Alfonso Aguilar, Angela Kelley, and Andrew Kohut address the prospects for greater political cooperation on immigration legislation. This panel discussion focuses on areas where political compromise may be possible.
This session was part of the symposium, The Future of U.S. Immigration Policy: Next Steps. This event was made possible through the generous support from the Ford Foundation.
EDWARD SCHUMACHER-MATOS: Well, welcome everybody. If we could please all sit down.
This is our second panel of the day. My name is Edward Schumacher-Matos. I am still technically for a few more days up at Harvard where I've been teaching at the Kennedy School on migration policy and I had been writing a column for the Washington Post. I stopped a few months ago because I'm just taking up a new position as ombudsman at NPR. So I'm in this transition state. I drove in just yesterday with a car full of clothes, so -- (scattered laughter.)
MS. : Welcome. It's hot.
SCHUMACHER-MATOS: But I think we have an interesting panel here today to address really the politics and the policy and where can we go next? What can we do?
I think most of us, if we believe in immigration reform, may be a little bit depressed in this room because it looks like it's going nowhere at the moment. It is so caught up in the politics and has been now for a few years. But there is always a tempting thought that there's something that can be done and we do need to know what the state of the play is, and sooner or later something will be done. We know that because it always has been done in the past and it's going to have to be done again in the future.
I hosted a conference on migration and development this past weekend up at Harvard on what's going on in the rest of the world in descending countries. And it was a curious thing that they had these economists from all around the world there and the real feeling was was that migration is in many ways the primordial issue, the defining issue of the 21st century. If once upon time it was racial integration, if for the last few years, the major social issues were, you know, gender immigration and things like that, that for the 21st century it's going to be the integration of immigrants and the great growth of migrants moving across the world and that we can't stop it.
And so, will we change the way we think? Is that going to be required? Is there a generational change that may make a lot of our fight space seem moot and old hat in just a few years, or are we caught in such a political logjam that a lot of opportunities are just going to pass us by as a nation?
So these are all things to talk about today. We have a great, great, great panel. Maybe I should introduce -- you have their bios, so I won't give lengthy introductions, if that's OK.
Immediately here to my right is Alfonso Aguilar. Alfonso was once the first chief of the U.S. Office of Citizenship, appointed by President Bush. He's now executive director of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles and represents a movement, a growing movement, really, inside Latinos, trying to recognize their conservative side and marry the Latinos with the Republican Party.
And then on the political opposite side we have Angela Kelley, who was kind enough to join us when the congressman who was supposed to be here couldn't come today. But Angela is a stalwart of the immigration scene here in Washington and has been for a number of years and -- at the Center for American Progress. And so -- and the work that she has done on immigration, I -- you know, I see it regularly coming across the (trends ?), the very well-argued positions in favor of immigration reform.
And finally we have Andrew Kohut who is the president of Pew --
ANDREW KOHUT: Pew Research Center.
SCHUMACHER-MATOS: -- Pew Research Center and the great thing about Pew is that everybody turns -- on all sides of this issue turn to Pew for unbiased data. They are the source of so much that we know in terms of numbers and public opinion on this issue.
And so, I think we have a nice mix here, right, left and middle. My job is to try to moderate this and so what I think I'll do is start off the discussion asking Andy, really, where are we in the way of public opinion on this issue? Is there an opening in terms of opinion to move forward? What does the public want?
KOHUT: There's plenty of openings. I think the most important thing to understand about public opinion is that -- about immigration -- is that it's at variance with the way advocates and partisans here in Washington think about things.
Americans hold two seemingly contradictory attitudes at very high levels and very consistently. One, they want to see greater border security and enforcement, 75 (percent), 80 percent. At the same time, we get almost as many people saying we think it's right to provide a pathway to citizenship for illegals if they pass background checks, they have jobs, and will pay fines. We've asked both of these questions a variety of ways over a reasonable period of time and we get the same answers.
In terms of trends, I was listening -- thinking about what you said about how immigration is so much an important issue and the movement of people. What we do see over a longer period of time is that Latinos get better evaluations from the public at large than they did in the 1990s, as do Asians and other minority groups. The American public is getting with it with respect to the fact that the society is changing.
Now, there is a division of opinion that runs pretty much along an interesting line based upon experience with immigrants. A majority of people think that -- a thin majority think that the immigrants strengthen our country, that they don't weaken our culture. But the view that immigrants weaken our culture are most prevalent in the areas where there are no immigrants, where there is really a bloc of nativist sentiment.
The other thing I would suggest is that the -- there is an issue, there's a divide with respect to jobs. Most Americans say that many immigrants are taking -- or immigrants are taking many of the jobs that most Americans really don't want. Yet, there is a division of opinion about whether immigration is hurting the job situation and that comes largely from people who are at the lower end of the socio-economic spectrum.
I'll just finish with a quick political trend, and that is up to 19 -- or 2004, we saw the Republican Party making great gains among Latinos, I think more than 40 percent voted for President Bush in 2004. Since then, the Republican Party has taken on the issue of immigration in a very hard-line way from the point of view of Latinos, the Latino vote has gone increasingly in the Democratic direction. In fact, Latinos now play an important role in a number of the socio-political groups that we identify as key to the Democratic Party.
SCHUMACHER-MATOS: Well, Angela, one of the criticisms then, if public opinion feels that way, is that there's a lack of leadership. Your team is in the White House, in a way, right? If I can say that, more Democratic aligned, the president recently gave his blueprint for immigration reform. What is -- could you summarize for us and the audience, you know, where you see the administration is today and if you think they are indeed leading as forcefully as they can. And if not, why not?
ANGELA KELLEY: The president did give a very clear picture of what our immigration policy should look like when he gave a speech recently in El Paso, a very detailed blueprint, really goes into a lot of depth about what he would want to see. It would be really easy to turn that blueprint into a bill. The problem is that the bill would never move.
The House of Representatives is currently controlled by Republicans who have been very focused -- in fact there's a hearing today on a bill that Lamar Smith, the chair of the Judiciary Committee, has introduced on e-Verify, an electronic verification system, and that's really where they want to stay. They want to stay on the enforcement, you know, ball field. And they're not willing, I think, to have the broader conversation about comprehensive reform about frankly solving the problem.
So we have a sense, I think a pretty clear picture of what this administration would want to do legislatively, but there's nobody to pick up the ball and run with it.
And even in the Senate, you know, we saw with the effort to pass the Dream Act, a very modest measure for undocumented young people who came through no choice of their own to this country, an effort to try to get them on a path to citizenship if they finish college, or two years of college, or if they serve our military. And that was met with you know, virtually no Republican support and went down in defeat, very sadly, just a few months ago.
