Latin America, America Latin Symposium: Session 1: Dynamics of Entry

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

RAY SUAREZ:  Good morning, and welcome.  It's great to finally have spring here in New York and have a pleasant walk through the front door of this building in the morning. 

I'm Ray Suarez from the The Newshour on PBS and this morning, just in time -- I mean, they -- we were talking about this yesterday.  The staff started to put this panel together quite some time ago and never could have imagined that would have threaded the needle so spectacularly well that the cloture vote on a motion to proceed would have been taken just about 14 hours earlier or so.  So we're ready to rock and roll in America on immigration and -- so we're right on time with this panel and we're going to try to cover the waterfront.  It is a massive and comprehensive bill, bringing up matters economic, cultural, social -- questions that go to the heart of what kind of country this is going to be in the 21st century, and its going to invite inevitable comparisons with what kind of country this was in 19th and early 20th centuries, the last time we had persistent ambient immigration levels as high as they are today.  We became one kind of place as a result of that immigration, we thought of ourselves as a certain kind of place because of that immigration.  Here we are again, and arguably for cultural historians, we're handling it equally as badly as we did then.  (Laughter.)

Joining you this morning to work this through, there are complete bios in your packets, so I commend them to you because these accomplished people have far more to say about them than just their name and title.  But that's all I'm going to say right now.  Cyrus Mehta is the founder and managing attorney for Cyrus D. Mehta and Associates.  Deborah Meyers, senior policy analyst for the Migration Policy Institute; Stephen Pitti, Professor of History and American Studies, and Director of Ethnicity, Race, and Migration at Yale; and Igor Timofeyev is the director of Immigration Policy and special advisor for Refugee and Asylum Affairs at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.  And as someone who covered the Immigration Reform and Control Act very closely as a reporter -- I was working then in Chicago, which was one of the hotbeds of IRCA action.  People walked me through the theory quite a bit in those '80s days.  We were going to shut off the spigot, call a halt, legalize everybody who was already in the door with some caveats and address the pull factors, and then over time address the push factors as well. 

Now here we are, 20 years later and people are talking about 12 million out-of-status people in the country.  And now, Republican opponents of the bill are more commonly using the figure 20 million.  You could just pull figures out of air, actually, because nobody knows, but 20 million sounds pretty serious.  How did we get here?  What happened between Simpson-Mazzoli and us being at the council this morning in the 21st century?  Cyrus?

CYRUS MEHTA:  I think we should learn the lessons from the 1986 Reform Act.  In that piece of legislation, the objective was to legalize the thousands -- the tens or hundreds of thousands of people in the United States at that time and then to cut off any future flow of immigrants who wanted to come into the U.S.  There was an immigration system that would give benefits to skilled and professional workers, but there were no visas at all for the lower-skilled.  And as a result of that, people kept on coming in and there was absolutely nothing -- there was no pathway to either temporary residence or permanent residence for the future flow of migrants who wanted to cross the border and come into the United States.  And we have to lean the lessons.  In this bill, there will be a provision for future temporary workers once those triggers are met -- you know, once the border is sealed or whatever that means and employers can verify their status.  But that will also be flawed because if there are going to be temporary workers -- visas for temporary workers, we need to make sure that they, too, will have a pathway to citizenship.  If we just have a guest worker program and expect them to leave after two years, that's not going to happen.  They will overstay, they will become illegal and we'll once again have the problem. 

So any new temporary worker program must have some kind of pathway to permanent residence and citizenship.  That's one of the lessons we need to learn from IRCA 20 years ago. 

SUAREZ:  Deborah, when you look at IRCA and what it unleashed, why didn't it work?  How did we end up in 2007 with an estimated 12 million people in the country out of status?

DEBORAH MEYERS:  Well, I would agree -- I would definitely agree with Cyrus about the lack of legal channels for future flows of workers.  And the second critical point that I would suggest is that the magnet for people to come to the United States illegally or the reason that people stay beyond their legal temporary visas is to work, and people were still able to get jobs in the United States even after IRCA.  And the reason is that we did not put in place a system that was mandatory, that required employers and allowed employers to verify the work authorization of their workers.  As long as that job magnet remained and people could come to those jobs, they were filling the jobs.  So I think the linchpin, really, of the system is -- of the reforms is a mandatory electronic employment verification system.  And if we give employers the tools that they need to be able to verify the status of their workers, we can then hold them accountable for using that system and verifying the status of their workers.  And we need to follow up with enforcement against those employers who don't use the system or who deliberately try to circumvent the system.  So I think that's another element. 

SUAREZ:  So IRCA, which was supposed to have an enforcement arm in the workplace and supposed to shut off the border, you're saying failed on both those counts. 

MEYERS:  I think that's right.  The most successful part of IRCA was probably the legalization of the workers that were here, and the other components really -- there were no teeth behind the rest of it.

SUAREZ:  So Professor, if you could get here, you could work.

STEPHEN PITTI:  That's true.  Let me back up a quick second and just say that -- you know, the other things I think we're missing about IRCA and the failure of the reforms really are two things.  First of all, we need to back -- go before IRCA and think about history -- and as a historian, I'm sort of insistent on this point -- that it's really impossible to understand the failure of IRCA in 1986 to stop further flows without realizing that, for example, Mexican migration to the United States -- trans-migration back and forth between the two countries in a hemispheric sense -- had been going on for 100 years prior to the passage of IRCA.  So the hope that the -- kind of the twin hammers of employer sanctions and increased border enforcement would somehow cease these historical processes closed the door on families that were divided by this border and so forth, and regional labor markets that were truly regional that crossed borders, that drew workers into U.S. employment and then sent them back home at the end of their employment.  This, I think, is a problem. 

The second thing, and a related one, is I think that we failed to understand the failure of IRCA or the limitations of IRCA if we don't think very, very seriously about Latin America.  If we're to understand the dynamics of entry, we really have to think about Latin American dynamics that continued over the course of the 20th century, but in very dramatic ways during the 1980s and 1990s -- and in new ways in the 1980s and 1990s to really prompt people to, as one person said, choose life over death, right?  To sort of move into the United States, and in the absence of opportunities, safety, security in their home countries -- I'm thinking particularly about Mexico, but not just about Mexico. 

SUAREZ:  Well, put some more meat on those bones.  They -- what were some of the push factors?  Some of the external variables that no American legal regime could have planned for -- could have responded to -- because these were events far beyond the control of the Congress? 

PITTI:  Right.  Well, I think there's -- you know, there are three or four.  I mean -- you know, if you think broadly about Latin American migrations to the United States in the 20th century into the 1980s, you have to think first of the importance of revolution, some sort of political turmoil in domestic settings, whether you're talking about Cuba, the Dominican Republic or Mexico as major push factors into the United States.  Now you don't see those in the Mexican case in the 1980s, but these are historical backdrops that have created a kind of -- you know, a deep familiarity among many people in the United States -- with the United States despite the fact that they're residents of rural puebla or -- (inaudible) -- or elsewhere.  So that -- I think consciousness of the United States was very important in the 1980s.  You know, in the 1980s context, secondly you see massive structural adjustments in Mexico, particularly around 1982 with the beginning of a debt crisis which leads to --  kind of significant belt-tightening and real austerity in the -- Mexico in the 1980s, which contributes to really very difficult conditions in rural and urban Mexico.  It shapes new urbanization within the countryside of Mexico and it prompts a significant out-migration.

