Update on the CFR-Sponsered Independent Task Force Report on U.S. Immigration Policy
In July 2009, the Council on Foreign Relations released the report of its bipartisan Independent Task Force on U.S. Immigration Policy, chaired by former governor of Florida Jeb Bush and former White House chief of staff Thomas F. "Mack" McLarty. As the 113th U.S. Congress considers an overhaul of the country's immigration system, please join Task Force members Richard Land, Eliseo Medina, and project director Edward Alden to discuss U.S. policy options and political prospects for comprehensive change.
EDWARD SCHUMACHER-MATOS: Good morning, everyone, and welcome to the Council on Foreign Relations for this program this morning on immigration reform. My name's Edward Schumacher-Matos. I am the ombudsman at NPR; I also am a fellow at the Migration Policy Institute and have taught a lot on migration policy at the Harvard Kennedy school.
You know, we are here today because Congress seems to be, you know, on the verge, finally, of pushing through a comprehensive immigration that promises to be both historic and possibly even have profound effects on the nation. How historic? Let me sort of give this conversation this morning put in some kind of a historical context.
The U.S. was essentially an open country until the 1920s when it began to impose a series of national quotas. These ended, sort of, the 40-year-long Great Migration wave characterized by Ellis Island and about half our Hollywood movies. Immigration was reduced to a trickle for the next almost 40 years. Then, in 1965 in the midst of the whole civil rights movement, those quotas were greatly loosened and they were rearranged. What no one realized at the time was that they were setting in motion profound changes to the ethnic, racial and educational makeup of the United States.
And still -- so now it looks like Congress now -- another 40-year period having passed – a little bit more – may pass the third – the third great change in the nation's immigration system. That may not have as radical an effect as the last two. Then again, it may. One, immigration is so politically explosive here and everywhere in the world, for obvious reasons. It's the policy that directly affects who your neighbors are, who your children are going to marry, who they're going to go to school with, and who are your fellow citizens.
The emerging consensus that Congress is likely to legalize the more-than 11 million immigrants living here illegally is likely to tighten the family reunification criteria, is likely to open up a high-skilled immigration in a way we never have before, is likely to reintroduce a large-scale guest-worker program, is likely to further militarize our Mexican and possibly even our Canadian border, and is likely to introduce workplace controls that will affect all American workers looking for a job.
The effort is being led in the Senate by what is being called the Gang of Eight. These include four Republicans – McCain, Graham, Rubio and Flake – and four Democrats – Schumer, Durbin, Bennet and Menendez. Since the last effort to fix our immigration system failed in 2007 when President Bush couldn't even carry his own party, the Democrats have been pretty much irrelevant, and the game has been in the Republican Party because of the great opposition by its insurgent Tea Party movement and by the populist-right conservatives in this country. They're sort of opposed to any kind of comprehensive immigration reform until almost all the undocumented immigrants have been forced out and the borders controlled.
If Republicans in the Senate and in the House before 2010 were allowed to vote their conscience, we would already have comprehensive immigration reform. What has changed today, however, – what finally has politically moved them to want to do something is that Romney got just 27 percent of the Hispanic vote and about as bad among the Asians, if not worse. The demographic writing is on the wall, and so the great movement now in the Republican Party is to get with the program and try to do something on comprehensive immigration reform.
But as we get closer to a deal, you're going to see Democrats suddenly throwing up some of the roadblocks in the negotiations. I would like to caution you this morning not to think of immigration reform as Republicans versus Democrats. Since the beginning of the republic, immigration has always been an issue of strange bedfellows. On one side, you've got the humanitarian left, including many of the churches, united with the business right. And on the other side, you've got the unions, normally seen as from the left, but being opposed to bringing in all these workers, united with the populist, nativist sort of lower-middle-class and even middle-class in the country.
So, it's against that background that we're really fortunate today to have our panel. And let me say we have two of the sexiest bedfellows we could have.
MR. : On Valentine's – on Valentine's Day, no less!
MR. SCHUMACHER-MATOS: Yes, Valentine's Day. Eliseo Medina is international secretary and treasurer, of the Service Employees International Union. They have been critical, in the center of this whole fight of what the union position is going to be on immigration reform, and I'll let Eliseo get into that.
And you have Richard Land, who's president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. I told you that we had the old – the humanitarian left, which included mostly old, mainstream Protestant churches, the Jewish churches (sic) and the Catholic churches being very pro-immigration. But many of those people who are sometimes characterized as nativists, populists, conservatives – call them what you will – so often belong to the evangelical churches. And Richard Land for – has been the key guy in sort of moving those churches into considering immigration reform.
And then finally we have Ted Alden, who is here from the council. He's Bernard Schwartz senior fellow, and he is the essential author working with these two and others in putting out a report by the council several years ago that has been critical – that was critical in sort of framing the debate and moving the different parties to where we are today.
And so we're going to kick off with Ted to tell us about the report and give us the background from there.
EDWARD ALDEN: Thank you very much, Ed, for a tremendous overview. Though I – though I will say I'm really insulted not to be one of the sexy bedfellows – (laughter) – but I'll have to plow on anyway.
You know, to fill in Ed's history here a little bit, the council decided – Richard Haass decided to put together a taskforce on immigration policy basically as the last big effort in 2007 was falling apart in the U.S. Senate. And at the time I think, you know, we were still hopeful that there was going to be another round. I mean, we didn't know then what the outcome of the election was going to be but there was some hope there might be one more effort in the – in the waning days of the Bush administration. And then, of course, after President Obama was elected, he had said that immigration priority was going to – immigration reform was going to be a priority for him in the first term. And so we were working on this report at a time when the possibilities still seemed wide open. And of course by the end of roughly the first term of the Obama administration, the issue had been – had been laid to rest again and now, as Ed has pointed out, is coming back to the fore.