So I think the state of play in Congress is like swimming in peanut butter. I mean, you're going to get nowhere. It's a pretty ugly and tough battle and I'm afraid it's going to be that way for some time. And we're likely just to see a stalemate at best.
The administration has been very aggressive in pursuing enforcement policies, there is no doubt about that. More people will be deported under President Obama than under President Bush. A very aggressive expansion of local law enforcement engaging in immigration, enforcement through secure communities. We continue to see, sadly, dreamers, young people who would qualify for the Dream Act being deported despite promises that they wouldn't be deported. So frankly there is a sense of disappointment that the administration has been as aggressive as it's been in how it's enforced immigration laws. Of course, it has to enforce our laws, that is its responsibility. But there has felt at times to be a disconnect between, frankly, some of the rhetoric and some of the actions.
SCHUMACHER-MATOS: Well, Alfonso, you've heard what the public wants. The administration is -- not only has a blueprint but is really coming down hard on the enforcement side. Why isn't that enough with the Republicans? The complaint is that perhaps the Republicans keep moving the goalposts.
ALFONSO AGUILAR: Well, I hate to begin by disagreeing with Angela, but --
KELLEY: That's OK, Alfonso. It won't be the last time. (Laughter.)
AGUILAR: But look, the problem is on both sides and I think it would be an oversimplification to say -- some do try to say that this is not moving because of the Republicans or because of some nativist feelings in the country. That's part of the story, but there's also a vacuum of leadership at the White House.
The president talks about this a lot. The president gave a great speech in El Paso, but it was a very political speech designed to anger Republicans, and he did.
The president has talked with everyone. One of the last meetings at the White House was with members of the Bush administration. Well, the Bush administration is over. They should meet with the current leadership and that hasn't happened. A serious conversation with the Republican leadership in the House and Senate has not happened.
Now the answer is, we don't have anybody in Congress, a Republican, that's willing to work with us. I ask you this. When George W. Bush in '07 sent Secretary Chertoff and Secretary Gutierrez to negotiate with Ted Kennedy, did he think he had the votes? No. But that is leadership.
The role of the president is to be the consensus builder. You have to bring people together and he's using this issue as a political wedge issue to get the Latino vote.
Clearly, on the Dream Act, the Dream Act strategy was designed for Republicans to oppose it. In the past there have been Republicans that have supported the Dream Act, but it was introduced in a lame duck session and Republicans in the Senate were told you cannot introduce amendments. Who is going to vote for that? So they voted against it, including five or six Democrats. And then they said, "You see, they're against immigration." A very effective strategy.
But Latinos know better. And going back to the numbers, while definitely Obama did very well with Latino voters in '08, if we look at the numbers, the exit polling in 2010, Republicans didn't do that bad with Latinos. Across the board in House races they got about 38 percent of the Latino vote. For the Republicans to win the White House, they don't need the majority of Republican votes, they need 40 (percent) to 44 percent. Now what's happening on our side is frankly that a small minority, but very effective, has hijacked this issue and the majority of Republicans, of conservatives are not being courageous.
So I'm critical of both, of the president, but also of the GOP for not showing the courage to stand on principle. They're afraid of certain groups, the main anti-immigration lobby. And let me tell you, we've been one of the few conservative organizations to come out and call by name -- and I'll call by name again -- the three main anti-immigration groups, knocking to the conservative movement, saying they're conservative when they're not, FAIR, CIS and NumbersUSA, trying to influence Republican politicians with information that is wrong. And we know that these organizations were founded and staffed by zero population control activists, radical environmentalists, Planned Parenthood organizers. When did those become conservatives? And then we're listening to those individuals.
And then also some talk show hosts who, if you come out and say "I'm for immigration," you're immediately going to be branded as supporter of amnesty. We need courageous leadership. And what we're trying to do is to create the arguments and the circumstances to the -- reclaim this issue.
Immigration should not be the issue for RINOs, or for moderate Republicans. No. It should be the issue for strong conservatives. And when they attack me because every time you say for immigration, the first thing they say is, "Oh, you're a RINO." I say, "OK, I'm pro-life, for traditional marriage, I like the Ryan entitlement plan, I'm for strong national security and I'm a free market conservative and because of that I'm for immigration. How am I a RINO?"
We have to say that if you are for free market -- if you're a free market conservative you can't be against immigration. The reality is we need foreign workers. And this whole issue that we have in this country is because of big government, because of Washington setting arbitrarily quotas that don't reflect the needs of the market, so that's why we have illegality.
If we're against big government, if we're against policies that disrupt the market, then we should be for creating mechanisms to facilitate the legal flow of immigrants into the country, and that's what we need. We need courageous leadership from Republicans and there are many in the House, but they're silent and somebody needs to go back to that Reagan kind of leadership. You remember, Reagan was a populist conservative and there was one or two issues where the conservative, the establishment, or for even some groups didn't like, but he stood up on principle. And that's what we need.
So it's going to take time and I'm an optimist. The positive thing is that the Hispanic community keeps on growing and the thing that the politicians love the most are votes. The question is, how long is it going to take for both sides to say, "OK, now we really need to do something. We have to stop playing politics."
Is it going to be before 2012? I don't think so. Is it going to be after? Yes, I think so. But I think we need to work on both sides to make sure that we stop listening to the extremes that actually meet, the anti-immigration groups and big labor, because nobody talks about big labor, but they've been involved in this from the get-go. They don't want to see a new guest worker program. They don't. Many of these anti-immigration groups use the same arguments espoused by big labor.
So this is a very complex issue. And frankly, we also have to recognize, just to conclude, that there is a certain uneasiness with the rapid growth of immigration and the new settlement patterns that we have to acknowledge. When 5 (thousand), 10,000 Mexican immigrants arrive in a town in the middle of Iowa that hasn't seen any immigration, that can create uneasiness. And we can't be so self-righteous to say, "No, no, I won't be accepting." It creates problems.
And that may be reflected in some of the positions that some people espouse, and these anti-immigration groups are taking advantage of that.
SCHUMACHER-MATOS: Andrew, is there on the -- we see that the -- not all the Tea Party, because there are Libertarians in the Tea Party who are pro-immigration, but we see this populist right that's associated generally with the Tea Party being very, very strong, their intensity is very high. And even though they are not necessarily large in number they have --
KELLEY: They're loud.
SCHUMACHER-MATOS: -- as Alfonso said, was it you, or did I just say hijacked the party?
KELLEY: They're very loud.
SCHUMACHER-MATOS: But in any event, so much of the Republican leadership has been a little bit afraid of that element within their base.
