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Fixing Immigration and More, Part One

#1410 Fixing Immigration, Part One.
FEED DATE: May 4, 2006
Tamar Jacoby

Opening Billboard: Funding for this program is provided by the Bernard and Irene Schwartz Foundation, the Smith Richardson Foundation, and the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation.

WATTENBERG: Hello, Iím Ben Wattenberg. America is divided on immigration. Some say that immigration hurts American workers. Others maintain that immigrants are a vital part of our economic engine. President George W. Bush supports a temporary guest-worker program, but proposals in Congress range from building a wall at the Mexican border to putting millions of illegal immigrants on the path to citizenship. Most everyone agrees that current immigration policy doesnít work. What should we do about it? To Find Out, Think Tank is joined this week by Tamar Jacoby, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and a leading neo-conservative, author of, 'Reinventing the Melting Pot: The New Immigrants and What it Means to be American.' The Topic Before the House: Fixing Immigration and More, Part One, this week on Think Tank.

WATTENBERG: Tamar Jacoby, welcome back to Think Tank.

JACOBY: Glad to be here.

WATTENBERG: Well, great. Tell us about you.

JACOBY: Iím a journalist by training. I worked for the New York Times for many years and for Newsweek... Late Ď90ís, I decided that if I was going to be a writer, Iíd like to be writing about what I really cared about rather than the weekís assignment or Topic A, I really wanted to dig my teeth into something and know something about something and -- and have some extra...

WATTENBERG: And that took you to immigration?

JACOBY: Well, that first took me to race. I spent about ten years thinking about race in America and thinking about what had happened since the Civil Rights Movement. And I spent a lot of time writing and talking about race but I started to think, you know, the question that had really driven me to think about that, which was what kind of country are we and can we be with as much difference as we have in the country, with as much diversity, you know, whatís no longer...

WATTENBERG: ...and assimilation, and...

JACOBY: ...and that took me to immigration and assimilation and then I eventually...

WATTENBERG: ...as Franklin Roosevelt said, we are all immigrants, right.

JACOBY: We are all immigrants.

WATTENBERG: ...That happens to be a true fact, but okay.

JACOBY: And then -- and then Iíd been bitten by the bug of immigration and Iíve been doing that, it must be seven, eight years now. And you go from the assimilation questions to the how many do we let in and who and why because thatís a key part of it.

WATTENBERG: Youíve actually moved down from the New York area to the Washington Metroplex area to follow this thing.

JACOBY: Well, thatís the other transition. Iíve gone from being what you might call a disinterested writer to somebody who is really trying to make something happen.

WATTENBERG: Okay, so. Letís have it in a nutshell first. Whatís going on with immigration policy?

JACOBY: The issue has ripened in an incredible way just in the last couple of months really; itís been ripening for a year, but...

WATTENBERG: A couple of months meaning spring 2006.

JACOBY: I would say yes.


JACOBY: The public finally has realized that it isnít working, that the system is dysfunctional, and different parts of the public think about it in different ways. Law and order conservatives feel that the rule of law is being eroded. Latinos feel that they -- immigrants and other Latinos feel hereís a whole class of people that are left out of the country. Politicians are realizing that the public is frustrated and upset about it. Itís -- somehow weíve reached a tipping point of concern about it, and thatís translated into congressional attention and we are about to see whether that translates into -- into real action on a bill.

WATTENBERG: I mean, the irony of this thing, at least as I see it, is that not withstanding all of the craziness within the system, which is truly bizarre, it has worked better than anywhere else in the world and I think -- and Iíll explain to you why -- it is our basic comparative advantage over anyone and everyone in the world. Thatís the irony. Everyone says itís terrible, but it isnít really terrible.

JACOBY: I agree with that, but there are two components here, right? One is how good we are at absorbing them and thatís about assimilation and allow -- and helping them find a way to become Americans. And thereís no question that we do that better than anyone in the world, but -- but I would argue that the -- that the system that has twelve million people here -- living here illegally is not a good -- is not a functioning system.

WATTENBERG: Well, you know, letís just quantify that for a minute. You got ďtwelve millionĒ, quotes, illegals and you have three hundred million Americans. But some of them have been here for thirty years. They have children who...

JACOBY: Yeah. Yeah.

