Renewing America Series: A New Path Forward on Immigration Reform

Thursday, October 27, 2022

Vice President for Policy and Director of Immigration Policy, Niskanen Center

President, Our Nation’s Future; Former U.S. Representative from Illinois (D)

Executive Director, American Immigration Council; CFR Member


Podcast Host, First Person, New York Times; CFR Member

Our panelists discuss U.S. immigration policy, prospects for immigration law reform, and the political and economic implications of immigration in the United States.

With its Renewing America initiative, CFR is evaluating nine critical domestic issues that shape the ability of the United States to navigate a demanding, competitive, and dangerous world. This project is made possible in part by the generous support of the Bernard and Irene Schwartz Foundation.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: I want to welcome everybody to today’s Council on Foreign Relations’ meeting on the “New Path Forward on Immigration Reform.” This meeting is part of CFR’s Renewing America Series, which is an initiative evaluating nine critical domestic issues that shape the ability of the United States to navigate a demanding, competitive, and dangerous world.

I am Lulu Garcia-Navarro. I am the podcast host of First Person at the New York Times in the opinion section and I will be presiding over today’s discussion.

I am joined by Kristie De Peña. She is the vice president for policy and the director of immigration policy at the Niskanen Center. Did I pronounce that right?

DE PEÑA: Niskanen. Very close.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Niskanen. Thank you. I’m sorry. The Niskanen Center.

DE PEÑA: Very close.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: We are joined via Zoom by Luis V. Gutiérrez. He is the president of Our Nation’s Future and he is, of course, the former U.S. representative from Illinois, I think the Fourth District. Hello.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: And we are, of course, joined by Jeremy Robbins, executive director of the American Immigration Council and he is also a CFR member.

The audience today consists of Council members joining us here in Washington and online. Thank you all so very much for being here today.

I’m going to start by asking each one of our guests to give us a statistic that they find meaningful at this moment when we’re thinking about immigration, and I’m going to start with Kristie and Luis and then Jeremy.

DE PEÑA: Great. Well, first, let me say thank you for having us. Very excited about this event.

Choosing a statistic was really hard because there are a lot of statistics in immigration that I think are—you know, are incredibly important in this moment for people to be thinking about and talking about. So I wanted to pull one that I didn’t think Jeremy would pull.

So I wanted to focus a little bit on Uniting for Ukraine program, which is a humanitarian parole program whereby we link, right now, Ukrainians and Venezuelans with a U.S.-based sponsor.

And I think that there’s sort of this sense that most of the people that are sponsors in the U.S. probably lean Democrat, and so we did a little bit of research into whether or not that’s true. It is high level, but we found that 68 percent of folks that are U.S. sponsors for an immigrant are from a district that is represented by a House Democrat but 30 percent are from a district that is represented by a House Republican, and I think that speaks to this idea that there are a lot of folks sort of across the political spectrum, across the geographical spectrum, that are interested in refugee resettlement and helping out our partners in the foreign policy space, and I think it’s interesting for that reason.



GUTIÉRREZ: Well, one in ten immigrants in America is Black, and when you say that most people get surprised since immigration tends to be about Latinos. Truly, 90 percent of those that are deported from the United States are Latino and we make up the vast majority of undocumented immigrants in this country.

But one out of ten is Black, and people say, really. I said, did you not remember that Barack Obama’s dad was from Kenya? The vice president’s mom and dad are naturalized citizens? Last time I checked, they were Black. One was president, the other was vice president. So not only are one out of ten Black but they have very high positions.

But I don’t—the irony of this all is that we call Barack Obama deporter in chief, and our vice president went to Central America and her advice to immigrants fleeing gangs and warfare and crime and death was, don’t come.

Wow. What a great expression from a woman that reached the vice presidency of the United States that has two naturalized citizen parents and at this moment—dire moment of need, both because of communists and narcotraffickers, there is such a need and such a flood of people fleeing to our border.

The last thing is it’s not only people from Jamaica and from Haiti and from Africa that self-identify as Black when I talk about one out of ten Americans. Eighty thousand Dominicans in the last census identified as Black.

So there are hundreds of thousands of Latinos among that one out of ten. So they’re Latino. Think Roberto Clemente.



ROBBINS: Well, in the vein of people coming here and the moment we’re in, I think that the stat that I think about a lot is is there are 10.1 million unfilled jobs right now, according to the government—jobs that we can’t fill—and you think about inflation that’s caused by many things, supply chains, and—but also, in part, by not being able to find the people we need to make our supply chain work.

And if you look at where the unfilled jobs are they’re in retail. They’re in health care. They’re in transportation. They’re in manufacturing. They tend to be in industries that are very heavily immigrant worker driven.

And it’s not to say that immigration is this—like, the panacea that’s going to solve all these problems. But if we’re thinking about the moment we’re in, it is at least an important part of the conversation that there are people around the world who want to come here who have complementary skill sets that are beneficial, and if we treat immigration just as a challenge and a threat and not also as an opportunity, we’re going to—we’re squandering that.

I think we take for granted this idea that we are the place that people are always going to want to come and that we—no matter what we do they’re going to want to come here.

Other countries don’t always do that and increasingly aren’t doing that, and so I think that is something that it is a—one of our greatest competitive advantages but one that we will risk squandering.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I mean, what I’m hearing all of you say in various ways is that immigration is and can be a net good for this country.

