From the July 17, 2009 Examiner (Washington)
July 17, 2009
by Irwin Stelzer
Virtually unnoticed during the brawl over President Obama's efforts to get his health care and cap-and-trade programs through the Congress was a meeting convened by the President late last month to see whether the Hill is willing to tackle an equally knotty problem -- immigration.
Sen. John McCain R-AZ, badly burned by his "base" for supporting reform, and facing a tough re-election fight next year, attended, as did Senators Chuck Schumer (the new chairman of the Senate's immigration subcommittee), Jeff Sessions of Alabama, and John Cronyn of Texas.
White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel says the President is prepared to move on reform if Congress has the votes to pass a bill. That prompted Rep.Luis Guitierrez, D-IL, "Hell, if we had the votes we wouldn't be calling you."
Meanwhile, the administration has abandoned the methods used by the Bush White House to contain illegal immigration. Instead of swooping down on factories employing illegals, and rounding up those workers in preparation for their deportation, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Office (a unit of the Department of Homeland Security) now targets employers, who receive letters advising that fines and civil and criminal charges will be levied unless the illegals are fired.
Homeland Security has also reduced the ability of local law enforcement officers to arrest illegal immigrants for "minor offenses" and then subject them to deportation.
Pictures of weeping mothers and children waving goodbye to deportees being herded onto busses and planes by government officials will be a thing of the past. The onus of bad guy has been passed to the employer. Not a bad move for an administration eager to cement the shift of Hispanics to the Democratic column in the 2008 elections.
The current recession has both eased and exacerbated the immigration problem. Eased, because the paucity of jobs is causing an exodus of immigrants, legal as well as illegal. Some decide that unemployment is more tolerable at home, others -- such as the Chinese and Indian workers leaving America -- that opportunities at home are better.
But the rise in unemployment is also putting pressure on Congress to reserve jobs for American workers. Banks received bail-out money only on the condition that they would not hire foreigners -- a provision that has Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase fuming. And with jobs short, pressure to do something about the 12, 13 or 14 million illegals already here -- liberals prefer "undocumented" -- increases.
But reform will be no easier when the economy recovers and the inflow of job-seeking illegal immigrants resumes. Some critics will point out that the illegal cross-border flow will include terrorists who come with malice and mayhem in mind. Others will still complain about the competition for jobs, even though the unemployment rate drops.
Most important although less often openly expressed, many Americans feel that our culture is under siege. Doubt that, and leave the Beltway for a visit to Arizona or Colorado or any neighborhood in which immigrants tend to congregate, just as waves of Jewish, Italian, Irish and other newcomers -- these here legally -- did before them. But, unlike much of the newer wave, en route to assimilation and geographic dispersion.
It is this culture issue that is so intractable. There are places in this country where Americans feel they are strangers in a strange land. Spanish is made equal to English as an official language, and American students are held back by immigrants, eager to learn but who do not speak their new nation's language.
The tensions resulting from this culture clash, more than those created by the fear of terrorists or the competition for jobs, make it difficult for congressional leaders to reach a compromise that satisfies Americans whose daily lives are most affected by the new arrivals.
Liberals from upper-income districts -- including Schumer's New York Upper West Side -- will not abandon their infatuation with multiculturalism and, their constituents being immune from the impact of immigration, refuse to support measures promoting assimilation.
Representatives from districts and states with a large number of Hispanic voters see opponents of immigration as nativists or racists who would deny hard-working but illegal newcomers their "right" to welfare, public education and even the vote.
Arrayed on the other side are those who favor assimilation -- English as the only official language --and denying illegal entrants benefits paid for by American citizens. Solomon would be hard-pressed to forge a compromise. And no one has ever accused our legislators of possessing that King's wisdom.
Irwin Stelzer is a Senior Fellow and Director of Economic Policy Studies for the Hudson Institute. He is also the U.S. economist and political columnist for The Sunday Times (London) and The Courier Mail (Australia), a columnist for The New York Post, and an honorary fellow of the Centre for Socio-Legal Studies for Wolfson College at Oxford University. He is the founder and former president of National Economic Research Associates and a consultant to several U.S. and United Kingdom industries on a variety of commercial and policy issues. He has a doctorate in economics from Cornell University and has taught at institutions such as Cornell, the University of Connecticut, New York University, and Nuffield College, Oxford.
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