Saturday, July 13, 2019

Interview: Ali Noorani on conservatism, Donald Trump, and what immigration policy has to do with them

Editor's note: This interview was originally published in April 2017.

This is the second of three articles spanning my discussion with Ali Noorani. The first piece is available. 
Story by Joseph Ford Cotto
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.
Displaying Ali headshot 2016 (print).jpgThe National Immigration Forum represents the less restrictive side of what is perhaps America's most controversial numbers game. 
"Ali Noorani is the Executive Director of the National Immigration Forum, an advocacy organization promoting the value of immigrants and immigration," his biography at the Forum explains. "Growing up in California as the son of Pakistani immigrants, Ali quickly learned how to forge alliances among people of wide-ranging backgrounds, a skill that has served him extraordinarily well as one of the nation’s most innovative coalition builders.
"Before joining the Forum, Ali was executive director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, and he has served in leadership roles within public health and environmental organizations.
"In 2015, Ali was named a lifetime member of the Council on Foreign Relations. He holds a Master’s in Public Health from Boston University and is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley. Ali lives in Washington, D.C. and is the author of “There Goes the Neighborhood: How Communities Overcome Prejudice and Meet the Challenge of American Immigration,” (Prometheus, April 2017)."
Noorani recently chatted with me about many issues relative to America's immigration situation. Some of our conversation is included below.

Joseph Ford Cotto: Some believe that America needs immigration control now more than ever. What would you say to folks who hold this view?

Ali Noorani: At this point, our immigration system focuses almost exclusively on enforcement. The U.S. spends more on federal immigration enforcement than on the FBI, DEA, Secret Service and all other federal criminal law enforcement agencies combined. When it comes to immigration “control,” we are throwing good money after bad. If we want a secure border, we need a functioning legal immigration system so people have a process to go through. If we want to focus our valuable law enforcement resources on those who are here to do us harm, we should require the undocumented to pass a criminal background check and legalize their status—those who don’t are the ones we need to focus on. There is a smarter way to protect American interests than spending billions of dollars more on failed security measures.

Cotto: In the past, right-of-center politicians have made limited government arguments against immigration restrictions. This perspective has become massively unpopular among Republican voters. How has that situation impacted the immigration issue as a whole?

Noorani: What I found in my book, There Goes the Neighborhood, is that conservative faith, law enforcement and business leaders across the country seek a more constructive approach to the nation’s immigration debate. They do not ascribe to the dystopian data sets and verbal grenades the left and right lob at each other. Rather, they seek a policy solution that holds true to their values as people who believe in family, safety and prosperity. The examples I wrote about are represented in local and national polling which finds consistent support among Republicans for a compassionate approach to the immigration system. Of course, one cannot dismiss the economic and physical fears Americans feel on a daily basis. But, the space is there for policymakers to lead a constructive debate on immigrants and immigration; one that is based on culture and values, not politics and policy.

Cotto: To a certain extent, was Trump's victory a repudiation of post-1965 American immigration policy, which has been embraced by both major parties?

Noorani: Oh, absolutely. As I note in my upcoming book, There Goes the Neighborhood: How Communities Overcome Prejudice and Meet the Challenge of American Immigration, Lou Dobbs told me the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act was “the incipient point of everything we are talking about.” Lou, like many Trump voters, pointed to this notion that in the 1920s and 1930s there was a common bond between new immigrants and American culture. So, yes, there is a fear of cultural change that the 1965 Act triggered. But there are also a massive number of conservatives across America who voted for Trump but also believe we should resettle Syrian refugees, make it possible for the undocumented to earn legalization, and, in general, value immigrants and immigration. Over the course of my research for the book, I talked to dozens of these folks. They are pastors, sheriffs, business owners. And, they are grappling with these cultural changes in a positive, compassionate way.