Trump’s limited options in immigration

August 23rd, 2016

Donald Trump is likely to amplify his simple, emotional messaging about immigration. A more nuanced approach might look paralyzed.

The NY Times reports that Trump is delaying into next week a speech on immigration, a topic which he frames almost entirely in the context of law enforcement against violators, especially border control. The majority of Americans per polls does not believe that the federal government effectively controls who comes in and who stays.

He calls for mass deportation of the 11 million-plus undocumented residents. At a practical level, mass deportation is frustrated by a web of legal protections for undocumented residents. These protections arose out of federal civil rights advances since the mid 20th Century. In an era of increasing civil rights it’s inconceivable that mass deportation would happen.

His plan is also problematic because it is easy to characterize mass deportation as intensely cruel. Many undocumented people are married to American citizens. There are about 4.5 million children born in the U.S. under the age of 18 at least one of whose parents is undocumented. Some 1.6 million of these children are under the age of five.

There are four basic ways to control illegal immigration: border control, employer sanctions, guest worker programs, and legalization. America has the largest illegal immigrant population in the world, and any effective plan for immigration control must use all four approaches. It’s hard to see how Trump or Clinton would want to discuss this.

Column: Serious Debate About Immigration Is Needed

August 21st, 2016

My column published by the Valley News, Lebanon, New Hampshire, August 20, 2016

On Monday August 15, Donald Trump presented a version of his views about foreigners coming to the United States. He disrupts what popular debate over immigration exists by building an immigration policy exclusively on what to many is a secondary issue — the risk of terrorist acts carried out by foreigners.

But his disruption may turn out to be beneficial, if Congress addresses immigration reform in 2017. It’s beneficial as there has not been a real debate about immigration worthy of the term debate for a very long time, maybe not in the lifetime of today’s retirees. By smashing up the current fake debate, he may induce politicians to talk more thoughtfully.

In a “nation of immigrants,” politicians have been unable to articulate in a public forum a succinct rationale for immigration, and a vision that provides a context for immigration policy. Laws on immigration are, after the tax code, the longest segment in the entire body of federal laws, yet a concise statement of national purpose is hard to find. For the most part, public discussion about immigration begins with picking apart one aspect of the issue and ends there. This includes the topics of illegal immigration, economic gains or losses from immigration, and the imagined infiltration of Sharia law advocates.

The United States has made a huge bet that immigrants — a lot of them — will benefit the country.

Since Congress passed in 1965 a permissive reform to the very restrictive and overtly racist 1924 act, the foreign-born population has soared, especially since about 1980. The foreign-born share of residents has doubled to about 13 percent today. Foreigners are much more likely today to live outside the historical aggregations of immigrants, such as New York and Chicago.

Demographically, they can be said to be driving the bus. They are younger on average. Relatively few new foreign-born entrants (5 percent) are over the age of 65. They are more likely to work, hence 16 percent of the workforce is foreign-born. Those with higher education degrees (about 28 percent) on average earn more than native-born college graduates. They have a higher fertility rate. Hence, 30 percent of children in America (under the age of 18) are either foreign-born or the children of foreign-born — that is, second-generation.

While native-born Americans are experiencing what some call a “demographic winter,” the foreign-born and their offspring are incrementally more and more of the productive force in the country. The highly respected Pew Research Center forecasts that 93 percent of the growth of the nation’s working-age population between now and 2050 will be accounted for by immigrants and their U.S.-born children.

The last time Washington talked coherently about immigration was probably during the 1990s, when the Commission on Immigration Reform (known as the Jordan Commission, for its chairwoman, Barbara Jordan, a former Democratic congresswoman from Texas) issued a series of reports drawing upon its research and made a concerted and largely successful attempt by commission members to speak with one voice.

The commission examined and made recommendations on virtually every aspect of the immigration system: family reunification, employment-based immigration, enforcement measures to stem unauthorized immigration, and numerical limits on all classes of immigrants, non-immigrants, and asylees.

