Ten years after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, we look at the struggle to rebuild and why recovery efforts aren't spread equitably across the city.
A bipartisan group of U.S. senators announces an immigration reform plan. President Barack Obama is expected to lay out his own proposal on Tuesday. Diane and her guests discuss pathways to citizenship, border security and other key immigration issues.
- Angela Kelley vice president for immigration policy and advocacy at the Center for American Progress.
- Manu Raju senior congressional reporter at Politico.
- Mark Krikorian executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. When asked why Republicans should support his new immigration reform plan, Sen. John McCain put it bluntly.
SEN. JOHN MCCAINLook at the last election. We are losing dramatically the Hispanic vote, which we think should be ours for a variety of reasons, and we've got to understand that.
REHMMcCain is one of eight senators behind the bipartisan push for comprehensive immigration reform. President Obama is scheduled to announce his own proposal later today. Here to discuss the latest here in the studio: Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies, Manu Raju -- he's congressional reporter at Politico -- joining us from Las Vegas, Nev., Angela Kelley of the Center for American Progress.
REHMI hope you'll join us. Call us on 800-433-8850. Send us your email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Good morning to all of you -- start with you. Talk about what Republicans and Democrats together are proposing.
MR. MANU RAJURight. They're talking about really a sweeping proposal that deals with both the legal immigration system and dealing with the 11 million or so illegal immigrants who are here. On the legal side, they're talking about bringing in more high-skilled workers into the country. They're talking about them, as well as bringing in more low-skilled workers as well, dealing with that in a situation where, if the economy is doing better, there would be fewer jobs available for some of those lower-skilled immigrants and, if the economy is doing worse, that there would be more of those jobs available.
MR. MANU RAJUOn the illegal side, there are 11 million or so who are here. They're going to create a pathway to citizenship for those folks, but only after a certain amount or border security and enforcement measures are triggered. And when that happens, these folks will be able to get in the back of the lines, so to say, and move towards getting a more permanent legal status. There's very -- right now, these are just broad principles. They have to actually draft the legislation. And, of course, you know, that could lead to a whole host of other problems once they start to get into the finer details here.
REHMDo you have any idea how President Obama's plans will differ from those put forth by this bipartisan group?
RAJUWell, the White House is saying that they -- you know, they are encouraged by this group. They say that a lot of the principles that they supported are very similar to what the president has outlined in the past. But I think what you're going to see from the president is to take a little bit more of a liberal approach on some of these measures, particularly on the pathway to citizenship.
RAJUThere are folks who are major advocates for a comprehensive immigration bill, who are concerned that folks under this proposal would be -- these illegal immigrants under this proposal would have to wait for years and years and years before getting a permanent legal status. I think you will see the president trying to take a more aggressive line, a more direct pathway to citizenship for those folks, as well as dealing with things in another -- on other ways that would hue more closely to what folks on the left are calling for.
RAJUBut I should say that the senate proposal is the one that is going to really drive the debate in Congress. I think the president is really laying down his mark around what he would like to see.
REHMAll right. And turning to you, Angela Kelley, you were involved in the 2007 efforts to pass immigration reform. Is the Senate House plan a repeat of five years ago?
MS. ANGELA KELLEYNo. I think the landscape has changed considerably. I don't think that I can ever remember a time where you had both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue -- you had bipartisan groups in both chambers all rowing in the same direction. So I do think this is a very different time. We've had many years of enforcement. This White House has deported a record number of people and did that in year three. He had already deported more people than Obama (sic) did in eight.
MS. ANGELA KELLEYSo we've had very vigorous enhancements at the border as we should. And honestly, we also had the electorate speak, and the Latino vote was very decisive in this election. And it -- in the Asian vote, the New American vote -- generally pointed that this is a policy issue that they want dealt with. And since then, you've seen, frankly, a stampede of more Republicans and Democrats saying, let's just solve the problem once and for all. That's a very different dynamic than in '07.
REHMMark Krikorian, how do you see it?
MR. MARK KRIKORIANWell, the dynamic is different to some degree, as Angie points out. The bill is exactly the same. I mean, obviously, there's lot of details to it. There's hundreds. I think last year was -- last time rather was something like a 700-page bill. So it'll be something like that. And there'll be little tweaks different here and there. But basically, it's the same thing.