Is there anything that you see on the horizon with the new mainstream that has been emerging among young people, or the growing number of Hispanics coming -- voting and coming into the political mainstream, that would be a bounce to this that might even overweigh it, that could push something through? Or are we -- do you see that we are going to be many years of where we are today?
KOHUT: Well, I don't know about many years, but it's an interesting question that you've posed, because the issue with 2010 for Latinos and for other elements of the Obama coalition, young people, African Americans, was their lack of participation. Their voting rates really fell off precipitously compared to 2008. And what we have seen politically during the Obama years is that the critics of Obama are so much more energized and have so much more strident, intense views about what he -- how much they don't like what he's done. And the people who are his strongest backers continue to give approval -- reasonable approval levels, but their strength of approval and their sense that he has achieved what they thought he would achieve in any one of a number of respects is just not there. And if Obama is going to succeed, he's got to get a number of these groups in his coalition and certainly including Latinos that have some sense that he is, you know, on his way to getting -- doing what he promised.
SCHUMACHER-MATOS: So, Angela --
KELLEY: I totally agree with --
SCHUMACHER-MATOS: -- some people say that even now the word "comprehensive" abhors amnesty and now just anything that says comprehensive automatically sends up all kinds of red flags by the opposition. And maybe we need a new strategy, a more piecemeal strategy.
KELLEY: I mean -- you know, you can give it a new name, it's -- and you know, a tactic that's being pursued in the House by the Republicans is enforcement only, let's start with electronic verification system. But the truth is, and I think Alfonso would agree with me, is that you don't solve the problem that way. If you've got 7 (million), 8 million workers, what we know about e-verify for example, is that half the undocumented who are working will continue working. E-verify won't catch them. But we know that 800,000 Americans, if this program is put on steroids the way Smith wants it to be, will lose their jobs because they won't be able to correct the errors in the databases.
You've got to deal with the folks who are here without status. You could start with the Dream Act kids, but that's frankly a very imbalanced package, because you'd still have all these workers that will get pushed further underground, or will continue working.
So I'm not a big plan of the piecemeal strategy just because I don't think it solves the problem. I get that there's, you know, apprehension around this issue for some of the dynamics that Alfonso described. But I also believe, and this is what Andrew was saying, that ultimately the public wants a solution and you see the debate playing out in very interesting ways locally.
So, a year ago when Arizona passed, I would've thought that Arizona-like measures would just pass through all the statehouses, right? Like wildfire. No pun intended because of the fire in Arizona now.
But -- and it's true. I mean, there have been some really tough measures that have passed in Alabama and in Georgia, nearly happened in Florida, but in large part a lot of states rejected it. Or you saw Utah, for example, pass a really tough, pretty flawed, ugly measure, but they were trying, they were reaching by trading a worker program. It's unconstitutional, the bill is kind of ugly, but politically it's an important signal because you've got this bright red state like Utah that's saying, "Wait a minute. Do we really want to kick these people out? Wouldn't it be smarter to put them on the rolls, make sure they are working, get them in the system and have them integrated into our communities."
I think it gets to some of the unease that Alfonse was describing that communities feel when people first land there and they're not sure what to do about it.
So I wasn't surprised that a Georgia and Alabama passed the laws that they did, but I think what's noteworthy are the states that didn't pass it, like a Kentucky, looked at the cost of it and said, "No way, this isn't going to solve the problem. This is going to hurt our fragile state economy. Let's not do it."
So you see the conversation happening locally, I think frankly and more sensible ways than it happens in Washington. And I think it's going to be a combination of forces. I think it's going to be continued pressure at the statehouse, in some cases to do good things like you saw in Connecticut around the Dream Act, in Maryland the same thing, sometimes bad outcomes like in Alabama, or Georgia, but that's where the conversation is happening.
More and more youth engaging on this issue, particularly around the Dream Act, but this is a demographic that when they are asked about "Does immigration bother you? What do you think about the undocumented?" They look at you like you have two heads. They don't even know what you're talking about because for them this is just a matter of course. They grew up in a much more diverse society.
So I do think this is an issue that's eventually going to age out, right? I also think it's an issue that people will just come to a sensible solution because economics are in our favor.
Look, immigrants are extraordinary entrepreneurs. What it takes to come to this country, to start a business, to leave everything you know. I mean that's the backbone of so much of this country and its history, people who want to belong, people of faith, people who took extraordinary risks like my parents did. They left a comfortable life in Bolivia for me and for my brother and my sister. How many people in this audience have that same story, or know someone who does? It is the genius of this country and ultimately I think that will prevail.
SCHUMACHER-MATOS: Let me ask one more question of Andrew before opening it up to the audience.
Andrew, I mean one thing, the young people that Angela talked about and the trends that Alfonso sees, but the great -- in all your polling, sort of the great American middle, as you've noted, wants both enforcement and legalization, some kind of a comprehensive reform, but they also want tough enforcement.
Is it possible that some of the things that Angela is saying, you know, sends up red flags with the great American middle and that is a strategy that just is a no-win strategy that would -- that stops the public from trying to push the politicians to come to some kind of resolution? In other words, they want more -- they would rather -- instead of Angela's position on this, a position that had more enforcement, or if you put the enforcement first, a little harder?
KELLEY: Can I just insert one thing, though? I'm not being all rosy about it --
KELLEY: -- because look, there are tough enforcement measures in place. The 2007 debate there were a lot of benchmarks that were put out in the bill, enforcement benchmarks that DHS was supposed to meet before any of the benefits would kick in, before we legalize a single person, right?
The bill failed. It collapsed in a spectacular way. But what didn't stop happening was those enforcement measures, right?
So we have more boots on the ground than we've ever had, the biggest Border Patrol. We are closer to building the fence and completing the fence than we've ever had. We've got more investment in technology than we've ever had. So we have done a lot at the border and I think that DHS, for all its enormous budget, does an extraordinarily poor job of promoting itself and of indicating what they have done well. I mean I think that's a really key message that Democrats and Republicans should both embrace, because at the end of the day we have a right to secure our borders. We have a right to control who comes into this country and it needs to be under our terms and conditions.
The way to get that control, though, is by having a structure for visas so that people come legally with a visa and not with a smuggler. But I don't want to, you know, be painted as the -- you know, the gal who's all about --
SCHUMACHER-MATOS: I hear you. I hear you. That's fair enough.
KELLEY: -- you know, her family's lovely history, it really is. We've got to be tough, I get that.
KOHUT: But in response to your question, quickly. The enforcement attitude is not at war with the acceptance attitude. But to your point it's very true. When we've sampled communities that have experienced tremendous onsets of immigrants, they just feel overwhelmed and their view are quite different than what we see in the national -- in national polling, just as this other element where there is real opposition -- exists in places where there are no immigrants.
