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There is an exodus going on from the state of Alabama. The country’s strictest immigration law went into effect over the weekend. Among other things, it is the first state law to require schools to check the status of children. Alabama’s schools are now reporting a huge increase in absences among Latino students. The justice department is suing Alabama and Arizona because of their statutes and is reviewing similar laws in four other states to make sure they don’t supersede federal government law. Guest host Laura Knoy and guests explore the situation in different states that are taking the lead on U.S. immigration policy.
- Campbell Robertson national correspondent for the New York Times
- Angela Kelley vice president for immigration policy and advocacy, Center for American Progress.
- Steven Camarota director of research, Center for Immigration Studies.
- Jonathan Turley professor of public interest law at George Washington University Law School
MS. LAURA KNOYThanks for joining us. I'm Laura Knoy of New Hampshire Public Radio, sitting in for Diane Rehm. Alabama schools are reporting high rates of absences for Hispanic students over the last few days. This, since the state's new immigration law went into effect. Meanwhile, the Obama administration is coming down on these statutes. It's suing Alabama and Arizona for their laws and is reviewing four other states with similar statutes.
MS. LAURA KNOYJoining us to discuss this in the studio, Jonathan Turley of George Washington University Law School. Welcome, Jonathan.
PROF. JONATHAN TURLEYThank you.
KNOYAlso with us, Angela Kelley of the Center for American Progress. Angela, thanks for being here.
MS. ANGELA KELLEYThank you, Laura.
KNOYAnd Steve Camarota, the Center for Immigration Studies. And, Steve, welcome to you.
MR. STEVEN CAMAROTAGood to be with you.
KNOYAlso joining us from WWNO in New Orleans, Campbell Robertson. He covers the southern region for The New York Times. And, Campbell, thanks for being with us as well. I appreciate it.
MR. CAMPBELL ROBERTSONThank you.
KNOYWell then, Campbell, let's start with you. You've been on the ground. You've been reporting from Alabama. We're hearing about this exodus of Latinos from the state. What did you see?
ROBERTSONWell, it's almost, by definition, hard to figure out how big this is. But when I was in Albertville, in the northern part of the state, which is an area that has a lot of Latino immigrants because of poultry plants, and there are some farms in that area. Just every -- almost every person I talked to said they knew 30, 40 families who had decided to just leave, possibly temporarily, some permanently.
ROBERTSONAnd a lot of people who had stayed behind were saying they'll give it a week, two weeks, see what happens with the law, see if things change, not only the appeal, but see exactly how it looks on the ground. So there are a lot of people who have either left or are considering it.
ROBERTSONThere is some measurement -- if you look at schools, I think there were about 2,000 Hispanic students who are absent from school on Friday, which is about 900 more than two days before when the ruling came down that upheld a lot of the Alabama's law. And now, again, we don't know how many were just absent and how many had fled, but -- and that's about 5 percent of the state's overall Hispanic population in schools.
ROBERTSONBut I think we'll see even more over the coming weeks, what this really means.
KNOYWell -- and, Campbell, what does the average Joe or Jane on the street in Alabama think about this law?
ROBERTSONI think it depends on what the average Joe or Jane does for a living. You know, I talked to a lot of people who were in line -- who were hopeful to get jobs at some of these poultry plants, and they're fans of the law. They think it'll open up jobs for them. And I think the average Joe or Jane, just out there, probably is pretty supportive.
ROBERTSONBut farmers, some small businessmen who have new regulations, police departments, some teachers who have to deal with this, poultry plant operators, they're -- there's a lot of anger by business owners that this is going to really hurt their business and the economy as a whole.
KNOYWell, Steve Camarota, I want to bring you into this. What do you make of this exodus from Alabama? We hear stories of people just selling their homes for $1,000 and leaving, large numbers of Latino students absent from school. What do you make of this, Steve?
CAMAROTAWell, when Arizona passed its law in 2007, the research shows pretty clearly that the illegal immigrant population -- some fraction of it did leave. It stopped growing. Nationally, from 2008, when the law really went into effect, to 2010, the illegal population in Arizona declined by about 16 to 18 percent. And, nationally, it only declined over that time period by about 7 percent.
CAMAROTANow, subsequent research by the Public Policy Institute of California and also the Institute for the Study of Labor has shown that it was basically the illegals who left. They found no decline, say, in native-born Hispanics, no decline in naturalized citizens. And to the best of their ability, they didn't seem to find a decline so much, and even in, legal immigrants who are not citizens yet.
CAMAROTASo the law had the intended effect, which was to encourage illegal immigrants to leave the state and hopefully return to their home countries.
KNOYWhat do you make of what's going on in Alabama, Angela?
KELLEYWell, I think it's naive to think that people will go back to their home country. I think it's much more realistic that if people are leaving, that they're probably going to a neighboring state or neighboring county. For example, in Prince William County, when they were passing very restrictive measures, there was an uptick in Latinos moving to Arlington and Fairfax.
KELLEYSo people will probably make very serious adjustments in their lives because they're terrified. I think the question, though, is, does this resolve our broken immigration system? Are we dealing sensibly with the 11 million people who are here without status? Do we want to have a patchwork of states that, basically, are terrifying their populations and causing children to flee from schools? I don't think that's a sensible public policy solution.
