Do I Actually Agree With Arlen Specter On Something?

The New York Times staff editorial on the immigration bill currently in the Senate has it dead on:

The path to citizenship laid out by the Specter bill wouldn't be easy. It would take 11 years, a clean record, a steady job, payment of a $2,000 fine and back taxes, and knowledge of English and civics. That's not "amnesty," with its suggestion of getting something for nothing. But the false label has muddied the issue, playing to people's fear and indignation, and stoking the opportunism of Bill Frist, the Senate majority leader. Mr. Frist has his enforcement-heavy bill in the wings, threatening to make a disgraceful end run around the committee's work.

The alternatives to the Specter bill are senseless. The enforcement-only approach — building a 700-mile wall and engaging in a campaign of mass deportation and harassment to rip 12 million people from the national fabric — would be an impossible waste of time and resources. It would destroy families and weaken the economy. An alternative favored by many businesses — creating a temporary-worker underclass that would do our dirtiest jobs and then have to go home, with no new path to citizenship — is a recipe for indentured servitude.

It is a weak country that feels it cannot secure its borders and impose law and order on an unauthorized population at the same time. And it is a foolish, insecure country that does not seek to channel the energy of an industrious, self-motivated population to its own ends, but tries instead to wall out "those people."

It's a rare moment when I agree with both Senator Arlen Specter and President Bush on something, but I have to say I support their approach to immigration. We'll have to wait and see if sanity prevails. Given that it's an election year, I'm not at all confident that it will.


Ruchira Paul said...

Bravo Amardeep for a clear eyed, balanced take on this extremely divisive issue.

My own view on this one is that the GOP can never hope to win unless they conjure up the specter of an enemy - preferably of a dark skinned variety. Some on the left see this as a fair wage, protectionist issue. So we have opposition and irrational fear on both sides of the political spectrum, for different reasons. Fortunately, this time the right wingers are more divided than the usually fractious left.

And a comment on the last post: The dancing Sikh, Navtej Johar is awesome!

Suvendra Nath Dutta said...

I will hijack this comment thread to mention something about Suketu Mehta's speech that I found disturbing.

I was surprised to see the difference between men and women canard repeated by someone was thoughtful as Mr. Mehta. There may well be a difference, but something that scientists (with the exception of Steven Pinker) like to harp on is that a link to a real biological difference is a lot harder. I am no biologist, but selection effects in any study are incredibly hard to understand.

I was also particularly disturbed by the difference he cites between male and female homosexual behaviour. I find it hard to believe that if you did a controlled experiments you would find a significant difference between the behavioural difference between heterosexual and homosexual men and women. And if there was a difference you'd still be hard pressed to say it was of biological origin and not (as Larry Kramer suggested) because one night stands were the only option available to homosexual men before a certain era.

Sorry about the off-topic comment, I'll go back to lurking.

electrostani said...

No need to worry about off-topic comments, Suvendra -- this is your friendly mom-n-pop blog.

I agree with you -- Mehta makes a pretty facile comment on sex and gender differences:

We seek out different people for different needs: sex, companionship, money, good breeding stock. The difference between men and women is starkly illustrated by the difference between male and female homosexuals. Most gay men are casually and guiltlessly promiscuous; it is a basic serving of sexual need. Lesbians, on the other hand, tend to pair-bond, nest, seek lifetime nurturing relationships with one person. Yes, there is a difference between male and female attitudes to sex and monogamy, and it's about bloody time we were honest about it.

It's not the comment about homosexuals that bugs me, it's what he means by it: he means to suggest that men are inherently promiscuous, while women nest. It's a pretty silly comment, in my view -- the kind of thing heterosexual men say when they want to justify their lack of control.

As for the scientific validity and all that, I'll leave it to the experts!

Anonymous said...


n 1: a period during which offenders are exempt from punishment 2: a warrant granting release from punishment for an offense [syn: pardon] 3: the formal act of liberating someone [syn: pardon, free pardon] v : grant a pardon to (a group of people)

And this isn't like an amnesty, exactly how?

Anonymous said...