WATTENBERG: Okay, so it is a minuscule part of the population. They are not all from Mexico; they are from -- I did a book, as you know, called The First Universal Nation, but we werenít until the 1980ís or so. We were from almost everywhere; now we are from Asia and Latin America and Mexico is a huge part of it...

JACOBY: I disagree that itís okay the way it is. I donít think that we want to be the kind of country where the rule of law gets eroded that way. When you have whole parts of cities and whole industries, and besides, twelve million people, thatís Ohio; thatís almost Pennsylvania, saying that the rules donít matter. I think thatís bad for us. I think itís bad for -- itís really bad for people who have to live in the shadows, but itís bad for us as a country and itís not a very good idea in an age of international terrorism to have that many people - - millions of people who we donít know their real names, we donít know where they live, they live in the shadows and I think we could fix it without very much cost.

WATTENBERG: Well, I believe in that in theory, but this is such an open country, we canít keep out illegal drugs and we canít keep out illegal immigrants and no matter what you do, because itís such a good game in town, in America. Youíre Godspeed, good luck; youíre not going to be able to do it.

JACOBY: I donít think itíll ever be totally, totally, totally, but you could have said in prohibition, weíre doing fine, everybody is getting the drink they need and itís not that bad, but isnít what we have now a little better? More realistic laws that you can enforce.

WATTENBERG: You still have dry counties. You still have dry counties.

JACOBY: You do. And you have illicit behavior, but when you get a realistic law that you can enforce much more easily, I think itís going to work better for everyone including American workers because when illegal workers arenít -- I think they do mostly work above the table, but when they -- but itís got to be somewhat harder for them to bargain for wages and working conditions and that makes it harder for American workers.

WATTENBERG: Yeah, but, as you know, as in every other aspect of our modern society there are these dueling studies. I mean, George Moorehouse says one thing and the other guy says another thing and theyíve all got data and itís pretty hard to sort it out, as you know.

JACOBY: But I donít have any doubt that they are good for the economy, that they help grow the economy. You canít grow a business without workers. That our workforce is getting older and more educated and then I would say that there is one set of numbers you need to know to understand the current immigration. In 1960, half of all American men dropped out of high school and went into unskilled work. Today, less than 10% do, but we still need all kinds of unskilled work and we need somebody to do it.

WATTENBERG: Of course, youíve got the high-end brain drain type...

JACOBY: That too.

WATTENBERG: ...but thatís another story. But one of the great ironies is some of the people who are complaining about this low end immigration, who are the people who are cleaning women and people who do your lawns use them because thatís the only people you can get.

JACOBY: Itís not that Americans are lazy, itís not that they donít want to work, itís that we are increasingly educated, people donít want...


JACOBY: ...I donít know anyone raising their kids to be busboys or farmhands or even really construction much anymore. People want -- it turns out when you ask -- when you know something about the construction world, people want to work construction when their dads worked outside. Not too many dads work outside anymore, people want to work inside, but we still need that all done.

WATTENBERG: Okay, so, what does the phrase ďguest workerĒ mean? Thatís one -- one end of this thing.

JACOBY: Yeah, now there you are on to something and I -- weíve all been saying what we want as a guest worker program and I do have some trouble with that. I think we want a guest worker program but that one that encourages many of the people and the people who want to, to go home and have a good life in Mexico when they are done with their stint here.

WATTENBERG: Which they are going to do...

JACOBY: Which they are going to do if they want to, but also allows the ones who put down roots here, who want to become citizens, who invest in their community, who get what it means to be American and prosper here, it allows them to get onto another track eventually.

WATTENBERG: To get onto a track towards becoming citizens.

JACOBY: Toward becoming -- as we always have.

WATTENBERG: And these demonstrations that weĎve seen, I mean, they got the message, theyíre all waiving American Flags and there had been that incident some years ago that drove Pat Buchanan crazy with that...

JACOBY: Soccer.

WATTENBERG: ...U.S. Mexican Soccer game up in L.A. or San Diego where they were all waiving Mexican Flags.

JACOBY: Well, come on; a soccer game. When I go to a soccer -- you know, when I go to a baseball game I wear my Yankeeís hat, I mean, thatís what they were doing at the game.

WATTENBERG: Well, I think people -- Jews, Italians, whoever, I mean, if a soccer team from Israel came to America and played here -- look, Iím a very patriotic American, I would have a Zionist -- if an Italian team came here and I were the son of an Italian immigrant, I would feel a little something. Itís...