Thirdly, you see in the 1970s and '80s, of course, the growth of the U.S.-Mexico border area as a major employment site.  So one of the things you're seeing over the course of the late 20th century which eventually leads to migration into the United States is the movement of many Mexicans and others to those border factory zones -- the maquiladoras -- you know, into Ciudad Juarez, into Tijuana and elsewhere that eventually would create the movement of people also into the United States.  This is something that predates '86, but it leads to a build-up of -- a demographic build-up on the border which, of course, then moves into the United States.  So those are some additional factors.

SUAREZ:  Mr. Timofeyev, for those of us who would go down to the border and do stories and talk to people -- talk to appointed and elected people and workers, the idea during the first eight years of NAFTA was that the border was changing as an idea.  It was becoming almost an accidental construct in economic terms.  It was becoming something that was going to become easier to pass.  I visited a massive shopping mall in southern California that was built for Mexican daytrippers alone.  It wasn't even engineered toward a Californian shopping population, and that was the whole NAFTA idea.  People were building special highways to run to Mexico, San Antonio was anticipating becoming one of the new trade hubs into the Midwest and the rest of the United States, and then 9/11 happened.  What happened to our idea about the border and how did the federal government have to retool the way it thought about that border? 

IGOR TIMOFEYEV:  I think the idea is still there.  It's -- I mean, look.  If you look at the security measures we put in place after 9/11, we have to balance clearly the need to ensure security at the border -- ensure that we have control over it -- but also the -- make sure that we maintain the flow of goods.  I mean, the security procedures we can put in place at the border checkpoints could be much, much more stringent than we have now.  But obviously that will stem the flow of goods, that will damage trade, that will just inconvenience people who -- you know, who take the day trip either from Mexico to the U.S. or more commonly from the U.S. into Mexico.  So it's a constant -- a really constant balance that we struggle with.  We -- and I think we have to struggle with it because we can't work, we can't live in a world in which we will say, "Look, we -- every security measure that will bring us more security and more (acquiescence ?), we will put in place."  Because that's not -- that really is not sort of the system in which we want to live. 

So let me also go back a little bit to one thing that was mentioned here -- which was where -- (inaudible) -- in 1986 with the IRCA reform.  And I actually think one thing that we've done wrong -- and I would like to build on Deborah's point -- is we thought in '86 that we knew everything.  

So when we constructed the employer verification system at the time, we really put new requirements on employers.  This was the first time, when you had to get the job, you had to show up and give an identification to prove you were a U.S. citizen or you were an alien who had permission to work here.

But we thought that as long as we write very crystal-clear requirement, what cards you had to present and how the employers had to look at it and how to assess them, that we would solve the problem.  And, of course, that didn't happen.  What we saw is we saw massive patterns of fraud, because people who are pulled here, as Stephen mentioned, really they're pulled here by the fact that the U.S. economy is doing much, much better than the economy in Mexico or the countries south of Mexico.  And there is little that we either can or want to do about it.

Those people will employ the ingenuity to make sure that they can get a job illegally if that's what it takes.  And under the system set up by '86, where the government and employers also really couldn't change the patterns how they were making sure that the people coming to get a job from them were legal, that system was managing to hamstring both the government and the employers and really create this pattern where it's so easy now to get a job illegally.  And by illegally, I don't mean just on a cash basis, I mean, you go and you buy a Social Security card for $25, you give it to an employer, and the employer, actually in good faith, can look at the card and say, "Well, what do I know?  I'm not a forensic specialist."

SUAREZ:  Or in not-so-good faith.

TIMOFEYEV:  Or sometimes in not-so-good faith.  But even if you seem of good faith, it is still the cards that I have seen have gotten so creative that really some forensics people can tell it immediately, but regular employers -- I mean, I, for instance, was not able to distinguish between the regular ones and the fake ones.

SUAREZ:  Well, the last time I changed employers, I had to actually bring in a passport and fill out an I-9.  I was born across the river in a little town called Brooklyn, and I'm wondering -- you talk about fraud.  Are there just also large numbers of employers who simply don't recognize the existence of the system at all?  I'm pretty sure I'm being served meals by people who didn't have to worry about their I-9 when they signed on in one place or another in Washington.

TIMOFEYEV:  And I would have to agree.  I think there is -- it's interesting.  We came to a culture where it was considered to be quite okay to break an immigration law.  I mean, I think we've all heard on the radio interviews with workers of employers -- actually, employers who would say, "Well, look, I know that a sizable proportion of my workforce is probably illegal."

I had meetings with people, employers, from, say, construction industry, who will tell me, "Look, we're not the bad guys.  We don't hire people under the table.  We actually pay taxes for them.  We provide them with worker benefits.  But unless you create a temporary worker program for us, if you put in place stringent employer verification requirements, we will lose about 40 percent of our workforce."  And so they were viewing it legitimately as a business problem.  But also, interestingly enough, it was not considered to be in some way, in some cultural way, an illegal act.

So I think one of the things that we need to change is we do need to change also the culture and the approach to immigration law.  It is such an issue that kind of cuts to the bone of society, because it goes, as you said, really to the question of what is a country, what kind of a country that is.

So I think we both need to have a culture where respect for immigration law is something that is considered to be necessary and proper, but also a country which does have assimilation, integration, and also creates a system where businesses can employ people legally.  And that could meet the business needs, and that would also meet the business needs without creating aggravation and social tensions in the wider society.

SUAREZ:  When you talk about the culture, one of the more bizarre conversations I've had on this issue in recent years was with a delegate to the Republican National Convention who owned a construction business and was both anti-illegal immigration and hired illegal crews as roofers to put roofs on his new houses in subdivisions outside Atlanta.  And the cognitive dissonance of this didn't make his head blow up.  He just thought of it as sort of business necessity.  But also, as a delegate to the Republican Convention, he knew he was against illegal immigration.

Cyrus, you wanted to say --

MEHTA:  I just wanted to quickly pose a counter view.  I have concerns about making employers policemen and making them enforcers of the nation's immigration laws.  I think it could lead to great civil rights violations.  We've seen problems already where employers tend to discriminate against people who look foreign and sound foreign.  And even this employer verification system won't be foolproof.  There'll be issues.

So I think the emphasis should be more on a liberal regime where we have legal workers as opposed to, you know, making employers the enforcers of our immigration laws.

SUAREZ:  Professor?