One serious note of caution on the Specter bill -- while he managed to get McCain-Kennedy's legalization provisions in there, and that's where the big, 11 million people fight seems to be right now, the enforcement provisions in the bill are absolutely atrocious -- in fact, many of them were taken directly from Sensenbrenner's HR 4437 bill in the House. Those still will affect hundreds of thousands of people, and it's quite inexcusable that Specter has gone along with it. As the National Immigration Forum puts it, "Justice: It's Such a Bother."

(see http://www.immigrationforum.org/documents/PolicyWire/Legislation/SelectSummaryCIRMark.pdf and scroll down)

There's a real risk that some lukewarm legalization proposal will clear the Senate, get watered down in conference, since Frist will appoint the conferees (think Help America Vote Act, or No Child Left Behind -- both of which looked great but have been somewhat emptier shells than they seemed), and we will get all of Sensenbrenner's enforcement provisions.

In some ways, the best outcome in this Congress might well be no legislation in this session. There's much to be wary of here -- be very very afraid....

Ruchira Paul said...


Call it what you like. But unless you have enough buses or prisons to accomodate 11 million people that must either be deported or thrown in jail, what are you going to do about it? Resent them while they mow the lawns, polish the floors and wash the dishes? Or treat them like dirt (as they are treated in Texas but not in California) but hire them nonetheless to work for next to nothing? If that is the solution, then steel yourself for the kind of riots that France saw recently due to the contemptuous marginalization of its "invisible" Arab population, who BTW are French citizens but never cease to be "immigrants" in the eyes of the French.

ak: I have not read the Specter bill but if it has elements of the Sensenbrenner bill, then I agree with you that it is another cynical attempt at hogwash in an election year. It is high time that congress faced the immigration issue head on and with some intellectual honesty and moral consideration. And no bill will be fair unless the other matter of fair living wages for "ALL" Americans is addressed at the same time.

Anonymous said...

"Call it what you like."

No, actually that's what Congress is doing, thanks. If it was in their best interests to call it an amnesty, they would.

Ronald Reagan's Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 granted legal status to thousands and thousands of illegal immigrants. That was called an amnesty. I don't see much difference here.

"But unless you have enough buses or prisons to accomodate 11 million people that must either be deported or thrown in jail, what are you going to do about it?

Oh, I have some thoughts. Obviously we don't have enough buses or prisons to accomodate 11 million people, although we did have enough buses and prisons to accomodate illegal immigrants at some point in history before the population grew so high. However, this question has to be asked in return. Do you even consider illegal immigration a crime, in your eyes? Or is it the 'illegal' status just a technicality that's taken way too seriously, the way some people believe the War on Drugs has gone overboard, and marijuana should be criminalized? Sometimes I wonder if anyone who says "the problem is much too big" would think it's a problem at all, no matter how small.

But in this case, I would agree. The situation has gotten so big, it's probably insoluable at this point. You certainly can not round up so many millions of people. Although, stepping up enforcement to a very visible degree WOULD probably slow down the illegal immigration population (assuming that's the goal you intend to acheive.) Barring that, here's what can be done about it:

a.) Raise the minimum wage.

Yeah, everybody keeps saying "Who's going to mop our floors? Who's going to pick our apricots? Who's going to work in the fields?" Just as you did. Well, saying these are the jobs immigrants are hired for is presenting an incomplete picture, but I'll get to that later. Saying, they're hired to do the jobs that Americans won't do is a crock. Most Americans won't do those jobs because the pay is so meager - and that's where the illegal immigrants come in. Assmebly line workers used to make a very decent living, with a nice pension waiting for them at retirement. Now there are almost no pensions in the workforce anymore and jobs are being cut or outsourced or the pay is being reduced. Raise the pay, restore the benefits, and the job pool will diversify again, and you'll see more legal immigrants and citizens taking the jobs.

An earlier poster said some on the left sees this as a fair wage issue, and doing so is "irrational". But how can it be irrational when bringing down the wages is exactly what this is doing?

b.) Enforce laws against companies hiring illegal workers.

