly even as 9/11 has -- has drifted away they've tried to fight on the H1-B visa issue, and -- and they just run into a brick wall consistently. And, you know, as Mac points, if you're a corporate leader you've got to make your decisions, it's probably easier to move than it is to fight. So we're seeing a lot of that.
TOBAR: Next question, in the back, over here. Ma'am.
QUESTIONER: Diana Negroponte, the Brookings Institution, an immigrant and mother of five Honduran immigrants. My question is addressed to all of you on the panel, and it is the consequence of our U.S. judicial system when in two massive raids recently, one in Florida and the other in Massachusetts, the allegation is made that the prosecutors fixed the system, not the judges. I'd like your comment, recognizing that that is an allegation in a national newspaper without confirmation.
ALDEN: I'll tackle it. I -- I don't -- I'm afraid I haven't read about that specific allegation, so -- so I apologize. But I will make a comment on the whole system of immigration law in this -- in this country. I mean, immigrants to the United States, up to and including green card holders, effectively live under a different system of law than the rest of us. I know that's an outrageous comment to make, but the degree of due process that is afforded people accused of immigration violations is basically nil. I mean, you can -- you can jail people for long, long periods of time with, you know, nothing other than -- than, you know, we know they violated some immigration law, we're going to hold them until we can deport them. Sometimes, you know, they fight it through these immigration courts, which are special courts that exist under the Justice Department. And these people get held while these cases are being fought through.
As we saw in the recent Washington Post series on -- on medical conditions in these facilities, they're often abysmal. So we have almost like a separate legal, penal detention system for immigrants. And it doesn't come close to the standards of the regular criminal system. And I think that that is something we should all be appalled by, and, you know, you can point to a lot of -- a lot of specific examples. So I apologize that I don't -- I don't know the allegation here. But honestly it wouldn't surprise me, the way the immigration system operates, there just is not -- is not the sort of due process and fairness that we expect out of our own regular judicial legal system.
TOBAR: Well, I would just make the general observation that the socioeconomic reality that we accept as Americans, that we allow millions of people to live among us who have, you know, very little -- very few legal rights -- they do have some protections, right, under the 13th Amendment -- a few, right -- but that we allow millions of people to live among us without -- without the protections of citizenship or even legal residence is a poison to the system. You know, it's sort of -- on lots of different levels there are just -- there are in fact hundreds of thousands of young men and women growing up in this country who you would talk to them -- and LA has many, many people like this who I've met -- you talk to them and they are Americans. They talk like Americans. And yet they were born in Mexico, and because it's been 22 years since there was an immigration reform, they live without papers, right? And accepting that reality is, in my opinion, a cancer on our democracy and our judicial system. I mean, it's just -- because the fact -- the fact is that they are allowed to live and work. I have a cousin who is living without papers in Los Angeles. And he has, you know, very, very few problems going about his daily life. Yet he lives, you know, in this sort of other status.
And I don't think that is healthy for a democracy. That's my own observation. And that's why we see these sorts of abuses both real and alleged and unproven.
So next question over here.
QUESTIONER: Thank you. David Ayon, Center for the Study of Los Angeles.
TOBAR: Good to see you.
QUESTIONER: My question sort of picks up on the point -- the last point Elizabeth Becker made at the end of the last panel. During the first Bush administration, you had a multi-year effort -- it went on at least for a couple of years -- to try to negotiate some kind of bilateral migration regime between the United States and Mexico. And we know that that came to naught; it sort of collapsed. And in the second Bush administration, the focus was on comprehensive immigration reform, which couldn't get out of Congress; that collapsed as well.
My question to all of you is if you in your judgment in a -- with a new administration coming to office next year, is there any going back? Is there any room for bilateral engagement on immigration, or coordination on immigration? Or is that politically simply a dead letter?
MCLARTY: I would -- I would not rule it out. But it seems to me there is a -- the stage is hopefully set for a comprehensive immigration effort. And it did fail, but only by a narrow margin. And I think that's probably where the momentum or the building block to pick up from is. That certainly would not exclude specific discussions with Mexico, and for that matter, Canada because I think increasingly in the competitive economy, this North American economic effort that we have here, under the NAFTA and more broadly, is going to be important for our competitiveness. But I would think the tendency would be toward comprehensive reform as opposed to bilateral.
ALDEN: I'll second that.
TOBAR: Another question? Yes, in the back.