PITTI:  Yeah, I just wanted to add -- I wanted to echo what Cyrus said.  That -- you know, there is a long paper trail.  The GAO, in its studies, affirmed that, in fact, there was significant employer discrimination of those who were deemed to be perhaps undocumented in the aftermath of 1986.  Those who, you know, were sort of suspected of perhaps being undocumented were subjected to considerable discrimination in the workplace as a result of the 1986 act.  So while we talk about the failure to enforce employer sanctions, it's also the case that, again, that hammer of employer sanctions was used, at least in some cases, and actually quite systematically, in ways that hurt working people.

The second thing to say about '86, and kind of something that's often not remembered about it, is that these employer sanction provisions also led to the rise of subcontracting arrangements in many industries, construction being a very important one.

As employers were suddenly forced to check I-9s, this led, you know, quite understandably, people to hire subcontractors to do the work of hiring the immigrant workforces and to therefore relieve themselves of the legal responsibility.  In turn, these subcontracting arrangements in industries like agriculture and construction, not surprisingly, led to real, again, violations in the workplace and the lowering of wages in many industries; you know, dynamics, by the way, which hurt not just immigrant workers but others who shared, you know, a place in these economic sectors, construction and agriculture above all.

SUAREZ:  Deborah Meyers, one of the archetypes that we constantly hear about in this state are the people who are playing it straight and playing by the rules and waiting in line.  If you desire to be one of those people and play by the rules and play it straight and wait in line, how long are you going to wait right now?

MEYERS:  Well, the most extreme example is if you are a U.S. citizen petitioning for one of your siblings to come into the country -- and our immigration law does allow that -- the average wait is about 10 years to be reunified.  And if you are coming from a country such as the Philippines, the wait is about 22 years, which is obviously not very -- it's not keeping our promise.

It's not realistic to assume that people will be separated that long, and even with much closer family members such as spouses and minor children of green card-holders, lawful permanent residents.  They can wait five to seven years to be reunited if they're from Mexico, which -- and so it's very clear from that why people try to come illegally into the United States.

And I think part of this reform needs to be to build incentives into the system for people to play by the system and for the United States government to be able to deliver on its promises; that, you know, if we say, "You can come under a certain category," we're going to make sure that happens in a timely manner, and that people who play by the rules have an advantage over people who don't.

SUAREZ:  Very briefly, Cyrus, does that working of the mechanics of this create an incentive for cheating, create an incentive for illegal immigration?

MEHTA:  Yes, it does, because our system is so broken, so imperfect.  Deborah spoke about the family system where family members have to wait for 10, 15, 20 years.  But even on the employment sponsorship side, if you are an unskilled worker -- let's say you're an essential worker, like a nanny.  You're providing child-care services to a parent in New York.  You can't get sponsored for permanent residence.  It's impossible.  Or if it is possible, it will take five, seven, eight years.

In the meanwhile, you go out of status, and then you have these three-year and 10-year bars that really snare you.  If you overstay your visa -- and many times you overstay your visa because you can't get sponsored in a timely manner -- you can't then leave the country for your green card, and you can't get your green card in the United States.  So you're caught in a kind of federal Catch-22 situation.  And these three-year/10-year bars were created by the 1996 laws, and they have artificially built up an undocumented population in the United States.  And this new law does not do anything to remove the three-year/10-year bars.  I think it's a big problem.

SUAREZ:  Igor Timofeyev, that was my next question.  Does the proposed legislation answer some of the misgivings about the current structure for trying to do it within the law and trying to gain legal status within the parameters of the law?

TIMOFEYEV:  I think it does.  And let me just preface that no one is going to like everything that's in the bill.  I mean, that's the essential of a compromise, especially an issue that, as I mentioned, is so wrought with popular passion and with different constituencies.

But I really think it does.  I mean, to kind of reflect on what Cyrus and now what Deborah said, with respect to the family lines -- and the law will accelerate those lines, so everyone will actually -- everyone who's currently in line will be able to get a green card on a family basis within eight years after the enactment.  I mean, that is a tremendous acceleration.  If you think of the --

SUAREZ:  If you're already in the line?

TIMOFEYEV:  If you're already in the line.

SUAREZ:  If you're not, does it redefine familial ties that are necessary to trigger entry?

TIMOFEYEV:  It does.  It does redefine the, not necessarily familial lines, but it does redefine the structure how the entry will be affected.  So, for instance, for people such as spouses and minor children, those will remain unchanged.  There will be no cap.  Those individuals, for obvious reasons, will be able to get green cards based on sponsorship very quickly.  For parents of citizens, there will be a cap imposed on the category that's now uncapped.

For the more attenuated familial categories, such as brothers and sisters or adult married children, adult unmarried children, there will not be special lines created for them, which, as Deborah mentioned, really stretch for a quarter of a century in some cases.  But these individuals will be able to get some points based on their family connection in the new merit-based system.

And these points you could accumulate alongside the points that you could get for education, for having job skills in a profession that's of particular demand, as determined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  And it will be really -- the way in which the green cards will be allocated, once that system is in place, will be based on this merit system that combines -- heavily relies on employment- and education-based criteria, but also retains a family aspect.

SUAREZ:  Yesterday during the debate, Senator Sessions got up and said, "We have to think" -- I'm paraphrasing here, because I don't have the quote right in front of me -- "We have to think about what's in America's national interest rather than thinking sentimentally about this."  And he said, "If a Honduran is in the United States and able to get legal through this proposed bill, what is in the national interest of the United States -- bringing his totally unskilled, semiliterate brother, or bringing a Honduran college graduate from Tegucigalpa?"  He said, "Right now, the way the law is structured, the brother, the semiliterate, unskilled brother, is going to get in faster than the college graduate, and that's just plain wrong."

Who's going to get in faster after this law passes, if it passes in something resembling its current form?

MEHTA:  Oh, I think the -- look, one example I can give, as someone who is a college graduate from Honduras, who also has particular job set, job skill set that is of demand to the U.S., and it doesn't have to be -- he doesn't have to be a software programmer.  He can actually be -- he can, let's say, have nursing skills or something like that that is in demand currently in the industry.  And if he also has a familial connection to the U.S., then he will accumulate additional points for that.

So people who I think will not -- really will not accumulate enough points will be, again, someone who does have an attenuated family connection but has nothing else to offer to the U.S. economy, or, let's say, someone who is, you know, Ph.D. in literature from -- (inaudible) -- who otherwise has also no connection to the United States who will get some points on -- based on education but --

SUAREZ:  Once they find out they can't smoke in restaurants, they won't --

(Cross talk.)

SUAREZ:  Of course, the way things are going with Honduras, there won't be a single Honduran without a family connection to the United States anyway.  Deborah Meyers, you wanted to say?

MEYERS:  I do.  Which is -- an important point is that the fastest growing jobs in the United States are jobs that require high levels of education and strong skills and also jobs that require low levels of formal education.  Instead, 11 of the 15 jobs that are projected to grow the most in terms of absolute numbers require only short or moderate on-the-job training.  So it's important that in the system we have opportunities and channels for people to come to fill those jobs both at the high end and at the low end. 

