A Plan To Influence And Convince: Strategic Advice For The Legislative Passage Of CIR In 2009
The President has requested our council regarding strategies for successfully pursuing Comprehensive Immigration Reform, (CIR), this year through Congress. In a recent radio interview on Spanish language radio, he told the interviewer, "get the various immigrant rights groups together and have them start providing some advice in terms of what strategies we're going to pursue in Congress." I, for one, am taking this matter seriously, and taking President Obama at his word. He has asked for advice, and I have advice, so here it goes. I have been suggesting for the past two years, that both the enforcement-leaning right and the human rights-leaning left, have many more reasons to pass CIR than to reject CIR. In point of fact, when one actually starts to read through one of the CIR bills, such as the STRIVE Act, or Kennedy - McCain, they will soon discover that these bills are, more than anything, enforcement bills. You have to read pretty deep into the bills, and their enforcement provisions, before you to get to anything about "earned legalization". That being said, I will argue later in this article that the earned legalization provisions are, in fact, very much a part of the enforcement provisions of CIR, but more about that later. It is enough to say at the beginning of this article that many of the heretofore opponents of CIR, primarily those opponents on the right, will, after thorough explanation, begin to understand that there are a multitude of compelling right wing, fiscally conservative, pro-economic stimulus, law and order, family value arguments to be convincingly made in strong favor of CIR. However, the key will be in the explanation.
I am under no illusion but that the right wing Congressmen and women will need political cover, strong enough to withstand the blistering criticism that they will receive from the vocal minority of anti-reform coalitions, should they be bold enough to vote their conscious, and support CIR for conservative reasons. In point of fact, I predict that upon learning more about the facts of this issue, and sticking their fingers into the air to judge the direction of the political wind, they will find that not only do they not have to hold their noses while they vote for CIR, but that the smart and ambitious Republicans might find themselves trying to one-up each other, in an effort to show leadership in the effort to make CIR happen. After all, since the final outcome will almost certainly be that CIR will pass this year, thoughtful Republicans should decide to not only be on the winning team, but to play a leadership role on the winning team, as opposed to joining a small chorus of obstructionists on the losing side. Therefore, these conservatives will need strong and convincing arguments that will enable them to explain their yes votes on CIR, and that is where I would like to provide advice and council.
At this fiscally precarious period in world history, many people naively assume that this is precisely the wrong time to pursue CIR, since many of these same people wrongfully and mistakenly believe that the undocumented among us are a financial burden to our overextended national budget. This has been the mantra of the right wing radio hosts, and the anti-immigration think tanks. A typical example would be Steven A. Camarota, Statistician and Propagandist for the shamelessly anti-immigrant organization the Center for Immigration Studies. In a recent article, he wrote, "An economic downturn would seem to be the ideal time to step up enforcement because such efforts would be buttressed by the economic situation." Nothing could be further from the truth, and in the real world, things aren't always what they seem. Certainly I'm not the only person out there explaining this. Recently, there have been several studies and articles that have been made public explaining the truth about how the undocumented population adds significantly to our national tax revenue, as well as to our GDP and GNP, (I know because I've written a few of them). I'll get into some of the specifics in this article. However, I would like to start by illustrating a simple premise about employment in general, and the employment of our undocumented in particular.
As we know, the overall unemployment rate in our country has been rising significantly in recent months. In point of fact, it is even higher among the undocumented than the "legal" population. However, it has been forecasted that even with our staggering unemployment numbers, there are at minimum some 7,000,000 undocumented workers that are still employed, although many of these jobs are probably hanging by a fiscal thread. Most, if not all businesses, and particularly the small to medium sized businesses that employ the majority of the undocumented, (and who are responsible for the majority of all new employment when the economy is sound), have downsized their workforces to the absolute minimum, i.e.: survival mode. Now, assuming you owned or ran a small to medium sized business, which of your employees would you choose to keep, in order to weather the economic storm? Since that was a hypothetical question, I will provide the answer that should be obvious to everyone with any business sense or experience. You would keep your best trained, most productive, most cost effective, hardest working employees. These people would be the employees that know how to perform their jobs better and more efficiently than the employees that you let go. Certainly, the seven million or so employed undocumented workers fit into these categories of high productivity, high yield workers, since these are the workers that still have their jobs.