So I – working on this taskforce was one of the great experiences of my life. We had two tremendous co-chairs as these gentlemen will attest – former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and former White House Chief of Staff Mack McLarty – both of whom have continued to be deeply involved in this issue. Governor Bush is about to come out with a book on immigration reform called "Immigration Wars." I think that it may even be available on Amazon now, if not in the next couple of weeks. Mack McLarty has continued to be outspoken on this issue at every opportunity. He emails me almost every week saying, you know, what's the latest, how are things going, where's this issue moving.
And we had a tremendous group in addition to Reverend Land and Eliseo. We had folks like Rob Bonner, the former head of Customs and Border Protection; Fran Townsend, who'd been homeland security advisor to President Bush; some fine immigration attorneys – Kathleen Campbell Walker of ALA; Margaret Stock, who is the architect of what's called the MAVNI program which is a program for bringing immigrants into the military and allowing them a fast track to citizenship; Elisa Massimino, who is – has been one of the leading voices in the country on refugee issues in the broad range of human rights issues. So this was – this was just a great group.
Let me give a quick overview of what I think some of our contributions were in the report, which came out in 2009. First, we really tried to frame the issue very much in terms of American economic interests. And if you listen to the debate today, you know, with the Bloomberg group that's been formed, and others, this is really – you know, this is part of the standard conversation now: that immigration is tremendously important to the economic future of the United States.
But I think, you know, even when we were – we were writing this, this was – this was an evolving view. I mean, historically, it's been much more about the issues that Ed laid out, you know. Who are our fellow citizens? Questions of assimilation and integration; questions of, you know, who we want to be part of the country. Much less, sort of, what are American economic interests, how does immigration contribute to our economic strength?
And as we – as we move into the sort of economy we have now – on dependent heavily on innovation, on research – the role of immigrants has become more and more important. So that was sort of our starting point.
Secondly, we talked a lot about immigration and American values. I mean, this has been, I think, a trying period because we see ourselves, rightly, as a nation of immigrants, as a country that's open and welcoming to immigrants. And yet in the – in the decade since 9/11, we've treated a lot of folks pretty harshly. I mean, if you take people coming in as refugees and asylum seekers, for instance, very often while their claims are being considered we're putting them in jail-like facilities. We're holding them off from their families in jail-like conditions while we try to resolve these claims.
An increased number of deportations – go back 10 years ago, we were removing, you know, 50(,000), 60,000 people a year. Last few years, it's been 400,000 a year. These are a lot of families broken up. Often before people are deported, again, they spend months in jails. And the conditions in these jails are often terrible as The New York Times and other have documented. So we really argued that in many ways, where our immigration policy had ended up, you know, as a result of the concern of illegal immigration and security was really antithetical to American values in a number of very fundamental ways.
And then finally, I think, which is something that's very relevant for the current debate, we argued that the American public really had not appreciated the progress that had been made in enforcement – particularly border enforcement. And that's much truer today even than it was when we were writing this report. But I think that, you know, the common conception still is that the Mexican border is completely porous, that if you want to walk across the border and get into the United States, it's an easy thing to do.
That was true in the 1980s and even in the early 1990s, when we had a couple thousand border patrol agents across 2,000 miles of border. It's not true anymore. And we have 21,000 agents now. We have 700 miles of fencing. We have sensors. We have drones. We really try to point out in this report that the facts on the ground had changed pretty dramatically. So let me just run through very quickly what the key recommendations were and then I know we want to get into a discussion of where things stand today. But I think four or five recommendations that are – that are still very much part of the mix, as the Senate and the House begin work on this.
We argued for proper accounting at the border, that we need to be able to be come up with some strong conception of what it means to have a secure border, to actually have some sense of people entering the country illegally, rather than just those we're apprehending. We argued for a policy to attract and retain skilled immigrants, particularly those coming to American universities because U.S. universities continue to attract the best students from all over the world and we make it far too difficult for them to stay through a variety of ways that we can talk about further. This was a central recommendation.
We argue that immigration quotas ought to be more flexible than they are. We have this very rigid system, both for skilled workers and for families trying to reunify – very kind of fixed caps as to how many can come in every year. We argue the system ought to be more flexible depending really on economic conditions. As the economy's stronger, we need more folks in, the quotas should go up. In a – in a weaker economy, we should let fewer in. Migration Policy Institute that Ed's affiliated with has done some great work on that in terms of calling for a commission – a real expert commission to try to improve our data on that.
We argued – you know, the guest worker issue was a hard worker, even in our taskforce. And essentially where we came out was some mix of more permanent low-skilled visas. I mean, the quota – if you're a low-skilled worker without family ties here, the annual quota's 5,000, so it was almost impossible to get in. So we argued for higher permanent quota and some sort of seasonal guest-worker program, particularly for agriculture and other industries where you have real surges.
Employment verification – absolutely a key. We need – employers need to be able in an easy way to know whether people they're hiring are authorized to work in the United States. So we argued for expansion of what's called the E-Verify system and for biometric identification, which is going to be a hard issue in this – in this debate. We argued – and Richard was absolutely critical in framing this – for an earned legalization for the undocumented. So Dream Act for younger kids brought here by their parents and an earned legalization for the 11 million undocumented. But it would – you know, there – it's an onerous path. You know, you have to cross a lot of hurdles to get there. And we lay that out.