QUESTIONER: Great, thank you. My name is Mercedes Fitchett with the U.S. Department of Defense. I kind of wanted to tie this back to foreign policy to a certain degree. But for me, the whole immigration issue with regards to, say, my domestic help that comes from El Salvador who traveled through the desert. And she has her papers, but many of her colleagues do not. And so they can't get work, and they hence -- they -- and hence become part of this marginal part of society that doesn't enjoy the protections that we enjoy.
But tying that back to foreign policy with my work on Iraq, where you've had a tremendous amount of refugee movement to Syria, to Jordan and so on. And the difficulty there is that these refugees can't get access to working papers, to residence papers -- so a very similar situation, though affecting different populations. In our previous discussion on trade, there was very little discussion on immigration in, say, NAFTA, I believe, Chapter 16 on the temporary movement of labor -- temporary entry of labor.
So is America getting off easy with its foreign policy partners with regards to not being held accountable for how we're treating these marginal populations in our own country, and do you see that impacting our foreign policy relationship with other countries? And if so how?
ALDEN: You know, I'll take a -- that's a big complicated question. The piece I might take of it is the trade immigration piece because there is -- I mean, the United States has for its own domestic political reasons drawn a very sharp line between these two. And it's not just the negotiations with Latin America. The Indians for years have wanted to put on the table at the WTO the issue of temporary movement of workers and can you get some kind of international language that governs that. Makes -- the Americans have consistently refused, and a lot of it's because they don't want all this to have to go through the judiciary committees in Congress and, you know, the domestic politics of it are too complicated -- and Ambassador Hill, if I misspeak here, you can speak up and correct me on the history here. But typically there has been a pretty strong divide here.
And I think the problem is from an economic perspective, that doesn't make a lot of sense. When you open up trade in an economy, an economy becomes more dynamic, and you get a lot of movement of labor. Labor moves from less productive sectors to more productive sectors. There's a lot of displacement, and that's a nice word for people losing their jobs, and their lives being uprooted in various ways. And if you connect two economies through a free-trade agreement, you want that to happen. You want people to move from less productive employment to more productive employment. But you have a big line right in the middle that says you can move this far for more productive employment but no farther. You create a kind of economic illogic that creates a huge amount of tension.
And I think at some levels that's the big picture that underlies a lot of what goes on between the U.S. and Mexico, you know. I mean, no one could ever put out -- the notion is just not politically tenable in this country that there should be a European Union-style free movement of labor. But from a purely economic perspective, that makes sense.
Gordon Hanson, who's a -- is a -- there are some copies of this outside -- wrote a wonderful short paper for us called "The Economic Logic of Illegal Immigration." Illegal immigration from an economic perspective makes a lot of sense. It responds beautifully to the labor markets, whereas our legal system, because it's all tied up with bureaucracy and visa granting, responds very poorly and very slowly.
So that's a long answer to one part of your question.
TOBAR: Well, I'll just throw one more thing into the discussion that probably should be addressed, and that is what is the role of U.S. foreign policy in terms of Mexico's solution to this problem. What does Mexico or Central America -- what can Mexico and Central America get from the United States in a comprehensive immigration reform agreement too. And is -- are the root causes of immigration, should they be part of that discussion -- you know, the poverty in a Zacatecas, in a Guatemala, in an El Salvador -- is that going to be part of policy discussion? Or are we simply going to assume that the forces of the market and free trade are eventually going to bring enough prosperity to rural Mexico and Central America so that millions of people don't feel compelled to become part of this flow across the border. That's something I'd like to throw out, but -- anyway.
Question. You had a question, sir?
QUESTIONER: My question is -- covers a little bit more ground, and I'm going to try to keep it to a question rather than some kind of a speech. But I get a feeling that the issues that are disturbing the American public heavily have to do with something that was just touched in the first part of our day, and that is health care, which was barely examined. But there's a feeling that everyone knows that immigration has been helpful at every level, from the bottom to the top, and nobody is saying we don't want immigration unless they're in an extreme fractionated group.
What they want is to have control over their borders so they know who's coming in and who is not coming in. They also want to make sure that people who get our services -- our medical services, our educational services -- have a stake in paying for that. And there's a kind of feeling that, on the part of a lot of people in this country, that it's not fair, and they want something done about it. They don't want to stop immigration. They don't want to keep people from coming to our schools. And I think part of what they want is for the -- take Mexico. Mexico has a stake two ways. They don't want to lose their best people to the United States. On the other hand, they don't want to feel that, in any way, there is a wall that keeps people from coming here and coming here legally, coming here and in effect putting their marker down. We want to come to the United States. We're going to -- we know why we're coming here. It's for opportunity which we don't have as much of in our country.
