The stalemate in immigration reform and the underlying cause

Karoun Demirjian of the NY Times provides a short history of attempts by Congress to pass an immigration bill in the past 25 years: 2006, 2008, 2010, 2013, and 2018. I put these failures into a context of increasing polarization of the immigration issue between parties — especially the shift of the Republican party from being fairly friendly to immigration to being opposed.

Until the late 2000s, there was very rough similarity among Republicans and Democrats on their immigration views. (Go here.) Both parties were interally diverse in views. Since then, the Republicans became increasingly restrictionist, if not blatantly anti-immigration, while the Democrats become more uniformly inclusivist.

1960s through mid 1990s – bipartisan

Over generations, popular sentiment has been vaguely inclined to not to increase immigration, but also not to cut it back. Party lines were not clearly drawn because both parties were internally conflicted.

A 1965 Gallup survey showed that….Republicans and Democrats were divided internally, with similar shares of respondents in both parties favoring a decrease. In 1977, a survey continued to show that partisan differences were negligible. In 1986, as the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) was passing with a bipartisan congressional majority, a CBS News/New York Times poll recorded no statistically significant partisan differences in opinion toward overall immigration levels.

2000s: tension while bipartisan reform fails

The 9/11 attack sharply heightened concerns about illegal immigration. After a while, Rep concern about mass immigration stayed high but most Dems and, by even more, Independents stopped expressing concern.

President George W. Bush expressed support for immigration reform. In his 2007 State of the Union address, he said, “We need to uphold the great tradition of the melting pot that welcomes and assimilates new arrivals.”

In 2007, there was a concerted bipartisan effort in the Senate to pass comprehensive legislation, such as The Strive Act, proposed by Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ).

Reps have conflated the issue of immigration with the issue of law and order. Pew Research polls suggest that Reps and Dem come down very differently on the unfairness question. The 2016 Republican Convention platform’s section on immigration demands that legal immigration be cut back, “in light of the alarming levels of unemployment and underemployment in this country.”

2010s: increasing split along party lines

According to Pew Research polling in 2015, about half of Republicans (53%) say immigrants coming to the U.S. make society worse in the long run, compared with just 24% of Democrats. Among Republicans, 71% say immigrants in the U.S. are making crime worse, compared with just 34% of Democrats. 71% of Republicans say immigrants are making the economy worse, compared with 34% of Democrats who say the same.

2018: full blown restrictionist proposal

On January 10, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and other Republicans introduced the Securing America’s Future Act (H.R. 4760). The bill would give Dreamers a three year visa with no right to permanent stay or citizenship, restrict family reunification to spouses and minor children (thus removing adult children and parents), shift the visa lottery to economic visas, and boost border security.

According to The Hill, “Addressing these four issues — border security, the visa lottery, chain migration, and then something for DACA recipients — is a great first step,” Goodlatte told reporters as he returned to the Capitol. “I think there are a lot of other things that need to be done on immigration.”


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