So it's really kind of a complicated -- it's a complicated picture.
SCHUMACHER-MATOS: Right. Let's open it up to the audience. I'm sure that many people here have their own views on this, or good questions.
Please identify yourself. Remember that this session is totally on the record. So Ed, you want to go first?
QUESTIONER: I'm going to take the organizer's prerogative and start it off.
Alfonso, I want to ask you about the Tea Party, because there is something that has mystified me about the Tea Party. I do a lot of work on trade as well, and when this new cohort of Tea Party Republicans came in, there was a lot of speculation where are they going to be on trade? Are they going to be pro trade? Or are they going to be more skeptical? Because trade raises a lot of the same concerns as immigration, you know, job displacement, job losses.
The Tea Party has turned out to be solidly pro trade. You know, I think if the three free trade agreements that are standing out there were put in front of the House they would sail through with virtually unanimous Republican support. And yet, on immigration, from the Tea Party you have this tremendous skepticism and, you know, you talk about free market conservatism. I'm trying to figure that out, how -- why do we see that different?
AGUILAR: Well, first of all let me tell you, we tend to generalize about the Tea Party. You know, what is the Tea Party? We should talk about Tea Parties. In each state you may have different groups. And there is a Tea Party mass that shares one thing and it's this anger against the expansion of government. But there's no consensus on immigration.
The Tea Partiers you hear on TV are some of those in the leadership of some of those groups, but they're not all Tea Partiers. So if you talk to some of the Tea Party members of Congress in private, they will tell you that they very much are for immigration because of free market principles. Again, it's creating the circumstances for those strong conservatives to stand out.
I mean we can't -- you know, we go back and -- you know, and I say this publicly because, I mean, I like Governor Bush, I like Secretary Gutierrez, I like Secretary Chertoff, but they represent a Republican leadership of the past. Right now who's in office are the Tea Partiers. We have to deal with them and if you have a constructive conversation with them, you can actually get support.
SCHUMACHER-MATOS: We had a question here.
QUESTIONER: The three of you implied that better assimilation policies will be needed. And Alfonso, a question for you. You expressed concerns about big government, but isn't government's role to help these new arrivals assimilate, language training, job training, preparing communities? What can be done to better mesh the communities and the new arrivals?
AGUILAR: Well, you know, I headed the Office of Citizenship, which was created precisely to use the immigration system and the naturalization process to encourage assimilation. I think we should talk about assimilation. President Bush talked about assimilation. Obama doesn't talk about assimilation because for certain liberal sectors that is a politically incorrect term. I don't mean cultural assimilation. We're talking clearly about American political assimilation.
We respect diversity but within the unity of certain principles, common language, common political principles and a shared sense of history.
I think this is not necessarily a matter of investing money, but of encouraging the community because integration is a two-way street -- encouraging immigrants in a friendly way to learn English and embrace America, and frankly I believe the majority of immigrants are integrating and are becoming good Americans but we have to get the communities involved.
That's why when I was chief of citizenship I encouraged the churches to get involved, non-traditional groups, because sometimes I feel that the groups that are involved on integration are more focused on let's provide health services, let's provide settlement, you know, education. All those things are important. We're not going to create -- and when I go to Europe, and I did a lot of exchange with the Europeans, they invest tons of money on that type of services, and those immigrants don't feel integrated.
There's a great thing that, you know, somebody said recently. There is something seductive about American society. And it's a civic seduction. Latin Americans come here, immigrants, because they want to be part of America. They don't come here to feel as a permanent underclass. I mean, this Latino effect is actually a very American experience. You know, some come from Nicaragua, some from Puerto Rico, whatever, but when they come here, they want to be American.
One of the greatest indicators of integration is that second -- by third generation, over 50 percent of Latinos and Asians marry outside of their ethnicity. So integration is happening, but I think we should talk about assimilation to ensure the receiving communities that America is still the dream, that we're still a country based on ideals and that immigrants make this country more, not less American.
KOHUT: Yeah, I do a lot of surveys in Europe and the divides between immigrants in Europe and the main population groups is so much broader and deeper than it is here. We have this tradition. They don't.
KELLEY: Yeah. Can I just make a quick comment on this because I think I'm largely in the same place that Alfonso is, and we've done some work on looking at immigrants, home ownership rates, language acquisition. Sociologists call the U.S. a language graveyard -- and I'm a great example of it because my Spanish is terrible, much to my grandmother's chagrin -- you know, earnings.
And so, those kinds of indicators really do tell a good news story and I always describe it as the movie, right? But in places like a North Carolina, or an Arkansas they're just taking snapshots and a snapshot doesn't tell you the whole story when folks first arrive because they do struggle. They don't speak English and it's harder for them. But if you look at a movie, like California, where we've seen over generations, it's a pretty -- it's a happy ending.
So I think it's the effort to try to pull the camera back and understand a little bit more deeply some of the complex issues.
I'm sometimes having to deal with integration, but I'm struck often by charges, especially by Republicans, that immigrants don't integrate, when those are the very same folks that are introducing bills that would change the 14th Amendment so if you're born here you're not a U.S. citizen, the same folks that would very aggressively have local police making it terrifying for a woman to report that she is being beaten, or for a father to take his son who's just fallen and broken his arm, to the hospital.
So if we push measures like those that make people afraid to be part of their community, then what we're doing is thwarting our integration. And I often find that that tends to be Republicans, some, not all, tend to go and that frankly is just undermining our nation's proud history as a nation of immigrants where people do integrate.
SCHUMACHER-MATOS: (Off mic.)
QUESTIONER: Thank you very much to all of you. I'm Julia Sweig here with the Council on Foreign Relations.
And I wonder if I could get the three of you to sort of build a little bit on Ted's question about this contradiction between being pro-free trade but anti-immigration and get to the question of race. And also, the general economic crisis that the country is in.
And Andy, is there a correlation between an increase in anti-immigrant attitude and generally the sort of financial economic crisis that the country is in? And to the extent that the Tea Party members and sort of nationalist ethos among them is targeted toward immigrants? Is this a -- I know the cleavages are much deeper in Europe, but is there -- is this a thread of American racism, or a racist component to the critique and the backlash against immigrants?
Just -- if you could just tease this out, because I do find myself scratching my head a little bit at all of these contradictions, especially because what I'm hearing is that there really is a very strong partisan divide on this issue, even though you two analytically coincide so much.
QUESTIONER: Thank you.
KELLEY: Andy give her an answer. (Laughs.)