An enforcement approach is foolish? That's what the politicians want you to think. Why enoforce heavy penalties upon their biggest donors, many of who hire these immigrants for very low wages (thanks to the magic of subcontracting?) Actually, we already have these laws. But they're almost never enforced (just like the laws against illegal immigrants are only spottily enforced. What a coincidence! Though if something has to be enforced, who is more likely to have a law enforced against them?) If the government were to crack down on these corporations for hiring and exploiting illegal workers... well, that would help to solve the problem. But don't stop at the corporations. Enforce a penalty upon the small businesses, and upon the individuals who hire day laborers or nannies or contruction workers. Unfortunately, such a crackdown would be unfairly enforced, going after the small-fry rather than the large companies. But were it to be enforced across the board, that would help solve illegal immigration as well as worker exploitation.

And by the way, forget hard labor and menial work. What about high-tech firms? (Of course, they have a tendency to exploit LEGAL immigrants as well.) Read this:


So, while we're all exuding fountains of gratitude for how humane the Specter bill is, is it really going to change anything regarding worker treatment? So the illegals are made conditionally legal. Nice band-aid! But how much better off will they be, really?

c.) Speed up the legalization process.

Enough with all this bureaucracy crap. If people want to come to this country to work, then the beueaucratic system that allows for legal entry should be streamlined. Make the process easier and faster - probably ten times faster! Those who want to come to America legitimately will do so. How many deaths are caused by Mexicans sneaking in through the desert and dehydrating or getting shot? This will reduce the deaths.

d.) Make English the official language

Oh, I've done it now! What a hot potato that is. I know, I know. How parochial. How narrow-minded. Maybe, maybe not. But the goal is how to solve the illegal immigration problem, is it not? Well, this may not be a popular solution. It may be reactionary. But if you remove all the Spanish language signs beneath the English signs, remove the Spanish language instructions on how to get a driver's liscence, remove the Spanish language options when calling the bank, remove Spanish everywhere (except emergency services like the hospital or the fire department... you certainly have to keep Spanish in place for life-or-death situations), then we will see who wants to come into the country to work, and who wants to come to live and contribute. I'll wager the illegal population will go down were we to do this.

e.) Increase foreign aid spending to Mexico.

This may work about as well as helping Colombians fight cocaine trafficking, i.e. not at all. But if two dollars an hour is worth breaking the law and risking death for, maybe it's in our best interests to invest a little money into Mexico. Perhaps we could buy a little more of their oil, and that might take care of other geopolitical issues as well.

What was meant to be a comment has become essentially an article. May I get paid?

electrostani said...


All of what you say is valid, though one could perhaps quibble on one point or another. (For instance, one can't speed up the immigration process until one decides what to do with the established illegal population. The two go to together.)

And I myself was stumped trying to figure out how this isn't a version of "amnesty." Perhaps the NYT is merely rhetorical on that point. (But rhetoric matters -- McCain has been going out of his way to try and fight off the word "amnesty" too)

But would you rather have HR 4437 as it stands? Would you rather have a 700 mile fence?

Unfortunately none of the alternatives you mention are remotely likely to come to pass in a Republican-dominated country, which will exploit nativist sentiments and xenophobia this year with familiar prosecutorial zeal (homophobia in 2004, racism in 1992, etc). We have to work with what we have.

Anonymous said...

Ruchira -- from the National Immigration Law Center, here are the enforcement provisions, many of which come from Sensenbrenner directly, and the others of which were added by the Judiciary Committee during markup -- all of which makes me think that the best possible outcome to hope for is an impasse, no bill, and try again next year after the elections:

The bill reported out of the Judiciary Committee contains many harsh and punitive enforcement provisions, including provisions that would:

Make expedited removal (removal without a chance to have an immigration judge hear the case) mandatory for individuals (except for Mexicans and Cubans) detained within 100 miles of the border and within two weeks after entry;

Require mandatory detention of individuals (except for Mexicans and Cubans) caught at a port of entry or land or international land or maritime borders;

Make detention more likely by increasing detention space;

Vastly expand the number of border patrol agents and further militarize the border without providing the protections needed to hold the government accountable for civil and human rights violations;

Overrule Supreme Court decisions on indefinite detention and allow the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to detain immigrants indefinitely, even when they have not committed a criminal offense and there is no reasonable chance of removal to their home country;

Limit courts’ ability to halt (enjoin) government violation of immigrants’ constitutional and statutory rights;

Make voluntary departure rules harsher;

Greatly expand the definition of passport, visa and immigration fraud crimes in order to criminalize acts such as the omission of information (rather than provision of false information) on immigration-related documents;

