March 26, 1996
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Here to discuss some of the key issues in the immigration debate are Cecilia Munoz, deputy vice president for policy at the National Council of La Raza, a Latino civil rights organization; Priscilla Labovitz, a Washington immigration lawyer; Harold Ezell, chairman of Americans Against Illegal Immigration and co-author of Proposition 187, the initiative designed to cut services to illegal immigrants in California; and George Borjas, professor of public policy at the Harvard University Kennedy School of Government. Welcome to all of you. Mr. Ezell, why the big push for immigration reform? What is the problem, in your view?
HAROLD EZELL, Americans Against Illegal Immigration: (Los Angeles) I think that our immigration policy must be in the national interest and up until now and the recommendations from the Commission on Immigration Reform, there's never really been a study made as to what is good--
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Excuse me. That was the commission that you were on that came out with a study last year.
MR. EZELL: Yes.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Headed by Barbara Jordan.
MR. EZELL: The Late Barbara Jordan, yes. And this commission made some very fair and balanced recommendations, and there's nobody on the commission to my knowledge that's against immigration. They're for legal immigration. And I don't think there's any debate over the issue that illegal immigration is not good for America.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: But the push right now is because, in your view, both legal and illegal need reform, is that right?
MR. EZELL: I think that the issue of chain migration and the ongoing immigration queuing up of people who are not part of the nuclear family that makes the first entry into the United States under our immigration laws should not be considered as part of the removing and relocating of the family tree to America.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Okay. Do you think there's a problem that needs to be fixed, Ms. Labovitz?
PRISCILLA LABOVITZ, Immigration Lawyer: We have a lot of problems, but I don't think this is the fix that would do it. When Mr. Ezell speaks of extended families or nuclear families, I don't think we're all using the same definitions. The legislation that's been proposed is described as reducing the immigration of extended families. However, current law says the only people who can come in are the--
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Excuse me one minute. Before we get into legislation--we're going to deal with that later--is there a problem that needs immigration reform? Why is there such a push for immigration reform right now, in your view?
MS. LABOVITZ: Those are two different questions.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Okay. Let's take the second question.
MS. LABOVITZ: Okay. I think there's a push right now because we have a lot of problems in our country. People feel insecure both in their homes and they feel insecure economically. They don't know what's happening, and these--those kinds of problems are very difficult to solve, and our leaders have had some difficulty with coming up with good solutions; however, it's a lot easier to propose something like Proposition 187, umm, and suggest that somehow if we reduce the benefits, we reduce the way--if we decrease the humanitarian--the humanity which we treat immigrants, that somehow our problems with go away, that if we could just get rid of these immigrants, then our economy would be on the road to, to new success. And I think the facts do not bear that out.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mr. Borjas, what do you think about that?
GEORGE BORJAS, Harvard University: (Boston) I think we're having a debate over legal immigration for a very good reason. They have been certain trends over the last twenty or thirty years that have really had an impact on the way that immigrants fit into the U.S. economy. Most, most particularly, there has been a trend towards a less skilled immigrant force compared to natives. I mean, it's quite remarkable that a short time ago, only 26 years ago, the typical immigrant in this country actually earned more than natives. Today, it's exactly the opposite; immigrants earn a lot less than natives. So it's really a clear trend to skill level of immigrants as compared to natives. Now the reason that's important is because a less skilled immigrant flow essentially implies two things: One is it will have an impact on the earnings opportunities of less skilled native workers, and there is mounting evidence that, indeed, that is happening, and secondly has an impact on social services and the cost of social service in particular.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Okay. I'm going to come back to that in some detail, but first, do you think we need to have immigration reform?
CECILIA MUNOZ, National Council of La Raza: I think there's a public consensus that we ought to control against illegal immigration, but that we ought to do it in sensible, reasonable, and effective ways. And the problem with this legislation is that its sponsors really overreached. By going after legal immigrants, they basically would be preventing U.S. citizens from reuniting in many cases with their own children because their children are over 21 years old.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: But right now, all that's in Congress is a, is a bill having to do with illegal immigrants.
MS. MUNOZ: In the House, yes, that's--
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Yes.
MS. MUNOZ: --right. And that bill is also--
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: So you're worried--you're now speaking about the, what might happen in the Senate.
MS. MUNOZ: Well, indeed, and even the House legislation--
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Let's stay with the illegal question for a while. What do you think of the bill that the House has now passed and that the Senate Judiciary Committee has passed which has certain provisions that you saw in Kwame's report to deal with illegal immigration, beefing up the Border Patrol, bigger fence in San Diego, that kind of thing.
