The Legend of Wooley Swamp

What ever happened to nuance? Jabberwocky is being spewed up by the left and right as they try to drag us into their Wonderlands. This blog charts a path out of this swamp of simple truths and false certainties. And from time to time, it'll be a place for more light-hearted musings.

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Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Immigration Reform Cryogenics: Senate Stuck in a Tundra of Amendments and Filibusters

Update: In addition to the Washington Post story linked in the headline of this post, I recommend Charles Hurt's piece in today's Washington Times. Coming at it from the GOP angle, he claims that the Republicans are planning to filibuster their own bill! Add this to the amendment-filibustering shenanigans of Senate Minority Leader Reid, and you have a classic gridlock. Hurt's article also highlights the little known anti-immigrant past of Reid.

Update II: Things are moving quickly now, and there's news of a compromise bill that may garner enough votes. Click here, more later on. The question of if any bill is better than no bill arises....


As I write, the Senate appears cryogenically frozen in the churning sea of its own arcane rules. Immigration reform is still being debated, but the debate is now about how, when, what and even why to debate. And most importantly, they thus have yet to decide if they will even vote on anything at all. Come Friday, it’s the two week Easter-Passover break and things do not look promising after that.

One of the two main sponsors, Senator John McCain of Arizona, of the bill that emerged from the Judiciary Committee tried his best today to shame the “great deliberative body” into actually taking some action. To not shy away from the challenge that this extremely emotional issue poses. For make no mistake about it, in this election year the Senators, despite the many truly wise words pronounced, and are ruled by fear. Fear of losing: not just any particular vote on the Floor but at the polls this fall.

As Bill Kristol points out in this piece, worrying about the polls makes very little sense, especially for Republicans. For as he points out, the most vociferous opponents of immigration reform - and loudest nativists and border fanatics - do not represent state-wide offices (or big states). In fact, like Tom Tancredo (Colorado’s sixth district in this least diverse in an otherwise increasingly diverse state) they represent very homogenous districts.

But lest I give the impression that Republicans are the only ones with nativist tendencies, I refer you to what I witnessed when I finally made it into the Senate this past Monday. This Time Magazine article also goes into the rationale behind the Democrat maneuvering around the immigration issue. For make no mistake, they too are playing politics with this one, even if they claim to be on holy ground.

Byron Dorgan, junior Senator from North Dakota (click for the telling demographics of this tiny state), came in armed and dangerous, carrying all kinds of placards with colorful graphics. They purported to show how the "American worker" is under threat. Another Swedish (and also Norwegian) American Senator living in the 19th Century misses the point.

As the self-appointed representative of the “American worker” Dorgan – much like those who can’t stop talking about border security and the war on terror – did his best to turn this debate into something else:

“At a time when our country sees so much of the outsourcing of good jobs and now the proposal to continue importing cheap labor, I think it is a strange set of circumstances that has a proposal on the floor of the Senate saying let's deal with immigration and the immigration problem in this country by adding to the immigration bill a so-called guest worker program that would allow 400,000 additional people who now live outside our country to come into our country's labor force…. Open the newspaper these days and take a look at the news: outsourcing of American jobs; good American jobs that pay well…. In addition to outsourcing good American jobs, we are also insourcing, importing cheap labor…. Where is the talk about American workers as we discuss the issue of immigrants and immigration reform? Where is the description of the plight of the American worker? Who is here describing the circumstances faced by American workers?”

(to read his entire remarks, please click here)

Considering the numbers at hand, 11 million undocumented/illegal immigrants out of a population of 300 million, considering the fact that economies actually grow and times change, you have to wonder how someone representing a state with a shrinking population can sound so confident that he knows what the problem is and what then might represent a solution. If he believes in creating jobs for “American workers” (and just who is an American worker in the mind of the Senator from North Dakota?) that’s called statism, which some like and some don’t. But the connection to immigration is both spurious and overblown.

In fact, it is a modern version of the Know Nothings, a.k.a the American Party. Yes, the racism may be gone, or at least not as overt, and the bigotry is not anti-Catholic, but the scapegoats in this simplistic worldview remain the immigrants. How sad to see this in 2006.

Dorgan actually spoke after Senator Kennedy, who not only spoke eloquently and glowingly of the United States and immigration, but threw out a canard of his own. And that too risks creating scapegoats, though the risk is not all that great in the U.S. but more so in Europe. I refer to the immigrant as ‘salvation’ as a 'miracle elixir' for all woes:

“Immigration is the story of American history. From the earliest days of our Nation, generation upon generation of immigrants have come to be part of a land that offers freedom and opportunity to those willing to do their part. Immigrants built our great cities. They cultivated our rich farmlands. They built the railroads and highways that bind America from sea to shining sea. They erected houses of worship to practice their faiths…. That is our history. But it is also our present and our future.”

(Click here for his entire remarks)

This is a truism and recognizes the dynamic and organic nature of an immigrant society. They change over time. Excellent. But when he later made the claim that “our economy is more dependent on immigration than ever before” and that “America's choice really is between immigration and economic stagnation” he goes too far. Talk about creating expectations that cannot be met.

Immigration is part of the economic and demographic fabric, but that's it, a part of it. To paint it as a panacea risks automatically rendering it a toxic negative for populists to exploit when times are bad. Why do so few see that connection? Stop demonizing and hyping immigration.

To my mind, the social and cultural aspects need to be highlighted more. Yes, you need to sell this on economic grounds (and of course mention national security every so often). But the fact is that assimilation is taking place and that as immigrants become Americans America changes, and thus their children will inevitably grow up in a country that has assimilated to the newcomers as well. So people might not like this, but it is happening and responsible folks should convey this message.

History shows us how intrinsic and continous immigration is, but to remain stuck in another century like Senator Dorgan, and to some extent Senator Kennedy, is a big problem. What America do they want to create? Perhaps they need to realize that the newcomers and second generation are already shaping the future.

On a day, when many Senators had a lot to say, these thoughts seemed important. Today, Wednesday, the Senate was simply treading water and for a long time nothing happened. One Senator mentioned that there were some 228 amendments (changes) to the original bill. Since each amendment, unless withdrawn, requires a vote it’s not hard to see how this ship could sink before it even reaches the high seas of compromise with the House of Representatives.

As business drew to a close at around 10 pm, a faint glimmer of hope appeared. The Washington Post’s Jonathan Weisman reports on how some Republicans are trying to break the impasse with what appears to be a rather unsavory compromise. Read the story for its excellent description of the drama that unfolded as Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada faced the entire Republican causcus all by his lonesome. Tomorrow morning the Democrats have to show their mettle - and perhaps some Republicans will defy the will of their leadership and fight for what they believe.


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