At some point, you don't want to find yourself in a position where there are many people here with master's degrees and Ph.D.s but none of them want to take care of your elderly relative in the nursing home or your neighbor's children or mow your lawn.  So it's important to have those legal channels of entry for a wide range of skill levels. 

SUAREZ:  Professor, let's talk a little bit about the underpinnings of this debate -- sort of in what we thing about America.  If you look back at the late 19th century, a lot of writers, theorists, people who talked about what the country was becoming were very comfortable with the idea of it as basically a Euro-descended country with an Aboriginal population that was headed for extinction, like an endangered animal.  And there was no problem with the social Darwinist idea about races that are fated to rule the world and so on. 

But now who comes here and who stays here is very different.  And it's creating a different kind of idea about both what we are and what we're going to become.  And I'm wondering how this affects the debate we have in political times.

PITTI:  Well, I'm still trying to get my -- I imagine many in this room are trying to get my head around all of the details of the bill, having not waded through all 300 pages of it -- thank you, Igor.

TIMOFEYEV:  We tried to keep it short.

PITTI:  Yes.  But, you know, but I think, you know, the general point is right.  I mean, I think that there has been a kind of shifting sensibility back and forth in this country over the last century about, you know, the kind of the culture dimensions of the United States and how we think about immigration fitting into the broader culture the United States. 

And as you say, 100 years ago, around the turn of the 20th century, there was a strong conviction among, you know, leading segments of U.S. society that this was an Anglo nation, that the migration from -- it was the migration from Northern and Western Europe, primarily Protestant migration that needed to be encouraged, and that it was Irish migration, the movement of Jews into the United States, the movement of Latin Americans into the United States that needed fundamentally to be discouraged. 

This, of course, was written into policy in 1921 and 1924 with National Origins and it was then rescinded in 1965 -- essentially with the kind of -- with the new system that was set up in the Johnson administration -- a system in 1965 of course -- this idea where family unification became a fundamental principle -- or much more fundamental principle which really was a high point, an achievement in the civil rights movement and it was understood as such. 

So to get back to an earlier question of yours, Ray, you know, I think that this question of whether we're being soft or nostalgic or romantic in thinking, you know, in not asking kind of hard questions about the desirability of various immigrants in this country needs to be balanced by the concern that we all ought to have -- or I have at least in kind of giving away a fundamental principle in immigration law or at least weakening it.  And that, I think, kind of the details of what extent it will be weakened are ones that I'm very interested in here as we move forward -- which is to say in 1965 we say a major achievement, the kind of the -- the rewriting of immigration law in a much more fundamentally humane, moral way consistent with the principles of democracy and human rights that were very much at play in the mid 1960s. 

We also, by the way, in 1965, saw the end -- the last remnants of  the Bracero Program, the last real moment of an enormous -- through by no means as large as the one that's currently proposed -- temporary guest worker program in the United States.  That too ended in 1965, having been abolished in 1964.  And so the concerns that I have about the current bill are the ways in which we may be moving back into some of the dangerous territory that existed in the United States that to some extent were, I think, based on concerns about the cultural affiliation of immigrants arriving from places like Latin America in the years before 1965.

SUAREZ:  Because almost anything can end up being about immigration.  Recently, we did a series on the Newshour on global warming and got letters from really angry and upset people saying, "You want to stop global warming?  Stop taking new people into the country."  (Laughter.) 

And it sort of turned the corner and became an immigration thing which was -- well, but it's interesting because that tells you where people really are; they sit at their word processor, you know, they're going to write to the show they've just seen and their anxieties and misgivings about immigration come to the fore.  When Ken Burns recently was pressed to change some of the editorial decisions he made in putting together a documentary series about The Second World War, we got crazy mail from people who said, you know, this is a sop to the Latino community which has suddenly become powerful and numerous through illegal immigration, so now they can force PBS to change the story of The Second World War.  In my unit, nobody spoke Spanish.

PITTI:  But I think that kind of stuff, that kind of ethemeral is telling.  It's telling about what gets people on edge about this stuff and what makes it hard. 

Igor, I understand there's an economic rationale for that language requirement in there, but was it also something that the negotiators -- about what was going to be in and what was going to be out put in there for cultural and identity reasons as well? 

TIMOFEYEV:  Oh, for sure.  I mean, look, one of the big issues that we have to address is how do we remain a country that is both diverse but also that has a firm integration?  And the -- you know, there are things that -- there are things that, you know -- the United States, but there are things that are both well-defined, but also somewhat ethemeral.  I mean, these are the civic principles; these are the ideas in which the country is founded.  I mean, someone who -- who was not born in the United States, who came here --

SUAREZ:  I didn't realize that -- but, okay.

TIMOFEYEV:  I know -- the accent might be deceiving.  But, again, having left the Soviet Union, when actually it was the Soviet Union at the time, I mean for me, you know, some of the ideas in which we have founded resonate fairly deeply.  And we have to -- but it's very hard to define all this what it means to be an American.  What are the kind of uniting principles of the United States?  And the English language is -- really it's one of them.  So the idea that you thought -- you saw last year when actually both the Democratic and the Republican proposals to make the English language either the common unifying language or the national language both were voted on.  So it really shows that this is something which -- about which many people feel quite passionate.  They think that English is one -- it's a unifying element, but it's also an element that -- going back to the economic rationale -- it's something that I think helps people who move in here to advance in the society. 

I mean, we should have a policy where people who speak other languages -- who speak Spanish, who speak Russian, they also have a very firm grounding in English.  Either something that both will ensure that people who live in the U.S. can actually communicate to each other without the need for interpreters, but it will offer something that will help them to advance in society, to become incorporated.  So I think it's -- it really was there for both economic -- and you're quite right, for kind of a cultural and -- yeah -- and national unifying reasons.

SUAREZ:  Deborah Meyers?

MEYERS:  I think I -- I made two points on this.  One is that immigrants and the foreign born, whether they're here legally or not, they already know that English is their ticket to upward mobility in the United States.  And all the literature shows that by the second generation, they're all speaking English.  And most of the children, certainly the grandchildren barely know the language of the home country.  So whether it would be in the proposal or not, immigrants are trying to learn English.  I'm sure one of these issues they'll get to in the second panel is how there's a shortage of English language classes for those who want to learn English, et cetera, et cetera. 

And the second point I want to make is that we're very well aware of the unintended consequences of some of the reforms from 1986 and 1996.  And I think one of the things to be careful about with this proposal is that there are many people around the world who do speak English who have no ties to the United States, who have no tradition of coming here, who may have no connections to U.S. employers or culture.  You know, there are a lot of Jamaicans who speak English; there are a lot of people in Africa who speak English; there are a lot of people in India and other countries who speak English.  And in fact this -- we should consider whether this might actually spur a new change with migration that may not have otherwise come who don't have that connection to the United States.  So it's just something to think about.