KELLEYIt's not a solution. And so we look at Alabama, frankly, with great dismay because I think it's going to hurt the state economically. It's a fragile state, its economy, like all states. It's going to paint a not welcome sign on the back of the state -- again, not helpful for the state. And it will simply result in the problem being moved deeper underground or to other places. So a more sensible approach is, frankly, one that lies in the hands of federal lawmakers.
KNOYWell, I'm going to definitely pick up on those points. But to you, picking up on Angela's point, a patchwork of state law, she said. Jonathan Turley, you're our law professor. Why are states taking the initiative on this? Isn't immigration law the province of the federal government?
TURLEYWell, that, of course, is going to be the question in these court actions. This is the third lawsuit against the Alabama case. This one, obviously, is very interesting, the last one being the federal government intervening. The federal government actually doesn't have to intervene. It was an unusual step, the degree to which the Obama administration is being a named party challenging a state law as opposed to being an amicus.
TURLEYBut the issue goes to the supremacy clause in Article 6, that is the Constitution says there is this order, this hierarchy of laws, and states are sometimes preempted. And your inclination is -- from the question, is that immigration tends to be something the federal government does, and that's certainly the case.
TURLEYHowever, the Supreme Court has said -- most clearly in the case called Altria in 2008 -- that where there's doubt, the presumption has to be in favor of the state. The presumption is against preemption because we have a system based on federalism, where the states are allowed to have sort of 50 gardens grow, to try their own experimentation with problems.
TURLEYSo you have this very awkward and a somewhat novel question with these laws as to, where does state law begin and end in relationship to the federal government? The federal government's position is not that this is expressly preempted, so the contrary -- Congress has indicated that state laws are allowed to be passed this area.
TURLEYBut they're arguing that there's implied preemption because the federal government occupies so much of this field, there simply is not room for state laws like this.
KNOYThat's tricky. So is, in your opinion, Alabama on reasonable legal ground here or not?
TURLEYWell, Alabama is sort of like Arizona on steroids. I mean, it is -- Arizona's very carefully crafted to basically amplify the federal laws, that is, to essentially carry out the federal mandate. Alabama goes further. You know, the sponsor, Micky Hammond, said that is was designed to "attack every area of an illegal alien's life."
TURLEYSo the purpose here is much, much more extensive. I think it's a closed question. I really do. I think there's very good arguments in both sides. I don't believe that all of the parts of Alabama can survive. In fact, they did not survive Judge Blackburn's decision, but she did uphold significant portions.
TURLEYBut I have to say, also, Blackburn's decision itself, in my view, has some flaws in it. You know, she says some things about the law that I find strange, where she says, for example, law doesn't require schools or state officials to determine the legality of parents. But, when I read the law, it seems to say precisely that. So there's going to be a lot of mix-up here. And I'm not too sure what's going to make it through.
KNOYAll right. And if you want to join us on "The Diane Rehm Show," call 1-800-433-8850. 1-800-433-8850, or send us your email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Join us on Facebook or Twitter. And, Campbell Robertson, back to you again, so just give us the bare bones, if you could, please, on Alabama's immigration law. What are some of the main points of this law?
ROBERTSONWell, I think Prof. Turley was correct when he sort of summed up what Rep. Hammond had intended, which was not only to go after employers, but to just make life extremely difficult for illegal immigrants in the state. For example, the law allowed, in fact, required police officers, if there's a reasonable suspicion, to try to ascertain the legality of people they stopped in routine traffic stops or arrests.
ROBERTSONNow, these aren't people who can be just stopped at will. But there's -- most contracts between illegal immigrant and anybody are unenforceable. Business transactions with the state, like a license plate or a business license, are banned under the law. And there were some other aspects that were not upheld, such as harboring an alien, which was sort of broadly defined.
ROBERTSONAnd I think the judge found that they wouldn't stand, but that those would be outlawed as well. So it really goes -- tries to make every aspect of life extremely difficult for an illegal immigrant, so they -- so not only are they -- you know, at the employer level, they have to be verified and all that, but just merely existing within the state is made very uncomfortable.
KNOYWell -- and, Steve Camarota, Jonathan Turley said that Alabama is Arizona on steroids, meaning their immigration statutes. What do you think?
CAMAROTAWell, right. I mean, it looks like one of the things that distinguishes Arizona's illegal immigrant population is that it's grown very fast very recently. The other things is it's one of the few states where a majority of the foreign-born, perhaps two-thirds -- small state estimates are always difficult. But it looks like there may be 130,000 illegal immigrants in the state, out of foreign-born of maybe 170,000.
CAMAROTASo it does appear that -- and Arizona was actually another state, like this, where the illegal immigrant population was -- where the foreign-born was majority illegal, which is somewhat unusual, 'cause, nationally, it's about 28 percent. Of the things that are interesting about Alabama is it has a very high rate of unemployment and non-work among its less-educated native-born population.
CAMAROTAThere are almost 600,000 people who are native-born in Arizona of working age, you know, 18 to 65, who are not working right now and don't have much education. That is, they don't have any education beyond high school. Their unemployment rate is, by some measures, 22 percent.
