Newt Gingrich introduced a unique concept into the Republican primary debate—an attempt at a quasi-rational approach to fixing our broken immigration system. While Newt has received mostly derisive comments from the Right, focused almost exclusively on calling his idea an “amnesty” plan, the reality of his plan is very different. It is NOT an amnesty plan. But more importantly for those who understand the urgent need, Newt’s plan will NOT fix our broken immigration system.
Start with the obvious, there must be willing participants in Congress to work with any president to solve a problem of this magnitude. As Newt himself has pointed out, both President Bush and President Obama have tried a “comprehensive” approach to immigration reform, and failed miserably. In today’s Congress, with a large contingent of elected representatives who view any law that in any way assists an immigrant as “amnesty,” Newt’s plan is dead on arrival. A recent “piecemeal” bill that passed the Republican controlled House, is held up in the Senate by one Republican Senator! This unfortunate anti-immigrant attitude persists despite recent (and long standing) polls showing large majorities of voters from both political parties favoring an immigration reform plan that allows for earned legalization.
Newt’s ten point plan is long on the big picture but short on solving the biggest problems of all – securing our future with the right types and mix of immigrants and what to do with all the people in the US without legal papers.
Newt’s plan starts where all immigration reform plans must start—on the border. But Newt fails to recognize the fact that the borders are far more secure today than they have ever been, and that they are getting more secure each day. In 2011, the Border Patrol recorded the lowest number of people detained at the southern border since 1974 when Nixon was President, and that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) deported more people than ever before. In fact, President Obama can lay claim to being the “Deportation President” because he will have deported more people in his four year term office than any President in modern times. Fences, patrols, UAVs and electronics will not keep everyone out. A rational, legal way into the United States is what really stops illegal immigration at the border.
Newt speaks of our needs for a “21st Century Visa Program,” as if it is something out of Six Sigma lecture, eliminating “inefficiencies” in order to attract the best and the brightest to come to and remain in America. Here is the sad news, even in our current broken system we are attracting the best people, the problem is that we are quickly losing them when they realize that our legal immigration system (the so-called “line”) has waits of up to 15 years for workers to get permanent residence through employment, and wait times exceeding 25 years for family immigration. The answer is simple, and yet is ignored by Newt -- increase the numbers of legal immigrants that come to the US in legal categories to meet not only demand, but our needs.
And yet, the biggest flaw in Newt’s plan is not his proposed guest worker program run by American Express (really), but rather his “path to legality” for “millions” of people who are in the United States without legal status. Newt proposes that only people here 20-25 years could apply for his program. Bad news Newt—President Reagan’s “amnesty” program was 25 years ago, the numbers affected by your original proposal would be only a very small portion of those that are unlawfully present. A more rational approach would be 10 years, which would cover more than 63% of all illegal immigrants. Newt also proposes the idea that local “immigration boards” would meet regularly to determine whether an immigrant could stay in the US. Can you imagine thousands of these boards around the country and the extraordinary inconsistency of their rulings? It would be like, well, the draft boards from the 1960s that Newt compared them to, where certain people got favors because of who they knew or who their family was, while others were sent to the front lines in Vietnam.
The bottom line is this—Kudos to Newt for having the courage to buck the current (although only recent) Republican orthodoxy of “attrition through enforcement,” favored by the anti-immigration lobbyists on Capitol Hill. But Newt needs to be honest with people. His plan has zero chance of passing Congress, does not effectively deal with our future need for immigrants, does not address a real resolution to a temporary worker program, and certainly does not deal with a majority of the 11 million people in the United States without lawful status. Newt’s plan is getting us no closer to solving this real national problem than the failed policies of President Obama.
Recently the Alabama Attorney General called on the Alabama State Legislature to repeal parts of Alabama's horrid anti-immigration law (HB 56), because of the "unintended" consequences of the bill (frankly, what happened was not unintended). Because of the similarity between the two laws, Georgia's Speaker of the House, David Ralston was asked whether Georgia Legislature would repeal part or all of HB 87, Georgia own anti-immigration law. HB 87 has caused almost a half a billion dollars in damage to the Georgia economy (along with untold suffering in Georgia's immigrant communities) without any noted or reported positive effect.
Speaker Ralston plainly stated that the Georgia Legislature would NOT do anything to repeal HB87. While it understandable why a politician would not admit that a pet bill he shepherded and pushed through the state legislature was simply bad law, it is also clear that Speaker Ralston is facing a challenge on his RIGHT in the upcoming elections. To admit that he wanted HB87 repealed in whole or in part because of the tremendous negative effects on the Georgia economy would significantly strengthen his own Tea Party challenger.