MR. MARK KRIKORIANIt's legalization immediately for all the illegal immigrants, plus increases, big increases in legal -- future legal immigration in exchange for promises to enforce the law in the future, many of which are things that should already be in place. I mean, one notable thing that was highlighted in these proposals that wasn't really highlighted five years ago was the need to have an entry-exit tracking system for foreign visitors, a kind of check-in, check-out system.
MR. MARK KRIKORIANBecause that's important, some 40 percent of the illegal population came in as visitors and then just never left. They didn't -- so fences don't really matter to people in that situation. The problem is that Congress mandated a system like that 17 years ago, and then five more times in the interim passed more legislation, demanding the completion of such a system. So why that would be offered as kind of a part of a tradeoff for an amnesty is beyond me. It seems to me that's something that has to happen before there's even a discussion about the rest of these things.
REHMManu, can you respond to that?
RAJUI think that's going to be one of the real tricky parts of this legislation. How did they determine that the border is actually secure before moving forward with a legalization program for these 11 million or so immigrants in this country? One of the things that they're proposing is creating a commission of folks on the Southwestern border -- political leaders, community leaders -- to determine that the border is actually secure before moving forward in a more permanent legal status.
RAJUYou know, that is a question about how exactly that works, who is going to be on that board and exactly, you know, how to structure the language so that they could make that kind of determination before moving forward with the pathway.
REHMAngela, do you agree with the senators that citizenship should be tied to stronger border security?
KELLEYWe need to do both. It's certainly not an either-or. And I like the framework's approach. Look, it's a four-page set of principles, so there's a lot of detail that needs to be developed. And we'll be looking at it closely with a magnifying glass to make sure that what is a very complex code is written correctly. But it's very clear. The very first part of the outline talks about creating a path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants and that be contingent upon securing the border and combating these overstays.
KELLEYSo it's very clear that they're taking both of those priorities incredibly seriously as they should. I think, though, that your other guest is right. What kind of trigger, what kind of proof is going to need to be shown that we've, you know, controlled the border is very important. It has to be realistic. Of course, it has to be achievable. And then what are we going to be doing with the 11 million in that period?
KELLEYIt appears that the outline, the Gang of Eight senators is looking towards putting the 11 million in a long waiting line, making sure that people who are already waiting for visas will get their visas first. There's special treatment for DREAMers, and there's also, frankly, special treatment for agriculture workers, just giving the importance of having a stable workforce in that industry. That all makes sense.
KELLEYBut what I like about this is that it's very solution-oriented and that unlike most conversations in Washington where Democrats and Republicans are in the same room, they're slamming doors or there's dead silence. This is really an active conversation. And there's not a lot of policy issues that you can point to right now that enjoys that reality.
KELLEYSo I think that we do need to be very conscientious of how this develops. I think the White House is playing a very helpful role with the president's speech today. I'm encouraged by the fact the Speaker Boehner, that Paul Ryan, a number of conservatives on the House side are saying, yeah, you're right. Let's get this solved. So I think it's a different day, and I think it's achievable.
KRIKORIANThere's a couple of points that I think are important to keep in mind. These triggers so-called -- where -- in other words, certain benchmarks would have to be achieved in enforcement before more of the amnesty proceeded. It's important to understand -- and Sen. Rubio and Sen. Schumer emphasized this in their press conference -- that the illegal immigrants are legalized immediately. It's just that they get a so-called provisional status. But they get work cards, they get Social Security numbers, they get driver's licenses.
KRIKORIANThat will never be taken away. That is, in reality, permanent. It's just that these supposed triggers, which are frankly kind of phony, would lead to green card status, in other words, a regular immigration status, which then after a period of several years, would allow you to apply for citizenship. So my point is legalization happens immediately for everybody, and in reality, will not be revocable. So if the triggers are not pulled, if you will, it doesn't matter 'cause everybody has already been amnestied.
REHMManu, phony triggers?
RAJUWell, I mean, of course, the proponents would say they're not phony. That's what the, you know, the McCain and the Rubios are really trying to sell this hard to the Republican Party saying, look, that, you know, these border enforcement mechanisms, these new e-verify provisions that would ensure that employers are not hiring undocumented immigrants and that, you know, there would be stiffer penalties for employers who are not -- who are actually knowingly hiring illegal folks, that those things would have to go into a place as the pathway to citizenship would take place.
RAJUBut, look, there is a lot of skepticism that it'll actually be an effective measure, and I think, you know, we're hearing some of that today.
REHMManu Raju, he is chief congressional correspondent at Politico. When we come back, we're going to be talking about Sen. Marco Rubio's involvement and how that is affecting this forward movement.
