Sunday, November 18, 2012

Rubio Attempting to Forge an Immigration Policy That His Fellow Republicans Can Love

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., is shaping immigration into an issue that Republicans can embrace without getting lambasted by the party base. He is doing it by moving away from discussing whether the current undocumented population should have a path to citizenship and talking instead about the future flow of immigrants into the United States. Both the message and the policy reflect a sensible, conservative viewpoint best expressed in business terms: It’s a question of supply and demand.

“If your economy is demanding 2 million people a year to fill 2 million new jobs at a certain level, but you’re only allowing 1 million people to come in, and of those only a third are employment-based, you have a supply and demand problem,” Rubio said on Thursday at the Washington Ideas Forum sponsored by The Atlantic and the Aspen Institute.

The thorny question about whether to legalize 11 million undocumented immigrants is a distraction, he said. “If you don’t have a legal immigration system that matches those two things, we’re going to wind up in the exact same spot we’re in today within a decade.… The legalization of people here today is politically charged, but you either do it or you don’t and then you argue about how to do it.”

Rubio’s rhetoric on immigration will be very important in the coming months as lawmakers grapple with one of the toughest policy issues of the decade. His rock-star profile as a potential presidential candidate puts him close to the heartbeat of the Republican Party. He will not embrace any policy that the GOP faithful cannot eventually support. Yet he cares passionately about immigration and about expanding the GOP’s appeal to Latinos. Immigration is complicated, emotional. It contains a minefield of loud, unruly constituents. If Rubio can find a way through that minefield, it’s a safe bet his colleagues will follow.

Rubio’s evolution on the “dreamers”—undocumented youth who were brought to the United States as children—illustrates his savvy in navigating immigration. On Thursday, he characterized them as “refugees,” saying they deserved a permanent solution as a matter of human rights. Last year, he floated a modified Dream Act that would legalize those young people but not give them citizenship.

That idea didn’t go over so well with Republican leaders. He was rescued by President Obama’s deferred-deportation program for the dreamers. Rubio then pivoted his message toward business interests and the future flow of immigrants.

Both Republicans and Democrats have difficulty with immigration, Rubio said on Thursday. Labor unions oppose large expansion of work visas, fearing the loss of jobs for U.S.workers. Democrats also insist that immigration policy must contain a family component. Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., has been the champion of immigration policy as a means to keep families together, an insistence that roiled Republicans in 2007 when the Senate last debated the issue.

In a speech on Wednesday, Menendez outlined a framework that would create a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and ensure family unification. “We must keep families together. Spouses should not be separated from each other or from their children,” he said.

Rubio has no problem with that. “I am committed to continuing a family-based system of immigration. I think that’s important. I think that’s a marker for success. My parents came here in 1956,” he said. Rubio is thus embracing the broad vision articulated by people such as Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., who said that the nation’s immigration policy should contain both family- and employment-based components.

Expect Rubio to repeat his own story repeat endlessly. The retelling will help Republicans who grew up in a whiter culture envision how they can be conservatives and also embrace a legal immigration system.

In Rubio's Latino-heavy Florida community, everyone came from somewhere else. He knows people who are undocumented. Some of them overstayed visas. Some of them were lured by fraudsters posing as immigration experts who shepherded them into the United States and then abandoned them. Some came for a job because their family was starving and now they are stuck. “I know people who are in this circumstance. I know people who love people who are in this circumstance,” he said.

Perhaps most important, Rubio wants Republicans to speak in a nicer way about immigration. Terms like “deportation” or “self-deportation” are not helpful to the party’s broader message of fiscal conservatism. “It’s really hard to get people to listen to you on economic growth, on tax rates, on health care if you want to deport their grandmother,” he said.

Rubio is not the only Republican urging his party to broaden its message. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal told the Republican Governors Association that the GOP should stop “dividing voters.” Minority voters were clearly turned off by GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s comments to donors that he didn’t need to appeal to 47 percent of the electorate and his recent statements that Obama won a second term because he promised “gifts” to different constituencies, including Latinos.


Mexico's own immigration debate

By Ruben Navarrette

If you think the debate over immigration from Mexico into the United States is complicated, just take a trip south of the border and look at it from that side.

Complicated isn't the half of it. The immigration debate is also dishonest and hypocritical and filled with people who would rather pursue their own interests than solve the problem. And it all revolves around a broken system that stays broken because important and powerful interests want it that way.

This is true in both countries. Mexico is just as reluctant as the United States to confront the larger issue of migration — both of its own people north to the United States and along its own southern border, where Central and South Americans want to get into a country that many natives are desperate to flee.

Nor does the Mexican elite want to swallow its pride and admit that the real engine behind the Mexican economy isn't people like them but Mexicans who don't even live in Mexico anymore — immigrant workers in the United States.

In Mexico City, politicians, journalists and intellectuals are eager to avoid the issue altogether. They point out that migration to the United States from Mexico has slowed to a trickle. With a U.S. economy that is sluggish and a Mexican one that is bouncing back, many would-be migrants find that going north isn't worth the trouble.

The part about the trickle is true enough. Take it from Princeton professor Douglas S. Massey, an expert on Mexico, whose research shows that net migration between the two countries has fallen to its lowest level since the 1950s. Or take it from the Pew Hispanic Center, which found that the illegal immigrant population in the United States is shrinking and that fewer illegal immigrants are arriving than in previous years.

But things change, and migration is unpredictable. When the U.S. economy improves, and if the Mexican one falters, the flow of illegal immigrants is likely to increase. Besides, for many young men in Mexico, going north is a rite of passage. Grandpa did it. Dad did it. And they want to do it.

Mexico is a permanent fixture of the immigration debate in the United States, whether Americans like it or not. It is no secret that this country is responsible for most of the migration into the United States — both legal and illegal. By some estimates, Mexicans account for as many as six out of 10 illegal immigrants in the United States.

Better make that, partly responsible. It's also well-known that Mexico has a co-conspirator: U.S. employers. These folks often prefer to hire Mexican laborers over American counterparts. And not because the foreigners work for lower wages but because they tend to have more of a work ethic and less sense of entitlement.

The way that many Americans see it, Mexico gave up the right to comment on how the United States treats immigrants when it failed to provide opportunities for its own people so they had to look elsewhere.

Not that the Mexican people, or their leaders, are likely to keep quiet. When the immigration debate starts up again in Congress, as is likely to happen in the next few months, we can expect Mexicans to put in their two cents.

With a full 5 percent of its population living north of the Rio Grande, and countless Mexican families feeling the strain that comes from having parents separated from their children, Mexico can't afford not to defend the expatriates. The catch? If it comes off as too aggressive, its advocacy could backfire — and hurt the very people it wants to help by hardening the views of Americans.

For much of the 20th century, when it came to migration, Mexico had a good thing. It got rid of millions of people that its economy didn't have room for, and then those people went on to send home remittances that today total more than $20 billion.

Now it's time for Mexico to develop a 21st-century approach. This includes acknowledging the enormous contribution that Mexicans living abroad make to the motherland, and working diligently to provide them better services through Mexican consulates across the United States.

But it also involves not lecturing a neighbor about how to treat people that you've expelled.


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