CAMAROTASo what, clearly, Alabama is trying to do is discourage new illegal settlement and encourage illegal immigrants to go home, or at least leave the state and trying to free up some of those jobs at the bottom end of the labor market.
KNOYAll right. Well, coming up, more on states and immigration policy. And we'll start taking your calls at 1-800-433-8850, so stay with us.
KNOYWelcome back. I'm Laura Knoy, sitting in for Diane Rehm. We're looking at the states taking a lead on immigration policy today on "The Diane Rehm Show." You can join us with your questions and comments at 1-800-433-8850. Send us email at email@example.com, or join us on Facebook or Twitter.
KNOYAnd I'd like to go to the phones now, but, Angela Kelley, I know you want to jump back in again, vice president for immigration policy at the Center for American Progress. Go ahead, Angela.
KELLEYSure. I just want to make a point. The idea behind the law is to make life as miserable as possible for undocumented people and hope that they all leave. What the law will actually do, though, is affect every person in the state of Alabama because you can't tell, looking at somebody, whether they're undocumented or not. And it's not as if all undocumented people just live in an apartment building all by themselves.
KELLEYThe reality of it is that the undocumented population, 61 percent of them have been here 10 years or longer. Forty-five percent of them live in families, with a partner and with a child. We have 4 million to 5 million U.S.-born kids that have one undocumented parent, or perhaps two. Life is messy. It's not clean and easy. It's not as if you can just sweep up the undocumented people and have them leave the state. So that's one.
KELLEYAnd, two, the economic impact on Alabama will be profound. If you look at Arizona, they've lost over $200 million in conferences that were cancelled or were never booked. These are dollars that Arizona has left on the table in the wake of its law. Georgia, similar state to Alabama in terms of the economy, $300 million to $1 billion because of crops that have been left in the fields.
KELLEYSo let's not kid ourselves that we can somehow make a little easy fix to our immigration laws in a state like Alabama and that it won't have severe reverberations.
KNOYWell -- and here's a message that we got from Facebook, from Usha, (sp?) who talks about what you just said, Angela, that it's complicated. There are families involved. She says, "Even though I have empathy for the kids caught up in this issue, I still think it's unfair for some immigrants to get the benefits that I worked so hard to get legally.
KNOY"I am an immigrant who has gone through every legal step, right from entering this country to becoming a citizen while paying around 40 percent of the taxes on the way." So...
KNOY...you can have sympathy, but, on the other hand, the law is the law.
KELLEYOf course. And that is the problem, right? It goes back to my first comment, that we don't have a functional, coherent immigration system. She's absolutely right to be upset. A person who's followed the rules doesn't want to see somebody else appear to be gimmicking the rules. But we have 11 million people here without status. Most of them have been here, as I said, more than a decade.
KELLEYBecause we have been cramping down -- clamping down at the border, people are essentially locked in here. They're not going back to their home country. The economies are even weaker there. What we need to do is get them on the right side of the law, find a way to register them, make sure they pay taxes, that they learn English, that they go through background checks. I think that's a system that we could live with where all of us would benefit.
KNOYLet's take some calls again, 1-800-433-8850. And first up is Gina in Daytona Beach, Fla. Hi, Gina, you're on the air. Go ahead.
GINAHi. I agree with what Alabama is doing. Here in Florida, Gov. Rick Scott has made huge cutbacks for education. So we don't have enough resources to take care of the needs of our own children, never mind illegal children, which brings up one more issue. We're lacking jobs here very bad, yet Scott recently said he would not punish Florida companies that hire illegals.
GINAThis is Scott's gift for cheap labor to Florida employers and a slap in the face to our unemployed Floridians.
KNOYWell, and what do you think about this comment, Steve Camarota? You've probably heard this before.
CAMAROTARight. In general, the survey research shows most Americans think this kind of stuff is just common sense. Require employers to verify that new hires are here in the country illegally. (sic) If the police pulled someone over -- they have no documentation, they can produce no documentation, they have no driving record, and there's other things that make the police think that the person is here illegally -- he can make that inquiry.
CAMAROTAIt makes perfect sense. You always establish identity in this course of a traffic stop anyway, and part of that process can be determining legal status. The bottom line is the reason to do it, however, is those very high unemployment figures. We're spending over $30 billion a year educating children from illegal immigrant households.
CAMAROTAIf we can encourage more illegal immigrants to return home, we can save that money at a time when our education system and our health care system is being overwhelmed. What Angie wants is basically to take individuals and let them stay. And if they stay, so do the costs. That is our fundamental dilemma.
CAMAROTAAll the research shows that legalizing illegal immigrants will dramatically increase costs because they become eligible for a host of social programs. But it doesn't change the underlying reason for the cost. And the reason for the cost is the educational attainment of illegals. We think 80 percent have no education beyond high school.
CAMAROTAAnd a majority haven't even graduated high school. Unskilled immigrants are a large net fiscal drain on taxpayers, and they compete for jobs at the bottom end of the labor market, where unemployment is already the highest. So that's why Alabama is doing what it's doing. Angie identifies very strongly with the illegal immigrants and in their plight, and, to some extent, it seems to me, that's to her credit.
