A look at the cultural and political forces that stand in the way of immigration reform. And what can make it happen.
As we posted The Catalyst, Washington was engaged in talks about modernizing America’s immigration system. While we all wait to discover whether progress results, cultural and political roadblocks remain. In this edition, we look at the forces that have made matching our immigration system to the needs of the times so difficult. That includes examining the fear that large waves of legal as well as illegal immigrants will change what it means to be an American.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush joins former Dallas Federal Reserve Bank President and CEO Richard Fisher in discussing some of those obstacles in a video conversation with Bush Institute Executive Director Holly Kuzmich. They also explain what reform might look like, ranging from an appropriate flow of legal immigrants to sustain economic growth, dealing realistically with illegal immigrants already living here, and securing the border so unauthorized immigrants in the future, especially any who might be terrorists intent upon harm, do not find their way into America.
In looking at the political roadblocks, we asked GOP Sen. Jeff Flake and GOP Rep. Lamar Smith to share their insights into how immigration reform might finally happen. They approach the topic differently, but the retiring lawmakers draw upon their experiences from previous congressional battles over the subject.
Perhaps the greatest cultural obstacle is the fear of losing our national identity. The anxiety is not unreasonable, which is why The Catalyst asked a number of contributors to address this concern.
For example, we sought out religious and political leaders, policy experts, immigrants, and students with differing views to answer this question: What are we so afraid of when it comes to immigration? You will read a range of contrasting opinions in that feature.
Identity issues certainly are at play in the debate over allowing children of illegal immigrants to remain in the United States once they become adults. Juan Carlos Cerda, a Yale graduate who arrived from Mexico at age seven when his parents came here illegally, explains how and why Washington should extend the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
Conservative author and historian Max Boot and Bush Institute Economic Growth Initiative Director Matthew Rooney also engage in a lively, free-flowing conversation about how the movement of goods and people across borders is not at all inconsistent with being a proud American.
Similarly, the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, a national leader of Hispanic evangelicals, and Ruben Navarrette, a syndicated columnist and Bush Institute Education Reform Fellow, discuss how Latinos are integrating into the larger culture. In their email exchange, they explain how Latinos are America, influencing religion, education, and culture across the country.
That point about integration is crucial. The concern that immigrants will live in a parallel universe, making it hard to create a sense of unity, is one reason identity issues are so central.
Fortunately, many institutions and organizations are expertly bringing immigrants, as well as refugees, out of any separate worlds. The Bush Institute’s Andrew Kaufmann, Anne Wicks, Miguel Howe, and Ioanna Papas report how that is being done from the military, to non-profits, to education, to even Major League Baseball.
In thinking about how to create a greater sense of unity, the Bush Institute’s Global Initiatives Director Amanda Schnetzer reflects upon Ronald Reagan’s description of America as “a shining city on a hill.” She returns to President Reagan’s use of that phrase to describe how we might put more unum in e pluribus unum.
Of course, in any heated debate, myths abound. Bush Institute Economic Growth Initiative Deputy Director Laura Collins takes on some economic myths, including that immigrants are stealing jobs from native-born Americans. She shows how immigrants actually are a boon to our economy.
Likewise, Dallas Federal Reserve Bank Vice President and Senior Economist Pia Orrenius debunks the myth that immigrants drain our budgets. The reality, she writes, is more nuanced and instructive.
And SMU political scientist James Hollifield, director of SMU’s Tower Center for Political Studies, reminds us how other nations have faced similar challenges. What stands in the way of reform here is not so different from what stands in the way of change elsewhere.
We welcome your feedback on this important, volatile topic. As you will read below, our readers had strong feelings about the Fall Catalyst and its focus on the health of democracy here and abroad.
Letters to the Editor: What You Thought About the Fall 2017 Democracy Catalyst
Re: Fall 2017 Democracy Catalyst
These papers and, particularly, George W. Bush's great speech [in New York in October], give me hope that our democracy, and others like it, can be saved and renewed — that there are intelligent, reasonable, and articulate people who do care about preserving and evolving our unique form of governing. I sense an urgency for action in two areas in particular if the other areas are to thrive:
1) An educated populace is essential for democracy to function; our education system needs to be restructured as a 21st century enterprise, with emphasis on understanding individual responsibilities in a democracy.
2) For centuries, religion has had a primary role in creating and maintaining social order. A modern interpretation is desperately needed.
Who will take the steps for action? This program needs organization in order to counter the negative forces running rampant. What specifically can we individuals do to help?
Re: Condoleezza Rice’s Why Democracy Is Worth the Price interview
President Trump should read this article by Condoleezza Rice. I think it would be helpful and encouraging to him.
Re: Fall 2017 Democracy Catalyst
I agree that nationalism and globalism can co-exist. The reason they don’t is because there is not fair trade. My business was destroyed by NAFTA. As a farmer I am competing against cheaper imported food. Yet you are the ones happy to eat cheap food.
I would debate any one of you, any time, any place. You don't have a clue.
Re: Fall 2017 Democracy Catalyst
More democracy? Careful.
We may be tripping and flirting with a political pratfall from which it may take long, if ever, to recover. Democracy, that is direct democracy, has lent itself to becoming a mechanism to empower mob rule. Check the news, and history.
Am I being too harsh? Well, let's look for performance in our own democracy. Our " leaders" chosen more and more by "the people" are demonstrably inept, fashioning 2,000 page laws reflecting good intentions on a superhighway to higher costs, excessive regulatory intrusion, and, ultimately, unaffordable.
And the record of democracy in most other lands? Take Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt, Venezuela, Ecuador, Myanmar, Thailand, etc. How is the system working out? Who is in charge? The people? No, it is the mob. Choose your mob. The military, the Mafia, crony government/labor/management, and the street that supports them.
There are alternatives to the democratic formula. They range from the leadership of the Catholic Church to the governance of Hong Kong, Switzerland, and Scandinavia.
In other words, there are hopeful possibilities for more durable and satisfactory forms of governance.
Jaime L. Manzano
Cover photo: Women activists join hands in a silent demonstration on the Santa Fe International Bridge that connects Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua and El Paso, Texas, on January 20, 2017. (Herika Martinez/AFP/Getty Images)