Immigration Reform: Is This Time Different (From 2007)?

by Roger Algase

In 2011, Kenneth Rogoff and Carmen Reinhardt published their famous book: This Time is Different, describing 800 years of financial folly based on mistaken assumptions that economic realities had changed. America has now had almost 18 years (as of next year) of immigration folly based on the mistaken assumption that harsh laws making legal immigration more difficult, combined with draconian "enforcement first" policies, would solve all of this country's immigration problems.

This assumption was embodied in the so-called Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA) that was rammed through a Republican-controlled Congress in September, 1996 in the dead of night without debate and attached to a veto-proof military appropriations bill barely over a month before a presidential election.

This law, which was passed in large part because of a white supremacist "backlash" over increased immigration by people of color during the previous three decades following the 1965 immigration reform, may not be the only reason that America now has 11 million unauthorized immigrants. But it is not making the problem any better.

This writer finds it absolutely amazing that there could be any discussion of immigration reform that does not begin with abolishing IIRIRA, or at least its draconian "unlawful presence" bars, mandatory deportation for "aggravated felonies" (i.e. almost anything more serious than jaywalking), and stripping the courts of the power to review arbitrary decisions of immigration officers.

These provisions were considered shocking for their unfairness and denial of basic rights by immigration supporters when they were first adopted. Why are they so uncritically accepted now?

Fast forward to 2007. That year, a bipartisan reform proposal, which did not seriously address or seek to correct the abuses of IIRIRA, but was based on a trade-off between legalization for (some) unauthorized immigrants (with harsh conditions) and even more enforcement, went down in flames, killed by the restrictionist lobby.

But This Time Is Different. Or is it? Despite all the euphoria in the media and on the Internet that CIR is finally upon is (or, as Herbert Hoover said at the start of the Great Depression: "prosperity is just around the corner"), the parameters of the immigration reform debate now are no different from those of the 2007 failure.

One of the best comments I have seen on the status of immigration reform in 2013 is an article in the March 2 by Michael Gould-Wartofsky entitled:*You call this Immigration reform? I recommend this article to all ID readers. Here is the link:

Gould-Wartofsky writes:

"Today, as in 2007, the Senate's bipartisan framework calls for a 'roadmap to address the status of unauthorized immigrants'*that is 'contingent on our success in securing our borders' (despite the fact that our border has never been so securitized). Today, as in 2007, restrictionists have been promised 'an effective employment verification system which ends the hiring of unauthorized workers'...Meanwhile the House Judiciary Committee is paving a familiar path to permanent non-citizenship for millions of Americans [sic], with partial legalization for some, instant incarceration for others and naturalization for none."

"In short, the same formula that failed in 2007 is being repackaged and resold to the American people today."*

Except for the mistake of writing "permanent non-citizenship for millions of Americans", when the author must have meant to write "millions of immigrants", it is hard to argue with the above description of the current status of reform.

Gould-Wartofsky also points out that both Republicans and Democrats should have seen the writing on the wall in the huge turnout of Latino voters in 2012 and the fact that the Latinos' share of the electorate is due to double in size by 2030. But what are we getting instead? Business as usual, with, in his words, "the same tired debates we were having back in 2007".

Who won last November's election anyway, immigrant rights supporters, or the restrictionists and the white supremacists? It would be hard to tell, judging by the "reform" discussions that are taking place among our political classes today.*

About The Author

Roger Algase is a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School. He has been practicing business immigration law in New York City for more than 20 years.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) alone and should not be imputed to ILW.COM.