Between 1994 and 1997, it issued four reports. In the last report, “Becoming An American: Immigration and Immigrant Policy,” the commission defined a vision in 90 words:

“Properly-regulated immigration and immigrant policy serves the national interest by ensuring the entry of those who will contribute most to our society and helping lawful newcomers adjust to life in the United States. It must give due consideration to shifting economic realities. A well-regulated system sets priorities for admission; facilitates nuclear family reunification; gives employers access to a global labor market while protecting U.S. workers; helps to generate jobs and economic growth; and fulfills our commitment to resettle refugees as one of several elements of humanitarian protection of the persecuted.”

The commission recommended that permanent residency (“green card”) numbers go down by about a third from the prevailing annual level of about 600,000 then. Today, about one million green cards are issued annually.

Having followed immigration issues for many years, I’ve seen how some issues, such as competition for jobs between immigrant and native-born workers, are discussed out of the context of other issues. I’ve seen how rarely people think of immigration as a long, multigenerational process, and demand quick results.

And, as a person inclined on the whole toward a permissive approach, I have seen how my own thinking improves when I listen to or read a thoughtful argument for a restrictive approach. I hope that Trump’s riotous proposals drive politicians to think and talk more coherently about this vital aspect of American life

Breitbart and Trump’s immigration ideas

August 18th, 2016

With the arrival of a key Breitbart executive to the top ranks of the Trump campaign, count on a high-decibel nativist assault on immigrants and immigration by Trump. A large part of the Breitbart publication’s content is devoted to immigration topics such as “the refugee resettlement industry.”

A typical article, published on August 16, starts with:

The politically powerful refugee resettlement industry is accelerating its propaganda campaign to significantly increase the number of Muslim refugees allowed into the United States with a rally in Washington, D.C., on August 28. “You have got to hand it to them (to the likes of George Soros and big progressive funders like the Tides Foundation), they know how to promote a propaganda campaign,” Ann Corcoran of Refugee Resettlement Watch says of the August 28 event.

The financial backers of the rally include most of the big political players in the lucrative refugee resettlement industry, where government funded “voluntary agencies” [VOLAGs] receive more than $1 billion from taxpayers annually to resettle on average 70,000 refugees each year in the United States.

Among those rally sponsors on the VOLAG federal gravy train are the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (whose local affiliate is currently embroiled in the Twin Falls, Idaho refugee rape controversy), Church World Service, the International Rescue Committee, World Relief, HIAS (formerly known as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society), the Episcopal Church, and the Ethiopian Community Development Council, Inc…….

Community colleges and immigrants

August 17th, 2016

Community college is the favored pathway of immigrants into high education. In 2009, the median income within all racial groups for adults with an associate’s degree was nearly twice that of persons who did not complete high school and nearly 40% greater than that of persons with only a high school degree.

A study found that in 2003–04, about a quarter of the nation’s 6.5 million degree seeking community college students came from an immigrant background. Among Latinos, Asians and Blacks, immigrants were more likely to attend community college than their native born peers. A study of the freshman class at the City University of New York (CUNY) system in 1997 found that 59.9% of the foreign-born students began in an associate’s degree program.

Financial aid: The proportion of immigrants who were low-income and therefore eligible for Pell grants (the largest federal program that subsidizes college costs for low-income students) was similar to the proportion of low-income native-born students.

Difficulty of completion: More than half of immigrants in college are over the age of twenty-four, one-third have dependents, and three-quarters work either part or full time while attending college as part-time students—all characteristics that are risk factors for dropping out of college.

Remediation: less than 25% of students who began community college in remedial courses completed a degree or certificate within eight years, compared with 40% of community college students who did not enroll in any remedial courses as first-time freshmen. In a study of a single urban community college, 85% of immigrants required remediation as first-time freshmen, often as a result of deficient English-language skills, compared with 55% of native-born students.