REHMAnd as we talk about plans put forward by a group of eight senators -- four Democrats and four Republicans -- for immigration reform, here in the studio: Manu Raju -- he's chief congressional correspondent at Politico -- and Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies. On the line with us from Las Vegas, Angela Kelley, vice president for immigration policy and advocacy at the Center for American Progress. Manu, talk about Sen. Marco Rubio's involvement. How key is his support? Has his position changed at all?
RAJUI think his support has been critical for this group, especially on the right. You know, as you've seen in the aftermath of the election, Rubio has been trying to take a broad -- explained his broad principles to conservatives on conservative talk radio, conservative news outlets and explained to them what he is trying to do. So far, the reception from the Bill O'Reillys, the Sean Hannitys of the world have been generally pretty positive.
RAJUAnd I think that helped this group at least come to -- the folks on the right, the Republicans come to an agreement on this pathway to citizenship. That was very important him. But, you know, folks would criticize him as well by saying that, look, he has taken a variety of different approaches and positions on this issue over the years. And we'll see how that plays out because as we know, he's certainly a possible 2016 candidate.
KELLEYYeah. I mean, I think Marco Rubio is bilingual in more than just the ability to speak Spanish and English fluently. I think he's bilingual in that he is reaching out and speaking with conservative credentials and really pitch-perfect to a number of Republicans who are eager to find their way forward on this issue. And I think he's showing them the path.
KELLEYAnd I think he can also speak as an immigrant, as someone who, for example, actively reached out to the DREAMer community, to the immigrant youth last summer, as someone who understands how difficult it is for them and the reality of how broken immigration systems hit communities. And it's not just limited to the undocumented. They don't all live in one apartment building by themselves but they intermarry. And so you have U.S. citizens and legal residents in communities across the country that are really feeling the pain and the effect of this issue, so I do think -- I think he plays a critical role.
REHMDidn't -- Mark Krikorian, didn't he come out against the DREAM Act? Didn't he also oppose the 2007 Comprehensive Immigration Reform effort, which both McCain and Sen. Mel Martinez helped craft?
KRIKORIANYeah. I mean, just to correct something Angie said, Sen. Rubio was not an immigrant. He was born in the United States. His parents were immigrants. But, yes, he's taken pretty much every position you could take on immigration. He was for -- against legalization and then for legalization. He was in favor of piecemeal legislation, in other words, targeted measures that would deal with particular focused pieces of the issue and then kind of moved to embrace a so-called comprehensive where everything's packaged into one huge doorstop piece of legislation. So, yeah, he's been all over the map.
KRIKORIANThe reason, I think, initially, as Manu said, he had more sort of entree and acceptability among conservatives is because he's not John McCain. I mean, John McCain really doesn't like conservatives. He's not a conservative. He's always at a very kind of confrontational relationship with him whereas Rubio is stock with conservatives was really very high. And so he got a more respectful hearing from people like Mark Levin and other people like that. But I don't think at the end of the day, that's ultimately going to determine what people want to do
REHMAnd it's interesting that both of these announcements come back to back. What is that, Manu?
RAJUYou know, I think that one of the reasons is that Rubio and McCain don't want to look like they're taking their marching orders from President Obama. I mean, the president's coming out today, making his speech. I think the last thing that Marco Rubio would want to look like is that he's doing exactly what the president wants.
RAJUSo as soon as it seemed that the president was going to make his announcement on Tuesday, that group really rushed over through the weekend to finalize the deal, set their press conference for Monday, begin to leak out the detail Sunday night and look like that they were the ones driving the train, not the president.
REHMSo you got the president making his speech this afternoon in Las Vegas where you will be, Angela. And what do you think you're likely to hear as the number one concern on his part?
KELLEYI think he wants to squarely address what's going to be the nation's policy towards the 11 million who are living here without papers. I think he's going to want to demonstrate clarity, that there needs to be a path for them that is going to have rigorous requirements. We're going to want to make sure people are paying taxes and learning English and that we do thorough background checks. At the same time, there is a practical reality.
KELLEYAnd the president, I believe, will make clear at the end of the day that these folks, like everybody else, should get a chance to eventually naturalize and become citizens. So there's going to be a strong accountability to the -- I believe, to how the president will approach this and a practical reality that we need to get this issue behind us, that we need to have smart borders. Right now, we don't have a lot of people coming to the United States illegally.