MEHTA:  I think to echo what Deborah is saying, I don't think the government should be regulating who should speak what language, and people will naturally tend to speak English in the next generations.  I think the English language requirement will also further dismantle the family system which has been the bedrock of American immigration policy, and -- which I'm kind of weary about in the new legislation.  There's this move to dismantle the family system and to treat family members as people who won't be productive and unskilled, and that's a misnomer because studies have shown that the family is the support network for the immigrant.  If the immigrant doesn't have his or her family here, the immigrant's not going to buy the house here -- not going to pay -- buy the mortgage.  You know, the economics won't start and the family also provides the social network.  So to dismantle the family system, and then using the English as an additional barrier, is problematic.  So work needs to be done in the bill to make sure that the family system is shored up.  That is of great concern.

SUAREZ:  But isn't the whole idea about law that it eventually changes behavior?  That if you're waiting in line in Quito or Caracas or Santo Domingo, you could spend that three years maybe learning a little English to help your own cause if what you want to do is come here.  Wouldn't a new set of legal requirements send impulses into the system that change human behavior?

MEHTA:  I think it's -- there's no need for that in a globalized world, quite frankly.  Let people evolve the way they want to and the country will still be rich and will have its mosaic and diversity without this kind of external enforcement from the government or from the laws, especially in terms of culture and language.

SUAREZ:  My family -- they were made citizens of the United States by a stroke of the pen and without being asked in 1917 -- (scattered laughter) -- and never -- many of them never learned English.  But since they weren't really asked I didn't think it was that big a deal.  But is it a legitimate thing to ask, as a culturally unifying signifier and the -- a sign that you are willing to put some skin in the game and do something that's not necessarily convenient to you to get in?

MEHTA:  I -- yes, it already exists.  When a person needs to become a citizenship (sic) in the United States there is an English language requirement.  So that happens once you're already here and you've been here for five years and now you want to apply for citizenship -- you need to know English.  But to expect people to know English -- all parents to know English when they're being sponsored by their children in the United States will be problematic.  It will create a barrier to family immigration.  You can't expect an 85-year-old Hmong who's never spoken English before to now learn English in order to immigrate to the United States.

SUAREZ:  Is that flexibility in the law, Igor?

TIMOFEYEV:  Well, I was just about to say that.  It's -- the English language requirement that's not -- it's not the check that everyone who wants to come here has to sort of put a check next to it -- you know that.

SUAREZ:  But it helps.

TIMOFEYEV:  It does help.  It does help, but so would -- I mean, so would familial ties.  So if you -- again, if you're an 85 mother (sic) and you have -- then you would be able to be actually sponsored and you will be directly in the line that is -- that has been created for parents.  If you have particular job skills, if you have all the ties to the United States -- let's say you actually -- you bought a house here or you bought some kind of a property that will also give you a plus.  So I think the -- you know, when we speak about the change that this proposal would make to the system of immigration -- and I'll admit, quite frankly, it will be a thoroughly monumental, thoroughly significant change -- but let's be careful that we don't label it the dismantling of the family system because it's certainly -- the family aspect that has been in the current 1986 system is still retained but it has been modified.  So we, you know, you have to look at things not just at the structural but you also have to look at the underlying reality of how the law has functioned. 

And if you have people who wait for, again, a quarter of a century to come into the United States you have to ask, "Well, is this a realistic system?"  Is this realistic to expect that their brother in the U.S. will wait for them to come here in 22 years, you know, to actually buy property at that point.  Or is it that -- that we restructure the system where people who really want to come here as you mentioned, Ray, do some things affirmatively such as learn English, think, "Look, how can I accumulate education or job skills that together with familial ties will enable me to actually move to the U.S. because that's what I really want to do."

SUAREZ:  As Deborah pointed out, with the current system if you want to -- if you're a Filipino who wants to work in health care here you could file your papers the week after your baptism and when you finish nursing school they'll come through.  (Laughter.)  Let's talk some -- about some other aspects of the law.  There is the matter of the $5,000 fine, and tell people how that's going to work.

TIMOFEYEV:  Well, if -- the way it's going to work is that there will be a fine -- that people who are here illegally if they would like to legalize and get actually what is called the Z visa -- get the legal permit to be here and work here for three years -- they would have to pay the principle.  The head of the household would have to pay $1,000 fine and then he would have to pay also about $500 fine for the -- for each dependent in that family.  This will be in addition to the processing fee, and the processing fee is something that is calculated broadly on a cost basis to pay for the adjudication, for the background checks, for the actual issue of the card.  Then will be fee for individual who wants to get the green card -- who decided that, "Look, I don't want just to be a legal worker here.  I actually want to put myself on the path to citizenship." 

And not everyone may decide to do that.  There will be people who will -- who I think may decide, "Look, I am a -- I'm close to retirement.  I have worked illegal in the U.S. for 20 years.  I will work for six more and then I would like to actually go home and -- to a country where the standard of living is cheaper than it is in the U.S. -- where I still have some of my family."  So those people may never want to get a green card.  I think probably the majority of the people who are here will decide that they do want it.  Some will want it for the reasons because they will want to be U.S. citizens.  Some will want to, quite frankly, for reasons of greater security.  So then they would have to pay an additional fine for that.  And let me just say that that's, you know, when you face the $5,000 and we think of a regular person who is here illegally working on some low skill job, that does sound considerable.  But when you compare it to the fines that people from Mexico -- from out of Central American countries pay for coyotes who transport them illegally into the U.S., it really pales in comparison.

SUAREZ:  Well, I mean, Professor, last summer I was in Puebla and I was in one town where roughly half of all the men between 15 and 40 were in the United States.  If you're a young guy and your cousin's there and your uncle's there and your father's there, how does the $5,000 fine -- how does the -- this new wrinkle into the decision to go change your calculations?

PITTI:  Let me make sure I understand.  This is for people who are already currently resident in the United States who can formalize their status and stay and pay the fine in order to enter the path towards citizenship, correct?

SUAREZ:  Right.

PITTI:  So this is not actually for people who are in Puebla seeking to come, and that's where I get a little bit confused with the --

SUAREZ:  Well, no, because I don't get the impression that the door has quite slammed.  If you end up dry and in El Paso tomorrow morning you're sort of implicated into the --

PITTI:  But I think the date was January 1st, 2007, was it not?

SUAREZ:  That was right.

(Cross talk.)

PITTI:  -- it's leading up who are currently already residents in the United States so it doesn't actually apply to those who are in Mexico or anywhere else today.  That's, again, where I get a bit confused with the comparison with, you know, the rates for hiring a coyote since these are people who have already paid those fees and would then be asked to pay this on top.

TIMOFEYEV:  That is right, but again you -- a lot of people actually pay -- some people who pay the coyote fees then repay that from the money that they actually earn once in the U.S. and so in the -- and the fee for people who are already here in the country illegally who want to legalize there is a provision for the payment of that fee over time. But your --

PITTI:  But I guess I'm confused about why you're comparing -- why you're arguing that this is a reasonable fee given what people are already paying coyotes.