JACOBY: Itís human nature.

WATTENBERG: You can be both.

JACOBY: Exactly, exactly, exactly. I agree with you, but -- and the overwhelming evidence shows that todayís immigrants are assimilating, if anything, faster and more successfully than the Ellis Island way.

WATTENBERG: And learning English more rapidly.

JACOBY: The kids learn English. Sure itís hard for adults to learn English and a lot of the adults are speaking Spanish in the supermarkets or the street or whatever, and that botherís people. And I -- you know, you can sort of see -- if I thought that the kids werenít going to learn Iíd be worried, too. 98% of the kids -- I mean there is no study that finds the kids not learning English.

WATTENBERG: My experience in following this issue, which I have done, is whenever you have doubt just press the pause button and say wait a generation or two and thatís really...

JACOBY: Right. The sociologists say that America is a graveyard for languages, and itís no less true today than it was in the past. Theyíre also -- theyíre also...

WATTENBERG: Engendering often a lot of tragedy within families, as does intermarriage, but thatís...

JACOBY: Thatís the process.

WATTENBERG: Thatís it.

JACOBY: Of course assimilation isnít a total 100% success story, but they are hard-working people with family values, they are patriotic, they are fighting and dying in the armed forces in if not -- if not totally proportionate numbers then very close.

WATTENBERG: You know, I have a number which I -- the Defense Department is an interesting place; they have numbers on everything except whoís going to win a war, but...

JACOBY: How many troops we need.

WATTENBERG: Mexican-Americans have the highest rate of Congressional Medal of Honors...

JACOBY: Yeah, yeah.

WATTENBERG: ...which is the highest rate, which -- than any other group...

JACOBY: Thatís great. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

WATTENBERG: ...in the American Armed Forces.

JACOBY: And there are a lot of people who argue that -- who are alarmed at the Hispanic education gap, and who say, ďLook, the second -- the third generation isnít graduating from high school at any better rate then the second generation.Ē But, I would argue they ought -- Michael Brown has a great argument where he says itís an alternative path into the mainstream; not necessarily straight through higher education and that kind of achievement, but home ownership and entrepreneurship. And you -- this is what you see in the Mexican-American community is the guy who first gets here is the busboy; by the time heís been here twenty-five years, heís buying the coffee shop.

WATTENBERG: I mean, the whole thing, I mean, hereís a guy I saw that in the paper the other day in The Washington Post, Robert Samuelson whoís really one of the smart guys in America who really knows how to use data. If Iím not misquoting him, he came out in favor of this monster wall. Now, thatís a little screwy. I mean, you know, it would so easily -- so easy to avoid it, such a terrible symbol. The thing is getting a little screwy.

JACOBY: Well, there are two answers to Samuelson. I mean, one is that a wall isnít going to work. The way to get control -- we do need better enforcement; what we mostly need enforcement in the workplace. A wall is just not going to get -- a fifty foot wall will soon have fifty-one foot ladders. We wonít be done building the wall and thereíll be...

WATTENBERG: More tunnels...

JACOBY: Tunnels and boats.

WATTENBERG: More people coming in on a visitorís visa and disappearing. You know, I had another favorite number: during the 1980ís a million Poles came to America and disappeared. They came on a visitorís visa...

JACOBY: And disappeared.

WATTENBERG: ...and we lost track of them. They got married, had children. I mean, it -- the Irish, the same thing.

JACOBY: But we do -- and the way to get control is enforcement in the workplace, which we need. But Samuelsonís even bigger point that I -- where I think heís wrong is he said, well, weíre importing poverty. The truth is we are importing a working class because we donít really have a working class anymore.

WATTENBERG: Well, and I donít know if we are importing poverty but we are importing people who will work at lower wages, but the alternative, the follow-on to that is they are subsidizing us, the goods cost less, and...

JACOBY: And the economy is growing, the economy is growing; itís not just the few pennies on the head of lettuce, itís that they come out of the meat packing plant and go into town and buy groceries and shoes for their kids and washing machines and hire plumbers and the whole economy grows.

WATTENBERG: Now, many immigrants have their own strong religious and cultural traditions. I think in Spanish, if Iím not mistaken, itís called the Padrones. Is that right?

JACOBY: Iím not sure.

