After several years on the back burner, serious talk about enforcing immigration law finally returned – due to the presidential campaign of Donald Trump. With his election, wide-reaching executive-level action was taken.
Do not expect Congress to follow suit, however.
The last time a bipartisan consensus formed on immigration policy was in the then-majority-Democratic U.S. Senate. It centered on an earned pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants. This legislation passed the Senate, but did not get through the Republican-led U.S. House.
Among the GOP ranks, opposition to amnesty has solidified since Trump's victory and the 2014 midterm elections. Not long before Trump launched his bid, House GOPers rejected defense legislation because it would have provided for citizenship should the undocumented serve in our military.
This move was met with strong criticism, including from center-right voices. What everyone came to realize was that kicking the can down the road no longer works. Illegal immigration has grown too vast and far too expensive. The time for legislative action is now, but it must be asked if said action will help or harm the situation.
The National Immigration Forum represents the less restrictive side of what is perhaps America's most controversial numbers game.
Joseph Ford Cotto: Immigration is a concept with which virtually all of us are familiar. Why, in your opinion, has it become such a political lightning rod?
Ali Noorani: Over the last 50 years, immigration to the U.S. has driven an enormous level of cultural change. This leads to a level of fear and anxiety among Americans that cannot be addressed by a political strategy. In fact, today’s immigration debate is more about culture and values than politics and policy. That means we need a cultural approach that addresses these anxieties. Limiting the debate to one of politics or policy does little, if anything, to change someone’s mind.
Cotto: What advice would you give Donald Trump in managing current immigration trends?
Noorani: Keep the American worker in mind. Deporting farmworkers eliminates American jobs upstream and downstream from the field. Reducing work-based immigration keeps talented people out of the United States, leading them to start companies and create jobs in other countries. Ending family-based immigration means U.S. citizens are separated from their loved ones. A balanced approach to immigration is a good deal for the American worker. Deportation and reductions in immigration are bad for Americans today, and for the generations to come.
Cotto: President Obama used executive powers to protect certain young people from deportation, provided they met a strict set of criteria. A case that reached the Supreme Court was deadlocked leaving it to further litigation. Trump is now using executive authority to pursue his own beliefs on immigration policy. He also has run into trouble with the judiciary. Do you have any insight for him on how the presidency should be used regarding immigration matters?
Noorani: Well, the Supreme Court never ruled on the merits of any of President Obama’s actions. One of his administration's policies remains in effect, but it only temporarily protects “Dreamers.” That aside, the Trump administration’s executive orders are a systematic dismantling of our nation’s immigration system. Congress should exert its constitutional responsibility and pass legislation to resolve the country’s immigration challenges. President Trump’s energy would be better spent working with Congress to create an immigration system that balances the needs of today’s American worker with the demands of tomorrow’s global economy.
Cotto: The prospect of terrorism waged by immigrants does not relate to those in this country illegally anywhere near so much it concerns legal immigrants. Do those who want higher immigration levels, generally speaking, support strenuous vetting for refugees and other immigrants?
Noorani: Of course. Our safety is paramount. To be clear, vetting for refugees in particular is already as strenuous as it gets in terms of groups trying to immigrate to this country. We should make sure that people who want to come here are looking to contribute to our country as they build their own lives—and with extremely rare exceptions, they are. Immigration levels that help American workers, keep our economy humming and acknowledge that people are fleeing desperate situations are not the same thing as closing our eyes and opening our borders. No one is advocating that.