Give me your Tired, Your Poor, Your Huddled Masses Yearning to Breathe Free…or Perhaps NOT

George Bruno (Ambassador to Belize, 1994-1997)

Ambassador Bruno is  a member of the Board of Immigrants List PAC, www.ImmigrantsList.com, promoting immigration reform.

The following is a speech that the author gave to the Amos Fortune Forum at the Jaffrey Center Meeting House in New Hampshire on July 15, 2011.

_____

Being in this meeting House tonight reminds me of the Minister who came home and told his wife he just gave a great sermon.

His wife asked: “What was it about”?

He said: “I told them that the rich should help the poor.”

“Were they convinced,” she asked?

“The poor were persuaded,” he said.  Following my presentation this evening, we’ll see if you are convinced…I can make the case for immigration reform.


Introduction

Petty Officer Elisha Dawkins, 26, a decorated Iraqi war veteran of both the Army and the Navy, just spent the last month in a Miami federal lock-up[1]. The government wants to deport him.  It says he lied on his passport application—on the part where it asks, “have you ever previously applied for a passport”, he checked the box: NO.  In fact he did apply, years ago.  Also, the government says he is not even a citizen. Dawkins has a different story. Beginning with his arrival in the US from the Bahamas as an infant, he was raised to believe he was a citizen, something federal authorities did not challenge during his seven years in the military. He even has a “secret”security clearance.

 Dawkins’ honors include:

  • The Iraq Campaign medal,
  • The Global War on Terrorism medal, and
  • The Combat Action badge.

He was honorably discharged from the Navy April 29, crediting him with an “exceptional work ethic” as a communication specialist, 2nd class.[2] Now he’s facing deportation.

Is his life ruined?  Is he of no further value to the United States?  What would YOU do—kick him out/let him stay?

As Congress dithers on immigration reform, borrowing a word from Vice President Cheney, Officer Dawkins may be yet another victim of Beltway Gridlock.  Mark Halperin, of TIME, describes dealing with immigration reform as being “harder than a week-old bagel.”[3]

This evening, I want to discuss our broken immigration system.  I want to share a sense of the toll it is taking on our country, perhaps pop a few myths with a few facts, and offer some solutions.

Is Immigration Good for America?

Lets agree from the outset on two basic propositions:

  • immigration is a hot-button topic;
  • whether you are for it or against it, the system is broken.

Traditionally, we have defined our country as a land of opportunity, and refuge from persecution.  High school civics reminds us we’re a nation of immigrants.

Lately, some question whether immigration is still good for America.  It’s a dilemma: How do we preserve our humanitarian instincts while protecting our interests?  What are those interests:

  • Promoting family unity
  • Matching jobs we need done…with a qualified workers to do those jobs
  • Maintaining US leadership in the world
  • Growing our economy
  • Standing up for democracy, freedom and human rights

That’s what an effective immigration policy can help achieve.  But ask some people on the street what they think when they hear the word “immigrant,” and you may hear:

“They take our jobs,”

“They bring crime,”

“They burden our health care,”

“They don’t learn English.”

“They crowd our schools”

The claim I like the best is, “Why don’t they just get online to become legal, and follow the rules?”

The simple answer is, if you are illegal in the United States, with minor exceptions, there is no line…and you will never be legal, under current law.

And, lest we forget, prior to WWII, there were virtually no rules either.  An immigrant could almost just show up, and be admitted after a physical.

I suggest to you that immigrants, as a group,

  • are more law-abiding,
  • use less taxpayer services, and
  • excel in education, more so than the average US citizen.

It is no mistake that year after year, for example, the winner in the Union Leader Spelling Bee is more likely than not to be the child of a Vietnamese, Indian or other immigrant parent; or that foreign born citizens earn more PhDs in math and science in the United States than their American cohorts; or that immigrants earn more engineering degrees in US universities than do US citizens.

There is ample support to believe that today’s immigrants help create jobs, revitalize communities, and strengthen America.

Some Numbers May be Useful.