Percent of Latinos with higher ed who use community colleges is about 50% compared to 30% for whites…go here.

Source: Immigrants in community colleges, by Robert T. Teranishi, Carola Suárez-Orozco, and Marcelo Suárez-Orozco. Spring 2011 issue of The Future of Children

Stemming demographic winter: Immigrants slow population decline in many counties

August 15th, 2016

The Pew Research Center has determined that if current immigration trends and birth rates continue, by 2050 virtually all (93%) of the nation’s working age population growth will come from immigrants and their U.S.-born children. The absolute decline of native born workers is an element in the Demographic Winter. Immigrants bring with them the Spring.

Pew has published an overview of immigrant/native born demographic shifts by county, metro area and state. Its summary:

Over the past 25 years, the total immigrant population has increased and spread across the country. In 1990, the foreign-born population was 19.7 million or 7.9% of the U.S. total, with nearly 3 out of 4 immigrants (73%) living in either California, Florida, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, or Texas. By 2010, approximately 40 million immigrants made up 13% of the overall population, and the proportion of immigrants residing in the six leading states dropped to 65%.

This brief illustrates how, in some places, an influx of foreign-born individuals slowed overall population loss and even reversed it. This is consistent with past research that has found that immigration continues to shape the country’s demography, particularly in newer immigrant destinations. The Chicago Council on Global Affairs has shown that immigration has mitigated population loss in the Midwest at the state level and in metropolitan areas. This brief updates and expands on previous research by providing a county-level analysis of the entire nation over two decades and presenting the demographic context for future research on the impact of immigration on state and local economies and budgets.

We find four key trends.

Immigrants have moved beyond traditional gateways.

Native-born population has declined in Middle America.

Immigration has driven population growth in the Sun Belt, Pacific Northwest, and Mountain States. Increases in the number of immigrants have driven overall growth in many counties, particularly in the South and West.

Immigration has slowed population declines in Middle America.

The median age of the total U.S. population is rising, and the ratio of seniors (ages 65+) to working age people (ages 25-64) is increasing. Immigration mitigates these trends by adding working age adults to the U.S. population. Nearly half of immigrants admitted between 2003 and 2012 were between the ages of 20 and 40, while only 5% were ages 65 or older.

Why have immigration? David Miller on immigration policy

August 15th, 2016

Miller’s “Strangers in Our Midst” (2015) is the Oxford University professor’s latest work on immigration policy from the perspective of political philosophy. He says that immigration policy is more than “weighing up economic gains and losses or protecting human rights, it also raises difficult questions about the way we understand ourselves as members of political communities with long histories and rich cultures.”

I’m going to try to summarize how Miller thinks immigration policy should be designed – that is, primarily as an expression of political values. He says that for a liberal democracy, immigration policy should by guided by four values (pg. 157):

Cosmopolitanism: should we consider all the world’s people as fundamentally equal, with equal rights of movement, residence and social and political rights? Miller says in contrast with universal equality, members of a society have obligations to each other that need to be recognized and fulfilled otherwise the nation state can’t be preserved. He calls these “associative obligations.” He calls this “weak cosmopolitanism.”

National self-determination: the democratic nation state must provide immigrants substantially equal rights and protections of native-born citizens, including access to citizenship, but can limit immigration in order to preserve internal mutual trust and true self-determination. Separate and exclusive cultural identities can erode self-determination in is view.

Fairness: He seems to say that a democratic nation state must adhere unconditionally to its principles of distributive justice and reciprocity of obligations between the state and individuals, regardless of citizenship status (or even legal right to be in the country).

Social integration: Miller’s fourth value is to me an attribute of national self-determination.

He thinks of refugees as a unique class. States have a “remedial obligation” to admit them because their states do not ensure human rights (pg. 92). States have a duty of care to make sure they do not have to return to their country of origin (pg. 78).

