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Friday, November 7, 2008

Immigration Problems and Plan from Obama Transition

It’s only a sketch but it’s enough for a first assessment of how the Obama/Biden Transition Team see the immigration issue. As part of the transition, the transition team has opened a nifty government website – http://www.change.gov/ --that concisely outlines the problems and policy solutions, as they see them, and invites viewers to provide feedback.
The problem is three-fold, according to the transition team:
“Undocumented population is exploding: The number of undocumented immigrants in the country has increased more than 40 percent since 2000. Every year, more than a half-million people come illegally or illegally overstay their visas.
“Immigration bureaucracy is broken: The immigration bureaucracy is broken and overwhelmed, forcing legal immigrants to wait years for applications.
“Immigration raids are ineffective: Despite a sevenfold increase in recent years, immigration raids only netted 3,600 arrests in 2006 and have placed all the burdens of a broken system onto immigrant families.”
True enough that illegal immigration has rapidly expanded since 2000, but what is not recognized that according to U.S. census figures, the influx of undocumented immigrants has slowed since 2005 and the population of illegal immigrants has actually declined by some half-million in the last year. The Pew Hispanic Center reported: “Inflows of unauthorized immigrants averaged 800,000 a year from 2000 to 2004, but fell to 500,000 a year if you average from 2005 to 2008 with a decreasing year-to- year trend. The unauthorized immigrant population grew more slowly in the period from 2005 to 2008 than it did earlier in the decade.”
Some combination of new enforcement practices (including steady rise in deportations – up 20% over 2007 to 349,000 in 2008) and the economic downturn makes the statement that the “undocumemted population is exploding” appear alarming and supportive of restrictionist fear-mongering.
Yes, the immigration bureaucracy is plodding, but that’s to have been expected after the old and maddeningly slow INS was folded into the entirely new department of Homeland Security in 2003. A recent DHS announcement that the system for visas and residency documentation is being computerized may mean that help is already on the way. Main problem, though, is that the immigration bureaucracy is now part of a national security bureaucracy.
The assessment that raids “have placed all the burdens of a broken system onto immigrant familes” is welcome indicator that the new administration will move beyond a policy with a simplistic enforce-the-law logic, and will shape a new immigration policy that has heart and is concerned with justice not just law enforcement. One can only hope that the new administration will instruct Homeland Security to end the raids on selected worksites that while netting relatively few illegal immigrants have terrorized and devastated entire communities
Now what’s the “Barack Obama and Joe Biden Plan” for immigration and border control?
Create Secure Borders Obama and Biden want to preserve the integrity of our borders. They support additional personnel, infrastructure and technology on the border and at our ports of entry.
Improve Our Immigration System Obama and Biden believe we must fix the dysfunctional immigration bureaucracy and increase the number of legal immigrants to keep families together and meet the demand for jobs that employers cannot fill.
Remove Incentives to Enter Illegally Obama and Biden will remove incentives to enter the country illegally by cracking down on employers who hire undocumented immigrants.
Bring People Out of the Shadows Obama and Biden support a system that allows undocumented immigrants who are in good standing to pay a fine, learn English, and go to the back of the line for the opportunity to become citizens.
Work with Mexico Obama and Biden believe we need to do more to promote economic development in Mexico to decrease illegal immigration.”
“Control Our Borders” – long a rallying cry of U.S. nativists and anti-immigration forces – is now a core piece of the liberals’ immigration policy agenda. Virtually all the freshmen members of the 110th Congress have said, like Obama and Biden, that border security is the top priority. And the Democratic Congress keeps throwing Homeland Security billions of dollars more for the “personnel, infrastructure, and technology” that the transition teams calls for. But this is problematic, just as employer crackdowns are, because the control and enforcement budget keeps expanding without any reform that keeps people in the shadows. What needs to be stated is that enforcement can’t come first. If we are to enforce “existing laws”, as DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff has repeatedly said, we must at the same time “bring people out of the shadows” with a reform that makes them legal. Otherwise, we will simply see the immigrant crackdown continue. Not enforcement first, not enforcement only, but legalization and enforcement as part of same package.
Image: Feedback icon on www.change.gov

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