  • As of 2007, New Hampshire was home to 68,000 immigrants, out of a population over one million;[4]… make that six percent of New Hampshire’s workforce, 43,000 workers[5]
  • Illegal immigrants comprised two percent of New Hampshire’s workforce, or 15,000 workers[6].
  • Today, official estimates put the US illegal immigrant population at 11 million, or 30,000 in New Hampshire.  They’re friends and neighbors you may even know.

Immigrants are integral to our economy. 

The 2009 purchasing power of Asians + Latinos in New Hampshire totaled $1.86 billion[7]

New Hampshire has over 2,400 Asian + Latino-owned businesses with sales over $600 million, employing over 5,000 workers.[8]

During the 2008-2009 academic year, New Hampshire’s 2,400 foreign students contributed $76 million to our economy in tuition, fees, and living expenses.

Finally, if all illegal aliens were removed from New Hampshire, our state would lose $900 million in economic activity and 5,200 jobs.[9]

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently said, “More than three years after our country entered its deepest recession in decades, the single most powerful step that the federal government could take to spur job growth—is fixing our broken immigration system.”  And reform would not add $1 to our national debt, according to Bloomberg.

He cites a new study[10] discovering that “more than 40 percent of companies on the Fortune 500 list were founded by immigrants, or children of immigrants. Why?  Because immigrants come here to work—their drive and entrepreneurship have helped build the United States into the world’s largest and most innovative economy,” says Bloomberg.  The companies are legends: Google, Intel, Sun Microsystems. 

They employ 1,000s.  Dow-Chemical, DuPont, Pfizer, Proctor & Gamble, all founded by immigrants, or children of immigrants.   Nearby in Merrimack (New Hampshire),  GT Solar, founded by Kadar Gupta, born in India and now a US citizen is emerging as a leader in solar energy.  Think of those mills in Keene, Nashua, Manchester, and Berlin.  The people who worked in them didn’t come on the Mayflower… and many did not have visas.

We Boast about the New Hampshire Advantage.  Immigration has historically been the US Advantage.

Other countries recognize the importance of immigrants to economic growth.  Their policies open doors to them.   Eg Canada.  Alberta is providing incentives for foreigners educated here to re-settle there.  They are taking our PhD grads and our skilled foreign professionals and putting them to work…for Canada.

Meanwhile, we throw obstacles in the path of immigrants our economy needs, and who want to give their talents to America.

We cannot remain the world’s economic superpower while turning away the world’s most talented and hardest-working people.

Immigrant bashing is in vogue.  It’s sad.  In the world of immigration naysayers, there is no economic or social ill for which immigrants cannot be blamed.   Last month, Senator John McCain (R-Arizona) blamed the wildfires in Arizona on illegal aliens coming over the border.  The fact that he offered not a shred of evidence to support his allegation did not seem to concern him.  We must discourage immigrant bashing.

With unemployment over nine percent, some think that millions of unemployed Americans would magically have jobs if the illegals would just leave.  This is fanciful.  Are Americans crying out for those low skilled-low wage jobs,

  • emptying bedpans in nursing homes,
  • washing dishes in restaurants or
  • picking apples in Bow?

Is this the cause of unemployment in America?  In fact, we have a shortage of low-skilled workers… which is why we need the Guest Worker Program  proposed seven years ago by Senators Lindsay Graham (R-South Carolina) and John McCain (R-Arizona), and President Bush.

In the real world, immigrants and American workers cannot simply be swapped for one another. They tend to live in,

  • different communities,
  • in different parts of the country,
  • have different levels of education,
  • work in different occupations, and
  • have different skills.

In truth, we would only end up with a smaller economy and fewer jobs—and we would have done nothing to actually create growth and new jobs.