KELLEYThat's certainly going to change as our economy gets stronger. And that we need to keep up with smart border technology. We need to hold employers accountable, that who they hire are, in fact, people who are authorized to work. We need to ensure that people who are trying to come to the U.S. legally, smart kids that are graduating from our universities that they don't immediately leave but rather that we give them a chance to stay.
KELLEYSo there's a number of measures that I think that the president will begin to put forward. But first and foremost, it really does link up with years of enforcement, state laws, like Alabama, Georgia, Arizona, that have not worked. The undocumented population is not leaving. Two-thirds of them have been here longer than 10 years. And so I think, at the end of the day, it's going to be about how do we solve that problem.
REHMYeah, exactly. And, Mark, what about the senators' view that have said those who have been here illegally even for all that time have to go to the back of the line?
KRIKORIANWell, the question is what line. I mean, they immediately get legal status, so they're already cutting ahead of everybody abroad, complying with the law, waiting to get into the United States. So like I said, they immediately get legal status, work card, Social Security number, driver's license, all of that. And frankly, the distinction between that and a green card for your average person just making it through the day is irrelevant. It's non-existent, I mean, the concern about getting people to citizenship quicker.
KRIKORIANAnd the president's proposal will essentially be identical to the senator's one, except that it'll be a shorter path to getting a green card. Frankly, I mean, let's be honest, and people have been honest and open about this, it's to get votes. I mean, Eliseo Medina, who's vice president of the SEIU, the Service Employees International Union, has explicitly said in his speech that the point to legalization and immigration create -- is to cement a progressive majority for the long term. That's the way he put it. In other words, this is a very clearly political goal.
REHMBut some Republicans have suggested that you legalize the immigrants without granting them citizenship. Manu.
RAJUYeah. There is an effort to try to carve a sort of middle road. And I think that was one of the things that, you know, Marco Rubio initially started to talk about before he got in behind this, this pathway to citizenship approach. Look, I mean, it's a difficult thing for the Republicans to navigate here because, you know, there is one side, as Mark points out, that makes an argument that, look, if you legalize these folks, will that help the Democrats politically?
RAJUBut if you block that effort, don't you hurt yourself with a growing Latino population? As we saw in 2004, Bush had more than 40 percent of the Latino vote. It dropped to just over 30 percent for John McCain. It dropped under 30 percent for Mitt Romney. There's a real fear among a lot of folks in the party that they need to change their approach and get that voting block back on their side.
REHMAll right. So let's turn from politics to money. How are these immigrants -- if they become legalized, given green cards, even perhaps citizenship, how is that going affect wages in this country, Manu?
RAJUI think that's an excellent question, Diane. I mean, look, that's one of the concerns that some folks in the labor community are voicing right now. And they're trying to work on an agreement with the business community on how to structure a program of, you know, so-called guest workers and affect the future flow of legal immigrants who will come in especially for these low-skilled jobs.
RAJUOne of the ways that this proposal talks about is that if these employers do not fill jobs from, you know, for American workers, the folks who are here legally, then some of these lower skilled workers who've been coming in from the country, the immigrants, can be eligible for those jobs. But verifying that, that the -- they weren't able to fill that job from an American worker, you know, that's question about how exactly they're going to be able to do that. You know, these are some of the major questions that are still looming over this debate.
REHMSo could wages actually go up for everybody?
RAJUI mean, I just -- I think that just remains to be seen. It's too hard -- I think it's too hard to say at this point early on.
REHMAll right. We've got lots of callers. Let's open the phones, first to Phoenix, Ariz. Good morning, Renee.
RENEEHi, Diane. Thanks so much for having me on. Sorry about that.
RENEEFirst of all, I want -- I had two points. I wanted to bring up the fact that John McCain had been pretty much completely opposed to immigration reform. Before this, he supported SB 1070, our Arizona law. And also he walked the border with Paul Babeu, who had a gay scandal, and he ended up threatening to deport his gay lover, who came out about their affair. And also I wanted to address English as the national language and how that affects even Puerto Rico if they became part of United States. Thank you.
REHMOK. A couple of issues there. John McCain.
RAJUJohn McCain's evolution on immigration has been really fascinating and sort of tracked with how Republicans nationally have dealt with this issue. Of course he cut that deal with Ted Kennedy in 2007, but he ran in the Republican primary in 2008 and really had to distance himself from that as he came under attack from Mitt Romney. And then in 2010, in a Senate primary, he was attacked for supporting so-called amnesty, and he tried to hew a very conservative line of border enforcement.