TIMOFEYEV:  I think the basis of my argument is that it is not a fee that by its amount is unsurmountable -- is so large that it will impose particular problems on people who are here and so it's a disincentive for them to actually legalize.  You're right -- that the -- if you take a different plane of comparisons -- people who are now in Mexico, as Ray pointed out, who want to come here, the comparison becomes different and the fee that those people will pay is a regular -- is a processing fee that you would pay as you will for any other temporary visa.  Now, those individuals will also -- if they want to bring their family they will have to show that they will be able to support their family once in the U.S.

PITTI:  Did -- when you were discussing the appropriate amount of this fee were you, as you were negotiating the bill, thinking about the comparison to the coyote rates or how did you come up with this -- with the fine or the penalty?

TIMOFEYEV:  We were not basing it on the coyote fee.  We were not that brutally economic-minded.  But as in any fee that -- as in any number that ends up in legislation it's usually compromised between some sound economic judgment and sheer political realities.  So the fee -- if you really -- we, you know, we took as a basis something that -- it was a lot of considerations.  We took -- we looked at the number to make sure that it really would be payable -- that it is not -- it would not be so high that people who are here in the country would say, "Look, I just -- I cannot pay that much.  That's, you know, I would rather try to hide in the shadows for the few more years than try to get that amount of money." 

But you also have to make sure it's significant enough because look, there are many people who are, as you've seen on the news, saying that this bill is an amnesty.  So the penalty for illegal behavior had to also be substantial enough to say, "Look, this is not just an amnesty.  This is a significant payment that you have to make to atone for the fact that you broke the law."  And so it's a number of considerations that went into the figure.

SUAREZ:  We're about to go to the floor for questions but if the January 1st date become impermeable -- which I remain skeptical on that question, but okay -- what about the decision still being made down in Pueblo and Guanajuato and Michoacan -- will the presence of this law, even as a debating point right now, change people's calculations in the rest of the hemisphere about coming here?

PITTI:  Yes, I think it will.  I think there is -- you know, there's considerable familiarity with the structure of U.S. law and other -- in other places, and I think that people will be aware in -- at least a general way of that figure.  The other thing that ought to be said is that -- getting back to a point I made early on, it sort of push factors -- the immigration factors which push people forward.  Governments throughout the Americas and elsewhere, of course, also are very invested for economic reasons in the movements of their citizens into the United States.  The remittances that are sent from the United States to places like Mexico and the Dominican Republic are -- you know, in the top two or sometimes three leading factors in those gross national products of those countries.  And so it will be -- it's no accident, then, that the government of Mexico and other governments have encouraged the naturalization of their citizens as U.S. citizens in the United States context in the last decade.  In other words, permanency, but with a kind of cultural -- ongoing cultural and familial sort of the relationships with their home countries.  The urging. in other words, that people establish their base in the United States but continue to contribute to the economies of other places.  So I think that -- you know, were this to pass, those governments would also be well aware of this and it might play into the ways in which so-called domestic politics in (poor ?) places in Latin America, to use your example, might also play out.

SUAREZ:  Okay.

Do we have a mike -- a roaming mike?  Yes.

Well, here in the front row.

QUESTIONER:  Hi, my name is Carole Artigiani.  I want to say thank you for your comments.  I am from Global Kids and I work with young people in New York City, many of whom are undocumented. 

The -- for a couple of years, there has been a bill circulating in Congress -- bipartisan -- called the Dream Act.  I haven't heard any comments about what will happen to give young people who have been here for years some kind of pathway to citizenship or at least a legitimate -- to being a legal resident because the -- and the Dream Act specifically said that any young person who had been here, graduated from high school, had -- was an upstanding young person and wanted to go to college or into the military would become -- get legal status.  So I'd like you to comment on that and let me know if there is anything -- any provision that will cover that constituency. 

SUAREZ:  Cyrus?

MEHTA:  Yes, yeah.  It's a very relevant point.  The Dream Act is absolutely essential because kids came here through their parents and they fell out of status for no fault of their own, and they have suffered -- particularly after 9/11 with special registration when males had to report, and then they put into deportation proceedings.  So the Dream Act has been incorporated in the legislation, so I believe it is there --

TIMOFEYEV:  I was just trying to find it, but as Stephen mentioned, it's 340 pages, so -- but it is -- it has been incorporated there.  You're right.  It's something that has been introduced.  I mean, my memory -- if memory serves me right, it really has been maybe about 10 years or even more.  It has been originally proposed by Senator Hatch, amongst -- with a lot of Democratic co-sponsors.  So it is -- maybe with some modifications, I'm not sure.  But the modifications would have been just updated it for a time.  It really -- it is now part of -- of this proposed bill.

PITTI:  And the essential points also are that -- you know, it allows undocumented kids who arrive prior to age 16 to access federal student loans and potentially to access in-state tuition rates at colleges and universities.  So this is a monumental part of this bill. 


MS.     :  (Off mike.)

PITTI:  (Off mike.)

SUAREZ:  Yes, sir.

QUESTIONER:  My name is Steven Mukamal. 

I have a question to ask you on an editorial that appeared in the New York Times this morning that related to the issue of environmental problems that may occur on the border -- the Rio Grande border.  And after reading it, I said to myself, "God, these are going to be lawsuits that are going to come on that may ultimately reach the Supreme Court and could go on for years."  In effect, what the article is saying is that you've got a whole border there that has an enormous amount of environmental problems that relate not only to wildlife, but also to plants, animals and unless to can fly over the steel fences, you're basically cutting off a source of water that many of these animals migrate back and forth to the Rio Grande for.  And did the committee, in going through this whole process of 18 months to get that thing built, take into consideration that it may take a lot longer to do that? 

MEHTA:  The -- I haven't read the editorial directly, but the -- with respect the decision of where to build the fence, it's -- a lot of factors will go into consideration.  If both the environmental issues, the migratory patterns of animals -- also the question of where will the fence be -- serve the most need?  Which -- where will, in fact, it prevent people from crossing into -- the border?  It makes, for instance, no sense to build the portions of the fence in the middle of a desert when no one is trying to cross it, because it's impossible.  It would make sense to build it somewhere else where border crossing is occurring quite often.  So risk -- but again, the environmental impact of something that was considered by our Customs and Border Patrol people as they analyze where in fact those 370 miles of fence have to be built.  I mean, it has been a very expensive process where they've gone -- we've sent agents and we've sent engineers to look at the -- at where that fence should be located.  So a lot of factors go into it, including the assessment of environmental issues.

SUAREZ:  Yes, ma'am. 

QUESTIONER:  Rita Hauser (sp).

You've all been discussing this bill as if it is going to become law.  I am exceedingly skeptical, based on early readings, that this thing will pass.  Take my assumption that it doesn't pass and we don't have legislation reform.  What happens next? 

SUAREZ:  Deborah?