Broken System

The old INS[11] no longer exists.  After September 11, it was replaced by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and relocated to the Dept of Homeland Security (DHS), along with Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).  Together, with the Department of State, they manage our complex immigration system.  These federal agencies are opaque, often customer unfriendly, uncommunicative, unresponsive, and unaccountable.  When you do get a response, perhaps months later, if then, CIS letters are generally unsigned and unattributed;  its letterhead contains no phone number, no email address, no name of any supervisor to whom you can speak.  If you want to ask a question about a regulation, you are advised to call an 800 number to speak to a call center contractor, sometimes not fully trained, who reads from a script.

We like to think of the State Department as one of our more sophisticated agencies.  Generally, it’s true.  I used to work there.  Our consular officers are the face of America and may be the only time a citizen abroad has contact with the US government.  These officers approve all visas: for B1/2 (visitors), E (investors), F (students), H (temporary workers), and more than 50 others[12].

Most Americans do not know that visa interviews are conducted at consulates through a hole in a 2 inch thick window that may last all of…three minutes.   The applicant may have traveled hundreds of miles, stayed in a hotel overnight, waited in line for 4-5 hours, and have all of his/her supporting documents organized.  Typically, the consular officer will never look at the documents.  Common wisdom is that the officer makes his/her mind up within the first 90 seconds whether the person will get a visa.  If denied, there is no appeal.  The officer’s decision is final.  The officer may be 25 years old, and in his/her first job. The State Department has no formal complaint system for applicants who think they were treated unfairly.  It’s all quite cut and dry.  This is where a good lawyer and former diplomat can be helpful!

Let’s discuss the DREAM Act aka Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors.  Introduced in 2001, by Senator Dick Dubin (D-Illinois) it would address the plight of young immigrants, raised in the United States, perhaps brought here as infants by undocumented parents.  These youth:

  • look like Americans,
  • talk like Americans,
  • act like Americans.

America is their home.  They manage to succeed despite the challenges of being brought here without proper documents.  If passed, the Act would affect approximately 65,000 undocumented young people each year.

It would offer a path to legal status to those who have graduated from high school, stayed out of trouble and plan to attend college or serve in the military.

Dulce Matuz is one such student. She attended Carl Hayden High School in Phoenix and was part of its famous robotics team, the Falcons. 

In New Hampshire, we’re familiar with FIRST, the national robotics competition founded by the Bedford Segway inventor, Dean Kamen.  This year, in honor of Dulce, they named their robot “DULCE’s DREAM”.  The Falcons won first place![13]  Dulce just received her engineering degree at ASU,  and is undocumented.

She and Petty Officer Dawkins face an uncertain future despite the fact that the moral, intellectual and practical rationale for the DREAM Act is overwhelming. The White House supports it.

So does the US departments of Homeland Security, Education, and Justice.  The DREAM Act is even part of the Pentagon’s 2010-2012 Strategic Plan to assist military recruitment.  Currently, undocumented immigrants may not join the military.  Supporters say that in addition to helping the military, the DREAM Act would help fill three million job vacancies in stem cell research, engineering, science, and math.

Everyone should play by the rules

Along with the stories about illegal immigrants, it is rarely reported how we treat legal immigrants—those who ‘play by the rules’—and how current practices hurt our economy and our country’s image.  Despite the fact that the US dollar is at it best value to foreigners in decades, we have an antiquated visa process that often drives international visitors to other countries.

  • Want to immigrate a UK subject to invest one million dollars in a US business, wait 8 months while CIS reviews his papers.
  • Want a visa to come to the US to negotiate a contract/give a lecture—get in line—it will take weeks, often months, just to get in the embassy door.  For example, the visa interview wait time in Montreal: 56 days, Shanghai: 65 days, Rio de Janeiro: 129 days; Caracas: 178 days… that’s six months.

“As a nation, we’re putting up a ‘keep out’ sign,” says Roger Dow, president of the US Travel Association. “The US imposes unnecessary barriers on international visitors, and that inhibits our economic growth. If we institute a smarter visa policy, we can create 1.3 million US jobs.”[14]  Does Congress purposely under-staff our consulates?  Here’s a curious fact: There are more musicians serving in military bands than there are Foreign Service Officers serving in the State Department.  Perhaps a case of misplaced priorities?  Or maybe music trumps diplomacy.

