Saturday, December 19, 2009

Immigration reform in 2010

Luis Gutierrez's immigration bill (H.R. 4321 Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America’s Security and Prosperity Act of 2009--full text is here) is causing quite a stir in the blogosphere. VivirLatino has a summary here.

It is a serious bill, with emphasis on security, on cooperation with foreign governments, avenues for legalization ("earned status"), learning English, fiscal impact, elimination of visa backlogs, and a wide variety of other issues (though it does not have a temporary worker program, which has always been a hallmark of the George W. Bush proposals).

Franco Ordoñez from the Charlotte Observer makes a good point about it:

He may not have an expectation that his bill will make it that far. But he’s definitely teeing up the debate so immigration is near the top of the political agenda once healthcare is resolved. And he sets the discussion. His bill becomes what future bills introduced will be judged upon.

The issue of political agenda is important because although Janet Napolitano keeps repeating that the president wants to get it done next year, Nancy Pelosi says the House will not touch it until the Senate passes something first. Charles Schumer is reportedly working on a bill to introduce in January, but we'll have to wait and see what it looks like. At the very least, though, Gutierrez has put immigration reform on the table before everyone left for the holidays.

But there are other factors to consider as well, some of which I've covered in past years. Two immediately come to mind.

First, demography creates challenges. The "demographic fit" between the U.S. and Latin America is gradually closing. This means the U.S. job market is slowly becoming less reliant on foreign labor. Note I do not argue not reliant, just less so. That can reduce the perception of immigration's economic benefits.

Demography also matters in terms of Latino support for immigration reform. Marisa Abrajano and Simran Singh published an interesting article about the media's framing of immigration in Political Behavior. Among other things, they found that second or third generation Latinos are less likely to have a positive view of immigrants' economic benefits, and this is reinforced the more they listen to English-language news (as happens when people learn English).

Second, popular opinion is consistently in favor of reform. I will not dig up all the many polls I've cited, but the argument that the "American people" do not favor reform is false. You have to word a question very poorly to get any other response. Obviously, though, this reality has not led to the passage of reform in the past few years. Media framing is important here as well because very often opponents of reform successfully convey the inaccurate message that reform is unpopular.


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