MEYERS:  I think that's a great point -- it's one I was going to mention.  What we've been talking about today is simply a compromise that's been announced among 10 senators, and they've still have to talk -- you know, they have to get a bill out of the Senate.  There is a different bill in the House.  It would have to go to a conference committee.  The president would have to sign it.  So we're a long ways from having immigration reform.  Having said that, it would be completely irresponsible of the Congress not to try to seriously engage in a -- to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill because the status quo is the one -- it's the one thing everyone can agree on across the political spectrum.  It's completely unacceptable.  It's not serving the needs of employers, it's not serving the interests of families, it's not serving our security interests, it's not helping -- it's not being fair to those who are playing by the rules.  So at some point, we do have to have an immigration reform.  You know, I think that there's a political window here.  There's an opportunity.  We hope that people -- and I would hope that people can reach agreement on that.  But if not, I think we start again.  And maybe it's a year or two years, probably after the next presidential election, you never know.  At some point, though, the problem will continue to worsen and to grow, so --

SUAREZ:  In the back.

QUESTIONER:  Hi.  First, thank you and this has been a great debate. 

I'm Sophia Monta (sp) from Citibank, and being in one of the top financial institutions of this -- we manage for the Hispanic segment, and we are always debating between our role of serving the underserved market, which could be anybody but most of them happen to be Hispanics, and not being the police of the country to check what documents they have, what documents they don't have -- to accept alternate forms of documentation such as consular IDs, such as passports.  So if this bill passes, how do you see the impact of this population entering our financial system and how do you see the role of the banking institutions in providing them financial services? 

SUAREZ:  Anyone?  (Laughter, cross talk.)

This is the segment if you know anything about the neighborhoods, where immigrants live -- ripe for exploitation. 

MEHTA:  I'll try to answer this question. 

Essentially, right now we have this huge undocumented population and one of the hallmarks of the bill that everybody of -- at least pro-immigrant advocates are praising is the fact that in one stroke, the undocumented population will be able to apply for the(zeebees ?) and legalize their status and therefore be able to get Social Security cards, and that would allow them to get into the system.  Right now they're in the twilight zone or in the darkness.  They're being paid off the books, they don't have bank accounts, they're scared to open bank accounts because they don't have Social Security numbers.  Once they are able to legalize their status, you'll see this energy kind of bursting forth and people now setting up bank accounts and buying houses and getting mortgages.  That's the way I see it happening.  So I think that will be one of the positive aspects of the bill, whereby people will legalize their status.  And as an immigration attorney, I've been at it for 15 years now.  I know for a fact, anecdotally, that people are dying -- they're desperate to legalize their status.  People don't want to remain illegal in this country.  They want to do better for themselves and for their families.

The undocumented people that I meet want to pay taxes.  They come to me and they say, "How do I pay my taxes even though I don't have a Social Security number?" in the hope that one day, there will be a legalization package that would reward them because they paid taxes.  So throughout the years, people have been -- I'm not a tax expert, so I refer them out -- but we found ways for the undocumented, without Social Security numbers, to still file tax returns.  And people want to do that.  So when people are able to legalize and get their status and get their documents, I think it will create more business for the banking systems.

MEYERS:  If I can just add on that, yes, there are perhaps 12 million people in the United States who are unauthorized, but that's only one-third of the total foreign-born population, though.  So there's a significant portion of the foreign-born population that is legal here, and there are temporary workers that work legally here.  And many of them are not being served in the banking market at present.

And you mentioned in particular the Hispanic population.  People tend to assume that the Hispanic population is all foreign-born, but, of course, it's not.  Only about 60 percent of the Hispanic population is foreign-born.  The other 40 percent is native-born.  So these are second-generation people, many of whom are limited English-proficient.

A very high percentage of the limited English-proficient population, the school-age population, are children who are U.S. citizens, who were born here, and they don't speak English because their parents don't speak English.  And this is a population that also needs to be addressed.  It has nothing to do with whether or not the unauthorized population gets legalized.

SUAREZ:  Igor, I know it's a little bit out of your department -- it's not DHS -- but is there more than anecdotal evidence that a lot of these people are now paying taxes?  Did receipts go up April 15th?

TIMOFEYEV:  Well, it's going to be some time before we actually have that data.  But I remember reading -- around April 15th, I remember reading on the front page of The New York Times the article that said just that, and basically -- (anecdotal ?) -- evidence that said, "Look, more people who are illegally here are paying taxes."

And this reverberates, Ray, with your point that law does change behavior.  They were paying taxes in part because -- in anticipation of immigration debate.  And a lot of them sort of looked and said, you know, "There is a possibility we may be able to -- there may be a path created for us to get legal status, and one of the requirements may very well be the fact that we must pay taxes."  And so the individuals who are here legally decided, in many cases for the first time, to pay taxes.

SUAREZ:  And that was through the device of the taxpayer identification number right in place of a Social Security number?

MEHTA:  That's right, the ITN number created the ability to pay taxes by filing a W-7 form.  But even prior to that, immigrants wanted to pay taxes regardless of the amnesty or legalization, because everybody hopes that they can get sponsored by a family member, an employer, or they are in the process of being sponsored.  So they all know that paying taxes will benefit them, because they have to avoid the public charge ground of inadmissibility.  That's one of the key areas that lead to denials of permanent residence.

So this paying taxes, the culture of paying taxes, is already ingrained, regardless of the prospect of a legalization measure.

TIMOFEYEV:  And the IRS, if I may add, always has a very fiscally healthy position that they don't particularly care where the money comes from.  (Laughter.)

SUAREZ:  Well, I was talking to the comptroller of the Social Security system and he talked about the billions that are collected every year from people with nonfunctional numbers, but it goes into a separate account and then is released to the general fund.

TIMOFEYEV:  It's called the earning suspense file, which has $463 billion, and most of it is contributed by undocumented immigrants with mismatched Social Security numbers.  They won't get any benefit out of this.  They're contributing into the system.

QUESTIONER:  Michelle Wucker with the World Policy Institute.

The main reason, of course, for the big backlogs in both employment-based and family category is that there aren't enough green cards, aren't enough permanent resident visas.  But it's not talked about so much that there's also this 7 percent cap, that no country can get more than 7 percent of the total visas in a certain category.  And I'm wondering if there has been any discussion or if there are any provisions in the legislation being discussed to address that 7 percent cap.

TIMOFEYEV:  There is.  I'm not sure I remember the details correctly, but I'll be happy to look them up and give you later.  But there is -- I think there is a provision that will actually raise that cap to 10 percent and will also impose -- it will be either an opt-in or opt-out procedure.  But that cap will be imposed on countries that in particular don't cooperate in terms of repatriation of their nationals who are here illegally and in many cases who committed crimes.

So in the new system, as you move from a system where these lines are family-based lines and employment lines, in which people wait for years, to a more comprehensive merit-based system, the strict sort of cap requirement, which Stephen can speak a little bit better than I as to the historical origins, but really has some reverberation to what the system in 1920s, where you wanted to have particular caps on specific countries.  So that system didn't make that much sense.  It is being relaxed, at least in the proposed form.

SUAREZ:  Yes, sir.