And, Kristie, I’m particularly interested with your idea that it—despite, I think, all evidence to the contrary—(laughter)—it might not be as polarized as it is portrayed in the media and also in political circles.

Do you think that that’s actually true? Because one of the big impediments to immigration reform has been, frankly, the political discourse around immigration.

DE PEÑA: Sure. I mean, there’s obvious polarization, especially if you spend your time in Washington, D.C., and any time on the Hill. There’s clear polarization. There are, clearly, lawmakers who have zero interest in moving any type of meaningful legislation on immigration forward. I’m going to sort of put them in a bubble and cast them aside for this discussion.

I don’t think that that always necessarily trickles down to what constituents are thinking and feeling about immigration and there’s a whole host of polls that have come out, you know, during the Trump administration years, during the Biden administration years, that sort of reflect, you know, Americans’ changing sentiments on immigration and it varies kind of across what type of immigrant population you’re talking about, too.

But I think one of the areas that consistently demonstrates that there is an interest among both, you know, people who identify as Republicans and people who identify as Democrats and people who identify as independents and never want to vote again, I think that there is a clear indication that they support humanitarian immigration.

There is an obvious undercurrent of fear that comes out especially in the weeks before a midterm election where, you know, nearly every candidate that’s running for office is talking about immigration in some way. But I don’t think that they’re necessarily talking about it in the ways that their constituents always want to hear about.

And I think the other obvious example of this is on DACA. We’ve been talking about DACA for an insanely long period of time while the vast majority of Americans for the ten years that DACA has existed have supported the program, by and large, and has not only supported the program’s existence but also supported creating a pathway to citizenship for the larger DREAMer population.

So I think that, yes, on the Hill and, certainly, if you’re reading the Post or the Times or the WSJ, you know, there is this sense that there—a consensus is impossible. But I don’t think that that’s always going to be the case and I don’t think it’s representative of how Americans feel across the board.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I’m going to pick up something that you said, Luis, which struck me.

I’m curious, as someone who has spent so much of your career working on this issue at the highest level, how you see the Biden administration tackling this problem.

We just saw the news over the past few days that talks have collapsed with the Biden administration over extending certain visa provisions for El Salvadorans and others who are here on temporary humanitarian visas, and there’s a lot of outrage and a lot of curiosity about what exactly this administration thinks about and what objectives they have when they think about immigration.

GUTIÉRREZ: I think stupid is the first word—I know this is the Council on Foreign Relations and maybe you don’t say words like stupid but that’s what I think of—and turning your back on your promises. I think they’re turning their back.

There’s a crisis at the border. We should send resources there. And, I mean, Biden says Black lives matter, right? He champions that, as well he should—as well he should—and he brings joy to my heart when he says that. Well, don’t the Black lives of Haitians at the border that are rounded up with whips and horses, which his

administration deports back to Haiti, the poorest country in our hemisphere? And what he does with using old rules and old regulations so that people cannot apply with what is in the law, right, and that is humanitarian relief, to be able to apply for asylum in the United States of America. We can reorganize that border so that we can do that and we can be Democrats.

But I just think, look, the iron thing that—the ironclad for the Republican Party is to be anti-immigrant. But going back, that is not the ironclad of the American people. The American people, in poll after poll after poll, right, and—have said we want comprehensive immigration reform.

And we know, as my fellow guests have explained, it’s good for the economy. The GDP will increase by trillions of dollars if you legalize the 11 million and most of whom have been here over twenty years.

So when I look at the Biden administration I see him see the vice—see him send the vice president to Central America and we don’t take care of the underlying conditions.

Lastly, why is it that we have to have this difference between Venezuelan(s), Cubans, and Nicaraguans? Why? Oh, yes, the Cold War is still on. They’re fleeing communist dictatorships.

Well, can you please explain to me the difference if your life is on the line and you’re living in Honduras and you’re living in El Salvador, and the cartels run the government, run the—they have more powerful, and they put your daughter into prostitution and your son to sell drugs, and you believe that, that somehow that is a lesser condition for political asylum in the United States than somebody being a communist regime?

I welcome the Venezuelan community. They should come here. They have every right to flee that disastrous regime—and Cubans, and Nicaraguans—because they’ve lied—Sandinistas have lied to them. They turned into these great Christians and now they’re turning into these great dictators—(speaks in Spanish).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: (Speaks in Spanish.)

GUTIÉRREZ: If you—if any one of us were in El Salvador, we would do everything possible to get our children out of there.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I appreciate that.

Just to clarify in case people aren’t fully familiar with the situation that you’re alluding to is that we’re now seeing a mass immigration of Venezuelans. It’s now, I think, the largest group coming to the United States, followed by Cubans, which is a big difference from—than we’ve seen in previous iterations of immigration to this country.

I want to actually pick up on what Luis is saying and take it to you, Jeremy, because what you talked about was this idea that we need immigrants in this country because of the economic situation.

I want to understand if there’s a kind of immigrant that we need. I mean, I want to get a little bit more specific because when we talk about immigration it’s often in these big, sweeping generalizations. But, you know, our immigration system is incredibly complicated.

We see flows of immigrants who are here in an unauthorized way. But we also have our legal immigration system. I mean, Canada has a particular type of immigration system. There are countries that organize themselves very differently to the United States. Well, how do you see it?

ROBBINS: Yeah. That’s a great question.

Look, I mean, I want to be really careful. It’s very easy to fall into this frame of there’s a good immigrant or a bad immigrant.