WATTENBERG: Itís in the back of my head. Particularly Mexicans who are predominantly Roman Catholic are -- and yet you have people like Pat Buchanan who is sort of a professional Catholic among other things coming out with a vicious book and yet they are his kind of folks. Traditional values family, people who are religious.

JACOBY: If I thought that in twenty-five years Spanish would be an equal language with English, and we would be importing Latino fatalism and Mexican authoritarian values, I would worry too. But, I have -- I mean, itís not an illegitimate question to say what kind of country are we going to be. But when you look at the evidence, none of those bad things are happening. These people want to be Americans and Pat Buchanan -- the problem with Pat Buchanan, he doesnít have enough faith in the allure of our ideals and our way of life. Immigrants come and the ones who stay are the ones who love that and understand it.

WATTENBERG: Alright, let me give you my sort of radical notion here, which is never mentioned. First of all, as you know, birth rates and fertility rates are sinking all around the world, including in Mexico.

JACOBY: Yes. Yes.

WATTENBERG: Leading demographers already say itís already below replacement. Now, just think if you have a society that over time is going to go down anyway, and a huge immigration, you end up with a country without any people.


WATTENBERG: Zero except for the few Americans and Germans who own condos...

JACOBY: Who want to move there. Yeah.

WATTENBERG: ...on the gulf side. Now, let me just go through this whole thing because itís very important to me. I think this is the thing that isnít mentioned. Every major country in the world is slated to lose population by gobs. You donít even understand how much itís going down, except America. Roughly speaking population yields power. Now, it doesnít always happen but when you look out into the future and people donít want to talk about macro America. Iíve testified on the Hill about this; nobody wants to -- you donít write about it. What it -- what itís saying in my judgment is immigration and consequent assimilation is our number one comparative advantage and itís going to yield a destiny -- I mean, this is U.N. data weíre at three hundred million; weíre going to four hundred million; weíre going to five hundred million. We -- if you believe that America should be an influential country, which I believe, very much so, thatís the key to it.

JACOBY: Yeah, I will buy this. I buy this.

WATTENBERG: And, you know, no one ever talks about it.

JACOBY: Yeah. Itís a -- I donít know, youíre right; itís a little bit abstract to people because itís so far down the road, and people -- a lot of people have a bugaboo about you know, weíre going to use up all the resources or something. Theyíre scared of the, you know, but obviously youíre right and the only reason I think people donít talk about it more is itís just a little bit, most people donít see the -- that big a picture. Population yields power, thatís the phrase? I might steal it.

WATTENBERG: You got it. Okay, you can...

JACOBY: Socialism of ideas.

WATTENBERG: You can do it without attribution.

JACOBY: Thatís very generous. Iíll call you the first few times.

WATTENBERG: Is what youíre talking about amnesty and doesnít amnesty yield the lure of continued illegality, the idea being that, ďokay, come on across and it will be tough for a while, but sooner or laterĒ... I mean, thatís what happened with IRCA, is that what itís called? The Immigration Reform...

JACOBY: The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986.

WATTENBERG: Yeah. They said everybody here is fine, but no more. Thatís the argument against amnesty.

JACOBY: Two part answer. First, what was wrong with IRCA? It didnít create a pipeline for the workers that we were going to need on a continuing basis to come legally, so it said weíll clean up all of the illegal ones who came in the past because our pipeline isnít big enough, because our pipeline isnít commensurate with our economic needs, but we wonít enlarge our pipeline. So, we cleaned up the old pool so to speak, but we didnít make the pipeline any bigger, so over the next twenty years we got another big pool of illegal people. It wasnít that the amnesty wasnít successful, it was that the other two legs of the stool - which is a worker program and enforcement to make sure that people use the worker program - were not put in place. We just did really one leg of the stool.

WATTENBERG: And it had very mild consequences for the employer.

JACOBY: Not just mild consequences; no tools for them to use to really know whether the workers they were hiring were illegal or not.

WATTENBERG: And now, you all are proposing, and Iím not sure Iím in favor of this, legal consequences for employers where they can go to the slammer if they do the wrong thing.

JACOBY: Itís not just consequences, itís the tool. What we have now is -- the analogy is if you wanted to buy a shirt and you went into the store and you gave the guy a MasterCard and he had to eyeball the MasterCard and if it was wrong, he had to swallow the price of the shirt. All they ask us to do now is show the employer a card; he has no way of knowing whether your social security number or your -- or your Tennessee birth certificate or your report card or whatever you show...