MS. MUNOZ: There are a lot of pieces of this bill which make sense, but unfortunately, on this bill, the sponsors also overreached in a couple of very significant ways. One, they added an amendment which would allow the states to deny education to undocumented kids, to throw kids out of school. When Californians voted for that provision, what they got themselves was protracted litigation of all kinds of battles in the courts, expensive battles in the courts. And it hasn't accomplished very much towards immigration control. By adding that provision, by creating a massive database for all workers in the United States, that's voluntary for employees but not voluntary for workers, I think the sponsors of this bill have overreached, have gone too far in ways which I think might jeopardize the, the passage of sensible, reasonable, effective immigration control legislation, and I think that's what the public is clamoring for.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What do you think about that, Mr. Ezell. Yes, Mr. Ezell, what do you think about that?
MR. EZELL: Elizabeth, you can't have it both ways. You know, you can hear Cecilia talk about yes, we ought to control the border and yes, illegal immigration is wrong, but when you put anything concrete into a bill that says, look, we're not going to continue to educate every kid in the world that just gets here illegally or any way they can get here for the next 12 years after the first grade, we can't afford it, we can't afford to continue to spend like in our state $3 billion on the infrastructure to support illegal immigration.
MS. MUNOZ: I think the--
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Ms. Munoz.
MS. MUNOZ: --the real question in California is can you afford to, really to throw kids out of school and to deal with the real costs associated with doing that? I mean, what does Proposition 187 get the residents of California, who want immigration control and who deserve effective and reasonable immigration control? They got themselves litigation, and that is not immigration reform.
MR. EZELL: Yeah, but I think that--
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mr. Ezell, you helped write 187.
MR. EZELL: --Prop 187 got exactly what we were after. It got this issue on a national basis that you can look at the laws that were passed that would not have passed had there not been a Prop 187 in California.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mr. Borjas, what do you think about the, the legislation that's in the House right now?
MR. BORJAS: I mean, I think if we're seriously trying to stop the illegal alien flow, we'll have to do something to penalize illegal aliens, themselves. But I think on top of that, we also have to worry about the employer sanctions aspect of this. I mean, so far, there's been very little attention paid to the fact that for the most part employer sanctions as they currently exist are really a joke. Very few employers are affected and unless we handle the employer side, I think that it's going to be very difficult to stop the illegal alien flow.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: There are no employer sanctions in either the House or the Senate version of this bill so far, are there?
MS. MUNOZ: There are employer sanctions in current law, but what this bill really fails to do is to target employers who are deliberately hiring illegal workers because they don't have to pay them, because they know they don't have to pay them. And what this bill does, instead, is tell those employers, well, if you want, you can use a verification system to verify your workers. But does anybody believe that the sweat shop owners in Los Angeles are going to use--are actually going to use a verification system? These are folks who are hiring illegal workers on purpose because they don't want to have to pay them decent wages.
MR. EZELL: But, Cecilia--
MS. MUNOZ: We're not cracking down on those employers in this bill, and that's what we should be doing.
MR. EZELL: Cecilia, your group fought the employer verification system. Now, you can't have it both ways. I believe it's not the job of the employer to hire legal or illegal. It's the job of the United States Government to have a system that can protect an employer and the employee. And it can't be a voluntary system like we finally came to.
MS. MUNOZ: And the way to do that is to go after employers who are deliberately hiring and exploiting illegal immigrants. We're not targeting those employers in this legislation, and that's where we're making a mistake.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What do you think about this legislation? You have written in the past about how many factual errors are made in talking about this discussion. Do you think the legislation so far is based on, on the right facts?
MS. LABOVITZ: I don't think it's based on reality. I think it's based on some of the hysteria that has been stirred up. In fact, legal immigration has dropped off; between 1993 and 1994, it dropped over 9 percent. The numbers of people coming from--
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: How about illegal immigration?
MS. LABOVITZ: Illegal immigration has, has not dropped, but we haven't made so serious an attempt to control it has been done in this recent, in this recent legislation. Umm, I think that the legislation that has--the legislations that have been proposed haven't looked so much at the facts as looked at what they think people want to see them saying in Congress. They want--they want to go on record as saying that they've had enough of illegal immigration and we're not going to put up with it anymore when, in fact, what their job ought to be is to figure out how to solve the problems in the country and sensibly regulate immigration but not cut back on the immigration of families, necessary workers, and to make the charge that immigrants are taking away jobs from Americans which are--and, in fact, I think somebody said, a lot of the jobs that we're talking about is competition for the very worst jobs that there are, and the real competition, I mean, the real struggle ought to be to restructure the economy so that we're creating the kind of jobs that everybody wants, that America's workers want, and move the focus from the other people who might be competing from those--for those few jobs.
MR. EZELL: George, do you believe that?