ROBBINS: And I think if you look at the history of immigration, I mean, it’s easy to say—

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But a country has to make choices.

ROBBINS: We have to make choices, absolutely, and there’s some things that yes, like, we need STEM workers all over the economy. But if you look at the immigrants who have made this country strong, and you’re talking economically as much as—and culturally as well, like, there was—they weren’t coming as STEM grads, right.

They were coming—and, I mean, my personal story is my grandparents came with no education whatsoever and two generations later all of their grandkids could go to college, and that’s a great American story.

And so I think while, yes, like, if you look, there’s so many ways that immigration strengthens this country. We have ten thousand Baby Boomers retiring every single day, right. Who is going to replace them?

Well, immigrants tend to be much more likely to be of working age. Like, we are having fewer babies. We’re living longer. That has real consequences to our workforce.

And so when 80 percent of immigrants are of working age compared about 60 percent of the native born, that’s a really good influx just writ large. You look at where immigrants are on both sides of the spectrum. Like, we’re living longer and having more health problems.

So what do we need? We need more doctors. We also need more home health aides, right, and those are places that immigrants are going to be.

We also have problems with depopulation in a lot of this country. Immigrants tend to be much more mobile as Americans are increasingly less mobile and less likely to move for a job. And so you think about a lot of the economic woes a lot of parts of this country have.

You need to attract people to come. And so in all sorts of ways we need—from our agriculture industry to our fisheries industry to our innovation industries, we need all sorts of workers, and so I think you do need to make choices and it’s fine to say it will be really helpful to have this type of worker.

But when you think of immigration a lot of the benefits are generational, right. Immigrants, when they come, are—they’re much more likely to lack a high school diploma but they’re also much more likely to have a Ph.D. and that actually complements the workforce just with them.

But the true real benefits of immigration are their kids. The kids of immigrants, historically and equally now, over perform the native born because people come and that’s been a great thing for America that every generation we’ve had sort of this influx of that.

So, yes, we have to make choices. But I think it’s a very dangerous path to go to to say, like, oh, well, it’s all about what we need right now, right. So while we do that we should recognize that bringing people in who are coming here to make a better life, who are going to help revitalize communities, who are going to work in all sorts of parts of this economy that we need—I mean, the pandemic was a really good example of how, like, we need a whole set of diverse skills and people working in different areas for our economy not to grind to a halt.

You look at the truck drivers, people working in cleaning, people working in grocery stores, people working in meat processing plants. Those are things that made our economy function, and if we—and that’s the story that, I think, was lost a little bit. Like, we didn’t do a good enough job of saying, well, look at this. Look at this role that immigration is having all over the economy and strengthening us.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Before we take questions—and I just want to be clear that, please, we want your questions. You can write them in the chat if you are virtual and, of course, you can ask them here if you are with us today in person—IRL, as they say.

I want to ask and move to this idea of a new path forward because we have been caught in what I call the rinse cycle of immigration reform for my lifetime, and I struggle myself as someone who is an immigrant, who has reported on immigration, who has studied immigration, to see what could work.

And so, briefly, again, I want to do a little bit of a lightning round and ask everyone to tell me one thing that is working. We all know what isn’t working. What is working? Is anything working? Everyone looks stumped. (Laughs.)

DE PEÑA: It’s a hard question because, you know, we’re talking about policies that we created forty years ago in an era where people still had rolodexes on their desks and, you know, we didn’t really know what computers were or how we needed to use them and if we did it took four hours to dial up and get online, and it has changed this calculation so deeply, in addition to all of the factors that—you know, that Jeremy has laid out.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So then let me—so then let me rephrase it.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: Oh, there’s a but. OK.

DE PEÑA: There’s a but. There’s a but.

But I do think that, as evidenced in part by this administration, we are starting to think a little bit more creatively about what those solutions can look like. We’re tending to rely less on the big compromises that got so close but didn’t quite get there, moving out of the mindset of the early 2000s, moving out of the mindset of the “Gang of Eight” in 2013, and I think that, you know, this idea about private sponsorship and bringing in Ukrainians and Venezuelans and, hopefully, a larger population of folks who are fleeing communist regimes in the future.

But I do think that is one small example of the way that we can capitalize on Americans’ desire to help others around the world and also to recognize that migration is changing, you know, in our hemisphere and North America can’t rely on deterrence policies that, quite frankly, have just flat out never worked when an entire continent of people is now moving. And so, you know, mostly that was things that aren’t working but there was a hair about what is—what is working.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: (Laughs.) I think we’re going to focus on some—yeah, I think there’s a few things.

ROBBINS: Yeah, please. I would say, look, I mean, I think there are some things that are really working and I think we think of immigration as a federal issue. But if you look locally there’s some really bright spots in this country that do cross party lines.

So if you look at Utah, there’s a state where they have made incredibly deep investment in saying, look, like, this is an issue. We treat it as if the whole decision on immigration is what happens—who gets to cross our border or stay here where so much of this fight is what happens when you’re there.

Like, how do we make sure that people can be successful in their communities and how can we both lift up immigrants but also make their communities more welcoming and you look like a state of Utah where they—in some of the cities they’ve launched—put Offices of New Americans in their city halls who are during COVID translating things into multiple languages. They are helping people naturalize or helping them get jobs. They’re helping people—putting more immigrants on community boards.