CAMAROTABut the people who are harmed by illegal immigration, who are harmed by letting illegals stay and if they got legal status, they don't enter into her calculation. And in terms of the Alabama legislature, that's who they are concerned about: the kids who have to go to crowded schools, the people who compete every day for jobs, the health care system that's overwhelmed. And that's why they're trying to encourage illegal immigrants to go home.
KNOYYou know, Angela mentioned, and Campbell Robertson from The New York Times also mentioned, the economic impact. I saw an article this morning in The New York Times, I think it was, Steve, that talked about a farmer in Oklahoma who -- which we're not talking about their laws today -- but he decided, okay, I'm not going to hire anymore illegal immigrants. I'm only going to hire local Americans.
KNOYAnd he can't get the people he needs to harvest his onions. You know, a couple of local people came in, and they worked for a day or two. And they said, this is too hard. We don't want to do it.
CAMAROTAA couple of quick points. First off, we have an unlimited guest worker program called the H-2A program that allows people to come in unlimited, but they have protections. And employers generally don't like to have those protections. The second point is jobs at the bottom end of the labor market pay dramatically less. Consider those meat and poultry processing plants in Alabama.
CAMAROTAResearch shows that if you compare the wage in 1980 to the current wage, it pays 45 percent less in real -- that is, inflation-adjusted terms. So when those same employers come back and say, look, we can't find anybody, they're paying dramatically less. To get Americans to do the job, you probably are going to have to treat them better. You are going to have to pay them more.
CAMAROTABut I would argue -- and I think most Americans agree -- that if the poor in our country can make some more money, if their bargaining power is improved by the departure of illegal immigrants, that is a good outcome.
KNOYWell, thanks for that call, Gina. And, again, the number, 1-800-433-8850. Here's another comment from Facebook. This is from Jewel, who says, "This puts the burden of enforcement on the school systems and leaves them vulnerable to litigation." She says, "That's not where the immigration issue should be handled. The school systems already have their plates full trying to educate kids.
KNOY"Many schools have limited budgets and can barely afford to buy books and pay teachers." Campbell Robertson from The New York Times, I want to bring you back into this as well. What are the schools in Alabama saying about this law? Let's hone in on that a little bit more.
ROBERTSONWell, the -- right now, a lot of people in Alabama schools and police departments are just trying to figure out exactly what all this means. Now, the law does not really change anything for people who are already enrolled, which is something that's superintendents have been emphasizing, that if a child is enrolled now, there's no difference. Still, people are leaving. I mean, a lot of this is driven by rumor and fear.
ROBERTSONBut it's the registration issue at the very front end that's going to make a difference. And, you know, I think that's -- schools say, look, it's the law. We'll abide by it. And it actually doesn't -- as someone pointed out, I don't think it changes an enormous amount because you have a birth certificate. You generally show a birth certificate anyway.
ROBERTSONWhat's interesting, I talked to the superintendent in Albertville, which is the town where I was, which has a significant Latino population in the school. And he said every year, even though there's a significant Latino population, he said every year there are about maybe five students who come in, who don't have a birth certificate. So it's hard to say. But I think, for now, the schools are just kind of in a wait-and-see mode, like everybody else.
KNOYWell, and, Jonathan, the education issue relates to a Supreme Court ruling, an earlier court ruling that you mentioned earlier this hour. Just remind us what the Supreme Court has said about schools and illegal immigrants, and how this Alabama law fits into that.
TURLEYWell, the Alabama law directly bars or restricts illegal immigrants in being in post-secondary education or in K-12. What's interesting is, looking at the DOJ brief, I don't actually see a challenge to the public universities portion of the law. They focus on K-12. The other parties in these actions actually do challenge both provisions, but, notably, the federal government focuses on K-12.
TURLEYAnd under Section 8, only U.S. citizens of this law can enroll in public secondary education, and then Section 28 is the one that deals with K-12. The Supreme Court has been fairly hostile to these types of state registration rules. In the Pyler case in 1982, the court struck down a law that denied funding to illegal aliens for education.
TURLEYThen Hines, the case in 1941, the court struck down a Pennsylvania law that required registration of every alien under 18. And the Hines gets particularly interesting because that case didn't have a clear conflict with the federal law. That was based on the -- the state's argument there is similar to some of the state's arguments here, but the -- at the same time, the Supreme Court is really all over the field.
ROBERTSONJust recently, the court ruled in Whiting and had a very strong statement from Chief Justice Roberts saying there was no preemption in that case of a immigration law dealing with businesses. So you have what is, quite frankly, a very conflicted line of cases, giving both of these sides a good opposition to go forward.
ROBERTSONI would find it somewhat surprising for the Supreme Court to go as far as the Department of Justice is asking, to say we just occupy this field 'cause there are previous decisions from the court that have recognized state laws. At the same time, I would be surprised if much of this Alabama law could get through that screen. Some of these things look a lot like prior cases.
ROBERTSONSo what you may end up with this is a very important decision of the Supreme Court that re-adjusts this area, brings perhaps, I hope, a bit of clarity. But the most likely bet is probably that the federal government states may have to share this area with the federal government being, by far, the bigger dog on the street.