And then just finally – and I don't really think it's a footnote – but we argued for revisiting some of what was done in 1996 that makes it so hard for people, even who have a legal claim in the United States, to stay here because, you know, if you've been here illegally for any period of time, you're basically barred from ever returning to the United States for periods of five, 10 years or longer. So these have been extraordinary hurdles for people who, say, who marry, you know, American citizens and thus have a right to stay here. They face this very difficult hurdle as a result of the legislation Congress passed in '96.
So those – sorry for taking so long – but that's sort of a key outline of what we did in the report. And I think it's still – it's still got quite a bit of influence today, I think, you know, largely because of the nature of the individuals that we had on the report who continue to play very active and key roles on this issue.
MR. SCHUMACHER-MATOS: Well, I think that addresses a lot of the questions about what we should do. I'd like to see if we can't start the conversation a bit this morning and talk about what politically might be possible, given all the tensions that we have inside the Congress. And, Richard, if I could start with you, are the Republicans now willing to accept this pathway to citizenship and for the undocumented and the legalization of that group?
RICHARD LAND: I think that a critical mass is. And I think that there will be roadblocks thrown up by those on the right and there will be roadblocks thrown up by those on the left. And I think what's going to be – have to be critical is there's going to have to be a – what I call a coalition of the responsible middle, of moderate Democrats and – moderate liberal Democrats and moderate conservative Republicans who sort of insulate themselves from the attacks that will come from the left or the right.
And it seems to me that the most important thing that was said in that press conference where the Gang of Eight announced their model and their – sort of their parameters, was when Chuck Schumer said, you know: We want the achievement more than we want the issue. And I think that's going to be the key. If there is a critical mass in the Senate and in the House who want the achievement of getting workable immigration reform that is a tremendous progress over what we have now, then we will get it.
But if – you know, the question is really whether they're going to – whether the – whether they're going to behave like politicians who are looking at the next election or whether they're going to behave like statesmen who are looking at the next generation. I do think that we are at a critical moment. I think if we don't pass this by July 4th or by Labor Day it won't get passed in this Congress because other issues that are far more divisive are going to crowd it out and there won't be the bipartisan trust.
I do think it's important to note that in that Gang of Eight, two of the senators – Flake is a freshman from Arizona and Rubio was elected by the tea party and has become the person who's leading the effort on his side of this, and I think is absolutely critical to getting something passed in the Senate and then moving it over. And I do think it has to happen in the Senate first because I don't think the House – there are enough House members who aren't going to risk their neck unless the Senate has gone first and given them – so that they can say, OK, I'll risk my neck because it's worth it because we might get something done, rather than risking my neck and then it'll be for nothing because the Senate didn't pass it.
MR. SCHUMACHER-MATOS: Mmm hmm. And, Eliseo, do you think – as we start getting closer with this – is the Democratic Party willing to go along with some sort of restrictions that – like the Republicans want – on family reunification, so it's not what they say is this open chain migration that just leads to a great mass of, what is seen as, unskilled workers and Democratic voters?
ELISEO MEDINA: Well, you know, my sense is that this is a moment and that everybody is extremely cognizant that we have a very limited period of time. My sense is in the Democratic side – and I would say even not just the legislators but also I would think on the advocates, that we are going to be able to get something done, but that we really need to come together and figure out what are the elements and what we can all live with in order to get it done. So I would say that – from the Democratic side – we know we know we're not going to get everything we want. But if we can get most of what we need in order to solve this, then we'll – we have a good shot at getting it done.
MR. SCHUMACHER-MATOS: How far does family reunification have to extend, do you think, that would be acceptable to –
MR. MEDINA: Well, even in our own taskforce, we had that discussion, you know, about whether it's just the nuclear family or whether it extends, and if so how far out. I would say that most people would generally agree that you need to look at children, parents and siblings, grandparents perhaps, but that it starts getting a little bit too further out when you get into more removed from that.
MR. SCHUMACHER-MATOS: Richard, would even siblings be acceptable to the –
MR. LAND: I think so. I think if you get beyond – I think, you know, the nuclear family and the grandparents and the grandchildren and siblings, but if you get beyond that into cousins and stuff – I mean, the numbers – the numbers get to be unassimilable (ph) at some point. I mean, you could – I could construct a model where you could have 50 million people who would be eligible, and that's just, you know, not politically doable.
If I could go back just a moment and say – I want – I want to say that working on this task force is one of the most satisfying things I've done in Washington, and that's a – that's a short list. (Scattered laughter.) And Ted was the – Ted was the main instigator. I mean, he was extraordinary. I mean, as a facilitator, he went – he went through the whole report with me personally and was willing to address and make comments on it and take notes on every objection that I had in the first draft. And it's my understanding he did this with every one of the task force members. And so he really was the one who – I mean, I think we were all surprised when it was over that we had the degree of agreement that we had.
And I do think that this task force report has been a tremendous tool to get us to where we are. Because when I've been talking with my constituencies, I say to them, you know, you need to go to the Council on Foreign Relations website, and they go – you know, when you say CFR – (laughter) – and I said you need to read the task force report on immigration reform. And two of the – two of the places where it's been enormously helpful with my constituencies has been the national security aspect of it and the economic leadership aspect of it, that the – I think there's a very convincing case made in the task force report that the country that can attract the greatest percentage of the world's brainpower to do its research within its borders is going to be the country that's going to lead the 21st century. And we started out with an advantage, because we are a nation of immigrants. But there are others that are competing with us now, and it just makes no sense for us to drive away some of that brainpower because it wasn't born here, and it makes every sense for us to do everything we can to attract it here. And then the national security part of it as well was very important. I think that both of those arguments are compelling arguments to people who needed convincing that this was something we needed to do in the – in the best interests of the nation.