Many of the anti-CIR coalition would have you believe that the best thing to do for our country would be to fire these undocumented workers, (and deport them while we're at it). They would have these workers replaced by unemployed legal workers. Certainly, everybody can sympathize with the plight of the unemployed, legal or otherwise. We all know someone close to us that has been negatively affected by the current financial crisis. However, to suggest this course would ultimately be a huge fiscal blunder.
The businesses that have kept their doors open to date, are doing so by the skin of their teeth. These businesses have scaled back to their minimum work force, comprised of their best and most efficient workers as described above. To suggest that these businesses, that are not even keeping their heads above water, but are most likely just at the waterline, should fire their most productive and cost efficient workers, in order to hire new trainees that happen to be legal, would be catastrophic for these businesses. Trainees are called trainees, because it takes new employees many months of training, (under a well trained supervisor), to "get up to speed." When a business is struggling on a daily basis to survive, the last thing that they need is to lose their best employees, and start from scratch with raw recruits. Certainly, that is not a difficult concept to accept and process. We need our small to medium sized businesses to not only survive, but to ultimately prosper, if we are to survive this economic collapse intact. When we turn the corner, (which will happen much faster if "Big Government" doesn't hinder our private sector recovery through undue and foolish interference in the marketplace, such as requiring businesses to fire their undocumented workers and hire trainees), we will need the surviving small to medium sized businesses to foster new economic growth, and to therefore start to re-hire the unemployed, once we have gotten the current recession behind us.
Secondly, why, as a national economy, should we displace well trained workers that are employed in "old economy" jobs, and train an equal number of new, albeit legal workers, to do these same old economy jobs that we already have good and well trained workers for. At the end, we will not only have a smaller economy, (because we will have less employed workers, and less companies that will have survived to employ them), but we will have double the trained workers for old economy jobs, and zero trained workers for new and better "new economy" jobs. Doesn't it make economic sense to allow the well trained undocumented workers to keep doing their jobs, in an effort to save as many small to medium sized businesses as possible, and at the same time, start to train unemployed workers for the types of new economy, new industry jobs that will be an integral part of our economic growth during the next decade or two? What I'm saying is, we have to work together as a nation, and move not only forward, but forward with a plan. We will have to be smart and efficient in order to prosper going forward, and should therefore make economic recovery strategies based on facts, and not on prejudice and conjecture. The Republican Party has traditionally understood that a strong economy makes for a strong America. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is firmly behind CIR, so shouldn't it follow that the Republican Party should stand with business on this issue, if for no other reasons than homeland security and a strong economy?
Any new CIR will have to include transparency previsions for workplace oversight. All employee records can and should be monitored, to specifically enforce the new legalization provisions to assure that all workers post-CIR are allowed to be here and working. This post-CIR oversight, including E-Verify, while troublesome and intrusive, is the only way to enforce CIR, and prevent the post '86 failed amnesty measures. As to guest worker or temporary worker programs, again, oversight to assure that prevailing wages are paid and worker's rights are protected must be paramount. This benefits the native born as well as the immigrants or guest workers, as it stabilizes wages, and prevents our citizens from being undercut by a desperate non-citizen working class. Guest workers should receive full market value for their services. Government should enforce a fair and equitable work environment, but talent and desire should regulate performance expectations in the free market. Collective bargaining rights and visa portability should be encouraged. However, the trick is in the balancing of the numbers of guest workers allowed. Setting arbitrary numbers or quotas that last for years is short sighted. The government should allow these numbers to fluctuate seasonally through input at the cabinet level, using Commerce, Labor, Treasury, etc., all working in concert to optimize the level of guest workers at any given time. In other words, we need 21st century forecasting for a 21st century economy. Too many guest workers would facilitate too much downward pressure on wages. Too few, and our productivity and competitiveness suffer. These enforcement and free market principals are definitively issues that Republicans can sell to their constituents.
