Immigration Reform? Wait ‘Till Next Year . . . Advocates, Foes Agree It’s Off Obama’s Radar
LOS ANGELES, Calif – If there’s one thing immigration proponents and foes can agree on it’s this: a legislative overhaul of our immigration system has been pushed down the president’s priorities list and probably won’t happen this year.
That was the consensus on Thursday at a panel titled, “Are We on Our Way to Immigration Reform?” at the Edmund G. “Pat” Brown Institute of Public Affairs California State University, Los Angeles.
While generally engaged in a heated argument, the panelists all agreed that the economy and healthcare are higher up on the country’s priority list than immigration reform.
According to Ira Mehlman of the conservative Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), immigration is the top issue for only nine percent of Latinos.
“All care more about putting the economy back on track and putting people back on the job with affordable healthcare,” Mehlman said.
But the lack of public focus on immigration reform does not mean that the debate is any less polarized, or that that each side’s passion is any less intense.
Nancy Ramirez, western regional counsel for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), said the lack of clear national leadership has lead to “chaos” on immigration.
Progressive cities declare themselves “sanctuaries” from federal immigration enforcement, while voters in Arizona pass numerous ballot measures denying undocumented immigrants access to basic services, and the city of Hazelton, Penn., goes so far as to forbid landlords from renting apartments to undocumented immigrations.
In such an environment, Ramirez said, employers in conservative cities have learned that they are better off not hiring people who are “foreign looking or having foreign sound names.”
Meantime, Gary Toebben of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce said that in diverse cities like Los Angeles with large numbers of undocumented immigrants, a large underground economy has developed.
FAIR’s Mehlman said the on-going tension on immigration endures because the issue affects everyone’s self-interest.
People come from other countries to the United States to better pursue their self-interest, Mehlman said. American employers benefit from a larger pool of workers, and foreign governments benefit from pouring their unemployed citizens into the United States, from which immigrants send money back to their home countries.
However, Mehlman believes this arrangement drains the resources available to those already in the United States. “Nobody blames people needing healthcare, kids looking for education, but logistically there’s a limit of the available resources,” he added.
“A massive amnesty not only concerns people who are already here,” Mehlman said, because they’ll bring more family members into the United States in the future.
Another panelist, University of California, Los Angeles sociology professor Ruth Milkman countered that the United States has benefited from immigration enormously. “There is nothing that could be further from the truth to blame immigration on the decline of living standard,” she said.
But people do blame immigrants, especially in a recession. MALDEF’s Ramirez said there has been a considerable increase in hate crime against Latinos.
MALDEF believes common ground can be found. Ramirez said a recent MALDEF survey showed that seven out of 10 people in the United States say the country needs to boost its border security, while simultaneously registering undocumented immigrants and putting them on a path to citizenship. She said only 20 percent of people interviewed believe the United States should force undocumented immigrants to leave.