KOHUT: Sure. The -- I was going to mention this to you, Ted, when you talked about the Tea Party embrace of free trade, yet lack of embrace for immigration. Free trade is business and for the Tea Party that's good. There are more reservations about immigration.
And what we're seeing now -- in fact we haven't published this yet, is growing -- is a growing isolationist sentiment among conservative Republicans. That's quite remarkable and that may tie more to some of these anti-immigration attitudes.
And, you know, Julia, there isn't rising anti-immigration sentiment. What we're talking about is the partitioning of the American public and voting blocs in such a way that you have a group of people who hold these views very strongly, but that doesn't suggest more broadly that there is a rise in anti-immigration sentiment. It isn't there.
There's nothing to say that -- there's not a dependent variable, so to speak, of anti-immigration that's correlated with concerns -- with growing concerns about the economy. There are growing concerns about the economy, but we don't see among the public at large more anti-immigrant sentiment. What we see is a greater -- what we released in a major report a while ago is a more doctrinaire political landscape. And on the right you have staunch conservatives who are largely Tea Party advocates who hold very, very strident points of view on this issue and many others, but not on business. That's within the bounds of acceptability.
SCHUMACHER-MATOS: In the back, sir.
QUESTIONER: Thank you. Rich Stana with GAO.
One of the things with comprehensive immigration reform is going to be whether the bureaucracy can manage this well. And if the bureaucracy doesn't manage it well, I wonder if the American public's vision of this is going to go in a direction we don't want it to go. And yet, the kind of numbers we're talking about, the bureaucracy has never been stress tested to that degree.
We talked a little bit earlier about the inability to do the visa process expeditiously. The immigrant integration programs are almost non-existent. On the other hand, you know, trying to get the incidents of fraud to an acceptable level on these applications isn't always there. You know, the border really isn't ready, no matter what progress has been made.
So what do you think is going to have to happen to get the machinery of government ready to manage something like comprehensive immigration reform?
SCHUMACHER-MATOS: Who are you -- are you addressing it to anyone in particular on --
QUESTIONER: Well, I think you've got the whole spectrum. (Laughter.)
SCHUMACHER-MATOS: I think we should start with Angela on this one.
KELLEY: I really wish this were a question that was happening because we're frankly just so far from this being realistically posed.
Soon after Obama took office -- actually after he was elected, there was a lot of, and continues to be good thinking put into how do you structure a legalization program that has to be as broad as possible, right, because we want to include as many people as we can, so we don't have a big class of undocumented immigrants, which was one of the flaws of the 1986 program; protect against fraud, but at the same time seem tough enough. And that isn't a perfect formula.
I think the 2006 bill, 2007 bill tried to get at that. But the machinery behind it, the technology behind it, the manpower, it would be an extraordinary task that I couldn't begin to, like, outline, but particularly around the legalization piece.
I'm somewhat less worried about what the future flow piece would look like because I do think that there's very good thinking that's been done by the AFL-CIO, by NPI and others in how we might be able to determine what would be the proper number of visas.
But I do think where you have a robust program that would provide a degree of comfort for 11 million people to come forward in an orderly way that ensures that they are who they say they are, and that we're doing the right background checks, and that they're meeting the requirements of tax payments and language acquisition, it would be quite a task.
So no, there's no magic bullet or, you know, soundbite I can give you on that.
SCHUMACHER-MATOS: Before asking Alfonso if he has something, I would like to follow up on that question. The bureaucracy question is a great question in terms of -- I mean, for example, you were critical of expanding e-Verify.
KELLEY: Yeah, exactly.
SCHUMACHER-MATOS: And I know you guys are critical also of secure communities. And for those who don't know, it's the program where everybody who's arrested gets run through -- everybody, no matter if you're immigrant or non-immigrant, everything gets run through these fingerprint checks, and that's really the program that's catching some of the people who are being deported.
Yet, if you don't start these programs now, how do you have them up and working and effective even if they have those problems like e-Verify has, at the moment you do have a comprehensive immigration reform or some kind of a deal come online?
KELLEY: Totally agree. And something like e-Verify, I mean it already is in operation, right? It doesn't begin to cover all businesses, it's not mandatory, but there are states, and the Supreme Court recently said this was OK, for states to require it of its employers. And then those that have government contracts, for example, have to use e-verify.
So we are in effect being able to make the program better. There have been improvements to it, but what's being proposed is going really from, you know, when a toddler is taking his first steps to running a marathon. And that's what we're suggesting is just too big a leap. But I totally agree with you, we have to start small and make it effective.
AGUILAR: Well, I was there when we were preparing for immigration reform, and the Bush administration was taking steps to get ready for a legalization. So we were looking at different things.
First of all, you know, we started E-Verify, and it's not a perfect system -- there's room for improvement. But, as Angela said, it's there. Some states have mandated it, but -- it's a difficult task, but one thing that -- but it's possible. But it's possible because I think in this country, we have the technology to make this happen.
I think with legalization, immigration services would get a lot of money that it could invest in -- because, frankly, it's true -- if -- through fees and penalities to invest in technology. But I would say also -- and perhaps this is where I also differ with Angela in terms of -- you know, economically, when it comes to immigration, I'm much more liberal. And there -- there's where you find some Tea Partiers are saying let's have a market-based guest worker program. Let's let them in as many as we need, as our economy needs. That then is even more challenging to operate something like that.
But I think we have to be open to including the private sector in the management of our immigration system as long as we as the government doesn't give up the responsibilities of background checks and key things like that. But we have the technology to manage millions of people. I think it just has to be a better system if we incorporate the private sector. It's not only government, because when you have government controlling everything, you're going to have a lot of problems, and that's what we've seen in the past.
But I must say about USCIS, it has improved dramatically --
AGUILAR: -- and they've shown it. And that's a credit to both administrations for reducing processing times incredibly. I mean, you can get naturalized in some places in three months.
KELLEY: Yeah. Point well taken.
SCHUMACHER-MATOS: Before we move to the other side of the room, let me ask -- yes.
KOHUT: He had his hand up for a long time.
QUESTIONER: Yeah, Rob Quartel, NTELX. Just two quick pieces of background. I sit on the Northern Virginia Technology Council Board, which is the largest technology group of employers in the country, including Silicon Valley, and I've been involved off and on in politics too.
It seems to me there's a big difference between the immigration communities on this. I see out in Northern Virginia the Indian community is utterly organized, and we just had a panel. They were talking about technology visas and education and all the rest of this stuff. And they have raised their issue right to the top and sort of almost get there. The Latino community doesn't. It's just not organized in the same way. And I know it's split -- you have the Puerto Ricans who are citizens as soon as they come here anyway, and then you have everyone else. Yet it's one of the fastest-growing groups.