We know why Speaker Ralston will not move to repeal HB 87 bill through the legislature, but here is here is why Republicans in the Georgia state legislature need to repeal HB 87:
1. The Federal District Court in Georgia has already said that two key provisions in the bill, Sections 7 (transporting/harboring), and Section 8 (show me your papers) are preempted by federal law and thus unconstitutional. Attorneys familiar with the law are in agreement (except for the attorney general) that the 11th Circuit will uphold the District Court. The staying of these two provisions (the only significant provisions of HB 87 apart from the unfounded mandates to state political entities on SAVE, and mandatory E-Verify for employers with more than 10 employees on January 1 each year), caused most undocumented immigrants to remain in Georgia, but to go deeper "underground."
2. The Supreme Court has decided to hear the case involving the anti-immigration laws in Arizona, laws which are remarkably similar to Georgia's HB 87. Decades of Supreme Court precedent support an upholding of the Court of Appeals decision striking down the key parts of the Arizona law. Acting now, before the Supreme Court orders the law stricken shows Georgia as a national leader in ensuring that the laws it enacts are constitutional and just.
2. Secure Communities, the Obama administration's much maligned enforcement tool is in effect in ALL Georgia counties, which means that anyone arrested by Georgia law enforcement has an ICE hold placed upon them if they are wanted for immigration violations by ICE. This tool, more than anything the state legislature did, has more impact on the day to day lives of foreign nationals in Georgia.
3. Georgia's farm crops, from its blackberries and blueberries to tomatoes and onions have rotted in the fields because migrant farm workers bypassed the state upon passage of HB 87. Losses have so far totaled more than $390 million in the agricultural sector alone. We can expect similar losses this year, unless growers change what they plant to less labor intensive (and thus less lucrative) crops, reducing the overall tax base for taxes paid into state coffers.
4. HB 87 has caused massive labor shortages not only in the agricultural sector, but in the restaurant sector, with expected losses to total more than $1 billion dollars. Service employees are difficult to find and even more difficult to keep among the native born population. What do you tell the restaurant or hotel owner who cannot find prep cooks, dishwashers, maids and servers? Close your restaurant or hotel?
5. Economic Development efforts are ongoing in Georgia to attract foreign investment and to create jobs in our state. Georgia is LAST or near last in job creation during Governor Deals first year in office. HB 87 does nothing to attract business, and as Alabama has learned, passing strong anti-immigration laws does wonders for driving foreign investment away. On the other hand, repealing HB 87 will send a STRONG message that Georgia is open for business and will do nothing to take away from the aggressive enforcement of our immigration laws currently being undertaken by the Obama Administration.
6. The argument used by supporters of HB 87, that the federal government is not enforcing the immigration laws, is a lie. The Obama Administration can be better called the Deportation Administration. Never before have so many undocumented immigrants been deported in so short a time! Not in 40 years have so few undocumented immigrant come into the United States. Strong border enforcement, Secure Communities, and a focus on immigrants (legal and undocumented) with criminal violations have led to a lessening of undocumented immigration in the United States. Nothing about HB 87 has led to a lessening of undocumented immigration in the United States.
7. HB 87 was completely unfunded. Every statute, every regulation arising out of each statute, every requirement for counties and cities to carry out was unfunded. Every supposed benefit promised to law enforcement for compliance with HB 87 was unfunded. The leadership in the Legislature talks about unfunded mandates from the federal government. HB 87 is an unfunded mandate to the political subdivisions of Georgia, and is costing those cities and counties hundreds of thousands of dollars to comply, with no visible or tangible result. Prior to its passage, and since its passage, no state legislator has been able to point to ANY money saved because of HB 87. The only evidence that exists for HB 87 is that it is costing the citizens of Georgia tax dollars with no evident benefit.
These seven reasons for repealing HB 87 all involve legalities and facts. There is another reason to repeal HB 87 -- It is the right thing to do. HB 87 has destroyed Georgia families, hurt Georgia business, torn apart Georgia communities, and caused an intense fear of law enforcement for all immigrants in Georgia, regardless of their immigration status. Some have argued that the real purpose of HB 87 was to scare people into leaving the state. The reality is that after the District Court judge stayed Sections 7 and 8, immigrants stopped leaving Georgia. Now it is time to say that immigration enforcement is the federal government's job, and Georgia is going to let the federal government do it. Let's bring some forward thinking to the immigration debate, starting with a repeal of HB 87.