Bar persons from adjusting status if they admit (conviction not required) a document fraud offense; even a person who has US citizen or lawful permanent resident family members will be inadmissible, if she admits completing an I-9 form with a false Social Security Number to get a job;

Increase the penalties for failing to file notice of change of address;

Assert that states have “inherent authority” to enforce federal criminal immigration laws;

Authorize the entry of a wide range of civil immigration records into the federal National Criminal Information Center criminal database;

Expand local agency enforcement of federal immigration law by mandating that DHS reach out to states to enter into a memorandum of understanding to enforce federal immigration law (but without requiring states to enter into those agreements);

Reverse the burden of proof in removal proceedings by presuming that persons convicted under a statute that includes both aggravated felonies and non-aggravated felonies are aggravated felons;

Unreasonably expand the definition of aggravated felony, which will make even more immigrants deportable and permanently ineligible for legal status;

Broaden the definition of “smuggling,” and include in the definition actions taken outside the U.S.;

Expand the “smuggling” forfeiture provision to apply to any property; a person who invited an undocumented relative to her house might lose her house

Impose immigration penalties on US citizens and LPRs by limiting their rights to petition for their relatives, if the citizens or LPRs have committed certain crimes;

Make the Basic Pilot employment eligibility verification program mandatory for all employers despite longstanding problems with inaccuracy of records, lack of privacy protections, and misuse by employers;

Greatly restrict the documents that individuals may use to prove identity and work authorization when applying for work; as a result, many citizens and immigrants will be unable to prove their eligibility to work;

Use Social Security Administration no-match letters to enforce immigration laws, despite the fact that such letters are often inaccurate, affect work authorized individuals, and lead to wrongful firing and retaliation by employers.

Ruchira Paul said...


I am FOR sane border enforcement to control immigration. (I would like to know how many of the "coyotes" are on the pay roll of businesses and produce growers). I am concerned about the people who are already here. I still have not understood what you are suggesting we do with them except to make it difficult for them to function by enforcing English as the only language of official communication and hope that it will make life so miserable for the undocumented workers that they will leave voluntarily (we can only hope). By the way, undocumented Mexicans are not the only ones being accommodated with linguistic help in hospitals, drivers' license tests and in the courts. Legal immigrants from Latin America, Arab countries, India, Vietnam, Cambodia and many others too receive similar help. Should we withdraw that assistance too? English IS and MUST remain the official language of this country. But that does not mean we cannot extend help to first generation immigrants only in order to help them assimilate.

Where did I suggest that I want the undocumented workers to remain here to pick our apricots and mop our floors for a pittance? I am suggesting exactly the opposite. I want higher minimum wages enforced for all Americans. Businesses not paying fair wages and benefits must be penalized. And then let us find out how many of the menial jobs still have American born takers. I am going to repeat something here I have said elsewhere on this subject.

"It will indeed be interesting to see if wages are raised, whether native born Americans will still reject certain kinds of work. For example, I saw that in meat packing plants of Nebraska and Iowa, even with wages of $7 - 10 /hour (higher than minimum wage of the 90's) the plants were manned almost exclusively by immigrants from Mexico. Except of course for the supervisory positions. These jobs were traditionally held by Nebraskans of middle European descent - Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and to some extent, Germany . The most ironic thing that I observed was that at the Office of Immigration in Omaha which of course is a federal office, there were posters and electronic streaming tickers - advertizing jobs for meat packers ! Targeted of course at "legal immigrants" but nonetheless indicative of the unavoidable fact that the Nebraska boys are not rushing to do what their dads did."

And yes, helping the corrupt governments of Mexico and other Latin American countries to clean up their own act at home, so their citizens do not find it necessary to make the arduous and hazardous trek across the border. Now that is a laudable plan we can all support - instead of the mindless rampage we are on in the middle east. But are we serious about that? Or is the availability of a cheap and desperate labor force close to home an attractive incentive to keep the profit margin high and the price of lettuce low?

ak: Thanks for explaining the draconian provisions.

Suvendra Nath Dutta said...