RAJUOf course he cut that ad, walking along the Arizona border, the southern border, saying, you know, build the danged fence. You know, that's what he said 'cause that fence had not been completed. And he supported the Arizona immigration law. But he would say -- I asked him about this directly, and he said, look, I have always supported comprehensive immigration reform, and I've always supported border security. And that's what's part of this equation. And I think that including that in a comprehensive plan is the way to go. He would say, I've always believed that.
KELLEYYeah. I mean, look, John McCain has found his way back to the immigration issue, and he's, I think, providing a very sensible voice for Republicans. And, you know, he's reaching out to the White House in a very direct way, and the White House is reaching out to him. That doesn't happen on many issues that you've got that kind of effort moving in the same direction between those two. But it doesn't just stop at John McCain.
KELLEYI mean, there is a veritable stampede of Republicans that were saying, let's just -- let's solve this. Let's get it behind us. And it is for our nation's economic health. Look, we know that if we get people off of the economic sidelines, we have them paying taxes, that that's good for everybody. The worst thing for American workers is to have people who are off the books. That's nothing -- not what we want to have.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Renee also raised the issue of gays. And the question I have is, are there some Republicans who are going to say that those gay immigrants are going to be excluded? Manu.
RAJUYou know, I haven't heard Republicans really talk about that a whole lot yet. I think that's one of the things that's left out of this outline and they're going to have to deal with, and the president is under a lot of pressure to deal with this as well. But one of the things the Supreme Court is taking up, of course, the issue of gay marriage, that could have a major bearing on the immigration debate going forward.
KRIKORIANI mean, the context of what you're talking about is should same-sex couples get spousal immigration rights? Because if you're a U.S. citizen, you marry somebody abroad, that person gets to come in without numerical caps, and that accounts for a very large share of the immigration flow. And so the question is, should same-sex couples have that same right?
KRIKORIANThis is a very high-priority issue for a lot of the gay rights groups. I saw -- and this is rumor -- that the president will insist on it in his outline today -- maybe, maybe not. The Senate's obviously, I think, consciously omitted that because they didn't want to create an additional...
REHMHow do you feel about that, Mark?
KRIKORIANI think if you're going to address this issue, you need to address the whole issue by looking at the Defense of Marriage Act. In other words, if that were changed, then that change would then ramify throughout the rest of the system both immigration, taxes, whatever it is. Trying to do it just on immigration frankly is a kind of sneaky, I think, inappropriate way of addressing the issue.
REHMAll right. To Birmingham, Ala. Hi there, Rachel.
RACHELHi. Thank you for taking my call.
RACHELFirst, I'm kind of disappointed with the use of the term illegal immigrant because it's inaccurate and also kind of derogatory. I just -- my husband was undocumented, and to call him an illegal immigrant to me was very offensive. And we were married for four years before he had to return to Mexico and submit a waiver to a 10-year ban before he was allowed. But the state of Alabama basically made it a crime for us to live together and for me to drive him anywhere.
RACHELAnd my youngest brother-in-law was brought here at 6 years old. And he returned to Mexico to get a student visa, and he was denied a student visa because they said he has stayed too long, even though he didn't have any ban. But our immigration system is very, very broken, and I hope the family visa category numbers are increased because if that happens, then he would be able to come home immediately instead of having to wait two years before his card (word?).
RAJUWell, I think that, you know, the caller raises a lot of points here, and, you know, you hear folks concerned about how, you know, we characterize in the media or talk about generally a lot of these illegal immigrants, undocumented workers, you know, folks who are here without their papers. But the broad point is that there are 11 million or so folks this year, and they need to figure out a way to deal with them. I think that's the real annoying problem.
KRIKORIANI mean, you know, this is sort of silly, this complaining. Undocumented immigrant means nothing. All illegal aliens have documents, often real or fake, but they have documents. It was a euphemism made up by Jimmy Carter's INS director back in 1979. The law refers to these people as illegal aliens. Even illegal immigrant is kind of a euphemism because immigrant, in the law, means someone with a green card.
KRIKORIANObviously, in normal speech, it just means someone who was born abroad and lives here now. So this attempt by the anti-enforcement folks to get illegal immigrants somehow stigmatized is really -- I mean, it's kind of pernicious, and I'm glad to see that the AP and The New York Times, for instance, don't -- haven't gone along with it.