And then of course, the part of the report that showed that wages at the – at the lowest level of our – of our – of our economic culture would rise probably 10 (percent) to 12 percent, that's the cost we're paying for the exploitation by unscrupulous employers of undocumented workers. And you know, a 12 percent boost is a big boost for people who are living at subsistence level. And I think that had a big humanitarian impact as well.
MR. : So –
MR. MEDINA: If I may just –
MR. SCHUMACHER-MATOS: Go ahead, yes.
MR. MEDINA: (Clears throat.) Excuse me. Let me add my thoughts on the – on the task force, because I think that if you look at who was represented, we had law enforcement, we had communities of faith, we had labor and it really looked like today's coalition that's in the debate for immigration reform. And some of the issues that we talked about are the same – of the same issues that are now being considered in the Congress. So I'm very pleased that the Congress is finally catching up to CFR and its task forces, because I think that it really is very common-sense. It says what is it that we need to do in order to fix this problem?
MR. SCHUMACHER-MATOS: Eliseo, in terms of workers then, and coming in in the unions, your union has led a change within the union movement, because so many of those undocumented immigrants and low-skilled immigrants who were here legally were members of your union, or your union is made up largely of that, whereas the old industrial unions represented by the AFL-CIO were a little bit – much more – were reticent about this, opposed to a temporary worker program, this kind of thing.
There have been great negotiations on the union side, but is the union side now willing to accept a temporary worker program, and is the union side willing to go along also with this high-skilled immigration? Because there's even opposition to that within the union movement, and not just the union movement, but some other Americans and the high-skilled workers in the United States. Are we willing to go along with that, or is the Democrat side willing to – your side willing to give on that?
MR. MEDINA: Well, let me just say that I think that the demographics have caught up with everybody, including the labor movement, because over the last 10 years, the workforce has been changing, not just in services, where our union predominates, or in agriculture. We now see a much greater diversity in almost every other industry. So there first of all and then specifically as to your question: There is a high degree of unanimity in the labor movement in support of immigration reform and we (said ?) comprehensive reform. That means legalize the 11 million people who are here and give them a pathway to citizenship, not just simply make them legal, make them part of society by having the opportunity to have the same rights and obligations as everybody else.
Secondly, then it becomes a question of what this people talk about as future flow; what about the immigrants of the future that will be coming here? Do they come the way they are now, through very limited legal processes and the bulk of them coming undocumented through the desert or flying here and overstaying visas and so forth? So there are currently a lot of negotiations that are going on between business and labor. On the business side, it's led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce; on the union side, the AFL-CIO and Change to Win Federation, to which we belong.
So the conversation that we're having, first of all, with both business and ourselves, had agreed on the legalization. The negotiations are what happens to the future flow, and the point of discussion is, how do they get here? How many, and what rights will they have when they get here? And I think there's a large degree of goodwill in the discussion. We're not there yet. For labor, we're proposing that there be a commission established that is much more nimble and flexible than the Congress in trying to determine the needs of the economy – how many visas will be required for the future. And the – and I think that's, right now, the thing that we're working on. I have – I'm optimistic that we'll be able to reach an agreement and then approach the Congress together with an agreed-upon solution for the future.
MR. SCHUMACHER-MATOS: Richard, do you see on the Republican side demand for or an agreement with some sort of a commission that would set immigration levels or measure what the country's needs are in terms of skills?
MR. LAND: It would depend on the makeup of the commission and how responsible it was to Congress. But I do think that that's one way to go about it. You know, one of the things our task force report showed that I think has been illuminating to people is that about 30 percent of the undocumented people that are here actually don't want to stay here. They want to come here and they want to improve their economic lot and then go back to their country of origin, which is almost impossible for them to do right now without risking life and limb. And of course, that – because of that barrier, they begin to lose the ties they have with their countries of origin.
And I think that the citizenship issue is doable as long as it is – it is prolonged enough that it does not – is not seen as a reward for having come here in an undocumented status. Now, the pathway – I took a pencil to paper when the McCain-Bush proposal came out in – it was 2007? And I think it was 13 years between the time they came forward and registered and they would be citizens. I think that a deal breaker – a real poison pill would be if people in the Congress began to demand immediate citizenship. That would be a deal breaker. That would peel off enough Republicans that it would stop it.
There's going to – and I – and the argument is – (chuckles) – and it took some argument to get us to the place where I think enough of them will support full citizenship. Legal status, probationary status, full legal status and then full citizenship. But after some of those who begin to come the new way so that – so that you don't see people who have come here in undocumented status getting full citizenship before people who come here under the new provisions that'll be in the new – in the new legislation.
And I think the argument has been, look, you're not going to – my argument has been, to the people who have been pushing back on that is, number one, you're not going to win that argument. If they're here and they're going to stay here, you cannot win the argument that they shouldn't be full citizens.
And secondly, you know, we don't want to emulate Europe where you have a permanent underclass of people who are essentially permanent residents but aren't citizens. And you know, I think most Americans are pro-immigration in the same way that Theodore Roosevelt was when he said, you know, we've got a lot of room in this junket for people who want to come here and be Americans, but the emphasis has got to be on the right syllable – (laughter) – and they can be on the Italian-Americans, they can be Hispanic Americans, they can be Anglo Americans. And you know, people ought to be – ought to celebrate their heritage and their – and their ancestry as long as they celebrate it as part of being American. And I had a reporter say to me, well, how do Anglo Americans celebrate their ancestry. I said, well, you've obviously never been to a DAR meeting. (Laughter.) I have, with my grandmother.