Hmm. I must admit to being a little surprised by this discussion. I thought there'd be at least one reader of this blog calling for open borders. Isn't anything else really unsustainable? Do we really think its feasible to imagine we can maintain the current disparity between Mexico and US for the next 100 years. If we don't then how does it matter what we do about the border. Either enough people will cross to make both societies similar economically, or both societies will become similar economically so border crossings won't matter.

Also, for a blog with many readers who are descendants of immigrants, or are immigrants themselves, doesn't stronger border patrolling sound a lot like, "I'm alright Jack, pull up the ladder"? My thesis advisor's grandfather was an illegal immigrant in 1905, when he jumped ship coming from Poland and ended up in NYC. He says he simply cannot talk about punishing illegal immigrants in good conscience. This must be true for a lot of us.

Ruchira Paul said...


Most of us here are very clearly "against" punishing the "illegal" immigrants and "for" assimilating them under equitable terms. I would suspect that most of us are also vehemently against "pulling up the ladder" once we ourselves get in the door. A sane and liberalized enforcement is not the same as slamming the door. (I am not sure where "anonymous" is.)

As for open borders - yes, some day perhaps. In a perfect world we will all be citizens of the world and not of narrowly defined political and geographic entities. But given the economic disparity among regions, it is going to be a hard sell. And in the shadow of 9/11, nearly impossible. Until there is a modicum of economic parity among nations of the Americas, a EU style free border (for job seekers) is not going to happen. It is in the interest of the US and Canada to see that poorer neighbors flourish rather than remain a dependable (and resentful) source of "slave labor" for their prosperous neighbors. The same thing goes BTW, for India and its neighbors like Nepal and Bangladesh.

I do believe Suvendra, the majority here is on the same page.

Suresh Venkatasubramanian said...

The problem here for me is not in the amnesty, but in the guest worker program. the idea that the US will allow foreigners to come here to work for 6 years, and then will eject them, just seems wrong. it is reminiscient of programs in Germany and other places, where foreigners can come and work, but can't ever hope to put down roots.

This country, among all in the west, has been by far the most welcoming to foreigners of all kinds. THis kind of guest worker program is more troublesom to me than any other aspect of the bills being proposed.

Anonymous said...

"I am FOR sane border enforcement to control immigration. (I would like to know how many of the "coyotes" are on the pay roll of businesses and produce growers). I am concerned about the people who are already here. I still have not understood what you are suggesting we do with them"

As I've already said, it is too late for a solution. There are too many illegals to provide a "solution" for other than to let things develop as they are. I am more concerened about what to do for the future. Reagan's '86 amnesty and an '06 guest workers program is no solution in the long run. It's more akin to raising the debt ceiling. Fine for now, I guess, but then what?

"Where did I suggest that I want the undocumented workers to remain here to pick our apricots and mop our floors for a pittance? I am suggesting exactly the opposite. I want higher minimum wages enforced for all Americans. Businesses not paying fair wages and benefits must be penalized."

Oh, no no no. That's not what I meant. I meant that the question about jobs are always framed this way. Who else are you going to find to do the landscaping, the field work, etc? Sorry if that wasn't clear.

Penalizing businesses should be a goal, but considering that it's been reported that half the businesses cited for violations aren't even fined, you'd need a Gabriel over the White House to motivate a president to see it through.

"It will indeed be interesting to see if wages are raised, whether native born Americans will still reject certain kinds of work."

I suppose one test would be to implement the wall-building all along the border. Illegal immigrants surely won't sign up for that job. If that wall gets built, then we'll know that's one kind of work that didn't get rejected.

More seriously, I read an article a week or two ago (can't remember where, but I'll try to find it) about FEMA in New Orleans, and about how there are New Orleans residents ready to work down there, residents who returned or who never left in the first place. And they are waiting to be hired. Now, FEMA puts out all these contracts for rebuilding and cleaning up. However, instead of hiring a company to take on the work, they hire whichever big donor gave to the GOP, and THEY hire a company... then THEY hire a company. Next thing you know, there are four or five sub-contractors wasting millions and millions of taxpayers dollars. And when it finally comes down to hiring workers to cart away all the crud down there, nobody from New Orleans even gets hired. Instead, they take on these workers - probably illegals - who converge upon New Orleans and will work cheaper than these locals who could do the work but end up getting screwed.

So the people to do this work are there. They just don't come cheap.