REHMMark Krikorian, he's executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies. When we come back, more of your questions, your email. I look forward to speaking with you.
REHMAnd the immigration reform is certainly on the minds of many. Today, our three guests: Angela Kelley -- she's vice president of immigration policy and advocacy of the Center for American Progress. She is joining us by phone from Las Vegas, Nev. Manu Raju is chief congressional correspondent of Politico, and Mark Krikorian is executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies. I'm going to go back to the phones to Haverhill, Mass. Good morning, Michael.
MICHAELHi, Diane. So glad you took my call. I love listening to your show.
MICHAELThis is so exciting to be talking to you. I want to say what -- I agree with Bobby Jindal, the Republican governor in Louisiana who said that the Republican Party is stupid. I would go further and say conservatives are stupid. This is not only about political expediency and votes as one of your guests said. We're a nation of immigrants, and I think Republicans have forgotten that 'cause they're too tied up in the xenophobia. They fear immigrants.
MICHAELMy grandparents came here in 1908. They were Greek immigrants without anything. And, my goodness, I'm sure they weren't here illegally either. But I'm now here. I've done very well. I'm a credit to the Greek community. And to think that the Republican Party is still trying to block immigration, illegal or otherwise, is absolutely, you know, abhorrent to me.
REHMMichael, thanks for your call. Here's a follow-up email on that. It's from Tim in Baltimore, who says, "In the last election, huge majorities of blacks and immigrants voted to re-elect President Obama. The GOP seems to think the problem was the messenger and not the message. They're embracive immigration reform is completely transparent. Did they really think they can attract immigrant votes without looking at their message?" Manu.
RAJUI don't think there's any unanimity within the Republican Party on how to deal with this issue. I mean, there are still going to be a big debate within the party and whether or not to adopt this major proposal or try to move on something in a more limited, more targeted basis, something that folks can agree on on the right.
RAJUYou know, but I do sense that after the election, there are -- at least rhetorically, there's an effort to sound more pragmatic, to sound more open and to not to have that sort of sharp rhetoric that they believed turned off a lot of voters. And, you know, you've seen in the House so far, at least they're now being very cautious about addressing this issue. There isn't this knee-jerk opposition in among a lot of folks in both -- I mean, the Republican Party.
KELLEYYeah. I do think it's less about term and more about the tone that's being used when you talk about unauthorized immigrants or people here without papers. And the first two callers really do kind of speak to the spectrum of the issue. So the first young woman is struggling because our immigration laws are broken. Families are being kept apart, and it's out of step with the reality. These immigration laws don't recognize that 45 percent of unauthorized immigrant households are composed of couples with children.
KELLEYAnd our laws are designed in a way right now that are keeping those folks apart. Your second caller is now two or three generations away from his immigrant roots, but I really do think that he speaks to this -- in the history of this great nation as a nation of immigrants. So fundamentally, that hasn't changed. The character of people who come here and how they change America and America changes them has been the genius of this great nation. We need our laws now to keep up with where, frankly, the public is.
KELLEYAnd this is where I think the Republicans are -- they get it. You know, they're falling off of a demographic cliff, and the only parachute that they can pull right now is the immigration reform one.
REHMAll right. Here's an email from Rachel, who says, "My parents are legal immigrants who lived and worked in the U.S. for 12 years under work visas. Thanks to the per country quotas, they have yet to receive their green cards and will likely have to wait another decade if this situation continues. Do the senator's or the president's proposal addresses this backlog?" Mark.
KRIKORIANNot specifically in the per country area but generally. Let me explain. The way it is the law is now the -- there's a limit in certain categories to keep China, Philippines, India and Mexico from taking over the whole immigration float 'cause those four countries would account for pretty much everybody if there weren't these per country caps that makes somebody in certain categories say, from the Philippines, wait longer than someone in the same category who's from, say, Ghana.
KRIKORIANAnyway, but the way these proposals would address that is by dramatically increasing immigration so that from -- we take in now more than 1 million people a year legally every year. The proposals don't have specific numbers on them, but all of them call for very significant increases, probably doubling legal immigration to maybe 2 million a year.
REHMBut are you truly addressing...
KRIKORIANNo, not really.
REHM...this person's questions?
KRIKORIANNo, because, see, the problem, the reason you have these long waiting periods that in all of our legal immigration categories -- there is something like 4.4 million people currently who have submitted a application to immigrate based on having a sister or brother or somebody or other who have to wait in line because there's limits.