They’ve launched a statewide—with a Republican governor a statewide campaign on belonging. You had the governor take out national op-eds to talk about why they should welcome Afghans.

There are—if we invest locally there are real models of places that defy the crazy Fox News/MSNBC food fight. But we have to make those investments and, I think, historically, as a country we haven’t been making them, at least at scale.

GUTIÉRREZ: I don’t—I’m not optimistic at all about the current situation.

Yes, people are doing stuff in different areas and we should applaud those things.

The fact is that, today, I don’t know how many Latinos—immigrants—undocumented will die at work. We all know that they’re more likely to die at work. They have no OSHA protections, right. They’re going to die from contaminants and toxins at some meatpacking plant, right.

And everybody goes to the grocery store and loves their meat, loves their vegetables, right. Loves the lettuce and tomato. You know, one day I just wish I could just have a magic wand and make all the undocumented immigrants along with their green-card holders just vanish for a week to see what America would look like for one week.

But, obviously, I’m not going to get that wish—so that the American people would come to understand how essential they are. There are women that are going to be raped in the fields today because they are undocumented and they have—they’re not part of the #MeToo movement.

They have no one to call. For them to make a phone call is for them to be deported. That is the reality of our country. People today—there’s going to be a mom who’s going to be taken away from her American citizen children.

I don’t care if they are or are not American citizen children. But when they’re American citizen children that is happening today under the Biden administration and has continued to happen.

And, lastly—

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Let me—let me—

GUTIÉRREZ: —look, we keep growing in terms of numbers, right—in terms of numbers. But we don’t grow in terms of power.

How is it that the Hispanic Congressional Caucus has less power than one U.S. senator from West Virginia and how is it they never speak up for our immigrant community and for the woes of our Latino community?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Let me ask you, just briefly, as someone who really has worked so hard with Republicans throughout your career—


GARCIA-NAVARRO: —in trying to pass immigration reform, what do you want to see happen? What can, practically speaking, happen now?

GUTIÉRREZ: Look, what can practically happen now is that the Democrats, when they had their majority, should have taken their majority and done something with it, and they do it. They just don’t value us and—

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Like what, like, to passing DACA? Like, what would you like to have seen?

GUTIÉRREZ: Here’s—look, so when—here’s what the Democrats in the House do. Oh, we passed the DREAM Act. Oh, and then we passed the Agricultural Act, and they applaud themselves. And then when it goes to the Senate they don’t send it in the package that goes over to the Senate, which means nothing happens.

Look, what I would like to see is just this—I just see this lack of commitment and just this cowardiceness on the part of Democrats, and the Progressive Caucus, this is not a principal issue for the Progressive Caucus. It is a minor issue for the Progressive Caucus. Yet, it’s a life-and-death issue.

There are 11 million undocumented. They’ve been working here for twenty years or more. It’s time that we settled this immigration issue. Unfortunately, who did I work with? I worked with John McCain. I had a beautiful loving relationship with that man, right? And Congressman Flake, he was my co-sponsor. Of course, we had to change it. One year, I was in the majority. The next year it was the Flake-Gutiérrez, Gutiérrez-Flake, right? That does not exist.

Lastly, Paul Ryan, after he ran for vice president of the United States I went down to Paul Ryan in the gym—in the House gym—and I said, Paul, can you give me somebody I can work with in the Republican Party so that we can do immigration reform?

You know what his response was? Give me the date and the time and I will work with you. Why don’t we do an event starting in Chicago to bring immigration reform? Then he becomes Speaker of the House, and in order to become Speaker of the House what promise does he have to make? That he will never bring up immigration reform.

Yes, you can check. We received him here. We worked with Republicans. Those Republicans are gone. They do not exist in the House and, yeah, a few of them still exist in the Senate. And so—


GUTIÉRREZ: —I would just say it’s not a good time. We’re in a very weakened position politically. But I think the community is going to continue to demand more (challenges ?). And as I said to Barack Obama when he said, oh, Luis, we don’t have the votes, I said, yeah, but you’re the quarterback, and people want to see you on the field, and they want to see you with a game plan. Come on. Let’s go out there and fight.

Democrats don’t want to fight for immigrants. They don’t want to fight for immigrants.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: OK. I want—I’d love just in the few minutes we have left before we’re taking questions your thoughts on what needs to happen. I mean, that is a very—from the inside a very bleak prognosis.

ROBBINS: (Inaudible.)

DE PEÑA: Sure. You know, I think one of the—you know, and I don’t disagree. I think that there’s a long hard road ahead even if we’re talking about sort of incremental reforms, let alone anything that is comprehensive in any way.

But, you know, I do think that there are new pressures, and even if there are few folks on either side, in some cases, depending on the issue, that previously were supportive of certain kinds of reforms they are going to be hearing from their constituents.

You know, if Boomers want to stay in their homes as they retire and age they need home health-care workers and they are already clamoring for those home health-care workers, in many cases, and a lot of that is especially in red states with rural areas that have been hammered by COVID and are already seeing deep physician shortages that Jeremy alluded to kind of across the board, and there are tons and tons of other health-care-affiliated professions.

They are going to be talking to their lawmakers about some of these issues. The labor crisis is not getting better. I’m hoping that some of these changing factors are going to be a tipping point for us to bring members back to the table and have them negotiate again in earnest and start talking about some of these issues, you know, again.

But it is an admittedly—it’s a long road.