MR. SCHUMACHER-MATOS: Ted, do you want to –
MR. LAND: Pretty boring, actually.
MR. SCHUMACHER-MATOS: -- you wanted to add something?
MR. ALDEN: You can see why this was so easy to write with Richard on the taskforce, a lot of good – I just wanted to add one – I mean, one of the reasons the debate over how long the path to citizenship should be is so difficult is that our current system is so hugely backlogged. I mean, I was looking yesterday at the waiting period, if you're the adult child or the sibling of a Mexican or Filipino who's now a naturalized American citizen – so you're an American citizen 20 years; you're now considering applications that were filed in 1993. So this – you know, 13 years sounds like a long time, and then, you know, if people say, well, you've got to go to be back of the line, well, the back of the line now is sort of 20 years or more. So it makes it really difficult, right?
MR. LAND: And that's got to be fixed. The whole system's broken. I mean, that – the sort of the point of the spear is the undocumenteds. But I mean, the whole system's broken, and we've got to fix it. And I think that the – you know, when I talk to Hispanic-American undocumented workers, what they tell me is that legal – permanent legal status is the cake, because their fear – and of course, anyone can understand their fear – is that when they go to work in the morning, they're going to get picked up and they're going to be separated from their families, that citizenship is the icing on the cake, and as long as they know the icing's coming, they're prepared to be somewhat patient.
MR. ALDEN: Well, I thought it was interesting that President Obama in his address the other night actually adopted Republican language on this issue and said that citizenship should – they should go to the end of the line for citizenship.
MR. LAND: I – that jumped out at me. I sat up in my chair.
MR. MEDINA: Right. But let me just say that for our – from our point of view, I don't disagree with the process that you've outlined. The question is, how long is that process? Because if it becomes a delay-and-deny process, that is not going to work. And so if you start talking about 30, 35 years, 25 years, it's beyond the lifetime of many of these people, and that is not a pathway. So I think that's the conversation.
MR. LAND: I haven't heard anybody – I haven't heard anybody argue for longer than 12 or 13 years.
MR. MEDINA: Well, a few on the House Judiciary Committee. (Laughter.)
MR. LAND: Well, they haven't agreed to talk with me yet. (Laughter.)
MR. SCHUMACHER-MATOS: Well, I think I should open it up to questions. There are a lot I could ask. We haven't even addressed the issue of border enforcement or workplace enforcement that Ted outlined was in the report. I'm sure some of you will have questions on just that, so I will do that. Let me say that this session is on the record and that we also have people in New York who are listening in, and so they may come in with questions.
So with that, yes, ma'am.
Q: Hi. I'm Rebecca Jaramillo. I am with the Democratic Latino Organization of Virginia. I'm on the Latino Caucus with the Democratic Party. I would love you to come with me to Richmond. I have a few Republicans that I would like to introduce you to. (Laughter.) When I – when I go to hearings, when I have been to hearings to fight anti-immigration bills, my big line is that my father's family was here in the United States when my mother's two relatives came off the Mayflower, and I have people who look at me like they don't know what I'm talking about.
But it's interesting because the last several years when there have been a lot of anti-immigration bills that have been proposed, they have not passed, in the end. Our governor, who's a Republican, and even though Republicans have been running our legislature, they didn't pass in the end, because I believe that they believe the same thing you do, and that is that these anti-immigration bills are not good for business. Our number-one business in Virginia is agriculture.
How do you, as a Republican, feel that you can do more to help your fellow Republicans, especially at some of these state levels, help get the message out? Because those of us who are in – doing our work in the state level sometimes feel as if we are, you know, pushing a rock uphill. And so thank you very much, and can you help us?
MR. LAND: Well, my ancestors came to Virginia in 1636. They didn't stay very long, but they were there until after the Revolution. I think that there – two things, several things. First, I would say it's the right thing to do. And a lot of them know it. And some of them don't. I mean, there are the – there are people who, you know, say, well, they broke the law, you know? It's immoral to break the law. Well, it is immoral to break the law. It's also immoral not to enforce the law and then try to enforce the law retroactively. The argument I use is, you know, if the federal government sent me a letter and said they'd been monitoring my speeding habits on interstates and they've never given me a ticket yet but now they're going to give me a ticket retroactively, I'm from Texas and we aim our cars. We don't drive them in – it'd be a very long list. (Laughter.)
The – I think, first of all, it's the right thing to do. And then secondly, it – we're not – it's a pragmatic argument. We're not going to send 11 (million) to 13 million people home. First of all, some of them don't have any idea where home is. I mean, they've been here so long. I mean, we've had people be here 15, 20 years. We're not going to do that. So the choice is, are we going to put up with the current system which is rending the social fabric of the nation and is – and is leading to human tragedies because these people do not have full access to the protection of the law and they're exploited by people who prey on them.
And then third, after the 2010 election, we have an even more pragmatic argument. Do you want the Republican Party to be a permanent minority party? The Hispanic vote went over 70 percent for Mr. Obama and not for Mr. Romney, and for the first time it hit 10 percent of the total vote cast. It will be 12 percent in the next election. It will probably be 15 percent in the next election. And so, you know, if the Republican Party wants to be a national party that contends for leadership, it's going to have to have a significant support from the Hispanic community.
And you know, I wrote an op-ed right after the election saying the night the GOP began to lose the election, and it was the night that that primary crowd booed Rick Perry for defending in-state tuition for undocumented workers. Now, I'm from Texas. All but five of the Texas state legislators voted for that bill. You can't get all but five of them to agree when the sun comes up. (Laughter.) I mean, this was good for Texas.