KRIKORIANThe problem is, as Barbara Jordan pointed out when she issued her immigration report 15 years ago, was that we over-promise and under-deliver. So either you get rid of certain categories or you have to dramatically increase the number so we let in two or 3 million people, 4 million people a year.
KELLEYYeah. I mean, look, the caller speaks to, again, how the system is so broken. They're already here. They're already working...
KELLEY...and what they want to do is have -- is we all want to have confidence in tomorrow, confidence that their visa will become permanent and that they can eventually naturalize, and they can fully participate in the American society. I think those are all good things. I think people who are waiting in the visa backlogs should be screened. We should be sure that they are able to support themselves. Our laws are very rigorous that way.
REHMWell, these folks are working. They have green working for 12 years.
KELLEYExactly. Exactly. And you see that in the principles that the senators put out yesterday. They have to show that they're working. They have to show that they're learning English. They have to pay back taxes. You know, this is an accountability measure that will benefit the entire country. This is my (unintelligible).
RAJUAnd I think this is going to be one of the hurdles going forward. I mean, you're going to have to square that with the folks that -- who are here illegally that are trying to get a more permanent residency and permanent, you know, getting green cards and permanent legal status 'cause folks would say -- some critics would say, look, I mean, why do, you know, I who am here legally or trying to get a green card, why am I waiting for years and years and years when folks who were here illegally are getting a special pathway to citizenship depending how its constructor?
RAJUThat does going to be a very difficult issue to square.
REHMTo South Bend, Ind., Julio, you're on the air.
JULIOGood morning, Diane. It's a pleasure to be in your show.
JULIOWell, you know, I just want to comment something in those issue and, well, on this topic. For example, I was brought to the U.S. when I was 10 years old. Now -- I'm now 27 years old, and I graduated from the U.S. high schools. I made my way through college. I have two bachelor degree, one in social science and the other one in psychology. I was brought here on the -- with -- illegally, right, and after college, I wasn't able to get a job.
JULIOHowever, I was able to put something together, and I started my own job, my own company. We now employ, like, about 15 and 20 employees, and I've been following every single step of the country of the rules and regulations. We pay taxes, we give W2s. We follow everything. And I'm just going to example of somebody that's -- a vivid example that just came to this country to, you know, give it a shot to the dream and to the American dream.
JULIOThe only difference between -- I'm also a beneficiary. Well, I just got yesterday -- I just got the letter from the immigration saying that I have my appointment to get my fingerprints for the deferred of action. And the only difference between deferred of action and what the Senate yesterday are proposing is it's a residency, a permanent residency, which essentially is opportunity to leave the country.
JULIOI wouldn't -- with the deferred of action, I won't be able to leave the country, which I don't want to. I love this country to death. I've been living here for more than half of my life. And I'm just a vivid example of someone that just came to this country to do something good, to make somebody out of myself and to just follow the rules. And with this, you know, I will be another contribution not only to our economy but to a lot of other things.
REHMCongratulations, Julio. Manu.
RAJUYou know, I think that that's, you know, there's a very passionate and emotional debate, and it touches...
RAJU...so many different people who have been actually living through this system, both, you know, the illegal side, the undocumented workers and people who are here illegally. And that's what makes this such a complex issue to drive because it is such an emotional debate and infect so many people.
REHMAll right. Quick caller in San Antonio, Texas. Alfredo, you're on the air.
ALFREDODiane, thank you for taking my call, and it is a pleasure speaking with you.
ALFREDOIronically, I had to step away from a detention center. I am an immigration attorney. And I think if you removed 50 percent of the politics and you just put in a bunch of attorneys that practices law from day to day, we can tell you probably there's so many hiccups are going to -- that are going to arise from this proposal. For example, one of the commentators mentioned how this is going to affect the wages. Well, Department of Labor through the H-2B and H-2A already regulates that.
ALFREDOThe other thing that they were talking about were the per country quotas. I think with the per country quotas -- one of your panelists mentioned it -- we're going to have to increase it. I don't -- I'm afraid that they're going to scrap the whole immigration system and start all over and create something more burdensome. If you speak with a bunch of attorneys that practices every day, we can tell you there's probably only 25 to 30 different sets of changes within the law that would really help the system.
KELLEYYeah. It's a complex code. Absolutely, it's more complex than the tax code. So the caller is right. It is going to need some careful attention. I do think though that if you could get lawmakers in the room voting anonymously that this bill would have passed a long time ago. This issue would have been settled.