ROBBINS: Yeah. No, I mean—


ROBBINS: —I agree with what Congressman Gutiérrez says. I mean, there’s been a huge void in Congress since he left. Like, he was, in a real way, having conversation with Republicans—


ROBBINS: —every day and those conversations simply aren’t happening. I mean, there’s no secret gang that’s working on a solution across party lines right now, and part of that is that the parties are in a different place but part of it is a lack of champions.

And so the one thing I will say about what the path forward is, is if you look at where anti-immigrant sentiment is in this country it’s not where you would expect it. It’s not where there are lots of immigrants.

The places that receive the most immigrants in this country are overwhelmingly tolerant. The places that have anti-immigrant sentiment tend to be places that are where there’s, like, a new shock, right.

All of a sudden—there are very few immigrants and all of a sudden you hear Spanish at the grocery store. You see a face that doesn’t look like yours and people get nervous, and it’s much more a cultural issue than it is a taking our jobs issue. And that gives us a roadmap of where we need to invest and we have chronically under invested as a movement and as a government in those places.

But in terms of what we need to do if we want to have champions is when people go back to their communities they need to see that this is a priority for their community. And so we do know where—it’s not a rosy picture of, I think, this is going to change but if you look where immigrants are moving, the places that are having the fastest change in immigration are

backlash at first. But eventually we’ll get to a place where it’s—where that’s actually those are communities because those are increasingly diverse communities.

You look at some of the people in the Senate, like, take Senator Lankford from Oklahoma. When he was in the House his district became pretty diverse and it became an issue he wanted to talk about. I don’t think he’s in the best place on this issue right now.

But it is something where that changing community is what we need to be able to tap into and invest in and build power in because right now Congressman Gutiérrez is right. There’s very little power in this movement.

And so either—if you want to change the conversation we need to build that by really making those investments in the community. You can’t do it just by having this fight in D.C.

GUTIÉRREZ: I just want to ask the whole panel this in thirty seconds.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: One second. One second. One second.

No. No. One second. I’m so sorry.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: I have to invite people. We have still a long way to go. So you’ll get to make your point.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: But at this time I would like to invite members to join our conversation with your questions. A reminder that this meeting is on the record.

And we will take our first question from here in Washington, D.C.

I will—ma’am, I will take it from you. But I—yes, behind you. There.

Q: Thank you.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Please say who you are and—

Q: I’m Hattie Babbitt, and this is—my question is a little bit of a takeoff on your question, which was what’s working, and something that did work—imperfectly, but it did work—was the Bracero program. That is, it brought agricultural workers who could come to the United States and then return home.

It didn’t work because they were not protected when they were in agricultural fields and they were abused. But it did supply agricultural workers and it did allow people to come and make the money and to send home in remittances and otherwise.

Is there some solution that builds on that for agricultural workers and health-care workers? To come up with—almost everything everybody said is something that we’re—where we need workers. Is there an element there to work with?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Who wants to—

ROBBINS: Yeah, talking about farm workers.

So, there—yes. I mean, look, we look at this issue as if everyone who’s coming here wants to stay forever. That’s just not a reality of—some people are coming here—some people are coming here to support their families back home. That’s why remittances are so strong to the rest of the world and we, basically, by militarizing the border so much made it impossible to go back. So there’s no more circular migration.

And so a lot of the border issues are mobility issues, right. I mean, if we had a real way for people to come here and work that would solve a lot of these issues that we treat as national security issues.

On the farm issue specifically there’s a bill called the Farm Workforce Modernization Act. It’s already passed out of the House. There are bipartisan co-sponsors in the Senate. There’s some issues in the negotiation.

But of the things that could happen in a lame duck that’s, certainly, one of them, right. There’s bipartisan support for a system that says, look, like, we want to give people a path to stay here and a path to become citizens if they’re working in our things, but some people don’t want to do that.

And so what does it look like to—and that’s an agreement that was negotiated with both the workers and the employers. And so it’s—that is one of things of all the things—I mean, again, my optimism is guarded—but of things that we, as an organization and I know Niskanen are fighting for. That is very high on the list of things that, hopefully, we can try and get some movement on.

GUTIÉRREZ: Two things.


GUTIÉRREZ: Number one, I’m going to go back because my colleagues did say positive things. I just want to say, yeah, something did occur to me. Seven hundred thousand Latinos turn eighteen every year and they’re all citizens of the United States.

They actually represent the greatest future growth in population in America and they are going to be—I am so in love with Latino youth. They’re such a transformative agent. And so, yes, something happens positive every day. That’s number one.

Interestingly, most Latinos, especially youth, voted for Bernie Sanders. So they’re very progressive, our Latino community, youth specifically.

Yes, there is a space for guest workers, right, whether they be H-1Bs, but, yes, for seasonal workers, right. Go pick the cherries. They want to go back home to Chihuahua. They want to go back home to Durango. Spend some time, make some money, go back home, right. People do, and as you said, the border used to be open and allow that flow of workers to come, do the agricultural work, and go back home.

We can do that. There’s a space for that as part of comprehensive immigration reform. But, first, we’ve got to, like, take care of the millions of agricultural workers that have been here for more than twenty years who already have American citizen children, to be able to adjust their status.

