When a friend urged me to write a blog on immigration, I wasn’t sure I could add much to the discussion. But after reviewing some of the history surrounding this thorny issue – my enthusiasm blossomed.
Looking back over the past 25 years, it is clear that the great influx of illegal immigrants occurred during the second term of President Bill Clinton and the tenure of President George W. Bush. According to a study by the Pew Research Center, the number of undocumented individuals living in the U.S. more than doubled from 5.7 million in 1995 to a high of 12.2 million in 2007.
Democrats regained control of both chambers of Congress in 2007 but held only a slim majority in the Senate. Bush backed the bipartisan Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007 that was designed to address the growing illegal immigration problem. This bill included tough border security and workplace enforcement provisions. It also created a temporary worker program sought by business groups and provided a controversial plan to legalize an estimated 12 million – primarily Latin American — undocumented immigrants. A majority of Democrats supported this legislation but an overwhelming majority of Republicans were opposed. The bill died in the Senate when it failed to achieve the 60 votes necessary to advance.
During the early years of President Obama’s administration, the number of illegals declined — no doubt due in part to the Great Recession. After a 44-point advantage among Latino voters helped Obama handily defeat Republican candidate Mitt Romney in 2012, the GOP did a comprehensive election autopsy. The study concluded that the party needed to be more inclusive of Hispanics, stating: “[W]e must embrace and champion comprehensive immigration reform. If we do not, our party’s appeal will continue to shrink to its core constituencies only.”
As a result, a bipartisan group of Senators – the Gang of Eight – went to work on the immigration issue in 2013. They produced the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act. This bill provided a path for undocumented immigrants to gain legal status — and eventually citizenship — and promoted talent-based immigration. An amendment by Sens. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and John Hoeven (R-ND) increased the number of border patrol agents to around 40,000 and included other strong border security measures that Corker called “almost overkill.” According to government estimates, this legislation would add $276 billion to Social Security revenues over 10 years and reduce deficits by $1 trillion over 20 years.
The Senate passed this bill by a healthy margin of 68 to 32 in June 2013 when 14 Republicans joined all the Democrats in favor. But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and his four-member leadership team opposed it. McConnell speciously claimed it lacked sufficient border security but I believe his opposition was directed at preventing a significant policy win for Obama.
Over in the Tea Party-controlled House, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) was struggling with an obstructionist caucus that was mainly interested in taking meaningless votes on repealing Obamacare. Many of these Republicans feared that wealthy conservatives would fund a primary candidate to oppose them if they voted for immigration reform. So, because the Senate bill wasn’t supported by a majority of his caucus, Boehner refused to schedule it for a vote. Again, Republicans poured salt on an immigration wound that continued to fester.
Later, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), who had supported some piecemeal immigration proposals, was defeated by Koch brothers backed Dave Bratt in the 2014 primary. Republicans understood the message; oppose immigration reform or lose your job.
Donald Trump obviously knew that the Republican base opposed being inclusive of Hispanics when he chose immigration as the signature issue for his 2016 presidential campaign. Without evidence, he claimed that Mexicans crossing the border illegally were causing a crime wave and he hammered on it relentlessly. Yet, a comprehensive, four-decade study published that year entitled “Urban crime rates and the changing face of immigration” negated the proposition that increased immigration was associated with increased crime.
As Trump was railing about illegals during campaign rallies and promising his supporters he would build a “magnificent” wall to keep them out, the number of undocumented immigrants in 2016 was dropping to 10.7 million, the lowest level in a decade according to the Pew study.
I totally agree that thousands of immigrants crossing the southern border present a significant challenge for the border patrol. But in truth, we could have had comprehensive immigration laws and enhanced border security years ago but for GOP obstruction. And search the Internet for Republicans in Congress who support Trump’s border wall and you’ll find it’s mostly far right conservatives, certainly not a majority.
But Trump’s agenda goes far beyond the people that are stacking up across the Rio Grande River. He and his advisor Stephen Miller — a guy whose persona begs for a fascist military uniform – have rescinded the temporary protected [resident] status of 60,000 Haitians and 200,000 Salvadorians who have lived here for a decade or more. And they’re trying to deport thousands of Vietnamese who have lived in the U.S. legally since the 1970s.
No doubt, Trump is focused on appealing to his base and Miller may have white nationalist objectives. But I believe power-obsessed Republicans want to limit immigrants — particularly people of color — out of fear they will strengthen the Democratic Party. Their goals are just that underhandedly partisan.
Here’s hoping you had a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah and a great day, whatever holiday of family, peace and love you celebrated.