QUESTIONER:  I'm David Perez, and I have a comment and a very brief question.  And the comment is that the council put out a special report titled "The Economic Logic of Illegal Immigration" recently, and the main point that the report makes is that there is an economic logic to illegal immigration; namely, they come to work and there are very few who are unemployed.  So there's a real economic link and need for them to come here.

And my question is really one that I hear the word "merit" a lot around this bill.  I think I heard it from you, sir, a few times.  Most people, I think, in this room equate government with bureaucracy and not meritocracy.  And my question to you is, how should we trust really the government to create a system that's really working on measuring merits?  How are we going to police that, you know, all the southern Hondurans don't become Ph.Ds and there's other (gamings ?) of the system?  Thank you.

MEHTA:  Oh, I think you will have to -- look, we will have to create systems through regulation, through guidelines, to make sure that, in fact, the system is not abused, so that we don't have a situation where suddenly we discover that in a particular country there is a correspondence Ph.D. industry that's growtn solely in order to enable people to accumulate a certain percentage of points.  So, I mean, that's very well taken.

But you have to -- I would just very quickly make three points.  One is you have to ask, is that system better than the one we have now, which is a system of very bureaucratic lines, very cumbersome procedures for which people can come here, a situation where, for instance, in a category of -- H1B category, category of skilled workers, a lot of those visa slots are being filled on the first day of announcement?

So I think the system that's proposed is an improvement.  Also the system doesn't change a lot of structures for current system of giving temporary employment-based visa for a lot of highly skilled people.  So that will again serve the demand.  And then those people by being both -- having work experience in the U.S., have an education or having particular job skills, will essentially be shoo-ins, I think, in many instances, under this proposed system, for eventual green cards; pretty much the way that these people can get green cards now.

Also there will be a large 400,000, approximately, large temporary worker program for the low-skilled jobs.  And so that, again, will fit that niche, that demand in the economy, that Deborah spoke about for the categories that are of low and moderate job training.

It is a system that, again, I think it will need fine-tuning over the years.  It's sort of coming back to a point I made early on -- let's not assume that we can anticipate everything for the next 40 years and make that system perfect.  So there will have to be mechanisms.  There will have to be, for instance, one proposal that has been advanced to have a standing commission that will analyze how that new merit-based system evolves and grows and functions, and recommend adjustments as are necessary. 

I mean, Congress is -- Congress is often very eager to tinker with the -- with the immigration system, so -- so I would not assume that the small adjustments that will be necessary will not be -- be made.

SUAREZ:  Cyrus, briefly.

MEHTA:  Just very briefly.  The current system will work, many of the aspects of the current system will work if we just expand numbers, if we have more H-1B numbers, we have more employment-based immigrant visa numbers. 

Traditionally, our system is based on an employer figuring out, okay, this employee is good for my business.  I'm going to sponsor him or her.  This system will change it.  The government will regulate who wants -- who has to come here and who cannot, which -- which could be problematic, from an employer's point of view and the laissez-faire approach that we've always had.

SUAREZ:  Deborah, briefly.

MEYERS:  I'd like to add onto Igor's point.  It is essential in this system that there be flexibility.  One of the reasons that we're facing the situation that we are is because we've had a very rigid, static immigration system that has not -- has no mechanism to be able to adjust to social, economic and demographic changes.  And so by inserting flexibility into the system, it can adjust as necessary, and we don't have to wait every 10 or 20 years for a difficult congressional debate.  And I hope that however a bill ends up on the president's desk, if it does, that flexibility and the idea of a standing commission, an independent body that can regularly review economic, social, demographic data, look at labor force issues, see what occupations are having -- facing shortages.  That is probably the most important element, because then you're not stuck with whatever you've come with at the time.  You can change as necessary, and you can take it out of the political realm.

SUAREZ:  If you can direct your question to specific people, we can get through them faster.

Yes, sir.

QUESTIONER:  Thanks.  Abe Lowenthal, University of Southern California.

SUAREZ:  Take the mike, sir?

QUESTIONER:  Thank you.  In his original remarks, Mr. Timofeyev made reference to a big gap between the law and the culture, with respect to obeying the law, and said we need to change the culture.  And that leads to the following comment, which I would direct to him, in view of your admonition. 

It seems to me there are five different factors that affect this whole debate.  There is the law, there are the realities of labor markets, the realities of family dynamics, the culture with respect to law enforcement, and political attitudes or public opinion.  And my observation would be that it's easier to change the law and even public opinion, political attitudes, than to change the other three.  And that that really is ultimately what will shape the outcome of -- of this debate.  Your comment?

TIMOFEYEV:  I would -- look, I would not -- I would not disagree.  I think the -- I think all the five factors that you -- you know, you outlined there, they're related to a very large measure.  So I think the question is, again, what do you take as a start?  I think the change in the legal structure can be a start.  You know, public opinion, I agree; it shifts.  And, you know, the other factors, the economic factors, the political culture factors, they are somewhat connected to -- they're connected to the realities.  They're also connected to the legal structure that you have.  So the question is how will it -- you know, how will you gradually shift it?  It's a very good question.

I mean, let's -- I think if you look at how the -- how the previous large reforms of immigration law, such as the one in 1965, you know, how they changed the way that -- that our policy -- policy operates the way that the economic realities operate.  It's often a symbiotic relationship, so I would -- I actually agree with your comment, by the way.

SUAREZ:  Very quickly.  Yes.  No, it's -- it's this gentleman here.  Sorry.

QUESTIONER:  John Mollenkopf from the CUNY Graduate Center. 

I'd just like to point out that there's something that's not being discussed, really.  If you look at New York City as the 1 million school children, about two-fifths of them are children of immigrants.  The school budget is about $15 billion.  So just pro-rating, New York City is spending $6 billion a year to educate the children of immigrants.  And there's no federal immigrant integration policy, and I don't hear anything as part of the immigration reform debate about doing something at a federal level to assist localities that are providing a home to and public services for the nation's immigrant population. 

SUAREZ:  Professor, it's historically been kind of sink-or-swim, hasn't it?

PITTI:  I think that's right, and I think, getting back to an earlier question, you know, if this bill does not pass, I think what will continue to happen is it will continue to fall on localities to deal with immigration problems in all sorts of ways, ranging from the education of children to sort of the questions about community policing in communities which have our documented populations of size that may be afraid to go to police with problems, going back to the question about banking with undocumented populations without bank accounts, who therefore carry around lots of money and become, you know, more commonly victims of assault and crime.  And it has been a real problem of accounting, the kind of -- the inability of, or the failure of the federal government to sort of provide resources at the local level, in the case of something like education, to sort of help localities pay for and fund the education of kids who are not being supported by the federal government.

SUAREZ:  Thank you for your questions.  Thank you for your observations.  Can I promise these people that you'll answer their questions and welcome their approach during the break, if they didn't get to ask a question? 

Watch the NewsHour.  (Laughter.)  Read my new book.  Good to see you.  (Laughter, applause.)








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