And, lastly, the last time in 2007 things have changed especially. Look, I’m on the American left. You can’t be any more on the American left than me. But I just have to say, 2007 Bernie Sanders, Mr. iconic leader, right, of the revolution voted against comprehensive immigration reform, and the day it died in the Senate in 2007 he went to no other show other than to Lou Dobbs, Mr. xenophobe, in person on CNN to say it was going to kill American jobs and he had to protect American workers.

Luckily, Bernie Sanders has changed his tune, but the American progressive left has still not made us a priority.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. We’re going to take a question virtually.

OPERATOR: We’ll take our next question from LaDon Linde.

Q: Yes. Can you hear me?


Q: Very good. Yes. My name is LaDon Linde. I happen to be a Republican and I’m a county commissioner from rural Washington State.

I have a background in agriculture. I’ve been commissioner for two years now, and I will say as someone who has been in agriculture I understand the need and our county understands the need for immigration, particularly for agriculture but not exclusively agriculture. We have help wanted signs all over the county and I don’t think we’re unique in that sense.

But I think to move this debate forward or the issue forward about immigration—we talk about how closed the border is but I will tell you that it is very open when you talk about gangs and the drug trade, and that is really an overriding concern in our area.

We have gangs that have come into our area and are taking over communities. We have seen a(n) explosion of fentanyl that’s come across the southern border. It is responsible for over half of the overdose deaths in our county in the last year or two.

And so, I mean, I want immigration to move forward. I have former employees that still are not citizens yet and I would like to have a path forward for them, and they need to have a path forward because with very few exceptions everybody who worked on our farm over the decades was an asset to their community. No doubt about it.

And but we—I think the conversation has to be coupled with, yes, we have to have a way to bring immigrants here and allow them to have a spot whether it’s temporary or permanent. I think there’s a place for both options, obviously.

But it’s got to be coupled with a conversation of having the ability to screen what and who comes across that border because not everybody who comes across the border means well. Most of them do. But it has to be part of the conversation, in my opinion, moving forward.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Thank you so much. Thank you so much.

GUTIÉRREZ: Yeah. I think—I think—

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Hold—one second.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. I’m going to actually bring in Kristie on this particular issue because, you know, there is, obviously, an issue with the importation of drugs, although we do note that they come through legal ports of entry—

DE PEÑA: That’s right.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: —and not carried by immigrants crossing the border. Those are two sort of separate issues.

DE PEÑA: That’s right.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But if you could speak to the question.

DE PEÑA: Sure. And I think that’s a very important piece of it and I think, you know, there’s a lot of fear around fentanyl for good reasons and any other Schedule A and particular drugs that are moved into the country. They come by U.S. mail. They come through northern borders. They come through the southern border.

But I think what it points to is sort of a broader and, really, important discussion about what it is to secure our borders, and we’ve heard both Republicans and Democrats talk about securing our border for decades but we haven’t actually been able to pin down what it is that that means.

And I think the byproduct of that is that we don’t have enough resources to focus on things like better looking at the large trucks that are coming in through our legal ports of entry and skating right through. They’re never subject to a second search, and that’s how those drugs are coming in when we talk about borders.

They are not in the pockets of individuals coming across the border. That would not be a lucrative operation for anybody.

So, you know, we have to think about what it is to actually secure the border, how we need to reassess the resources that are needed, and then really focus them on the place where we see a distinct need, and there are distinct needs across the board.

Our physical infrastructure on the southern border, I think, by anyone’s estimation is not ideal. It’s very old. It needs a lot of upgrades, and we do need more personnel down there to be doing the jobs that are really important to America—not just what’s coming in but also what’s going out.

So I agree. You know, I think securing the border has to be a part of that conversation. But I also think that we need to come to the table understanding what the facts are and not sort of leaning into some of these narratives that are, clearly, sort of not representing what is actually happening on the border, and, thankfully, a lot of that information exists and has for a while.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Do you want to jump in?

ROBBINS: Yeah. Well—

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Oh, both of you, but—

GUTIÉRREZ: Yeah. I just wanted to say, look, 2004—anybody can go and look it up—Kennedy, McCain, Gutiérrez, Flake. Eight hundred pages. The first six hundred pages were all enforcement because that was the ransom that was demanded of us by the Republican Party in order to free the 11 million.

We tripled the number of Border Patrol agents. We used all kinds of billions of dollars for technology. Then again in 2013 when Barack Obama and the Senate—sixty-seven senators voted for comprehensive immigration reform.

You know what the last amendment was? An additional $10 billion for border enforcement, and we said that everybody has to register with the government, whatever job you have, right. Let’s bring the 11 million. Put your fingerprints right on the dial. And if you don’t pass a background check, a fuera, right?

I don’t want criminals in my neighborhood because they threaten my children and they threaten my neighborhood, and I don’t care what their last name is. If they come to America and threaten us, I want them gone. But we need a clear system to distinguish between those that are undocumented and documenting them so then we can all work together, because I’m not going to cooperate with an ICE agent today under the current immigration system.

I just—please, American public—and I thank the Council on Foreign Relations—because if you look at the bills that are forwarded by Democrats, right, it’s enforcement, enforcement, enforcement, enforcement.

We get it. Here’s the problem, too, for us. Democrats forgot to be for public safety. I remember when I got to Congress in 1993 a hundred thousand more police officers on the street, right. We were going to combat crime.

What happened, Democrats? Public safety. Knock on someone’s door and here’s what they’re going to tell you—when I dial 911 it takes them too long to get here.

