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TIME Forum: This Is A Battle For America’s Identity

4 minute read

BALDEMAR VELASQUEZ President, Farm Labor Organizing Committee, AFL-CIO

The key problem is making felons out of everyone who is here without documents. What people miss is that includes 1.6 million children. Who thinks of this crazy stuff? These measures are just horrendous. We’ve taken enough bad-mouthing from these talking heads on radio and TV. If this House bill passed, I would be a criminal. And I wouldn’t stop what I’m doing, so I’d be one of the first people arrested. This is no longer just an immigration issue. It is a civil rights movement now.

People forget that less than 170 years ago, the whole West was part of Mexico. Who do you think named Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Antonio? It wasn’t the people who came through Ellis Island. It was us. We didn’t cross any borders. The borders crossed us.

KATHLEEN NEWLAND Director and co-founder, Migration Policy Institute

A few facts are inescapable. First, the U.S. government has been throwing resources–money, staff and technology–at border control for years, and illegal immigration has done nothing but rise. It should be clear that strengthening border enforcement is not enough to bring order to our chaotic immigration system. A second fact is the enormous appetite of the U.S. economy for labor–both skilled and unskilled. Unemployment is at historic lows, but employers have very limited options for bringing in low-skilled workers legally and no practical way to verify the legal status of their hires. Expand the channels for legal entry, make it practical for employers and workers to use them, penalize those who don’t–and demand-driven illegal immigration will dry up.

MARK KRIKORIAN Executive director, Center for Immigration Studies

It is not a choice between mass round-ups and expulsions on the one hand and amnesty on the other–there’s a middle way, the only thing that can work, and that is attrition. Attrition through enforcement: instead of allowing the illegal population to grow every year, we start enforcing the law inside the country, something we don’t do at all unless your name is Mohammed and you work inside a nuclear power plant. After we’ve reasserted control over the illegal population through enforcement, then we can have a debate about whether we legalize some of the people here or not. The public is already in favor of immigration enforcement. It’s an élite commitment that’s lacking. It’s the business élite, Big Labor, Big Religion, Big Media, Big Academia, who are hostile to the very concept of immigration enforcement.

GEORGE BORJAS Economist, Harvard University

The easiest way to get into the U.S. is to have a family connection here. Other countries look at things like what kind of work you do, what languages you speak, how old you are, how much education you have. All those questions would steer the kind of immigrants we get to highly skilled workers who are economically beneficial.

The kinds of immigration policy we have been pursuing, both legal and illegal, lead to an economic outcome where those on the low end of the labor market are suffering and all that extra wealth is being redistributed to the employers. Such a huge amount of wealth is being redistributed away from the poor toward the upper middle class and people who use immigrant service workers–the rich. So what immigration is doing is pouring more poor people into the U.S. and making the poor who are already here even poorer.

FRANK SHARRY Executive director, National Immigration Forum

The only way to restore the rule of law to our immigration system is to have policies that respect the laws of supply and demand. As someone who’s been debating this thing for 25 years, I can say the debate was polarized. It was an either/or debate: more visas or more enforcement. We finally came up with the answer: Yes. We should do both.

This isn’t so much a policy debate. It’s a battle for America’s identity. Are we the people already here, or are we a set of ideas and ideals that are universal, such that the people who come here and subscribe to those ideals are American? You can never become a German if you weren’t born in Germany. But you can become American. America is permanently evolving. That scares some people, but that’s what we’re all about. Do you keep it the way it is, or do you keep re-energizing the country with fresh people and fresh ideas?

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