ROBERTSONAnd I don't think the Supreme Court is going to allow any significant conflicts with the federal jurisdiction. Now, there is an interesting aspect to this. That is, it was surprising to see the Obama administration intervene as a party as opposed to an amicus. They sort of doubled down on the immigration issue and said, we want to be out front on this one.
ROBERTSONBut in court, they're making arguments that could come back to haunt them because one of the reasons they're alleging there's a conflict is that the federal government reserves the right not to deport illegal aliens, not to enforce some of these provisions. How that plays back, I'm not too sure. But it creates this very noble situation where the federal government is saying, part of our occupation of the field includes decision not to enforce these laws, even if the states feel that they should be enforced more vigorously.
KNOYWell, there's a lot of politics involved, and we'll get to that in just a minute. And the Homeland Security secretary is giving a speech at this moment at the American University, talking about immigration policy. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Our number is 1-800-433-8850. Our email is firstname.lastname@example.org. And, Angela, did you want to jump in there?
KELLEYYeah, I did. There are a couple of points I wanted to go back to that Steve mentioned. Kids do cost money, absolutely. I'm the mother of two. I can tell you, they're wickedly expensive. But undocumented people -- like everyone else -- pay taxes, and the Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy looked at Alabama undocumented folks and found out in 2010 that they paid $130 million in taxes, property taxes, sales taxes.
KELLEYA lot of people work with false Social Security numbers, and they pay income tax. So there are numbers on both sides of the ledger. And we also know, from a 1986 program where undocumented people were legalized, that their wages went up and that they paid more in taxes, that their employers made more of an investment in them.
KELLEYAnd it's only then when people have legal status do you even the playing field for the U.S. worker. As long as we have an unauthorized population that can be pushed off the books and that won't complain, unscrupulous employers will pay them less. And who's left hurt by that are U.S. workers.
KELLEYSo in the interest of U.S. workers and undocumented people who I don't think are -- need to be at odds with each other, what has to happen is we need to make sure that employers follow the rules and that unauthorized immigrants get a chance to be in the system and to pay taxes. Only then will we have a sensible immigration policy where we're not asking preschoolers for papers.
KNOYSteve, go ahead and then back to our callers.
CAMAROTAVery briefly, the reason illegal immigration generally reduces wages is not their illegal status, but because we're dramatically increasing the supply of workers. It's basic economics. If you add a million construction workers to the United States, you lower wages, regardless of legal status. If you want wages for the less educated and the poor to do better, you have to encourage illegal immigrants to go home.
KNOYLet's take another one. This is Adolfo (sp?) waiting in Hobart, Ind. Hi, Adolfo. Go ahead.
ADOLFOGood morning. Thank you for taking my call.
ADOLFOI think -- ever since this weekend, I've been thinking about this law. And one of the portions say that it is now illegal to -- or it is a crime to harbor illegal immigrants. And it got me to think, what is going to happen to the illegal immigrants who are already in the correction system, state and local, that are being sheltered by the state or the local agencies, and taxpayers are actually paying for them? Aren't they breaking their own rule?
KNOYWhat do you think about that? Can you answer that, Jonathan?
TURLEYWell, first of all, the harboring provision is, as Judge Blackburn indicates, is not likely to survive. But this does get into this murky area of what agencies, what businesses have knowledge of illegal status. It also creates new crimes. I mean, what's fascinating about Alabama is that they create, in Section 10, a new crime of the willful failure to complete or carry an alien registration document.
TURLEYSo, in addition to harboring, there's all these very specific provisions that have created new crimes. That's what makes Alabama's law so interesting, and I think that the sponsors probably understood that not all of these things can make it through that constitutional screen.
KNOYWell, here's another question from an emailer. And, by the way, Adolfo, thanks for that call. This email is from Daniel. He says, "How much of this is purely political? First Arizona, then several other states passing new immigrations laws." He says, "Republicans now want AG Holder investigated, other investigations."
KNOYDaniel says, "It seems to be the strategy to tie the Obama administration up with legal challenges aimed at preventing it from functioning." I'd like to hear from you, Campbell Robertson, on this. What are the politics surrounding both Alabama's move and these other moves done by other states?
ROBERTSONWell, I think part of that is right, in that there is a lot of politics here. I don't know if this is -- has anything to do with the Obama administration. Micky Hammon, who is one of the creators of the bill, and Scott Beason, who's the sponsor in the Senate, have been pushing bills like this for some time. It was only after 2010, when the Republicans took over a super majority of the state legislature in Alabama, that it really gained some traction.
ROBERTSONSo this is -- this has been something that its backers have been pushing for quite a while. But, on the other hand, I don't think there's any question that it's a popular issue in Alabama and that -- I mean, you know, Sen. Beason, if I recall this correctly, said -- he specifically mentioned places like Albertville, where it's not only an issue of labor and an issue of taxpayer disputes, but it's sort of a cultural issue.
ROBERTSONI mean, in the downtown part of Albertville, a lot of the stores are catered to Latino customers, and that has created some tensions in the town. I mean, the -- both Latino and white residents of the town will tell you that. And there's politics involved with that as well.
KNOYAll right. Well, coming up, your calls and questions on the states shaping immigration policy, so stay tuned.