So, let’s stop this moment and really analyze who we are and say, yes, enforcement, enforcement, enforcement, enforcement, including REAL ID, the whole thing. We’re ready to do it. But you got to free the immigrants, too. You got to free our DREAMers. You got to let them live their lives.

Thank you.


ROBBINS: Yeah. The only thing I would add to that, I mean, yes, a hundred percent we need to figure out how to manage the border in a real way and earn the trust of Americans in doing that. I said we as Americans, not a—


ROBBINS: —and in a real way because I think we have—that conversation has been lost from the pro-immigrant side of this debate.

But if you think about what that means, I mean, in an ideal sense, what would we do? We’d filter everyone to the ports of entry so that we could actually screen people and we would know it. What we’ve done is the exact opposite, right.


ROBBINS: We’ve made it impossible through metering, through Title 42, and the CDC doesn’t even believe it but this, like, ridiculous public health thing where—and we’ve, basically, made it impossible to show up at a port of entry and ask for asylum and get vetted, and what that’s done is it’s pushed people into more and more dangerous ways to cross and that feeds cartels. It makes the border more dangerous, it puts lives at risk, and it doesn’t make us safe.

So, in a real sense, part of managing the border is really investing in a way that when people come in we can screen them. Their cases go fast. We give people—we give them a meaningful shot.

So you give people representation but then they have—then they have to—their cases can be heard instead of what we have now, which is where we militarize the border without an effective way to actually manage it.

And so I think you’re right to the question, that a hundred percent we need to invest in making sure that we’re safe, both as a practical matter and as a talking to the American public matter. But that is not just more money and more guns. That’s having a system that actually effectively managed it.

DE PEÑA: And not to put too fine a point on it but it is something that we absolutely can do. There seems to be this sort of undercurrent that exists among some of the members that we talked to that this is something that is—that would be incredibly difficult for America to do.

And I always counter that idea with the—you know, with the fact that we can expand capacity. America has done that many, many times in the past. We can make processing more efficient and we can make it more effective and humane. We just have to actually do it.

And so I think that that, you know, adds to, you know, the points that both of the other speakers have made that this is something that we can absolutely accomplish as a nation and make it a lot more effective.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: See? We’re ending up in places—things that are positive that—that are possible and positive. (Laughter.)

Yes, please?

Q: Hi. My name is Danny Sepulveda. I served in the Senate for three United States senators in the Obama administration as well, and I was on the floor for the 2007 comprehensive immigration debates.

This new path forward, a lot of the conversations we’re having right now are conversations we had then. Everything that’s been said was said then. So, to some degree, this is a substantive conversation. To the degree that it is we can find solutions.

There’s a culture war component to this that we’re not talking about that scares the daylights out of me and, I think, is what keeps a substantive conversation from going forward.

But going to a potential new path forward, if the Democrats lose the House the Republicans will put forward some sort of very enforcement heavy—totally enforcement heavy immigration bill that could move through the House.

You send it to the Senate and then you got to get the band back together and maybe you can take that bill and put the comprehensive, you know, umbrella around it and do something that you can send back to the House.

The question becomes for the congressman who, by the way, if it wasn’t for Congressman Gutiérrez people like myself, people like Estuardo would have never had a career in Washington. He’s one of the originals. We love him.

GUTIÉRREZ: Thank you.

Q: Do you engage that conversation, Congressman? Do you just bite the bullet and say, these are people who I don’t think have my people’s best interests at heart but we have to try to move something forward here?

GUTIÉRREZ: Yes. I pan for the days of Harry Reid as majority leader. What an iconic figure. What a love he had for immigrants, right. But we’ll do with what we have today.

I think people don’t know all the work that Senator Menendez does day in and day out in the Senate with his colleagues. My senator from Illinois, Dick Durbin, is a champion for immigration and moving forward, and he knows.

I expect that Cortez Masto—I just came—just so you know, I’m not just talking. I spent four days in Nevada campaigning for her reelection and my hope is that she’s the kind of centrist Democrat that can relate to Republicans because that’s what we need to do, and we need to bring, yes, our Latino billionaires—most of them from Miami—who are for immigration reform, right, and to bring them into the fold.

I’m also on the board of ABEG (ph), right. So it’s kind of strange having, you know, kind of a radical leftist—(laughs)—with billionaires on the board. But we’re for comprehensive immigration reform.

So I think they will put something very draconian in the House. They’ll send it over to the Senate. There will be a much kinder version, and then let’s go to conference, right, and let’s try to figure out where we can be where we can win.

But, unfortunately, you do have Fox News. And the other thing, how do we tell the story of our community when MSNBC and CNN do not have any Latino anchors in primetime? Let me repeat that—do not have any Latino anchors in primetime. Six o’clock—(speaks in Spanish). We don’t even exist. We’re invisible.

In Chicago I turn on the local news—ABC, CBS, NBC. Chicago is a majority-minority Latino city council. There’s not one Latino anchor in the city of Chicago.

So also let’s remember that mass media, in a lot of situations, we’re invisible and we need to be there to—lastly, I do—but I do want to say I’m so happy with Alicia Menendez’s success at MSNBC. She’s more and more, right, channeling and putting the stories.

And Diaz-Balart has been phenomenal forever. So we do have but we need more of them in order to tell our story. But I think there is a path forward. I like what was proposed.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: We have a—one of our members has a question—a virtual.

OPERATOR: We’ll take our next question from Susan Martin.

Q: Thank you for taking my question. Thank you for the comments.