We will have to look at the 12 to 20 million undocumented immigrants from a macro-economic perspective, not a micro-economic perspective. By that, I mean to suggest that since the undocumented live, work, and spend money among us, as part of our national economy, we therefore have to look at the measure of their economic footprint in terms of their overall fiscal impact on the overall economy. We cannot just look at the insignificant numbers that measure their direct tax contributions versus their cost in social services. Those numbers are meaningless. Without looking at the bigger picture of their true economic impact upon the economy as a whole, the measure of their individual tax and cost figures is inconsequential. That being said, 85% of eminent economists have concluded that undocumented immigrants pay more in taxes, (74%), or then same in taxes, (11%), then the 15% of economists that believe otherwise. I have argued that when you begin to look at the subsidiary tax revenue from the following revenue streams, you begin to understand their true fiscal impact:
However, even these figures, while much larger then the direct taxes paid by the undocumented workers, really don't tell the whole story at all. To really appreciate the fiscal impact of the 12,000,000 to 20,000,000 undocumented people on our economy, and therefore on our tax base, you have to look at the full macroeconomic impact of these people on the overall economy. When one considers the multiplier effect of each dollar spent or generated by the undocumented people, as well as the legal citizens that they work with directly and indirectly, on the overall economy, the amount of tax revenue attributable to the labor of the undocumented workers skyrockets. This is because the multiplier effect takes into consideration the fact that when one person spends a dollar, that same dollar gets recycled several times throughout the economy, generating tax revenue at each stop along the way. It is certainly worth noting that this correlates exactly with the bedrock principle of the Republican economic theory of "supply-side economics," which advocates the doctrine that in order to optimize the economy and therefore tax revenue, it is imperative that you maximize the amount of currency flowing through the private sector.
When you look at this equation through a macro-economic lens, (which is the only accurate way to look at it), then the tax revenue generated through and because of the undocumented population is several times the amount that they receive back in social services. It's not even remotely close. Many staunchly Republican economists believe that immigrants are not the problem, but rather are the solution to many economic problems.
However, while the economic-stimulus reasons behind the true value of CIR are certainly important to both the right and the left, the economy is certainly not the only reason for both sides to agree on the value of CIR. There are many additional reasons why CIR is a "pro-conservative values" piece of legislation. In point of fact, CIR is a national security issue. CIR will strengthen our homeland security, as well as our security abroad. There are also many compelling and conservative reasons why we need CIR. This legislation will allow us to fight against communism in our own hemisphere, (by minimizing the economics pressures facilitating far left revolutions in Latin-America), help us to maintain and improve our economic standing in the world, allow all of the undocumented immigrants to assimilate into American society, improve our faltering education system, increase our tax revenue while lowering tax rates, and make our country a safer place to live, drive, work, and worship. These are all right-wing conservative issues, and they are all improved by comprehensive immigration reform.
Take, for example, the issue of national security. For starters, I think that we can all agree that for all intents and purposes, the United States is at present the World's only military "superpower". That title comes with an awesome responsibility and at a tremendous financial cost to our government. Our current conflicts in Afghanistan and especially Iraq have shown us that we are somewhat limited in the ability of our military to be fighting battles on several fronts, while at the same time maintaining strategic control over several addition "hot spots" and/or areas of concern requiring a military presence. We have strained our military's manpower and budget.
