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May 08, 2009

Has the political landscape shifted enough to change the dynamics of immigration reform?

Opinion, The immigration debate, again

By Tamar Jacoby, May 7, 2009

"Immigration reform -- you may think you've seen this movie before, too many times already. You know the arguments. You dread the polarization. And you doubt that Congress can do any better at making the compromises needed to fix the system.

But with the Obama White House rekindling the conversation about immigration, skeptics ought to think again. None of the problems have gone away, after all. Neither the economic downturn nor enhanced enforcement has driven 12 million illegal immigrants to leave the country. Enforcement is still far from effective, either on the border or in the workplace. And even in a recession, we still seem to need foreign workers, especially at the bottom of the economy.

But other things have changed since 2006 and 2007, when the nation last wrangled so bitterly over immigration. And although the new landscape hardly guarantees success -- immigration is never an easy issue, and some of what has changed will make it harder to pass reform -- it's going to be a different debate this year.

The most prominent feature of the new landscape is the recession, which at first blush makes reform more difficult. With unemployment still rising, many Americans doubt that we need foreign workers. Voters are thinking about themselves first. They have no patience for other people's problems. And, as always when times are hard, there's a danger that populist resentments will curdle into xenophobia, creating pressure to seal the border rather than craft a way for newcomers to come here to work legally.

But so far, the recession isn't having that effect. Journalists and employers report that not even unemployed Americans seem to want to do farm work or day-labor jobs, at least not yet. Many fewer foreigners are coming to the U.S. in search of work: They know there are fewer jobs available. And the reduced flow seems to be easing American anxieties somewhat...".


Posted by VisaLawyer at May 8, 2009 09:34 AM


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