KNOYWelcome back. I'm Laura Knoy, sitting in for Diane Rehm. Today, we're looking at immigration policy and moves by states like Alabama to limit illegal immigration. We welcome your comments and questions at 1-800-433-8850. And all of you, just before the break, we took an email that talked about, isn't this all political? Campbell Robertson of The New York Times looked at that.
KNOYI wonder what you think, Steve Camarota, to, how much is politics, especially the politics of 2012, playing into this?
CAMAROTAWell, I think that, as I said before, the poll show that these kinds of laws are very popular. And it's clear that what's happened in the country is the public wanted this kind of response for a long time. There's a lot of dissatisfaction with immigration policy, but that it hadn't really broken through. And now, it's breaking through more, that what the public has always wanted is now increasingly becoming law.
CAMAROTAAnd so I think that that's partly what we see here at the state level. And it's why, you know, the president will make a speech or two, but he's not introducing any serious legislation for an -- for illegalization or any of the other things that folks like Angie want because he knows it'll hurt him in the upcoming election.
KNOYSo he's tap dancing until 2012. Is that what you're saying?
CAMAROTARight. Exactly. He speaks to specific audiences at specific times that he knows that will listen. And then he generally just hopes the general public mostly ignores it because out -- for most of the country, talking about amnesty and talking about this kind of administrative things where he's doing -- where's he's not going to be deporting whole categories of people, that's generally not popular.
CAMAROTAAnd for the audiences that it is, he'll talk to them about it and just hope everyone else kind of doesn't notice too much.
KNOYWhat about the Hispanic vote? You do hear some concern that if Republicans go too far out on this immigration limb, they're going to get hurt in the elections.
CAMAROTAI mean, the fact is I'm always reluctant to engage in that kind of racialized analysis of the U.S. electorate. But if you're going to do it, then you need to be honest. Hispanics will be about 8 percent of the voting in the coming -- upcoming election. Say, whites will be about 80 percent of the vote. So if you were to gain 10 percentage points of Hispanic vote, but lose 1 percent of the white vote, you're worse off. But, again, I don't think voters see it that way.
CAMAROTAWe know that, for example, in Arizona when they had their anti-illegal immigration proposition several years back that almost half of all Hispanic voters actually voted for it. So, again, engaging in a racialized analysis is problematic. But if you do, you have to look at the actual numbers we're talking about.
KNOYAngela, what do you think, politics of 2012?
KELLEYSure. Look, the Latino vote is growing faster than any other demographic. The Latino vote is going to be decisive in states like Colorado, New Mexico, Florida, Nevada.
KELLEYSo it's -- it matters a whole lot going...
KNOYState by state?
KELLEY...into 2012, and superb polling done of Latino voters by Latino decisions shows that 25 percent of Latino voters know someone who has been deported or who is in removal proceedings. That's one out of every four Latino voters is very closely connected to this issue. They know someone who's been deported or who will be deported.
KELLEYThis is an issue that is the screen by which Latino voters will look at politicians through: how they're being talked about, are they being respected or are they being dissed? So it's got enormous stakes going into -- in going into the 2012. Under the Obama administration, 1 million unauthorized immigrants have been deported. He has broken records. He has exceeded, in his first term, President Bush's record of deportations in two terms.
KELLEYSo this is a very much of a get-tough president who's going to have to try to get on the right side of this issue. What's helping him, frankly, though is -- are the way that the Republican candidates talk about this issue and beating up on Rick Perry for having passed an in-state tuition authorization for undocumented kids in Texas, which exists in a dozen other states.
KELLEYI mean, that's -- the immigration debate that we're having is laughable when we see what's happening on the ground in Alabama, in Georgia, in Arizona, and also other states that are trying to give undocumented students access to higher education and are going completely the opposite direction, like Maryland, like Connecticut. So the politics are very, very dicey for both parties on this.
KNOYWell, and one more political question. And, Jonathan Turley, I know you're a law professor and not a political science professor, but did the Obama administration have to sue Alabama and Arizona over these laws? Or could it have let other groups take the lead in this and just say, yeah, yeah, we support this? But that's a political decision, too, isn't it?
TURLEYIt is. There's a convergence of law in politics in this area, which really has a profile we haven't seen before. The Justice Department has historically not challenged state laws. They are -- they come in as amicus. Those amicus briefs or friends of the court briefs are taken very seriously by the courts. There's no need to be a party. They really decided that they wanted to be out in front on this.
TURLEYAnd they're also -- so you have the situation where the Obama administration is actually at odds with the states at an unprecedented level because, in addition to these immigration cases, they're also in court fighting majority of states on health care. So we actually have had now an administration that is far more in conflict. And we haven't really seen these types of conflicts since the desegregation period.
TURLEYAnd so this was not legally necessary, which means it was probably more politically advisable for the perspective of some folks. But what's going to be sort of interesting is that the timing on all of these law suits, it seems to me, couldn't be worse in the sense that you're very likely going to have decisions coming right before the election. And I'm not too sure what's going to be worse for the administration -- to win or lose on this issue.
KNOYAll right. Let's take another call. And this is Eric in Price William County, Va. Hi, Eric. You're on "The Diane Rehm Show." Go ahead.