It was – I mean, it was – normally in this country, we don't punish children for the indiscretions of their parents. And so, you know, I had Hispanic Baptist pastors say to me after that, you know, I'm not going to vote for Mr. Romney and – because they don't – and he says, they don't want us here. Well, that's a perfectly understandable human reaction. You know, if I – if I had been Hispanic, I would have been even more offended by that crowd booing. As it was, I just threw a wadded up piece of paper at the television.
MR. SCHUMACHER-MATOS: On this side. Yes, sir.
Q: Bill Courtney with CSC. What are your impressions of the E-Verify system? Is it fair? Is it effective, and should it be improved in some way?
MR. SCHUMACHER-MATOS: Who would like to take that?
MR. ALDEN: You know, certainly when we – when we were working on this report, the system was still in its infancy, and the inadequacies of it were pretty obvious. There were just – there were a lot of false positives, false negatives. The system did not work terribly well.
The indications are it's improved significantly within its limitations, and its limitations are that it's basically checking the identity of new hires against the Social Security database and immigration records. And you can – you can pretty quickly tell, based on the information you give, whether you match against those records. They now have what they call an E-Verify self-check. And I encourage you all to do it. You go on the DHS website, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services – and you can find out whether you're actually allowed to work in the United States. So I've done it. Apparently I'm eligible. (Laughter.) So that occurred to me. And it gives you an instant response.
And what happens if the response comes back no, it may mean that you're not authorized; it may just means there's problems in the database that they need to sort out. And in about 3 percent of cases, that's what they get. So the system's improving.
The fundamental problem is, it can't actually tell who you are. You know, if I manage to get Rob Cortell's (sp) Social Security number, and I show up, and I give that to my employer and I give a driver's license with my picture on it, and though – so I've sort of met the formal ID requirement – actually, some driver's licenses still don't even have pictures, I think, in a few states – and mostly they do now – the system will come back and say yeah, yeah, you're authorized to work in the United States.
So the problem of identification is a big problem, because a lot of folks who are undocumented are working on false IDs of one sort or another. And so this is what the Congress is going to have to try to sort out. How can we try to solve the identity problem so that when I apply for a job, not only is, you know, Ted Alden's Social Security number a legitimate one, but that they actually – the employer actually knows that I am Ted Alden. And that's where you get into the questions about biometric identification. And there are real issues there with expense for business – particularly for small business.
You know, businesses are reluctant to have to play this kind of enforcement role for the – for the federal government. So it's got to be a system that's easy for business to use, and easy for good employers to comply. And then you have to have, on the back end of that – and we talked about it in the report – you have to have really tough sanctions against the bad actors. You want to make it easy for good employers to comply, and you want to go with a big hammer against ones who are trying to skirt the system. But there's been a lot of progress.
MR. SCHUMACHER-MATOS: Do we – do we know what's going to pass? What do you think the Congress will adopt?
MR. LAND: Oh, that's hard to predict. I think that the E-Verify has gotten better. I'm not sure that we couldn't contract out to have it done better by some private business. I mean, you know, I was at a – at a discount mall when I was speaking at a Bible conference in Texas. And I used my American Express card three times in half an hour, and I got a phone call in half an hour – I mean, from American Express saying, we just – we just recorded these three purchases. Did you make these purchases, and are you who you say you are, and can you give us your code word? Well, I mean, you know, the government normally doesn't do that well. And I don't want it to do that well, actually. (Laughter.)
I would rather have a private enterprise system do it. And I do – I don't – I think that there is absolutely national revulsion from almost everybody against any kind of a photo ID that's a national photo ID. So I think it's going to have to be a biometric thing, like a thumbprint, maybe, which is – you know, you get a thumbprint – when you're about 12 weeks gestation in the womb, you get a thumbprint, and it doesn't change except in size for the rest of your life. And it could be embedded – you know, it can be part of the fine that's paid by those who come forward and register, and it can be embedded in the card, and it can't be faked. And that would solve that problem.
MR. MEDINA: Well, you know one of the questions that I always worry – I do think that there's going to be either E-Verify or a version of it that will be adopted as part of a – of a package. But I think, you know, that the current E-Verify system was instituted in response to a broken system. And so, instead of legalizing and doing all of the things that would have solved the problem, they came up with this thing about now trying to catch all of the work force in the country. And so I have a lot of the concerns; Ted mentioned some of them, but I think that while it will be a part of it, you know, we hope that it'll be effective and not as intrusive as it could be.
MR. LAND: And I do think that if you're going to secure the border – you can't talk about securing the border without talking about securing the workplace, because the workplace is the magnet. These people have come here, and they're working here because they were able to get jobs. You know, we've had two signs at the border for the last 20 years. One says "don't trespass," and the other says "help wanted." And these people have found jobs, and there are certain parts of our economy and certain parts of our country that would grind to a complete halt – I mean, they would just cease to function if we did – if we somehow were able to remove all of the undocumented workers. They are making a major contribution to our country.
And I saw a report yesterday that they have been an $85 billion bonus to the Social Security system, because they have collectively – so far, it's estimated paid $85 billion into the Social Security system that – under false Social Security numbers, and so they won't be collecting that. And so it's helping to keep Social Security solvent. (Laughter.)
MR. MEDINA: But I do think – the one last thing is, if we can figure out this future flow question, and if we can capture a substantial part of the undocumented flow, the problem then would be much, much less in the workplace in the future, as well as making sure that there is effective enforcement.