When I was Chief of Mission in a small embassy in Latin America, our staff was oriented to promote US business.  Today, the priority is all about security.  Every visa applicant is a potential terrorist.  Look at our new embassies, they’re fortresses, with multiple checkpoints, huge perimeter walls, housing moved to internal compounds…all creating barriers for Foreign Service Officers mixing with the local population they are required to know.

The bureaucracy is stifling.

  • Want to marry a foreigner?  Figure 10 months to bring your fiancée to the United States
  • Already married in another country?  It will take eight months to bring your spouse home.  Meanwhile, live apart.
  • Want to adopt a foreign child—figure a two year process.
  • Want to get a permit to work—be idle, wait 60 days.  Five years ago, an applicant could go to a counter at the JFK Building in Boston and wait for a work permit.  No more.

In reality, the anti-immigrant hysteria that is a staple of some partisans has little to do with national security.  Is a multi-billion dollar fence on our southern border the solution to our security?   Remember:  NONE of the September 11 terrorists entered the US illegally.  They all had valid visas.

Why can’t we rationally discuss immigration reform.  One answer is that our government is in an enforcement “Gotcha” mode.  In 2010 alone, the Obama administration spent $5 billion to deport 393,000 people.  Deportation under President Obama is over one million, up 50 percent from the Bush years.

We have the National Guard patrolling the border; doubled the number of border guards; the fence; drones, dogs, infrared and camera technology all at work.[15]

The critics say it’s not enough, even if enforcement results in unintended consequences.  For eg, to discourage border jumpers, in 1996, under the Clinton Administration, a 10 year bar was enacted as a disincentive to illegal immigrants.  If you entered without inspection or stayed more than 12 months after your visa expired, and were caught and deported, you would not be able to legally return to the United States for 10 years.  It has not worked.  Instead, the 10 year bar has had the oppose effect of keeping illegal aliens here, because if they left voluntarily, they know that it would be 10 years before they could apply to return legally to rejoin loved ones or take a seasonal job.

 

What is the State’s Role – the Arizona Effect?

Under our Constitution, federal law supersedes state law on immigration.  Lately, in the face of federal inaction, the states have begun to exercise self-help.  Two years ago, Arizona was the first with its infamous SB 1070, authorizing officers to ask virtually anyone on the street “suspected” of being an “illegal” for his or her “papers.”  The self-described “toughest sheriff in America”, Joe Arpiao of Maricopa County arrests suspects, issues them pink underwear and yellow jumpsuits, confines them to a desert, tent camp, and brags that he feeds his prisoners on less than one dollar a day.  Some mistakenly arrested have been US citizens.

Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, and Indiana followed by enacting Arizona copycat laws.

One law would require hospital staff to verify the immigration status of patients before they are admitted.  Add this to the burden of already swamped medical workers…along with the threat to public health, if illegal immigrants with communicable diseases stay away from emergency rooms for fear of being deported.[16]

Remember the candidate debate at St Anselm on June 13, 2011?   Two candidates were asked if a five-year  old undocumented sick child should be admitted to a hospital?   They would not answer the question.

There is something rotten in the State of Georgia . It’s blackberries.  Unpicked.  “Gary Paulk is one of the owners of a family run blackberry farm in South Georgia. He says he’s lost about $200,000 this blackberry season, mainly because of Georgia’s new law. But what bothers Paulk more than his financial loss, is how the law is punitive. ‘Having a fake ID, a first-time offense can be up to 10 years [in jail], and $100,000 fine,’ Paulk said. ‘I mean that’s … like a felony. A felony to use a fake ID to get a job to support your family.’” [17] For berry picking…a job most Americans don’t want.

In June, Alabama passed the harshest law.  It could bar refugees fleeing persecution from attendingAlabama’s public universities; and make it illegal for an American to drive an immigrant to court or rent a suspected alien an apartment. Alabama is turning Americans into criminals for helping others.