The last time we saw an organized Latino political movement was Cesar Chavez out in California that was successful. Today, you just see any of it. I can think of 10 things I'd be doing if I were Latino and onto this issue, starting with finding every kid who was shipped back to Mexico or Latin American because his parents were shipped back, and bring them back and make them citizens.
So why is that? What can you do about it?
SCHUMACHER-MATOS: Who would like to take that?
KELLEY: Well, we'd love your help. (Laughter.) I have to tell you, though, I would say that Senator Bennett and Senator Reid and Senator Boxer would probably disagree with your analysis that the Latino community is unorganized because the reason that they're on Capitol Hill right now is because the Latino community turned out in huge numbers when in those races the Republican opponents were, frankly, utterly -- lacked any respect to the community.
So I'm not so sure that they're that unorganized. And given the rapid increase in the Latino vote and the importance of it, it's hard to deny when you look at Nevada and Colorado and New Mexico and Florida in the upcoming election that they're not going to matter a whole, whole lot.
The issues probably of the Indian community are much more narrow. They have a lot more to do with H-1B visas and with a lack of permanent visas, so people, after their H-1B has expired don't have an ability to then convert in permanent status. Frankly, I haven't seen those people make any progress on Capitol Hill either. I think that they're caught up in the same, just bitter, bitter partisan politics that invade not only immigration, but, frankly, every issue that policymakers just seem incapable of having a civil conversation with each other about.
SCHUMACHER-MATOS: Andrew, you did a -- Pew did a report on leadership or the lack of leaderhip among Latinos. Is there anything you'd like to add to -- is that an element here that --
KOHUT: I'm going to pass on that question because I didn't -- I wasn't directly involved' it comes out in our Hispanic unit and I don't have a good recollection and I don't want to misquote it.
AGUILAR: That's an extraordinary question that you've made, and I think that we have to recognize that today's Latino community is not the same of Cesar Chavez. This is a community that's much more diverse, different socio-economic backgrounds, higher level foreign born; 40 percent are foreign born. Of the rest the majority are children of immigrants. They're more socially conservative. So it's a very different community. You cannot generalize about Latinos.
You know, the worst thing that Harry Reid could have said is you can't be Hispanic and Republican. I mean that was just so insulting, even to Hispanic Democrats, to make a statement like that, or to say all Puerto Ricans are Democrats. Well, you know, I'm Puerto Rican and you go to Central Florida and you meet those Puerto Ricans, they are not like Puerto Ricans in New York or Illinois. It's different.
So to generalize and say there's -- the Latino concept, it's an American phenomenon. When you have immigrants coming here they're Nicaraguan, they're Costa Rican, some are Puerto Rican, but there's a diversity of ideas. And in that respect I think Republicans, if they were to get their act together, could be very competitive with Latinos.
QUESTIONER: (Off mic) -- that community too, so I know about the Puerto Rican community. And I will say you are not organized. And what Republicans do, I'm a Republican, is we break them off on social issues. Yet, every Latin American -- Latin immigrant in the United States has one family member or more who has been sent back. Every single family knows someone who's been sent back. This is the central issue of that community. They need to organize around it, including around Republicans and they need to go to the Republicans and say we need something done.
AGUILAR: Yes, immigration has to be part of the mix. To say that immigration is the number one issue, I think is a stretch. I think it has to be in the mix. But they're concerned about the economy, about jobs, about education, health care, so there are other issues. But let me tell you, on social issues we've -- let me tell you, I was very involved in California. I actually campaigned for Carly Fiorina, and if you look at the performance of Carly Fiorina with Latino voters, was much better than her predecessors. Support for Barbara Boxer went down.
So if you have a good candidate you can be competitive. And Carly Fiorina was a good candidate and had a position that was palatable to Latinos. Not perfect, but better than many other Republicans. Certainly she was no Sharron Angle.
KELLEY: She was not. You are.
SCHUMACHER-MATOS: Let me -- here on this side. Yes ma'am.
QUESTIONER: Marisa Lino from Northrop-Grumman. I want to go back to e-verify and ask you all to comment on an idea that is really old, not necessarily that new, and that is to take the discussion of cleaning up the database which is essentially the Social Security database, out of the immigration debate and put it into a debate about identity theft. This is something Senator Schumer tried to do in New York and didn't succeed. But if you could take it out of that debate, everyone wants to be secured against identity theft, and why not clean up the database and take it out of that immigration debate and you would have at least a step forward on getting something done that would improve the system.
SCHUMACHER-MATOS: Anybody want to --
KELLEY: You might -- you may also opened those other cans of biometric worms that would, you know, result in interesting coalitions where you have, you know, the ACLU and the far right, like, hanging together really tight and Senator Leahy, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, his head exploding at Senator Schumer.
So it's great drama --
SCHUMACHER-MATOS: Biometric worms coming --
KELLEY -- and worms coming out, yeah. What nice visuals.
So it's an interesting idea but I just -- it's not like we would then be kind of getting rid of an easy subject -- or one hard subject and going to an easy subject.
SCHUMACHER-MATOS: You had a question here, ma'am?
QUESTIONER: I am sometimes astounded -- oh, I'm Clara Adams, Brigadier General, United States Army, retired.
And I was just going to say that I am sometimes quite astounded at the amnesia that my American people can have every now and then. There was a time in our history -- and I think Carville said it some years ago, it's the economy, stupid.
There was a time in our history whenever we -- while we did not have a policy that said that illegals could come to this country, we did wink and nod and turn our heads and they came. And we somehow or another didn't do anything about it. The economy is booming, we need people to do low-level jobs, that type -- I've been assigned to some -- I've been stationed in some of those countries -- I mean in some of those states --
QUESTIONER: -- where they came in quite often. And I'm just wondering how do we somehow try and mitigate that situation, because you see it's their children that we're talking about these days, you see, and they are still here in this country somehow or another. And all of a sudden, 20 years later we decide that it's time for them to go when the economy is not doing as well.
SCHUMACHER-MATOS: Mm-hmm. Alfonso, why don't you take that one.
AGUILAR: Well let me say this was even an issue in '06 when unemployment was you know, what, 5 or less percent.
QUESTIONER: That's not 20 years ago.
AGUILAR: I know, I know. But again, there's a difference because this immigration phenomenon, this is what you have to understand, the growth of the immigrant community and the new settlement patterns, this started basically '95. It's a new phenomenon. We haven't seen this since 100 years ago. And 100 years ago what we did was pass a terrible law, the National Origin Act in 1924, and we basically closed the door to immigration.
I mean, we have a rosy picture of 100 years ago the nation of immigrants, but what the nation of immigrants did 100 years ago was close the door to immigrants. We're not going to do that again.