WATTENBERG: Or your Mexican certificate of identification. Right.

JACOBY: ...is valid. He canít ask too many questions, and if heís wrong heís legally liable. We need to give him something like a credit card verification where he swipes the card and it comes back, authorized or not, so he has a way to actually do what we are asking them to do and then we have to prosecute the bad guys. A few high profile cases of big companies doing it wrong, believe you me, we can change the climate. Right now the climate is everybody does it wrong in a lot of industries, letís give them the tools, go after a few and change the climate. The deal on the table now. First of all, it divides the illegal population...

WATTENBERG: This is the second part of your answer on amnesty, right?

JACOBY: No. Well the first one was whatís wrong with IRCA.


JACOBY: So now we are talking about why this...


JACOBY: ...why the deal on the table isnít amnesty. The main answer is for most of the undocumented, what they are being asked to do is go around to the law enforcement, admit they committed a crime, be fingerprinted, pay a stiff penalty and then wait in legal limbo for six years until theyíre cleared and authorized residents in this country, and then they have to wait another five years to be citizens. If I had to do that, if I had to go to the police and say I committed a crime and wait in legal limbo, I would not consider that an amnesty.

JACOBY: The deal on the table is even a little tougher than that. The deal on the table asks about forty percent of them to actually leave the country and come back the legal way and then go through the normal process of applying for a green card. So even tougher requirements under -- in the compromise under the table now. And, I mean, itís -- I donít see how you call this amnesty.

WATTENBERG: And the Senators that I am most familiar with who have been pushing this sort of a solution, itís a pretty interesting spectrum, is John McCain, Joe Lieberman and Ted Kennedy.

JACOBY: Well, theyíre the one -- they have been putting out -- itís -- itís so complicated, you need a scorecard...


JACOBY: ...to keep track of it, but there was a bill on the table that was the Kennedy/McCain answer, and it had -- it was this wait six years and pay a fine and all that. And now enter Senators Mel Martinez and Chuck Hagel, also Republicans, and they have said, toughen it up a little bit, to meet the concerns of law and order conservatives who want people to really do it the same -- not get any special dispensation.

WATTENBERG: Allegedly, big word in Washington, the opposition to this sort of thing is coming from sort of mid-continent Americans who donít want to see our culture diluted, blah, blah, blah, is that...

JACOBY: The opposition is a very complicated mixed stew. There are people who are worried about the culture, there are people who are just worried about the illegality who feel that they did something wrong and we donít want to reward people who did something wrong, and thatís legitimate. Itís mixed with security concerns and itís a kind of heady mix.

WATTENBERG: Itís a very interesting thing, just for the record. To my knowledge, no terrorists have come in through Mexico. Terrorists have come down through Canada.

JACOBY: Canada.

WATTENBERG: Nobody said -- is talking about Canada being a problem.

JACOBY: Well, the main point is if we take the busboys and the gardeners off the table, it will be a lot easier for the border guards to focus on the actual criminals and would be terrorists. If the bus boys and gardeners can come in a legitimate program and the border guards can focus on people who really are dangerous, that would make a lot more sense.

JACOBY: But he basic point is that a large group of the undocumented population has to go out of the country, come back the legal way and then go through the normal channels that everybody has to go through at home in Mexico and they wonít get to the ticket window before anybody waiting at home in Mexico.
Now, there is a part of the population, the people whoíve been here longer, who have a slightly easier path with the argument being that theyíve put down some roots here, theyíve invested in the community, theyíve contributed to America, they have a slightly easier path and I think thatís a legitimate argument to make. People whoíve been here and invested and have families and own business should have a little bit of an easier time, but even the option being offered to them, I donít think itís amnesty. If I had to go down to the police station and register with law enforcement and be fingerprinted and pay a penalty and wait six years in legal limbo before I was considered on the right side of the law, I would not consider that a blanket pardon.

WATTENBERG: Tamar Jacoby, thank you very much for joining us in Part I of a very fascinating discussion which we are going to continue in part two. And thank you for joining us on Think Tank. Please remember to join us for a future episode with Tamar Jacoby where we will continue our discussion about Immigration and more. Remember to send us your comments via e-mail, we think it helps make our program better. For Think Tank, Iím Ben Wattenberg.

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