Here in New Hampshire, an Arizona-style bill was introduced in the General Court.  After its sponsor failed to appear at the hearing, and with no public support, the bill, mercifully, did not make it out of committee.

These punitive acts cause us to ask: whatever happened to the moderates?

Or bipartisan cooperation?   SENATOR McCain used to support reform.  He sponsored George Bush’s Guest Worker proposal and a path to citizenship.  Remember Ronald Reagan imploring, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”  In contrast, recall CANDIDATE McCain, during his 2010 re-election campaign standing at the US/Mexican border demanding, Build the dang fence!

I’m for border security, but the enforcement-only mentality is an economic dead-end.  If we are going to wait for perfect border security before enacting immigration reform, neither will happen.

The reality is that the United States does not have a big enough fence, enough prisons, enough police, and indeed enough money to round-up 11 million illegal aliens.

A July 4, 2011, a New York Times editorial called the enforcement only approach, “lunacy,” “destructive,” and charged the States with “running amok.”   Instead, I say, lets seize this opportunity to bring people out of the shadows, put them to work, make them taxpayers, make them contribute to social security, and end the underground economy.

Solutions

How do we fix the system?  To begin…

  • Border security is a requirement.  But a strong America requires more:
  • We must encourage the brightest and most entrepreneurial, from wherever, to build their businesses and create jobs, here. We must provide opportunities for bright foreign students to stay here after graduating from our universities with advanced degrees, especially in critical fields such as science and technology.
  • We must make it easier for businesses to hire and keep highly skilled workers they need to thrive.
  • We must align State Department resources with market demands, eg, we must reduce visa interview wait times to 10 days or less.
  • We must repeal the 10 year bar to allow undocumented aliens to depart the United States, and have a realistic chance to be readmitted legally, without having to be separated from their American families for 10 years.
  • We must urge Congressman Guinta and Congressman Bass to support the DREAM Act and Guest Worker program.

Conclusion

In his 2011 State of the Union Address, the President said, “Let’s stop expelling talented, responsible, young people who can staff our research labs, start new businesses and further enrich this nation.”   Exactly right.

These are laudable goals which we all can embrace.  Likewise, we can thank Petty Officer Dawkins, and patriots like him, for their service, and invite them to stay in America.

We can continue to give hope not only to the tired, the poor, the huddled masses, but also to those PhDs, entrepreneurs, and skilled workers yearning to breathe Free.

By doing so, we can continue to fulfill America’s promise of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, right here at home, and around the world.   Thank you and God bless America.


[1] The New York Times, June 23, 2011.

[3]  TIME Magazine, July 17, 2011

[4] US Census

[5] US Census

[6] Report by the Pew Hispanic Center, 2008

[7]Selig Center for Economic Growth, University of Georgia

[8] As of 2002, the last year for which data is available.  2002 Census, Survey of Business Owners

[9] Report by the Perryman Group

[10] Report by the Partnership for a New American Economy, 2010

[11] Immigration and Naturalization Service

[12] There are 72 different types of visas in the US

[13] Tucson Citizen, March 20, 2011

[14] By failing to keep pace with the growth in global long-haul international travel between 2000 and 2010, the United States lost the opportunity to welcome 78 million more visitors and generate $606 billion in direct and downstream spending – enough to support more than 467,000 additional U.S. jobs annually over those years.

[15] Since Obama’s arrival at the White House in 2009, nearly one million illegal immigrants have been deported—almost as many as in George W. Bush’s entire second term. In wake of September 11, the federal government built a massive, $17 billion apparatus to identify and expel illegal resident criminals, and the number of deportations soared from 117,000 in 2001 to nearly 400,000 last year. But only 196,000 of those deported in 2010 were individuals convicted of crimes in their home countries or the United States. Much of the balance of those deported were relatives of American citizens born in this country.

[16] Time Magazine, Feb. 25, 2011.

[17]  Public Radio International, July 4, 2011

Advertisements