REHMDo you agree with that, Mark?
KRIKORIANWell, maybe. But if that's so, that means that the public doesn't like it. And, therefore, lawmakers would only vote for it if they could get away with anonymity, which is why when they always talk about this they say, well, we have to get this done this year 'cause next year is an election year. Well, if it's such a popular thing, why wouldn't you run on it? Why wouldn't you want to do it during election year?
KELLEYI'm sorry about that. The rest of my sentence was, and it does seem to be though now that the cloak of this issue is being lifted, that people do want it out in the light of the day. This Gang of Eight came forward quickly with their principles. You see House leaders standing up saying, well, wait a minute. We have a bill also. So I do think that it's shifting.
KELLEYWhere it was once something that people would talk about quietly but not want to speak publicly, it's changed dramatically. And the reason why it's so important is evidenced by every caller that's called into this show either from a legal perspective, from an economic perspective, as a moral imperative or just a character of this nation. And what it means to have a family is now being defined oddly through our immigration law.
REHMAll right. And what about polls, Manu?
RAJUI think the polls will be very critical here. Democrats and supporters would say that they, you know, there is groundswell of support to enact a larger piece of legislation here. But, you know, once we get into the details here, it's going to really generate folks who are going to mobilize some opposition here. We may see something to the likes of the 2007 debate. And as we do move closer to the election, I think it will get harder undoubtedly, particularly on the Republican side.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And from Twitter: "Please address the fairness of the dry feet, wet feet rule that applies only to Cubans." Mark.
KRIKORIANThis is a rule that comes from the '60s when Cuba was part of the Soviet empire. And basically what it boils down to is that any Cuban who can get to the beach in Florida -- that's the dry foot part -- is -- basically automatically gets legal status.
REHMBut that was 50 years ago. We're still in that mode?
KRIKORIANYes, we are. The law still hasn't changed.
KRIKORIANEssentially, Cuba has its own immigration policy and everybody else does it separately.
REHMIs that going to be changed?
KRIKORIANNot in this thing, no.
KRIKORIANI don't think any time soon.
REHMLet's go to Tulsa, Okla. Tony, you're on the air.
TONYYeah. Thank you, ma'am. My question is from this part of entry for highly skilled workers. It seems like a good portion of the unemployed in this country are skilled workers, and a lot of them are punching cash registers and do quick trips now. But will this influence the unemployment situation here if you bring in more skilled workers?
RAJUWell, you know, one of the things that a lot of universities have been pushing for is that immigrants who have completed their PhD or master's, you know, through an American university be able to get -- be eligible for green cards in a much more, you know, expedited basis than it is right now. There is that unemployment concern that, of course, folks will voice, but I think there's a big push within the business community to get this high-skilled workers piece done. And there seems to be a fair amount of support in Congress for that too.
REHMAnd to St. Petersburg, Fla. Ryan, you're on the air.
RYANI think one of the issues that really kind of begets the difficultly that people have trying to immigrate to this country is the totally cryptic nature of immigration law. And I use my own situation to kind of elicit that. I was born in Canada. My mother is born in Chattanooga, Tenn. My grandfather fought in World War II. She lived here five years, past the age of 14. There should have been no problem for me immigrating to the U.S.
RYANI worked here -- I've been a firefighter, a paramedic for 11 years now. I worked in the emergency medical service for 13. So, I mean, I was working. No, it should have be no issue. And I had to literally get -- as a blue-collar, affluently male, English speaking, I had to get my senator to petition the U.S. immigration office to actually grant my citizenship. And they still were going to deny it. And they still had to call back and put in the measures to get my immigration.
RYANIt's so cryptic. And I think people are doing this illegally only -- not only but in a large part because it's so difficult, and it's so cryptic. And talking about fast tracking people through immigration is not really just allowing people to get into the country with ease. It's allowing people just to do it in a functional manner.
REHMAll right. And it would seem that that is what everybody is going to be talking about, both senators and President Obama. Would you agree, Manu?
RAJUYeah. That's the crux of the debate right now, how to square the problems in the legal immigration system with the folks that are here illegally and not seem to be, you know, unfair to a lot of the folks who are dealing with that complex and convoluted system that we have right now. How do you square that? That's no -- they're nowhere near consensus on that.
REHMWell, we've got lots of debate that is coming forward. It'll be interesting to see where we go from here. Thank you all so much, Manu Raju, Angela Kelley, Mark Krikorian, and thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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