Our military leaders understand that Comprehensive Immigration Reform helps with both the manpower and budget issues. Regarding the issue of manpower for our military, the military has just adopted a new trial program that will enable temporary legal workers, (that have resided in the U.S. for a minimum of two years), to join the military, and receive their citizenship after six months of service. While this is at present a fairly narrow category of immigrant enlistment, they are targeting 1,000 recruits for the initial trial, and then hope to be able to expand the program to 14,000 troops next year. In point of fact, our military is already composed of a surprisingly high percentage of immigrants, mostly Latino. By giving legal status to some 12,000,000 to 20,000,000 additional undocumented immigrants already in the United States, many of whom are of military age and who meet the characteristics deemed desirable for soldiers, it will increase the available pool of potential recruits exponentially. Should we pass CIR, the 14,000 troops would be signed up in a mater of hours - problem solved. Additionally, just this week, Congress has announced bi-partisan legislation initiatives in both houses to enact the Dream Act. The Republican Party should read the fine print details of this bill, because while the public focus of the bill is on the education issue, the meat and potatoes of the bill supports the interests of the military. The bill provides legalization, and an eventual Green Card and pathway to citizenship for either two years in college, OR two years in the military.
Our country could finally recruit as many soldiers as we need. Since many of these immigrants would place a high value on military training, military pay, the possibility for advancement in the military, the possibility for additional education through the military, the health and other benefits the military provides, and especially the lowering of the waiting period for citizenship from 5 years to 6 months for immigrants willing to serve in the military, (which is the current law - although the Dream Act recipients would qualify under somewhat different provisions), a high percentage of the immigrants would be willing and anxious for the opportunity to serve in the military. The addition of the large new pool of available recruits would allow the military to take advantage of the "supply and demand" of needed new soldiers to lower the pay and incentives that they currently need to offer to new recruits to entice them to join. The several branches of the armed services of the United States are currently straining to meet their needed quota of new recruits, and scandals are starting to come to light regarding the military's lowering of standards for new recruits to help them meet their quotas. This would ease the burden on our recruiting officers and raise the overall caliber of new soldiers. Certainly, this pro-military aspect of CIR didn't escape the attention of John McCain, when he patriotically co-authored this legislation in 2007. The Republican Party benefits, when they stand with our armed forces, and support the troops. Therefore, they should demonstrate solidarity with our military, and support the CIR legislation that the military wants and needs.
As to the cost of securing our nation, (and by extension the whole world), it is an obvious fact that as our economy expands, so does our tax base, thus making the cost of securing our country less burdensome on our tax system. The legal and efficient labor that Comprehensive Immigration Reform will provide to our country's economy through the legalization of currently undocumented laborers, and through a "guest worker" program, (once the economy stabilizes for new growth), will have benefits that will ripple through our entire economy. For instance, if CIR is implemented, it would increase our tax base by bringing the majority of undocumented workers who are part of the underground economy out of the shadows and into our base of taxpayers. More importantly, it would require any pre-existing unreported or under-reported tax debts, together with interest and penalties, to be paid over time. These immigrants would not only increase our productivity as an overall economy, allowing us to compete more effectively against foreign competition, but by adding these workers into the above-ground economy, they will have greater disposable income that will be spent domestically, thereby adding to the overall economic stimulus. The additional benefit of having several million new potential homebuyers in the market would go a long way toward stabilizing the downward pressure on our troubled real estate sector. This would allow us to lower our tax rates as the economy expands, which would further stimulate our economy, (i.e.: supply side or "trickle down" economics), and also to redirect some of the additional tax funds generated by our expanded economy toward much needed state and federal social services and infrastructure maintenance, thus improving life in America, while still allowing our government to expand our military, ensuring a safer world. The fact that through CIR we could accomplish this by utilizing tax revenue, (perhaps at lower tax rates through future tax cuts), as opposed to deficit spending, should appeal to all Republicans.
Furthermore, as we continue to struggle through our current banking crisis, in which most banks lack sufficient capitalization to expand their lending portfolios, it is noteworthy to mention that the legalization of over 12,000,000 residents would go a long way toward reducing our dependence of taxpayer bailouts for the banks. This is because banks can only lend money, based on a multiple of their assets, (deposits). If 12,000,000 potential depositors were suddenly able to open bank accounts, (as opposed to having to cash their checks at check cashing services), it would add tens of billions of dollars in assets into the banking system, enabling the banks to lend as much as forty times that amount to creditworthy customers and businesses under our current banking regulations. This is not a small thing. Certainly Republicans can appreciate the argument of less deficit spending bailouts, and more self sufficiency in the financial sector.