Why isn't it possible for the political folks in Washington to look at the down-to-earth issues and come up with some relatively simple things that everyone can agree to? I don't think Mr. Obama or Mr. McCain feel very differently on some of these issues. But Mr. McLarty, you are the -- our route into the political process. Is this something that just is beyond politics and cannot be done?
MCLARTY: Well, Ambassador Gelb, we need to put you on the road. You framed the issue, I think, very, very clearly, and in a very articulate manner. On the other hand, Bruce, I'm not sure if you talk to someone who is head of legislative affairs in any administration, be it Republican or Democrat, that he or she might say it's a more formidable challenge to get the members of Congress to agree on some of those commonsense kind of fundamentals that you cite.
Bruce, I think you hit the key issue here. I think there is an overwhelming percentage in our country that feels the system is absolutely not working, that it's broken. It concerns them, it upsets them, it angers them. I think the basic issue of fairness and its impact on me and my family -- whether it be children or grandchildren -- in terms of education, in terms of health care, goes right to the heart of people's emotions and feelings.
And so there has to be some alignment of interests there, and you can only do that, it seems to me, if you frankly align the policies to reflect the realities that we have, both in terms of the flow and in terms of what exists in our country today. And that's really to go back to my first point, not to be looking through rose-colored glasses here, but yes, I do believe that is in the art of the possible in the coming administration regardless of which candidate is elected. I think it's likely, frankly, we will have a Democratic congress, and I think that will be a modest plus perhaps in immigration reform, but it will still have to be accomplished on a bipartisan basis. And you're going to have to deal squarely with really the issues that you -- you raised.
Should that be doable, can that be done in a civil constructive way to reach a lot of common ground on immigration reform? It should be able to -- it should be able to. But you really go to the heart of the matter -- two things just to reinforce. The basic fairness is a real issue here, and it goes to illegal immigrants and so forth. That's a very serious issue. And the basic alignment of interests that immigrants have to have a stake here too -- and of course I think that goes for our neighbors to the south and to Canada as well.
So I think you did a superb job of framing the issue, and the right way to proceed. Hopefully, we'll be successful in doing it.
TOBAR: We have time for one more question, if someone would like to ask a question. Yes, way in the back, sir.
QUESTIONER: Bruce Churchill from Direct TV, Latin America. So what's the answer? (Scattered laughter.) You know, I think you pointed to the fact of how do you deal with this fairness, which I think really is around the 10 (million) to 15 million undocumented workers we have today. I don't think there's a lot of debate about whether we ought to let people in or that sort of thing. What is the answer?
MCLARTY: Well, I think it's a little more complicated than that. I would not disagree that the 10 (million) to 15 million undocumented workers is the most difficult issue and the easiest issue for opponents to put up in terms of not passing comprehensive immigration. But I think it's more multifaceted than just that one issue, and I do think it goes to the schools and health care and so forth, not just the undocumenteds.
The simplistic answer is it's well past time to do it, and I think there -- I think there will be a sentiment, not only on immigration reform but I hope a number of other major issues that have been left equally unattended that we are now, I think, beginning to increasingly recognize in this country is truly potentially impacting our future in a very serious way.
So I hope what you have is a dynamic in the next administration, and frankly, the next president taking advantage of that dynamic, to come forward and articulate here are the three or four priorities that we have to address, and have to get accomplished on a bipartisan basis in the Congress.
I think if not, you already see such -- such a negative feeling, a cynical feeling, a disconnected feeling about Washington is absolutely disconnected from reality. And I think people have really just about reached the Network News of my generation -- I'm mad about this and I'm not going to take it any more. I think people either have expressed that in this election. Change is clearly the dominant -- it's clearly the dominant theme. That -- that tells you part of the answer. Or either my anger and frustration has just reached a point -- I can't do anything about it; so I'll just disconnect. That's what we're really seeing.
So that's the answer. It is time, it is past time to take action on this and a number of other perhaps even more pressing issues which I think will be at the top of the priority of the next president, and it will certainly be on his desk when he gets there in January.
ALDEN: I'll conclude with an advertisement to get you back here in the future, which is that we are trying to grapple with all these questions in the Council's Task Force on Immigration, which is ably co-chaired by Mac and Governor Jeb Bush. So stay tuned. I hope we'll come up with something useful that will give some momentum to what we want to see, which is some genuine, serious, solid progress on an issue that's been festering for far too long.
TOBAR: Thank you all very much. Thank you. (Applause)
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