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October 25, 2006

Immigration Nation

Tamar Jacoby, from Foreign Affairs, November/December 2006;

“Summary: The United States is far less divided on immigration than the current debate would suggest. An overwhelming majority of Americans want a combination of tougher enforcement and earned citizenship for the 12 million illegal immigrants in the country. Washington's challenge is to translate this consensus into sound legislation that will start to repair the nation's broken immigration system.

Tamar Jacoby is a Senior Fellow at the Manhattan Institute and the editor of Reinventing the Melting Pot: The New Immigrants and What It Means to Be American.


As recently as 18 months ago, a visitor could have spent a week in the United States, watching television and reading the newspapers, and come away with virtually no clue that immigration was a major issue. Today, it is at or near the top of most voters' lists of problems facing the nation -- one that, in many people's minds, outweighs every other threat save international terrorism. This shift has been driven in large part by politicians and the media. The U.S. immigration system has been broken for a long time, and little -- including the number of immigrants arriving in the country -- has changed dramatically in recent years. There is little doubt that the system needs fixing. But just how big a problem is immigration? Is it in fact a crisis that threatens the United States' security and identity as a nation? And does it, as today's bitter debate suggests, raise so many fundamental questions as to be all but unsolvable?

As of this writing, Congress appears to be at an impasse, after nine months of intense debate and the passage of two major bills (one in each chamber) still unable to agree on a piece of legislation. The president has made clear that immigration reform is his top domestic priority, and legislators from both camps spent the summer insisting on the need for change. And yet, as the 109th Congress draws to a close, it seems unlikely that members will make a serious effort to resolve their differences before going home to face voters in November.

In fact, the nation is far less divided on immigration, legal or illegal, than the current debate suggests. In the last six months, virtually every major media outlet has surveyed public attitudes on the issue, and the results have been remarkably consistent. Americans continue to take pride in the United States' heritage as a nation of immigrants. Many are uneasy about the current influx of foreigners. But an overwhelming majority -- between two-thirds and three-quarters in every major poll -- would like to see Congress address the problem with a combination of tougher enforcement and earned citizenship for the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants already living and working here. A strange-bedfellow coalition -- of business associations, labor unions, and the Catholic Church, among others -- has endorsed this position. In Washington, the consensus behind it is even more striking, with supporters spanning the spectrum from conservative President George W. Bush to left-leaning Senator Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), from mavericks like Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) to party regulars like Senator Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and all but a handful of congressional Democrats. But even this broad agreement may not produce a solution this fall.

Congress' failure to act is largely a product of political circumstances. The high-stakes midterm elections in November put an unusual premium on the opinions of the 20-25 percent of voters who depart from the emerging national consensus. Mostly male, white, and lacking college degrees, these naysayers believe immigrants are bad for the economy; they want to build a wall along the southern border and adamantly oppose allowing illegal immigrants to become citizens. Only about half are Republicans, and they account for no more than a quarter of the GOP. But many Republicans in Congress, particularly in the House, are convinced that this group is more intense -- more concerned, more motivated, more likely to vote on the basis of this single issue -- than anyone else likely to go to the polls. So the naysayers have become the tail wagging the dog of the immigration debate, and they may succeed in blocking a solution this year.

Still, such circumstances will not last forever. The political stars will realign, perhaps sooner than anyone expects, and when they do, Congress will return to the task it has been wrestling with: how to translate the emerging consensus into legislation to repair the nation's broken immigration system…”.


Posted by VisaLawyer at October 25, 2006 01:44 PM


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