The “Turbo Tax” for Green Cards and Citizenship

August 14th, 2016

A former Mormon missionary who married a Korean women launched Simple Citizen, a web service to reduce the legal costs of managing immigration – related applications.


Limited English Proficiency in US: one in ten workers

August 10th, 2016

According to a Brookings study, English proficiency is an essential gateway to economic opportunity for immigrant workers in the United States, but nearly one in 10 working-age U.S. adults—19.2 million persons aged 16 to 64—is considered to have limited English proficiency (LEP).

Working-age LEP adults earn 25 – 40% less than their English proficient counterparts. While less educated overall than English proficient adults, most LEP adults have a high school diploma, and 15 percent hold a college degree.

The size of the working-age LEP population is more than 2.5 times what it was in 1980, and the LEP share of the U.S. working-age population has almost doubled from 4.8% in 1980 to 9.3% in 2012. In Miami and Los Angeles LEP adults represent about a quarter of the working age population. San Francisco is the only other metro area. In New York City, about 18%.

There are shortages in English as a second language education, as evidenced by long waiting lists for instruction.

Brookings recommends:

  • Increase funding from the Workforce Investment Act, the main source of federal funding for adult education, and more funding at at the state and local level
  • Increase employer-initiated English education programs
  • Innovate instruction at the worksite, online, and by mobile device.

The leading certifications for teaching English as a second language to adults in the U.S. are TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) and TESOL. My partner Rilla Murray obtained a certification in the Cambridge University program, CELTA (Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages).



The Hispanic vote in Arizona in 2016

August 8th, 2016

Republican presidential candidates have won Arizona in the past four elections, getting 54% of the vote in 2012. As of today FiveThirtyEight predicts 46.4% for Trump, 46.3% for Clinton, and 5.9% for Johnson. How might the Hispanic and other minority vote affect the outcome?

The Hispanic vote is credited with moving New Mexico into the Democratic column, and it may well be determinative this November in Nevada and Colorado. Arizona is on the edge.

Romney won 53.5% of the vote in Arizona in 2012. Obama won 74% Hispanic vote then, according to exit polls by NBC.

The Center For American Progress Action Fund, in a December, 2015 analysis of six states, says that the Latino population in Arizona increased from 13% in 1980 to 33% today. Whites, today 55% of the population, are 66.7% of eligible voters and 74% of the electorate. Latinos, with 33% of the population, make up 22.6% of eligible voters and 18% of actual voters. (Nationwide, Latinos may account for 12% of the entire presidential vote in November.) Asian/other voters are 7.7% of eligible voters in 2016.

The Pew Research Center reported national polling results that Clinton is well ahead of Trump among Latinos, but the spread varies among voter segments. Among millennials (18 to 35 year olds) – who make up 44% of all Hispanic eligible voters – Clinton leads 71%-19%. Her advantage is roughly as large (65%-26%) among older Hispanics (those 36 and older). Among Hispanic women, 71% say they support Clinton while 19% say they support Trump. By contrast, among Hispanic men, 61% support Clinton and 30% support Trump.

Clinton holds an 80%-11% lead among Hispanic voters who are bilingual or Spanish-dominant (those who are more proficient in Spanish than English); these voters make up about 57% of all Latino registered voters. However, among the smaller group of Hispanic voters (43%) who are English-dominant – those who are more proficient in English than Spanish – just 48% back Clinton (41% would vote for Trump).


1995 and 1996: when Immigration was almost curtailed

August 6th, 2016

In the mid 1990s Congress came close to reducing the volume of legal immigration. It failed. It did enact a bill to focused on cracking down on illegal immigration, which eventually had no impact on the volume of illegal residents. Below is a capsule history of these failed efforts. Read this with 2016 in mind.


The 1980s saw a great increase in the award of green cards (legal permanent residency) due to the Immigration Control and Reform Act of 1986. That act legalized three million immigrants who had entered the U.S. before 1982. The underlying rate of green card issuance to new arrivals stayed at around 600,000. Unauthorized immigrant migration grew, from 3.5 million in 1990 to 5.7 million in 1995.