QUESTIONER: Let me just make one other point. Twenty years ago, or 25 years ago, we did not know how many illegal immigrants we had in this country because we didn't track them, OK? And so, there may have been more people here at that time, that's my point. There may have been more people here at that time that were not -- (off mic) --
KOHUT: But the difference between then and now, which is the public opinion is responsive to, is the absolute size of the immigrant population, but legal and illegal. It's presence, it's greater presence cause the issue.
QUESTIONER: Yes, I get it. But now -- and we have a better way of documenting -- of dealing with the documented numbers.
KOHUT: But it's not so much just --
QUESTIONER: I mean there are documented numbers. My point here is that yes, there have been many people who whenever folk were not paying attention came into the country, but there were also people who came that we probably suspected that were here, but we didn't keep track of them because they were taking care of some other issues and business --
AGUILAR: I'll restate her question. Why don't Republicans recognize that Republican business did a lot of the winking and nodding when all those people came. (Laughter.)
AGUILAR: Hey, I'm a free market conservative. I believe that we need foreign workers because -- not only because Americans don't want to do certain jobs, but because sometimes there are no Americans of working age -- there's a population thing here, to do those jobs. If you go to Iowa you go to search some manufacturing plants where the average age of a plant worker is 57. The average age of a Latino is 27. The average age of an Anglo American is 41.
So -- Bill Clinton said this, we don't need less immigrants, we actually need more immigrants and the basic research of an economy is people, so we need more people.
SCHUMACHER-MATOS: Colonel, you had a question for a long time.
QUESTIONER: (Off mic) -- forum that so many of us are either immigrants or descendants of immigrants in some form or fashion. But the question I had was how much do we think that the paranoia, real or perceived, is affected by -- and I have a list of things here: one, cyberterrorism or terrorism; R&D theft and export; access to other world markets; personnel security; and race and socio-economics?
SCHUMACHER-MATOS: Andy, you want to tackle that one?
KOHUT: Yeah, I would put something else on the top of the list, and that is concern -- maybe it came under one of your other categories, and that is concern about narco-violence on the border. I mean --
QUESTIONER: I said terrorism -- (off mic).
KOHUT: I think that, again, talking in a more localized basis, that is certainly a factor when you talk to people in Arizona, or you talk to people in California, or places who are near the border who see this as a potential personal threat to their communities. I'm less clear on the impact of some of the other factors that you made.
SCHUMACHER-MATOS: In the back of the room. Yes, sir, all the way in the back.
QUESTIONER: Well, I'm glad that Alonzo (sic) has been talking so much about Iowa, because I'm one of those Latinos from Iowa so -- (laughter) -- and I want to tell you a very quick story and then ask a question.
One of the things that the Ames straw poll, which will be happening in about six weeks is a very big deal and about 10 years ago many of the people from Washington who had flown out to cover that suddenly turned around and saw about 6,000 Latinos who were there not to see the governor of Texas, but to see Emilio Navarette, who is a -- for those of you who might not know, a musician. And people came from all over Iowa to see Emilio and then there was that who's that guy up there with Emilio? (Laughter.)
Well, but to the Anglo media from DC it was George Bush has enormous Latino support. These people couldn't necessarily vote. These people weren't necessarily U.S. citizens. Nobody was asking about their status at the time. But immediately the mean was set as far as being a compassionate conservative, a new type of Republican.
We were able to, I think in the comprehensive immigration reform work in '07 -- '06, '07, make some inroads because we had somebody like that in the White House and it dragged both senators -- and I was on the House side at the time and we had a number of folks who were ready to move if necessary -- but it was because we had a Republican president who was pushing that.
Alonzo (sic), who do you see in this current field or otherwise that is going to be able to do that? Do we have to -- as a community do we have to wait for Jeb Bush 2016, or George P. 2024? Are all of the eggs in one family's basket or is this something that you see the Republican Party being able to come to the table?
AGUILAR: Well that is a very good question. And look, again, I've said this, I love the Bush family -- (laughs). But w -- this is not an issue for moderate Republicans. Conservatives, strong conservatives, not only fiscal conservatives, full conservatives, those who abide by the full conservatism, are strong on national security, fiscal conservatives, free market conservatives should embrace immigration like Ronald Reagan did.
I don't think it requires us to wait for Jeb Bush. I suspect that the candidate we're going to get is a candidate who is pro-immigration like John McCain was. I mean, John McCain was handicapped by Tom Tancredo and by the actions of many Republicans in Congress. But overall, John McCain was good on immigration.
I think, you know, probably all of them, whoever is elected will have a decent position on immigration. Who to watch right now? It'll be interesting to see what Romney says at the end. I think Pawlenty already made a big gaffe in New Hampshire. I don't think he's going to get any Hispanic support if he were to be the candidate. I think Gingrich has been very interesting, even though his campaign is --
KELLEY: Imploding. (Laughs.)
AGUILAR: -- imploding. He has been very good in saying, look, you know, we have to find a middle road. We cannot deport everyone. You know, we have to deal with border security.
And there is somebody out there who is starting to be heard. It's Governor Perry. I know a lot of people have been talking about the law in Texas, whatever, but Governor Perry is very good overall on this issue. So I think we're going to have a good candidate on the issue.
SCHUMACHER-MATOS: Yes, sir.
QUESTIONER: Hi, Dan Griswold with the Cato Institute and we're pro free market, pro limited government, pro trade and pro immigration, which can be a kind of lonely territory sometimes --
KELLEY: Four stars for you, Dan. (Laughter.)
QUESTIONER: We've published lots of good work validating a lot of the economic arguments you've heard today in favor of immigration and I've spent a lot of time beating up on my Republican friends for their stand on immigration. But Angela, I want to just ask a kind of tough love question for my Democratic friends on immigration.
KELLEY: That's okay for me, Dan. (Laughter.)
QUESTIONER: The Republican Senate in 2006 --
QUESTIONER: -- actually passed out a reform bill --
KELLEY: Twenty-three Republicans.
QUESTIONER: -- as flawed and as watered down as it was. The Democratic Senate in '07 didn't get it out, we can argue about why that is. The temporary worker provisions, we've argued at Cato that for immigration reform to work you've got to have a robust temporary worker program and that was the problem with 1986 IRCA.
QUESTIONER: It had amnesty, it had enforcement, but didn't have any provisions for future flows.
My question is, President Obama ran in 2008 promising to take up immigration reform, to pass it in his first year. He didn't. The AFL-CIO I don't think played a constructive role in the Senate debates and they were behind with their friend Byron Dorgan in watering down the temporary worker program. My question is, didn't the Democrats have an opportunity in '09 and '10? They had a popular president, they controlled the machinery in Congress. Couldn't they have found time while they were ramming through health care -- (laughter) -- the stimulus and that sort of thing, couldn't they have found time to get comprehensive immigration reform done?