ERICHi. Thanks for taking my call.
ERICIn Prince William County, we did have this law written by the same lobbying firm in Washington, D.C., that wrote the Alabama and Arizona laws. For eight weeks, it was -- in March and April of 2008. It was very popular during the election season, during which, you know, in 2007, it was the main issue until we implemented it.
ERICAnd then we found that some of those really convenient arguments that Steve had been making where he ignores all of the contributions that immigrants make to the community or to the country and only looks at the costs, those things started to actually play out in real life. And we lost business owners. We lost very productive members of society who were working more than one job. We lost homeowners.
ERICAnd we had a foreclosure rate that was five times the regional average. We are worst on the Atlantic Seaboard in foreclosures. And so, after eight weeks of implementation, majority Republican board of supervisors changed their mind on the basis of economic impact. The public safety impact, we had actually managed to reverse a 15-year trend of falling crime rates just by creating a lack of trust between law enforcement in communities of color.
KNOYSo it didn't work out the way that they had planned, Eric. You know, what do you think, Steve? He's raising some points that I've heard other people raise.
CAMAROTAWell, I think that -- I guess we disagree somewhat on the historical record of what happened in Prince William County. My understanding is those provisions remain popular. Most people think they were a good idea. Parts of them remain in effect. So I think we just disagree on what happened.
CAMAROTAIn general, it looks like, based on the available evidence, that the illegal population in Prince William County did fall somewhat, which was the goal of the law. There were people who benefited from that. There were savings for taxpayers. And I think, on balance, the county did better. And I think polling in the county, that I've seen, suggested most people think that the county was better off.
CAMAROTAYou have to believe that allowing large numbers of unskilled immigrants remain in the country is a boon to the economy. And to do that, you have to ignore the impact on low wage, lower income Americans. And you have to ignore the fiscal impact. Illegal immigrants pay taxes, and they also use services. But reflecting their educational attainment, they generally make modest tax payments but use a fair amount in public services.
KNOYYou know, Campbell Robertson, with The New York Times, we haven't really looked to the public safety aspects of this. What do you think about, what our caller says, about what happened in Prince William County?
ROBERTSONWell, obviously, a lot of this is -- remains to be seen. And, you know...
KNOYYeah, what are the police there been saying down in Alabama?
ROBERTSONWell, the sheriffs have been -- a lot of sheriffs have been against this, particularly given the financial status of a lot of municipalities. I mean, they're really strapped. The Jefferson County, which is where Birmingham is, in particular, the departments are already really hurting there extremely badly with budget cuts. And now to have to enforce this, there is a lot of pushback by police departments. I mean, obviously, it varies by municipality.
ROBERTSONBut, I mean, even some of these counties with high Latino populations, where the sheriff already has a relationship with the Feds on immigration issues, sort of a unique -- some of these places, sheriffs have unique relationships because of the uniqueness of the problems. But even in those areas, there is some resistance just because of the extra burden.
ROBERTSONI mean, I think one sheriff, maybe it was in Tuscaloosa, called it an unfunded mandate because it's just going to require more resources, and there's no extra funding for it.
KNOYAll right. Let's take another call. This is Holly in Boston. And, hi, Holly. You're on the air. Welcome.
HOLLYHi. Thank you. Many of these aliens, they come to work in the United States, and they send their money back home to their families rather than spending their money here in our country, in our economy, which is something that I've not heard in any discussion before. But also, just because they have a child here does not make the baby a citizen. And I just don't think that anybody is being just straight enough to address this.
HOLLYYou're welcome to here to come and work, but that doesn't mean you have to stop having families and things. But it does not make the baby or the parents citizens.
HOLLYAnd I hope that the -- our politicians will address this issue and make a very clear and concise message of it.
KNOYHolly, thanks for calling in. And, Angela, we've gone around and around the economics. I'm starting to think you could do a whole show just on the economics of it. But she's bringing another economic point that hasn't been highlighted. And that is -- she's saying, okay, they contribute economically, but they also send a lot of cash back to folks back home.
KELLEYSure. People do send money back home in the form of remittances. But they also, of course, do buy a home to live in here. They buy groceries every single week. They put clothing on the backs of themselves and their children. They make their lives here. And as I indicated, a full 60-some percent of the undocumented population has already been here for more than 10 years.
KELLEYSo this is where their home is, and they do send some money back to support, you know, other family members. I don't know that that's a bad thing. And I also do know that the children that they have here are U.S. citizens, that they are American by birth. And that is the genius of this country is that we --we're not a country club. You don't have to apply to belong.
KELLEYIn groups like the Center for Immigration Studies, where Steve works, I know want to undo that part of the Constitution, which I think would be a terrible step in a wrong direction and would take us -- take this country back to a very ugly period. Here's what I also do know, is that places like Prince William really wish that they had never passed those measures.
KELLEYThat states, like Tennessee, hardly a bastion of liberalism, looked at similar immigration measures and said, no, thank you. This is going to cost us $3 million dollars just to pass it, $2 million every year after that. So states have made wise, fiscal choices to not go down the road of Arizona, of Alabama, of Georgia, of Prince William County because it's too expensive.
