Video from the panel "Immigrant Rights Aside, What’s the U.S. Interest Here?"
On January 17, the New America Foundation and ImmigrationWorks USA held an event to discuss how to have a more constructive debate about immigration. Tamar Jacoby, New America Schwartz Fellow and President of ImmigrationWorks USA, gives her take on the event below:
It’s been more than ten years since lawmakers in Washington first promised comprehensive immigration reform. Two presidents, five Congresses, a generation of Democratic and Republican champions – not only have none succeeded, we’re further from the goal than just five years ago.
A recent New America Foundation–ImmigrationWorks USA event “Beyond the Dream: Changing the Conversation About Immigration” put the question on the table: can we reframe the conversation in a way that produces a better result? Can we take the issue back from the moralists and maximalists who now dominate the debate and jumpstart a new, hardheaded effort to craft a realistic fix?
The first half of the program looked at the most contentious piece of the policy puzzle: unauthorized immigrants and their children – both those who are unauthorized themselves and those born here, who are U.S. citizens. A panel of social scientists and journalists said nothing about immigrant rights or moral imperatives. Instead, they focused on the costs – to America and American taxpayers – of allowing this next generation to grow up on the margins of society, ill-educated, lacking skills and with so little hope that they see no reason to do well at school or work.
One of the panel’s most telling points: a study of Mexican immigrant children born in the 1980s found that those whose mothers entered the U.S. legally or attained legal status completed 1.5 to 2 more years of school than those whose mothers did not get right with the law. Children of unauthorized parents – even those who are legal themselves – are less likely to finish high school, less likely to go to college, less likely to speak English well and less likely to get a good job. A back-of-the-envelope calculation of the economic cost of the 5.5 million kids of unauthorized parents already living in the United States: $38 billion over the course of their lives.
The second half of the program looked at politics. How have the politics of immigration changed over the decade? What does the 2012 presidential debate tell us – is there any realistic hope of addressing the issue in a more constructive way? And how can those looking for a solution reframe the case for reform?
A panel made up of journalists, advocates and a pollster – with some help from the audience – offered an array of ideas: Expand the conversation beyond immigration (a priority for less than 5 percent of voters) to American economic competitiveness (a priority for 75 percent). Illustrate the costs of not educating the workforce of tomorrow. Teach voters about how much the government has already done to bring illegal immigration under control. Help Americans grasp the political and social change happening in Mexico. The common thread of these suggestions: frame the issue in terms of American interests, not moral absolutes.
Will any of this work? Unclear. But after ten years, it’s time to rethink and recast the debate.
Listen to audio of the first panel, In the Costly Shadows:
Listen to audio of the second panel, Immigrant Rights Aside:
Listen to audio of Jon Clifton's Presentation, How Americans Really Feel About Immigration:
Listen to audio of My Voyage from Migrant Farm Worker to Brain Surgeon: