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A Long, Hard Look At The Chaos That Now Masquerades As Immigration Policy In This Country
by Gary Endelman

Gary Endelman practices immigration law at BP Amoco Corporation. The opinions expressed in this column are purely personal and do not represent the views or beliefs of BP Amoco Corporation in any way.

Biography August 15, 2000
Hon. George W. Bush
Austin, TX

Dear W:

I wanted to congratulate you on your acceptance speech at the "Up With People" convention that just ended. W, as an admirer and a naturalized Texan who got here as fast as he could, I know that your compassionate conservatism will cause you to take a long, hard look at the chaos that now masquerades as immigration policy in this country. Let me explain.

In 1996 the Republicans we did not see on television passed something called the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 (IIRIRA). IIRIRA mandates the removal of all persons convicted of an "aggravated felony" which the statute defines as an offense against a person that carries a sentence of 12 months or more. This broad definition frequently includes misdemeanor offenses under state law. While these minor convictions do not cause a person to lose any civil or political rights, they can still have a devastating immigration impact. Respected civic leaders active in their communities and raising small children now face being kicked out of the US precisely because they may have committed a minor crime 20 or 30 years ago. W, I know you have zero tolerance for crime, but perhaps you were out of town when IIRIRA became law and I wanted you to know all about it. Recently, the INS tried to deport Mary Anne Gehris, a Georgia woman who came to the U.S. from Germany as an infant. Twelve years ago, she was charged with misdemeanor hair-pulling, receiving a one-year suspended sentence. After she reported this on her naturalization application, the INS placed her in removal proceedings and only rescue from the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles saved Ms. Gehris. W, I support the expeditious removal of convicted felons, as you do, but maybe the inclusion of hair-pulling in the list of removable offenses is not the most rational use of our national resources.

W, I know you believe in family values. That is why you should know how current US immigration policy divides families rather than uniting them. Did you know W that a husband who gets a "green card" and then gets married to a nice lady in his home country can not bring her right away to the US? Nope, sure can't. In fact, W, they may be apart for several years. Beyond that, some US consular bureaucrat can refuse to issue her a tourist visa to visit her husband for fear that she will not return. W, just think if you and Laura had to be apart that long! I know fixing this state of affairs will be a top priority in a Bush Administration.

W, no public figure cares more about education than you do. Listen to this. Your advisors may have told you that the children of undocumented parents have the right to attend public school in Texas. Well, it's true because that crazy Supreme Court said so; be careful on getting too upset about that, W., since a conservative corporate lawyer from Richmond appointed by Richard Nixon was the Justice who wrote the majority opinion. No telling what happens to folks once they get inside the Beltway. Anyway, remember that IIRIRA law I mentioned earlier in this letter? Well, that same image-challenged Republican Congress made it against the law for the child of a corporate executive, even one willing to contribute to the GOP, to attend public primary or secondary school on a student visa even though that undocumented child can do so. W, I know they do things different in Washington but please help me figure this one out!

W, sit down when you read this next little bit, cause it is the weirdest part of all. You may have been told that some foreign-born folks come here looking for good jobs. We even have a whole system of law just for employment-based (EB) immigration. This is a well-kept secret so your advisors may not have sprung this one on you yet. The problem, W, is that the policy elites, on the Left and the Right, do not regard EB immigration as having any moral justification. They are alien-centered and regard causes like refugees and family reunification to be worthy of moral support. Immigration to them is international social work. To the extent that they take economics into account, which is not much, they argue that refugees and family reunification can supply more than enough workers for our economy. In their eyes, now pay close attention here W, American employers directly benefit from immigrant workers and that is the real problem! They regard anything that benefits American employers as morally suspect. That a benefit to an American employer is also a benefit to the American economy is an idea foreign to their way of thinking.

W, I know you agree with me that the American economy changes constantly. Can you please tell that to the INS and DOL when you move into the White House? They do not know that or act as if they don't. These agencies see foreign workers as a problem that will not willingly go away and so must be kept in check. Discouraged employers sometimes give up on the whole mess. Even liberals like Ted Kennedy and good, though not compassionate, conservatives like Lamar Smith - I'll tell you about him later, W, since he needs a whole letter - are unable or unwilling to use immigration as a lever for economic growth. There is no reason, W, why the labor controls system we have now should continue to exist; why industries that are riding high now should continue to suffer staffing shortages; why problems that plague the current system cannot be solved. I know that when you run the show, W, we will have an EB immigration system that changes as the economy changes, that serves the needs of that economy and makes economic growth not only possible, but predictable. There is no reason, W, why immigration cannot become a strategy rather than a process, a formula for the creation of new jobs rather than an obstacle to guard jealously what jobs now exist against the forces of change.

W, the only reason to have any employment-based immigration is to enrich the nation and that is the yardstick by which it should be judged. The purpose of EB immigration is NOT to protect the jobs of US workers but to create new jobs and expand national wealth. The problem, W, is that concepts like new jobs and national wealth are far from the minds of the "inside the Beltway" crowd. Apart from the CATO institute, Bill Bennett/Jack Kemp's Empower America, and a few other Bush Stalwarts, no policy wonks think that EB immigration is anything other than US worker protection. W, Michigan is going to be a key electoral state for you, so you might want to read what Michigan's Republican Senator Spencer Abraham said on the floor during last year's debate to raise the H-1B cap. His speeches were laced with constant references to US worker protection. The policy elite that thinks you are not smart enough to be President regards EB immigration as a form of corporate welfare. Since EB immigration does not, in their view, have any ethical legitimacy, they insist on the most stringent labor controls in return for permitting any EB immigration at all.

Under a W presidency, I am very sure that the focus of EB immigration policy will change from protection of what now is to creation of what can be; from specific workers to the economy as a whole; from a spotlight on immigrants to one on immigration. This change of direction, W, cannot work in Congress or among the general public, no matter how hard you smile, unless the proposition that immigration is good for the economy is granted. So long as Americans refer to immigration in the language of "let's help these poor unfortunates," they are not going to grasp that we need immigrants as much as they need us. The policy elites on both sides of the aisle will not give up the mantra of immigration as social outreach without a struggle. We may have to wait until Jeb takes over for this flower to bloom.

While the Clinton-Gore Administration is hawkish on free trade and constantly uses all those big words to talk about the global economy, they think of immigration solely as a domestic issue whose only "international" implication is not to make Mexico mad. Most advocates of a Fortress America EB immigration strategy are not fools. Rather, they believe there is simply no way that even the most anti-employer approach on immigration can cause the US to lose jobs. They do not believe that our foreign competitors can affect us much. The US, in their eyes, is all-powerful and no other nation can hope to compete seriously with us. Even when confronted with the decimation of the domestic steel and coal industries they prefer to turn a blind eye and continue to advocate the economic theories of the 1960s and 1970s. For them, W, the Berlin Wall has not yet fallen. Their economic world-view and beliefs are shaped by the all-powerful US of the immediate post-World War II era. This past May, W, the Washington Post, whose editorial page will matter a lot more to you in a few months, mentioned that the United Steel Workers had lost 500,000 members over the last 25 years. These jobs are now in Korea and elsewhere, in part, because the Steelworkers Union and DOL insisted on maintaining an artificially high prevailing wage. These policies certainly helped the fortunate few who got paid more than the world market deemed competitive, but the laws of supply and demand had not been repealed, the business cycle was not cancelled, and these same jobs gradually migrated overseas. Since our economy is part of the larger global one, an immigration system that denies such a relationship must always be dysfunctional. W, did you ever consider taking immigration away from the Justice Department and placed in a government agency whose goal is to advance the nation's international economic interests? Think about it.

W, it is not just mature industries that are hurt by an immigration system at odds with how the world works. Emerging industries are just as vulnerable, W, perhaps more so. When US domestic wages are set without reference to the realities of global economic competition, mature industries lose jobs. Emerging industries lose something equally precious, the possibility for jobs. The jobs are lost to the US even before they are created. The talent for starting that new industry just does not achieve critical mass in the US in the face of much lower wages abroad. As an example, W, consider that Intel's workforce in Malaysia was about one engineer for every ten workers about a decade ago. Today, by contrast, it is about one engineer for every three workers. If DOL, INS, AFL-CIO and the Institute of Electronic and Electrical Engineers are granted their wish, our semiconductor, microprocessor and allied industries will witness the same cruel fate that befell our steel and coal industries a few decades ago. Will there be any voices raised in protest? When an actual US worker finds that her job is migrating overseas, she can raise hell with her Congressman (hopefully a Bush backer!) and perhaps something can be done. However, for emerging industries, there is no US worker losing a job. It is the US worker's "future" job that is slipping silently away and with it the promise of prosperity. While this kind of job loss is more abstract, and may be dismissed by skeptics as hypothetical, it is, in fact, all too real. America deserves better than an immigration system that kills off new jobs before their time.

There is no wall behind which American workers can hide from change. Immigration is an economic, not a political, phenomenon. Just as economic nationalists have traditionally raised tariffs to keep out imported goods, the DOL and INS now seek to hold the line against people and talent. In both instances, the resistance fails, as it must, because no fixed fortification, no intellectual or administrative Maginot Line, can ever adapt to the flexibility of economic forces that will inevitably seek an alternative path of lesser resistance. When this happens, the American worker or employer who truly believed in the illusion of security will find it that much more difficult to adapt to the new world order.

In the end, the time spent in trying to beat back foreign trade or foreign workers will be better devoted to preparing Americans to meet this challenge or, even better, to creating an immigration policy that will transform these challenges into tangible assets for sustained national growth.

W, some day I hope you get to make a farewell address. When that day comes, you could do worse than quoting what Ronald Reagan said about immigration in his goodbye:

"I've spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don't know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But, in my mind, it was a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, windswept, God- blessed and teaming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace, a city of free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors, and the doors were open to anyone with the will and heart to get here. That's how I saw it and see it still."

Yours for the cause, W. Be true to Texas!
Your Friend,
Gary Endelman

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