MR. LAND: And demographically, we're about to come an end of surplus labor in Mexico. If you look at worldwide trends, demographers are – you know – we're getting ready to hit a baby bust – a population bust worldwide, even in Islamic communities. It was in the New York Times yesterday, so it must be true – (laughter) – that even in Islamic countries, the birthrate has dropped. I mean, in Iran, the birthrate has dropped by 50 percent in the last 20 years. And so you have a worldwide baby bust, and so the pressure of surplus labor from Latin America is going to come to an end probably within the next decade.
MR. SCHUMACHER-MATOS: Yes, sir.
Q: Allen Wendt (ph). I was, many years ago, a visa officer, believe it or not. But that was under the old immigration law; it was a very different set of problems. My question is – and one of you alluded to it – why is it so difficult to verify whether or not someone who comes legally on a non-immigrant visa actually leaves the country? I think something like half of all illegal immigrants are simply people who have overstayed their visa. Is it a technical problem? What is the issue?
MR. SCHUMACHER-MATOS: Ted.
MR. ALDEN: Yeah. It's very frustrating, because DHS has made a lot of progress on this and they refuse to make any of the information public. They promised it a year ago, and Secretary Napolitano testified yesterday before Senate Judiciary that they're not going to give us anything until the end of the year. I mean, DHS has, on the information release side, been appallingly incompetent when it comes to this question.
That 40 percent number – the notion that 40 percent of the undocumented population is overstay – is a terrible number. I mean, it goes back to – 1996 is the last time we had a serious estimate of that number. They have tried to look at overstays – looking at people who come in through airports. When you come into an airport now, you give all 10 fingerprints in the U.S. visit system if you're from Europe or you're coming in on a visa.
So they tried to look at that population a couple of years ago, checking against passenger records. So you actually give a biometric when you come; you don't when you leave. There – and it's technically difficult to do that. But they have your name. They have your passport information. They compared all that information against the departure information. They thought there were 2 million overstays out of that population. It turned out it was – it was a couple hundred thousand – much, much smaller than they thought. A lot of those folks had left, and they were able to record it. And in other cases, they had actually managed to legalize in the U.S. – they had married Americans, or some of were staying legally.
So the Congress has asked for country-by-country overstay data using U.S. visa entry and passenger records on departure. That information is available; DHS knows what these overstay rates are, and they refuse to share that information with the Congress. Yes, there are loopholes. You know, if you come in from Europe through JFK and you drive across the border to Canada, we may not know that, though we're in the process of setting up an information-sharing system with the Canadian government so that they will tell us about their entries. So when that French citizen enters into Canada, it'll be recorded in the Canadian government's databases; they'll give that information in real time to the United States. That's going to be in place within the next couple of years.
Mexican border? Not there yet. But we've got a pretty good system, and it just baffles me that DHS doesn't want to tell this story to the Congress, because it will help the case for immigration reform, and yet, they refuse to do their own work. Frustrates me, because I feel like I'm doing their work for them. They've got this information, and they won't put it out.
MR. SCHUMACHER-MATOS: In the back there. Yes, sir.
Q: Steven Kull, Program for Public Consultation. There's some talk about having a kind of blue card, a long-term visa for permanent legal residents but without citizenship. And you can see why that might be attractive to Republicans. Do you see this idea as going anywhere? Do you see this idea as becoming potentially the critical decision point about whether this legislation can go through?
MR. SCHUMACHER-MATOS: Richard.
MR. LAND: I think – I think that permanent citizenship as opposed to permanent legal status, as long as it's not very short in terms of earning it for undocumenteds, is not a killer for the Republicans, I don't think. I think that not having a pathway to citizenship for the undocumented would be a killer for the Democrats. So I think that any legislation that passes and the president will sign will have a permanent – a pathway to permanent – not only permanent legal status, but full citizenship at some point – at some point along the way. It'll probably be different for those who are undocumented and are – and are already here as opposed to those who come under the future system – it'll be longer. But – and of course, there may be a blue card. I mean, there are people who might want to stay here as permanent legal – as permanent legal residents but don't want to become citizens. I can't imagine why personally, but then I'm an American so I can't understand why anybody wouldn't want to live here, personally.
MR. MEDINA: But let me just make clear, first of all, even under the current system, if you come in as a legal permanent resident, after five years you can petition to become a citizen. It is not automatic. You still have to pass a test. And if you don't pass the test, then you don't become a citizen. You remain an LPR. You know, I had to go through that whole process. I don't think we're talking about changing that, but for us not having citizenship or the opportunity to become a citizen is a deal breaker.
MR. LAND: And one other thing, too, I think would be deal breaker, would be if there's not a requirement – if they were to change the requirement or to not have a requirement that people who want to be citizens speak English. When it comes to the emotional issues, that's the issue I encounter most often. For whatever reason, Americans – a lot of Americans have a visceral negative response to the idea of having the World Series and having to sing the national anthem in English and in Spanish, the way they had to do in French and English when they had it in Canada.
They just – they just don't want it. They instinctively understand that you have to have a common language if you're going to have the kind of communication that you're going to have in a country that is at peace with itself. And they have a pretty good argument. If you look at – our Canadian friends, I think, would be a lot happier if they were not – did not have to deal with the bilingual issue. And you look at Belgium, where they evidently really loathe each other if they speak French or Flemish, whichever one.
And so but that is – that would be a deal breaker, I think, for a critical mass of the Congress if there was not an understanding and a requirement that people who want to remain here permanently demonstrate the ability to read, write and speak English.
MR. SCHUMACHER-MATOS: Speaking of deal breakers, how about family reunification of gay families, is that a deal breaker here?
MR. LAND: It's a deal breaker. I mean – yeah, I'm just saying, it is a deal breaker. I'm speaking objectively here, it is a deal breaker.