I think to his credit, President Bush took more risks for immigration reform than President Obama has so far.
KELLEY: Well, here's one big difference, is that when Bush was in the White House, there were also champs on Capitol Hill. And so, you had a very engaged John McCain and you had an extraordinarily committed workhorse in Ted Kennedy, and both of those people were gone and there was not the kind of leadership, and it has to be bipartisan Dan. And you know that, and you need to have members who are work horses and who are willing to have very tough, sustained conversations with members, introduce a bill and drive it.
And we saw that and many people in this room, I know, followed the debate really closely, particularly in 2006 when 23 Republicans stood up and supported a bill that would've legalized most of 11 million undocumented people. It wasn't that many years ago.
But those days are gone, and it's because one by one we've seen the sort of courage, frankly, of John McCain, wither and become just myopic about enforcement. We've seen someone like Lindsey Graham who stood up and drove through the Senate Judiciary Committee with enough Republican votes a bill in '06 and in '07, declare that birth right citizenship, the 14th Amendment, needs to be revisited.
I mean it's just extraordinary the change, the change in real champs and no one could fill Ted Kennedy's shoes, to be perfectly blunt.
So, there was health care, there was the economy, and there was the energy bill, and all those issues took precedenc. And immigration -- unlike if you ever watched the show American Idol, if you're like a great singer and you might be number four, so you don't win, but you still get a great recording contract, with immigration it didn't work out that way for us. We were number four and our plane, which was ready to go, right? We were a full crew, we had all the fuel on the plane, CR was going to take off, we had good ideas to try to make it happen, and the weather never cleared and we never got to take off.
Now is that because Obama was the pilot and he should have stopped health care and he should have not focused on the economy and he should have not had energy go first? Maybe. Some can argue that. I'm not, you know -- I don't think it was all his fault. I would've loved the White House to have leaned into it more and I want that every single day. I mean, this is what -- this is the issue that I live for. So in my perfect world this is the issue that he would live for. But none of us live in a perfect world.
SCHUMACHER-MATOS: If I can follow up. Andy, is there support in the American public for a temporary worker program?
KOHUT: I think under the right conditions there are, yeah, under the right conditions, yeah.
SCHUMACHER-MATOS: Yes maam.
QUESTIONER: Hazel Denton, Johns Hopkins SAIS. In our last session we focused on how the landscape has been changing and so -- you know, as we compete for different migrants. But there is also a changing dynamic here in the U.S. which we haven't touched on. The discussion is immigration, but the focus is on Hispanics.
The Hispanics as a part of the U.S. population is guaranteed to grow. If you look at the fertility rates of whites, blacks, Asians, they're either at or below replacement. Whites are significantly below. Hispanics, though, are above, significantly above.
So as we talk today about the political dimensions we have to bear in mind this group is growing and I don't think we've mentioned that.
KELLEY: Demographics are destiny. The Latino population from 2000 until now has grown by 43 percent. The white population has grown by one percent.
SCHUMACHER-MATOS: We have time for one last question.
QUESTIONER: (Off mic) -- Sanchez, from LCLAA, Latino Labor. It seems like labor has, interestingly, been attacked in the room a number of times. Just a couple of comments.
Yes, the Latino population is playing a central role -- 17 percent of the population in the nation right now according to the latest census. We're going to be 30 percent of the population by 2050, so we need to pay critical attention to the Latino community. And this goes to the comment of the gentleman, which is a reflection of the national lack of understanding of the Latino community, how the national conservative media covers the Latino community.
If you see the national marches all over the nation, the biggest numbers probably that this country has seen going to the streets to oppose one single issue because of the Latino and immigrant communities went to the streets. When they say we don't participate, we're not organized, well, maybe somebody should go to the Congress and each one of those offices have seen Latinos advocating for immigration reform. We have met with every single Cabinet from President Obama. And I don't know, we were not welcome with President Bush, but maybe some of the Latino -- I'm talking labor, brother, I'm talking labor. (Laughter.) I'm talking labor. I was never in the White House. Now things have changed.
But it's interesting and it's a very important and critical question to really emphasize the Latino community from that perspective. I'm going to point at an interesting question for this room, and this council on immigration, and I want to emphasize this question from the immigration point of view.
When it comes to the debate of free trade, we need to be very careful from the root causes of immigration and how free trade agreements, especially with Mexico and Central America. CAFTA and NAFTA have been a central place, a central tool to displaced workers in Mexico and Central America. Immigration after NAFTA increased 65 percent and today 80 percent of all undocumented workers are from Mexico and Central America, something that drastically increased once these economic policies started putting in place.
As I say, I just really, honestly want to put it out there, to think about it honestly. This is not just to yell at each other, it's just to think about it from an honest perspective. This has been very interesting conversation, to honestly -- we need to be more honest, both sides, conservatives and progressives, to see what works, what doesn't work and what are some of the root causes of the problem.
SCHUMACHER-MATOS: Alfonso, you get a chance to -- unless someone has really strong feelings, you get a chance to closeus out here.
AGUILAR: I haven't been to the White House under the Obama administration also. (Laughter.)
No, I think that -- look, you know, I think, you know, if it's on NAFTA, you know, that may have been a reason, certainly, that has contributed to the migration of Mexicans into the United States. But I mean there are many economists who think that NAFTA has not been the magic solution to Mexico, but it has certainly provided to the Mexican economy certain stability, and a lot of indicators show that.
There are many reforms, however, that Mexico has to undertake to liberalize its economy to make it grow, and make sure that its middle class grows. But I think NAFTA has been very successful, you know. But yeah, I mean, that may have been a reason that contributes to that.
But again, at the end, and let me finish by agreeing with -- and this is where we agree -- is that, look, I believe in strong border security. I believe in some form of electronic verification that works, e-verify that works. But that is not enough. We need some way to bring people out of the shadows and also to legalize the flow of people so people are encouraged to enter legally and not illegally.
Creating a guest worker program, or a mechanism to legalize that flow and a flow that is reflective of the needs of the market it's absolutely necessary to guarantee border security. We are spending millions, billions of dollars detaining people who our economy actually needs and attracts. So I would argue that we have to do the two things at the same time, and I think that's what the American people want to see.
SCHUMACHER-MATOS: Well, with that, we bring this session to a close. I think our panelists have certainly acquitted themselves very, very well. We even find a lot of agreement across this panel, which is great. And they deserve a round of applause. Thank you. (Applause.)
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