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: I want to talk about this job issue for a minute. Mr. Borjas, this is certainly one of the main arguments that, that you have referred to and other people have made, that immigrants are taking jobs that people in this country would take. Would you outline that argument, and then we'll go around on it.
MR. BORJAS: I just heard the argument that immigrants take jobs that natives don't want. Well, the correct statement really is immigrants take jobs that natives don't want at the current wage. If immigrants weren't here, natives wouldn't--and we still wanted those goods and services--the wage of those jobs would go up. In fact, there's really mounting evidence that a lot of the increasing wage inequality, particularly for high school dropouts or less educated workers in the 1980's, was due to immigration. As you know, there was a really sizeable increase in the wage gap between high school dropouts and the rest of the labor market, or particularly between high school dropouts and college graduates in the 1980's. And there's a few studies already that actually document that perhaps 20 to 40 percent of the increase in the wage gap or the decrease in the real wage of less educated workers can be traced directly to immigration. So I think the large scale immigration of unskilled workers that we saw in the 1980's did have an impact on the wage structure.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mr. Borjas, let me ask you just quickly, what conclusion does this lead you to? I know that the Republicans have--some Republicans have called for as much as a 30 percent cut in the number of people coming legally. Now, we're into the legal realm here.
MR. BORJAS: Right.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Would you support that? Do you think that's the answer?
MR. BORJAS: I think an answer will be that we have to worry much more about the large scale influx of less skilled workers into the country. We care about the less skilled workers already here, so I think unavoidably, one would want to bring in factors that include the skill of the worker in terms of letting people into the country.
MS. LABOVITZ: If we care about the unskilled American worker, we should educate and train the unskilled American worker. We shouldn't just prevent him from having to compete with people from abroad.
MS. MUNOZ: It's important to understand who the immigrants are that we're talking about. Legal immigrants are by and large the parents, the spouses, the kids of American citizens. I mean, those are the folks who are being cut in this legislation, and the sponsors were using a definition of family which didn't include our 21-year-old, 22-year-old children. That's inconsistent with the American family, and it doesn't particularly help us economically to tell Americans I'm sorry but your kids aren't really part of your family. I mean, these, these immigrants are not just numbers we're talking about here. We're talking about the closest family members of Americans who are the only people allowed in under our system. Those are the folks being targeted.
MR. EZELL: Elizabeth--
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: You want to weigh in here, Mr. Ezell?
MR. EZELL: Yes, I do. Elizabeth, very poll taken, particularly the Roper Poll of just a few weeks ago, said that 86 percent of Americans want less of a number of legal immigration. Of that 86 percent, 54 percent of those said they want it to be capped at 300,000. Now, I'm not proposing a 300,000 cap. I think on the one extreme you've got the moratorium. On the other extreme, you've got people like Priscilla and Cecilia that want to do nothing, just leave it alone. I say a moderate approach is let's get a number down that is in the best interests of America, not in the Immigration Lawyers Association or in La Raza or anybody else, but what's good for American citizens. 86 percent says our number is too high.
MS. MUNOZ: I suspect if you ask those 86 percent if they think that Americans ought to be separated from their closest family members, they would change their answer.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Do you think the number is so high because of economic insecurity, because people are worried that they're not going to get jobs, they're going to be laid off, and somebody else is going to get that job? Do you think that's what's happening?
MS. MUNOZ: Sure. And in fact, there's organizations and individuals running around trying to convince people who are worried about illegal immigration that they ought to be worried about all immigration. That's, in fact, what the sponsors of this bill did, and fortunately, Congress and the House was wise enough to separate the issues and, and to say people want and deserve reasonable reform of illegal immigration, and let's have a real debate to make sure that we get there, and we're in danger of not getting there in a sensible way, because the sponsors are overreaching.
MS. LABOVITZ: Proponents of reduction or elimination of immigration ask the questions in the poll. They ask: Would you like to see a cut in immigration and would you like a $300,000 cap--a 300,000 number cap? I seriously doubt that Americans have any idea about the exact numbers of people that are coming in. These are, these are cooked questions for--that are--that are designed to come up with answers that support a particular point of view which is that immigration is a bad thing, there's too many of them, and as Mr. Borjas said, there was so much immigration in the 80's. Yes, there was, but there hasn't been in the 90's.
MR. EZELL: Oh, there has.
MS. LABOVITZ: They're living on old statistics--
MR. EZELL: Come on.
MS. LABOVITZ: --in order to push an agenda.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: I wish we could go on with this but that's all the time we have.
MR. EZELL: Elizabeth, let me ask you one question.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: We have to go, Mr. Ezell. I'm sorry. We'll revisit this again. Don't worry.
MR. EZELL: All right. Thank you.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Thanks.
MR. BORJAS: Thank you.