It should be noted that at the core of Republican values, perhaps the only thing that is more unpopular than higher taxes/deficits is communism. In fact, the right wing has been accusing the Democrats of having a socialist agenda since the recent inauguration, in reference to the President's prescription for fixing the economy. And, yet, as recently as March 24th, Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies has been writing articles that support immigration theories that would embolden the leftists in our own hemisphere. It should not escape the Republican's notice that over the past few years, nine of our Central and South American Allies have elected leftist leaders, most recently Guatemala late last year, and El Salvador just this week. However, Krikorian, notes in his article, "Mexico Isn't a Failed State - Yet", that "A failure by the Mexican political system to curtail lawlessness and violence could result [in] a surge of millions of refugees crossing the U.S. border to escape the domestic misery of violence, failed economic policy, poverty, hunger, joblessness, and the mindless cruelty and injustice of a criminal state." Perhaps more ominously, he suggests that we "Send in the Marines? In the extreme, and unlikely, case of genuine state collapse and anarchy or civil war in Mexico, we'll need to consider military action to prevent mass refugee surges. Caspar Weinberger imagined something like this in his 1993 book The Next War, which included a scenario of an invasion of Mexico to overthrow a Hugo Chávez-style dictator whose mismanagement and repression was driving huge numbers of people to flee."
The "disconnect" here is that in the same article, he continues to support immigration theories that would facilitate the very prime motivational factors for these leftist uprisings, including the leftist pressures that are waiting to explode on our southern border; poverty and hopelessness. Krikorian's infamous "Attrition Through Enforcement" theory, which he still irresponsibly insists in his article that we should follow, could only serve to undermine what is left of our capitalist allies in Latin America. His theory advocates that instead of passing CIR, we should instead enforce our current immigration laws fully, so that our 20,000,000 or so undocumented economic refugees would face starvation and homelessness here, and would therefore need to self deport in order to survive.
Putting aside for a moment the horrific moral and ethical ramifications of his theory, (i.e.: "poverty, hunger, joblessness, mindless cruelty and injustice"), what would be the net result of this foolish exercise? Mexico and the other Latin American nations would be monumentally adversely affected by the loss of remittances, due to the return of their millions of expatriate breadwinners, now unemployed, broke, and harboring fresh ill will towards America. Millions of disenfranchised self-deportees in a Mexico left economically ruined through the loss of their 2nd largest source of revenue, (remittances), would push Mexico over the edge, and it would become the 10th Latin American country to be toppled by what can only be described as the alarming trend of Latin American socialism or communism. The real question for Republicans isn't should we pass CIR? The real question is, why would we even consider not passing CIR?
An often used argument proffered by opponents of CIR is that the Hispanic population has been too slow to assimilate into the mainstream of society. Certainly it does not take a gigantic leap of logic to understand that it is difficult to assimilate into a society that insists that you remain on the outside looking in from the shadows. In this case, the tired expression, "allow them to come out from the shadows" makes all the sense, (both political and factual), in the world.
The little everyday things that Americans take for granted are often unavailable to the undocumented. However, by allowing the undocumented who qualify under CIR to obtain these basic and fundamental conveniences, such as driving privileges, and requiring them to learn to speak English, it will improve not only their lives, (which shouldn't be a hard sell, but perhaps might be), but in fact it will improve the lives of the rest of our citizenry, (which will certainly be an easy sell).