I’m a professor emerita at Georgetown University and was the executive director at the U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform, and I’d like to follow up with Jeremy on your—you’ve started speculating about what might happen during the lame duck session in terms of immigration issues.

Could you talk a bit more about what else might get through in the best case scenario, and also to comment a bit about, or both you and Kristie, perhaps, on DACA and where it stands now and, given the court cases, where it might be going in the future?

ROBBINS: Yeah. No, I appreciate the question, and I think Kristie and Congressman Gutiérrez will have even more insight on this.

But the best case scenario, there are a lot of things that could happen. The reality is this is not the number-one issue that is being prioritized at leadership or the White House right now. So it would need to have a lot of priority behind it.

But, certainly, DREAMers—there are a lot of 90/10 issues where, like, the vast majority of this country of any—I mean, you look at any political party. People do not want to deport kids who have come here and have spent their life and they’ve graduated high school and they’re working, and people don’t want that and that is—(inaudible)—absolutely for DREAMers could there be action on DACA.

I really hope there should be because there’s some really scary and pending court cases and, certainly, even right now with the courts there are no new applications for DACA. So all these young kids who should be able to get this are going to remain undocumented until Congress does something.

The Afghan Adjustment Act—there, we brought in thousands and thousands of people really quickly. We didn’t really have a way to do it so they used something called parole where they said you get to stay for a little bit. But people need a legal way to stay here. They’re not going back to Afghanistan. Yeah, and so the Afghan Adjustment Act, absolutely.

The Farm Workforce Modernization Act—funding the government so it can actually work, right. There’s a huge backlog in—at USCIS in just processing cases. Like, there are people waiting for citizenship, waiting for adjustment of status. They, at the beginning of this year, only were 81 percent staffed. So they were missing one of every five jobs at this whole agency, and they’re fee funded so we expect them to fix all their past problems with money they’re getting for today’s problems.

So all of those are things, I think, could be done in lame duck and, I think, hopefully, will. But, again, it’s going to require it being a real priority.

DE PEÑA: I think one of the most important things that has changed recently—and I agree with everything that Jeremy said—on the DACA piece is, obviously, the Fifth Circuit ruled a couple of weeks ago, and so there’s a bunch of procedural things that have to happen between, you know, now and a potential additional Fifth Circuit ruling and then maybe going to the Supreme Court.

But what I think that it has done is removed the possibility for lawmakers to say, well, let’s see what the courts are going to say, because the Fifth Circuit made it a point to comment on the substantive provisions in DACA when they didn’t actually have to, but they wanted to make a point and say that, look, DACA is both procedurally and substantively illegal, in the opinion of this court.

And I think that that is absolutely going to be replicated by the Supreme Court. I think the writing is on the wall. It’s now just a matter of timing, and I think that’s the most important message for, you know, advocates that are talking to members on the Hill who might want to say, well, let’s just wait and see what the court says. We know now what the court is going to say.

So it’s just a matter of whether or not we want to be proactive in codifying DACA or, you know, more expansive protections for DREAMers, or whether we want to wait for the impacts of its illegality to settle in and we start deporting, you know, DREAMers and DACA recipients, who are not kids anymore. They have millions of dollars in mortgages.

Ninety-nine percent of the children of DACA recipients are U.S. citizens. There are going to be massive practical issues in addition to the enormous social and economical and familial costs of trying to deport folks who fall out of status if we lose the DACA program.

So this is sort of an impending issue, and if we are to believe a potential, you know, future Speaker McCarthy in the House, there will be no DACA bill next year. And maybe that changes, but if we’re to believe what he is saying in this moment then there will not be an opportunity to codify protections in the next Congress.

GUTIÉRREZ: And I want to join my colleagues by being positive again. (Laughter.) It’s such a terrible miserable time and painful time of dehumanization. But positive again—my champion in the Congress, Jesús Garcia—Congressman Garcia from Chicago—who did say to Nancy Pelosi, you can’t send Build Back Better with my vote, right, unless you include something for immigrants. And he and Espaillat, right—again, a naturalized citizen from the Dominican Republic—they both stood up. And Chuy—that’s what we call him. We call him Chuy because we all love him, right, and Jesús gets a little weird, you know—(speaks in Spanish)—go around calling somebody Jesús.

So Chuy is optimistic that in the lame duck we can do something for DREAMers and for maybe TPS. He says there’s a plan and he’s working on it, and if anybody ever had a commitment it’s—remember, his dad came as a Bracero. He’s a naturalized citizen. He knows the experience of the undocumented community better than anyone.

And, lastly, it’s going to be really great when next February he’s elected mayor of the city of Chicago because when you have an immigrant Mexican voice, right, as the mayor of a large metropolitan city he’s going to break through all of those airwaves and be able to really champion our cause because I know as mayor he’s going to champion immigrants across this nation.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I think at this point we’re going to wrap it up because I know, Congressman Gutiérrez, you have a class to go to.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: So, thank you so much to everyone who joined us for the Renewing America Series meeting, and thank you, of course, to all our panelists for a very invigorating and interesting conversation.

Please note that the video and transcript of today’s meeting will be posted on CFR’s website. Thanks again.


This is an uncorrected transcript.

Top Stories on CFR

The War in Ukraine


The United States and its allies have imposed broad economic penalties on Russia over its war in Ukraine. As the conflict continues, experts debate whether the sanctions are working.