The Immigration Debate, Defined

Published on July 3rd, 2012

By Joe Guzzardi
May 14, 2012

On immigration, the line in the sand between open borders groups and restrictionists is clearly defined. Those who favor less immigration are unilaterally opposed to amnesty including the DREAM Act. They also want less legal immigration as well as locked-down-tight border security backed up by strict internal enforcement. And since non-immigrant visas are widely abused and often lead to overstaying, restrictionists want those limited, too.

Immigrant advocates, on the other hand, lobby for more immigration including amnesty and also reject enforcement in all its forms. Is there a middle ground? Some restrictionists have floated this trial balloon: the DREAM Act for the most compelling cases in exchange for ending the visa lottery, chain migration and anchor baby birth right citizenship. Pro-immigration forces reject this offer out of hand.

If not the trade, what then? The non-partisan research organization Remapping the Debate held long conversations with prominent pro-immigration representatives from the National Organization for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, the New York Immigrant Coalition and the National Council of La Raza to find out what immigration limits, if any, they would agree to. In other words, should immigration have a ceiling and which immigration laws should be enforced?

The interviewers prefaced their questions on the assumptions that 1) most legal and illegal immigrants are hard working people who want better lives for their families and 2) most aliens are, with the exception of the civil violation of being in the U.S. without permission, law abiding. The researchers’ objective was to define what the ongoing immigration policy should be in the event of an amnesty.

Unsurprisingly, immigrants’ lobbyists are unbending in their demands that family reunification remain intact and that employment-based immigration continue indefinitely. And while vaguely agreeing that some numerical limits should be set, none of the participants was willing to set an actual number.

Conventionally, public policy debates include long term projections. But despite what the study’s authors called “multiple attempts” to find out what the maximum numbers of immigrants the United States could take in without a nationwide collapse of the existing infrastructure, advocates avoided answering.

The pro-immigration coalition was similarly elusive when asked about acceptable enforcement levels. Catherine Tactaquin, on behalf of the National Organization for Immigration and Refugee Rights, acknowledged that “all sovereign countries have [the] basic right” to control their national border. But she insisted that in the name of “fairness and dignity,” enforcement should not be pursued.

Finally, Remapping the Debate wanted to know what would happen “next time,” assuming a mass amnesty passed in 2013. After amnesty, did advocates envision reduced immigration and rigorous enforcement? Each immigration proponent favored a system whereby—outside the circumstances of non-immigration security or safety considerations—enforcement would almost always give way to personal or familial factors. Either the factors preventing removal would be built into an underlying system that broadened legalization or else would be part of a back-up safety net that prevented the deportation even of those who ran afoul of more liberalized regulations. Actually, this practice exists today and is called prosecutorial discretion.

In summary, the open border coalition wants unlimited immigration with no enforcement. Either speaking on behalf of their group or expressing a personal opinion, the coalition members refused to discuss, even hypothetically, what the maximum number of immigrants should be or what might represent permissible enforcement regulations.

According to Remapping the Debate, each advocate repeatedly stressed what it perceives as the current system’s “inhumanity” while at the same time refusing to define its own tangible position.

An easy explanation for the pro-immigration side’s elusiveness is that they don’t want to go on record as favoring unlimited and indefinite immigration with absolutely no enforcement—bad public relations for their cause.

More important, they don’t want their true objectives quoted because they’re indefensible.


Joe Guzzardi is a Californians for Population Stabilization Senior Writing Fellow. His columns have been syndicated since 1986. Contact him at [email protected].

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