First, California politics blows up over immigration

Southern California experienced the surge acutely, with the foreign born population of Los Angeles Country growing from 11% in 1970 to 33% in 1990.

Pete Wilson, a Republican who as mayor of San Diego (1971 – 1983) and U.S. Senator (1983 – 1991) had been arguing for a formal guest worker program for many years, served as state governor between 1991 and 1999.

While he was governor, California became the first state to enact a law, through Referendum 187 in 1994, that severely restricted access of undocumented residents from public services, such as health care and education. A federal court ruled in 1998 that the law was unconstitutional.

Wilson was running for gubernatorial re-election in 1994, against Democrat Kathleen Brown, a member of the Brown political dynasty. In 1993, Wilson issued an “open letter” to the national media saying that illegal immigration was an intolerable burden to state and local governments. The 1994 election year, punctuated by the Northbridge earthquake, saw a loud debate about immigration, resulting in 59-41 vote in favor of Proposition 187 and Wilson’s re-election. 66% of those with a high school or less education voted in favor.

Then, Congress fumbles

In his 1995 State of the Union address, President Clinton said, “All Americans, not only in the states most heavily affected, but in every place in this country are rightly disturbed by the large numbers of illegal aliens entering our country.” In the Spring, the Jordan Commission issued a report recommending a sharp reduction in family-based green cards. Family based green cards, a feature of the 1965 immigration reform, were mainly granted to Mexicans. The Commission intended to reduce green card awards by about a third in total. The house of Representatives, now in the hands of Republicans for the first time in decades, created a immigration task force chaired by immigration restrictionist Elton Gallegy.

A bill reflecting the Commission and the task force was submitted June 22. The bill called for lower green card issuance, penalties employers who hire undocumented workers, and other measures. A key feature of the bill was the inclusion of both legal and illegal immigration provisions. A house sub-committee approved a version of the bill in the Fall on a largely party line vote, under the oversight of Congressman Lamar Smith.

Opponents to the bill were a strange coalition of church groups (who were pro-family reunification and pro refugee settlement), businesses that relied on cheap labor, such as hospitality, and Republican politicians (such as Jack Kemp) wanting not to alienate non-white constituencies. The Democrats were largely united in opposition. The opponents’ strategy was to split the legal and illegal immigration parts, to better protect the status quo of legal immigration laws.

Senator Alan Simpson submitted his own bill in November 1995 which would drastically lower family based immigration and lower employment based immigration by one third, and also lower refugee settlement.

Eventually most of the reductions in legal immigration were removed, and in the mid 1996 the House passed by 228-101 and the Senate by 78-21 the Illegal Immigrant Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996. The last remaining provision that was removed was that of denying the right of undocumented children to receive a public education (the Gallegly amendment). The court and enforcement system for unauthorized persons of today was largely created by this law.

Kicking legal immigrants off public assistance

Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 constrained legal immigrants from government services. First, most non-citizens who arrived in the country before August 22, 1996 were to be removed from SSI and food stamp rolls within a year. (This provision of the legislation, however, was never fully enforced).
Second, immigrants who entered the United States after August 22, 1996 are prohibited for five years from receiving most types of public assistance. The ban is lifted when the immigrant becomes an American citizen. (This summary by George Borjas, here). This restriction was carried in the Affordable Care Act.


The new Republican Congress failed to reduce the level of legal immigration. It pursued, and got President Clinton to sign, new provisions that beefed up law enforcement and prevented / discouraged legal immigrants from accessing public programs. In sum, those who were concerned about foreigner free-loading off the country gained a partial victory. As Lamar Smith said at the time, “Immigration is not an entitlement, it is a privilege.” Republicans tried to make English the exclusive legal language, but abandoned the effort in face of a certain Clinton veto.

And, the law had little effect on the volume of both legal and illegal immigration in the years after.