For example, by allowing the undocumented to drive legally, we will have the following societal benefits:
Also, by requiring that the undocumented learn English, we will have the following societal benefits:
Again, these are easy sells, and in the final analysis, the issue of safer roads is a family value issue. Insuring all drivers is a fiscal stimulus for the insurance and banking sectors that does not require any federal deficit spending, which is a fiscally conservative issue. More state revenues from fees and sales taxes, which will reduce the bailouts to the states is a fiscally conservative issue. Promoting immigrant assimilation is a family values issue. Promoting English skills in the community and the workplace is both a family values and fiscally conservative issue. Improving our education system is both a family values and fiscally conservative issue, both in the short term and the long term. Any politician in the Republican Party that can't run on family values and fiscal conservatism should find another line of work.
The fact is, passing CIR doesn't have to be contentious. Let's face it, our country can use some legislative victories, and this issue can truly be bi-partisan in nature. Certainly, the Republican Party will need to start mending fences with the Hispanic community, and the immigrant population at large. Failure to do so will result in years or perhaps decades of permanent minority political status, because after all, in this case the numbers do not lie. However, the ability of Republicans to reach out to the Hispanic community is not out of reach, and is not unprecedented. As recently as the 2004 elections, President Bush very effectively reached out to the Hispanic community through a religious outreach program orchestrated by the Evangelical Christian base of the Republican Party. This is not a disconnect. The Hispanic Community as a whole are very family value, religious, and conservative people. The road to any Republican comeback will very clearly have to run through our Hispanic communities.
The Republican Party has to stop looking at the issue of CIR as a problem, when clearly it is an opportunity. The Democrats have been calling out the Republicans as the party of "no," and the party of "obstruction." Why not take this opportunity to be the party of "yes." Why not take this opportunity to be the party of "constructive ideas." The country wants change, so lead the change. The country wants ideas, so be the party of ideas. Do not forget that President Reagan believed in this issue, and passed and signed a "primitive' version of CIR back in 1986. Why not build upon his legacy, and tweak his proposals with modern ideas for enforcement and control. Reagan was not wrong about the issue of CIR, but twenty three years ago he just didn't have the arsenal of 21st century technological tools that could now enable CIR to work efficiently, and without expanding the role of government beyond Reagan's core set of ideals and principals. The ONLY way that the Republican Party can regain their lost political capitol, is to become a party of inclusion. If they cede that ground entirely to the Democrats, the game is lost.
Let us face the facts here. The House has the votes, and the Speaker has shown her hand. The House will pass CIR. The Senate will be closer, because of the 60 vote filibuster rule, but again, The Majority leader has shown his hand. Senator Reid is facing a tough re-election in a largely Hispanic State, so the writing is pretty much on the wall. The Republicans must read that writing, put two plus two together, and face reality. CIR will happen with them or without them, one way or another. That being the case, why be on the losing end of the fight? If CIR is inevitable, why not own a piece of it? Why not put your mark on it while you can? Why not craft the legislation, so that it reflects Republican values? Republican Senator Lindsey Graham understood this, when he stood before the Senate in June of 2007, and implored his fellow Republicans not to filibuster the CIR bill, albeit unsuccessfully. He tried to explain that the CIR legislation, as it was crafted between the Senate and a Republican President, was certainly the best bill that the Senate would ever get, from a Republican perspective. Time is now an issue. The Republican Party must get on the bus right now, or be passed by it.
As I stated in the beginning of this article, there are a multitude of conservative, family values, fiscally responsible, economic stimulus reasons to support CIR. If a Republican politician can't understand and sell those reasons to support CIR, then move over and give the next guy a chance. Or, to paraphrase what Groucho Marx said to his Cabinet, (as President Rufus T. Firefly of Freedonia in Duck Soup), "Why, a four year old child can understand this issue!" "Pssst - hey, go out and find me a four year old child - I can't make heads or tails out of this!"
Robert Gittelson has been a garment manufacturer in the Los Angeles area for over 25 years. His wife, Patricia Gittelson, is an immigration attorney with offices in Van Nuys and Oxnard, California. Robert also works closely with Patricia on the administrative side of her immigration practice. Throughout his career, Mr. Gittelson has developed practical, first hand experience in dealing with the immigration issues that are challenging our country today.
The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.