KELLEYAnd at the end of the day, Laura, it doesn't send a single immigrant -- it doesn't send a single unauthorized immigrant back to their country.
KNOYThey may go to another state.
KELLEYWhat -- they just go to another state. We are kidding ourselves if we think that there's a mass exodus back to Mexico or back to Central America or back to China by passing these laws. We're just shooting ourselves in the foot economically.
KNOYHolly, thanks for that call. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Steve Camarota, I know you want to jump in that.
CAMAROTAWell, look, on the question on citizenship, we could ask the law professor here. But we all know the answer is that the Supreme Court has never said, Congress has never ruled that the children of illegal aliens are U.S. citizens. There's never been an executive order, and there's never been a clear Supreme Court decision establishing that they're U.S. citizens.
CAMAROTAHowever, as matter of custom, we have on -- the system sort of runs on autopilot, and we've been granting American citizenship to them. It isn't an area that I've been particularly active in, and I kind of have two minds on whether that's wise.
CAMAROTAThe bottom line on the economics is you have to believe that significantly reducing the overall education profile of the United States, flooding the unskilled labor market is good for taxpayers and good for workers at the bottom end of the U.S. labor market. All the research shows that unskilled immigrants, legal and illegal, pay nowhere near enough in taxes to cover their consumption of public services.
CAMAROTAThat doesn't happen because they're lazy, and it doesn’t happen because they all came for welfare. It happens because the nature of the U.S. economy doesn't offer that much to the less educated, period.
KELLEYYeah, look, they're not eligible for benefits, and you know that.
CAMAROTABut you know the statistics. More than half...
KELLEYThe undocumented folks are eligible for K-12 education, which is obviously under attack now in Alabama, and emergency medical care, and that's it. If you become a legal resident, you are barred for five years from having access to any federal benefits. And anybody that you sponsor has to show that they're above the poverty line, and an affidavit of support has to be filed.
KNOYSo the drain argument, you don't buy that?
KELLEYThere are no -- I don't buy it. And there's -- look, there's no giveaways. We have made it really, really tough on people, and it hasn't worked. It's time for lawmakers to stop hiding under their desks and actually roll up their sleeves and pass a bill that would fix the problem.
CAMAROTALet me put some facts here. We know that more than half of illegal immigrant households access the welfare system, often on behalf of their U.S.-born children, often because of fraud and often because states have different eligibility requirements. That's the facts.
KNOYWell, clearly, we're going to have to revisit this issue again. But to close out, I want to update you on what Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has been saying. She's delivering a speech, as we speak, here at American University. And she has mentioned states that continue to pass a patchwork of immigration laws.
KNOYNapolitano said, it is our position that Congress needs to take up immigration reform once and for all. I'm guessing that's an area where everybody on this panel agrees.
KELLEYWe're all nodding our heads.
KNOYRight. Exactly. And, Campbell Robertson, I wonder what you think. What is the possibility of that happening, of us getting the federal immigration solution that everyone says they're seeking?
ROBERTSONWell, as a reporter who doesn't cover immigration, I should start by saying I have absolutely no idea.
ROBERTSONBut I don't think there's a -- I mean, you know, the common rhetoric on the politicians who passed this law in Alabama is that we're stepping in where the federal government has failed. So at the very least, politically, that's a popular stance in Alabama. And it is -- I guess it is a weak point for the federal government to have states be able to say that kind of thing.
KNOYWell, and here's a Facebook comment from Michael, who says, "Our immigration policies are a mess, but the way to deal with a bad law is to change it, not ignore it. Immigrants are an important part of America and our economy." Michael says, "Let's find a way to make them legal. Thanks to Arizona and Alabama for pressing the issue."
KNOYWhat do you think, Angela? Are we going to get comprehensive immigration reform that you have been calling for?
KELLEYI think, at some point, politicians can't avoid it. I think the demographics are destiny. And until lawmakers really feel the pressure, the way that, I think, they're beginning to with the patchwork of state laws, the way they're beginning to because of the interest of Latino voters who, as I said, care a lot about this issue. I mean, it will be the, you know, the 800-pound gorilla in the room that they just can't ignore anymore.
TURLEYWell, for the first time of my life I'm going to make an excuse for Congress, and that is it is very odd that a nation created by immigrants, we have total confusion as the status of immigrants. It is an anomaly that's existed since the beginning of the republic, whether it's birth citizenship or whether it's the right of states. Congress is going to have a limited ability to resolve this question until the Supreme Court resolves where the lines are drawn.
TURLEYAnd so this may be a matter where the court needs to clarify so that a political solution can be found.
KNOYAll right. Well, all of you, this has been real interesting. Thank you very much for being here. I appreciate it. I'm Laura Knoy, sitting in for Diane Rehm. Thanks for listening.
ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Susan Nabors, Denise Couture, Monique Nazareth, Lisa Dunn and Nikki Jecks. The engineer is Erin Stamper. A.C. Valdez answers the phones. Visit drshow.org for audio archives, transcripts, podcasts and CD sales. Call 202-885-1200 for more information. Our email address is email@example.com. And we're on Facebook and Twitter. This program comes to you from American University in Washington. This is NPR.
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