Monday, March 28, 2011
Obama on Immigration
The White House
March 24, 2011
Dear Ultima :
Thank you for writing me. I have heard from many Americans concerned about immigration, and I value your input as we work to address this pressing challenge.
We are all united under the principles etched onto our Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Our nation has always prospered from this generous and hopeful spirit. Yet, today, our immigration system is broken and a large portion of our economy depends on millions of workers living in the shadows. We are a Nation of laws and a Nation of immigrants, and we must reconcile these traditions.
For too long politicians in Washington have exploited this issue to divide us rather than searching for practical solutions that unite us. We must put politics aside and offer a comprehensive solution that secures our borders, enforces our laws, and reaffirms our rich tradition of welcoming immigrants.
There is a broad consensus around building a solution that stops the flow of undocumented workers across our borders and prevents employers from hiring undocumented workers. However, we know that enforcement is only part of the solution. We must also require undocumented immigrants who are already here to step out of the shadows and onto a responsible path to citizenship by demonstrating sound character, a commitment to America, and a strong work ethic.
To learn more about my policies on immigration, please join me on line at: www.WhiteHouse.gov.agenda/immigration. For additional information, visit www.dhs.gov or call 1-800-375-5283. Again, thank you for writing.
(The only things changed from the original letter are the seal, which was embossed on the stationary rather than printed in color, and the name and address of the addressee.)
March 28, 2011
President Barack Obama,
I am honored by your note of March 24, 2011 on the subject of immigration. Written in the late 1800s when immigration was nearing its peak and the U.S. population was only about 50 million, Emma Lazarus’s famous sonnet was an expression of her empathy for those who had fled the anti-Semitic Pogroms in Eastern Europe. The sonnet is a poignant reminder of our immigrant past but the operative word in that phrase is the word “past.”
Our population has now increased six-fold. No one should deny that conditions are different than they were in the late 1800s. There are many things in our past: child labor, prohibition, lack of women’s suffrage, Jim Crow laws, and segregation. Few thinking Americans want to go back to that “past” yet some of us continue to cling to the idea of “our immigrant past” without a second thought about its appropriateness as a model for the fully-settled and fully-developed America of today with more than 300 million people.
Our immigrant past of the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries should not be our guide for the future. Times, society and the availability of natural resources have changed dramatically. There are several movements in the U.S. such as Zero Population Growth (ZPG) and Negative Population Growth (NPG) but they have failed to gain traction. It is as though we have convinced ourselves that population-driven economic growth can be sustained indefinitely. We seem to have ignored the fact that the “limit” of finite natural resources per capita as population grows without bounds is zero. (The more there are of us, the less there is for each of us.) We badly need a national objective of a stable population to be achieved as soon as possible. Why aren't these issues a part of the public dialogue on immigration?
Of course our nation has prospered from the generous and hopeful spirit expressed in the Lazarus sonnet but does anyone really believe that what was a good thing in the 1800s must necessarily also be a good thing today? We are indeed a Nation of laws and, although we once were, we should no longer be a Nation of immigrants. We can reconcile these two traditions by giving more substantial weight to all of the changes that have occurred in our country since the peak of immigration. Our traditions clearly need to be rebalanced to fit the vastly changed circumstances of our country. Again, why does no one speak about immigration reform in those terms rather than in terms of a broken system and the conditions that prevailed over a hundred years ago?
Although a ten year moratorium on immigration would be welcomed by many, few would suggest that we close immigration indefinitely. Instead we should limit the total immigration quota to 200-250 thousand per year including all chain immigration of spouses and minor children of citizens or permanent residents, but exclusive of foreign students, temporary migrant farm workers, tourists and others for whom there is a demonstrated need. We must focus that smaller quota on the skilled labor and scientists we need to remain competitive in the global marketplace. We should expedite citizenship for foreign students who are interested and who have completed the PhD degree in engineering, physical or biological science, mathematics, and medicine.
We need to level the playing field so that all skilled applicants have an equal opportunity instead of granting a special privilege to adult relatives of citizens or permanent residents. The new quota will reaffirm our rich tradition of welcoming immigrants who can benefit our country rather than those who would strain our budget and further stretch our finite natural resources. To do otherwise will certainly result in a decline in both our quality of life and standard of living.
Your letter states, “There is a broad consensus around building a solution that stops the flow of undocumented workers across our borders and prevents employers from hiring undocumented workers.” The problem is our unwillingness to take the steps necessary to bring that consensus to fruition. We cannot stop the flow of illegal aliens by granting those already here a pathway to citizenship. We cannot stop employers from hiring them unless we implement E-Verification across the board immediately. The best way to accomplish both objectives is vigorous and continuous internal enforcement based on mandatory E-verification across the board for all employers, public and private, and all employees, current and potential new hires.
Some say the repatriation of a significant number of illegal aliens is not feasible but, from a logistic point of view, they are dead wrong. Using a heavily damaged transportation system, eight million ethnic Germans were repatriated back to the heartland of Germany from the East in less than a year following the end of World War II. Many died because of a lack of food and warm clothing during the winter journey in 1945. They were given thirty minutes to appear at the railroad depot and allowed only one suitcase.
No one proposes such draconian measures for the illegals in this country. The advocates of the repatriation of large numbers of illegals favor a systematic, humane approach based on E-verification of work status and attrition through enforcement.
Over the past several years we have invested a great deal of resources into strengthening our borders by increasing staffing and improving infrastructure. We have yet to revise the rules of engagement so that there is no catch and release. Illegals apprehended at the border or internally must be sentenced immediately to at least six months working on border infrastructure. It is estimated that an illegal alien who persists in his or her attempt to get across the border has an ultimate probability of success of about 95%. Illegal aliens believe that if they can escape the immediate environs of the border and the clutches of the border patrol, they will be home free. This constitutes a strong argument for vigorous internal enforcement as a part of any immigration reform.
The East Germans found to their dismay that even mine fields, machine gun towers, multi-layered fences and walls did not deter those who wished to escape to the West. Why? Because they knew if they made it, they would never be repatriated? We need to take that lesson to heart.
The East German experience illustrates the need for the repatriation of a large enough number of illegal aliens to send the clear message that if you come here without proper authorization, we will apprehend you, sentence you to work on border infrastructure for at least six months, and then repatriate you to your homeland with the admonition that if you return you will do hard time as a repeat offender. This is the clear solution to border security. This approach has not been implemented to a sufficient degree to send a message to those who would violate our borders. This is the sine qua non of border security.
You wrote, “We must also require undocumented immigrants who are already here to step out of the shadows and onto a responsible path to citizenship by demonstrating sound character, a commitment to America, and a strong work ethic.” There is no consensus on this point. This is the area of fundamental disagreement. In looking for what you have called that “illusive middle ground” the beginning point always seems to be amnesty for those who are already here. That is not the middle ground --not even close. We tried that in 1986 and it failed for lack of enforcement. Now we must try a different approach. We can determine who, among the millions of illegals, are essential to our economy and who are not. That is the middle ground and that is where we should begin.
Recently, you have stressed the need for developing coalitions to deal with international problems like those posed by Libya. Applying the same logic to the matter of immigration we need to build a broad domestic consensus on how to proceed. That consensus will never be achieved as long as proposals include a blanket amnesty for all illegal aliens.
Thank you again for your willingness to share your thoughts with me.