MR. SCHUMACHER-MATOS: Eliseo.
MR. MEDINA: Well, for us, you know, we believe that everybody's created equal and nobody's more equal that somebody else or we think everybody should have the same opportunity.
MR. SCHUMACHER-MATOS: Well, will the Democrats – (inaudible) – on that if they have to?
MR. MEDINA: I think that that's still an issue to be decided.
MR. SCHUMACHER-MATOS: OK. Let's ask two or three –
MR. LAND: And on the other side – to answer that question more fully, it would – it would imply that the federal government is recognizing same-sex marriage, which the federal government has not done. In fact, the federal government has a law in place that allows – does not allow states to do it. And as a consequence, that would be a deal breaker.
MR. SCHUMACHER-MATOS: Let's ask two or –
MR. LAND: We're not talking about equality. We're talking about recognizing a particular kind of marriage.
MR. SCHUMACHER-MATOS: Let's have two or three real fast questions then – for the panel – we'll have to end it. Yes, Ma'am.
Q: Hi. Elisa Massimino with Human Rights First. I was very proud to be part of this taskforce and I want to reiterate what everyone said about it – about Ted's leadership and also the council's leadership. And one of the reasons why I think it was so successful was that it melded – unlike a lot of efforts on this issue and many others – it melded all these issues together – the economic leadership issue, the American values issues, you know, who we want to be as a country.
Most of our discussion today has been about the big-ticket items, but – you know, legalization and Dream Act and all of that. But there are two issues on the human rights side that actually got dealt with very much in the taskforce also as economic issues and values issues, and that is the detention and over-detention of immigrants that Ted mentioned, and also, the arbitrary deadline on refugees applying for asylum and how many people – how much money that has ended up costing.
I wonder if you could address whether you think it's important for those issues to get dealt with also in this comprehensive way.
MR. SCHUMACHER-MATOS: Could we have a couple of other questions and then – yes, Ma'am. Right here in the second row. Do we have somebody on this side who wants to be lined up?
Q: Katherine Marshall from Georgetown University. Mr. Land, I'd be interested in your comments on how religious institutions and organizations – what roles they're likely to play in the debates in the next few months – positive and negative.
MR. SCHUMACHER-MATOS: We have more question, anybody? In the back – last row.
Q: Hi. My name is Jamie Lanphear (sp). I'm here from the Senate Judiciary Committee. And I'm just curious at what your all's thoughts are on the current state of border security and what measures you think would be helpful in determining how secure the border currently is.
MR. SCHUMACHER-MATOS: OK. Who wants to go –
MR. ALDEN: Do you want me to comment briefly on the last one and then – and then I'll turn it over.
MR. SCHUMACHER-MATOS: Yeah, OK. OK.
MR. ALDEN: If you're – if you're interested, I have been working with a couple colleagues of mine who were formerly in the program analysis branch of DHS economists. We've put together a rather comprehensive set of recommendations for border security measures. We're coming out with Council on Foreign Relations special report hopefully in the next month or so.
We have a briefing. If you're interested, we would be delighted to give it to you. I haven't – as soon as I leave here, I'm going up to the Hill to talk to folks up there. But we go through a whole set of what needs to be measured to try to assess whether border security is adequate or not. So I'd be delighted to share that with you.
MR. LAND: On the asylum issue, the – it's a scandal and it's appalling, the way we do things now. I served on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. We did a study on this. We made some recommendations. We found that the immigration judges were really quite open to changes. We need to radically change that program. The fundamental assumptions of it are wrong.
The people who are – that we're asking for all kinds of documentation – or the people who are most in need of refuge are the people that are most likely not to have that kind of documentation because they've been severely persecuted and they're – you know, they're escaping with – by the – by the skin of their teeth from being killed or horribly imprisoned.
On the religious communities, I think they're going to be critical. They have been critical – both on the left and the right. And I think that they will continue to be critical. I know that the Evangelical Immigration Table has been significant – has had a significant impact. And I can't imagine where we would be if it hadn't been for the U.S. Catholic Congress of Bishops.
MR. SCHUMACHER-MATOS: Eliseo, you get the last word here.
MR. MEDINA: So on the detentions, unfortunately many of these are private prisons and they have become a profit-making venture. And so the more immigrants that get detained, the longer the money – the more money they make. And that's a real huge problem that our unit particularly wants to deal with. In terms of the – of the churches, I cannot tell you what a critical role Dr. Land and the Southern Baptists and the Evangelicals, along with the Catholics and others, are going to play in this debate.
I think the Republicans Party really needs to also have broad support for this issue in order to make sure that it's politically viable. So they already have heard from the unions, from the immigrant advocates and all of that. They're immune now. So I think that having his societal support that's lead by unlikely allies will be extremely critical to winning this issue.
MR. SCHUMACHER-MATOS: Well, we're right on time. The council prides itself in ending its meetings on time so you can get back to your offices. I think we've had a wonderful, really insightful look at what's going on inside this issue on all sides and a great presentation by Ted. So I think our panel here deserves a great round of applause. Thank you. (Applause.)
Listen to CFR Senior Fellow Edward Alden and CFR.org Editor Robert McMahon discuss Obama's recent executive action on immigration.
President Obama's executive action on immigration policy is ambitious yet flawed, and Congress must now decide how to proceed, explains CFR's Edward Alden.
Edward Alden, CFR’s Bernard L. Schwartz senior fellow, elucidates President Obama’s executive order for undocumented immigrants in the United States, explaining who will be affected and how, as part of CFR's Religion and Foreign Policy and State and Local Officials Conference Call series.