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Beverly Hills, California, United States
Eli Kantor is a labor, employment and immigration law attorney. He has been practicing labor, employment and immigration law for more than 36 years. He has been featured in articles about labor, employment and immigration law in the L.A. Times, Business Week.com and Daily Variety. He is a regular columnist for the Daily Journal. Telephone (310)274-8216; eli@elikantorlaw.com. For more information, visit beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com and and beverlyhillsemploymentlaw.com


Friday, February 09, 2024

How the federal government created the immigration crisis that now bedevils it

In 2006, new legislation further bolstered the idea of the border as a zone in need of military control. In the aftermath of 9/11, Republicans pointed to the high numbers of labor migrants crossing the border to raise fears about terrorists coming through — though, as Massey points out, the 9/11 hijackers had all entered the country on tourist visas. Under President George W. Bush — who, as a candidate, had deep connections to the Texas Hispanic community, and who had pushed for his own moderate immigration package that included a path to citizenship — Congress passed the Secure Fence Act in 2006. Like the Gingrich legislation the decade before, the 2006 bill — the aftermath of a failed comprehensive immigration push from Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Edward “Ted” Kennedy (D-Mass.) — was a last-minute election year compromise package that doubled down on the idea of the border as a zone of chaos in need of barriers and well-armed law enforcement. “They passed this act quite hurriedly in October of 2006, right on the cusp of the elections,” Doris Meissner, who ran the Immigration and Naturalization Service under Clinton, told The Hill last year. “I think it was a political fallback at the time, and frankly, it hasn’t been taken very seriously ever since,” added Meissner, who now heads the U.S. Immigration Policy Program at the Migration Policy Institute. That bill reimagined the border for the first time as a problem — something that had to be controlled. And it defined the ideal goal of successful “operational control” of the nearly 2,000-mile, sparsely populated, difficult terrain in far more ambitious terms than ever before. Such control, the 2006 statute clarified, was only accomplished when the Border Patrol was able to keep anyone from crossing through. The failure of reform The 2006 bill wasn’t intended to be the last word on immigration policy. Congress tried in 2007 and again in 2013 to pass legislation that combined the stick of border militarization with the carrot of reforms to the legal immigration system, as well as a path to citizenship for the large populations of undocumented immigrants living “in the shadows.” But despite backing from Bush, the 2007 bill failed in the Senate amid opposition from Republican hard-liners. “The message is crystal-clear. The American people want us to start with enforcement at the border and at the workplace and don’t want promises,” then-Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) told The New York Times at the time. Former Speaker of the House John Boehner. (Greg Nash) And though the 2013 bill backed by President Obama cleared the Senate 68-32, then-Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) refused to take it up amid shifting political winds. Instead, foreshadowing the dynamics in today’s House, Boehner said the lower chamber would produce its own bill, which never materialized. That failed 2013 effort proved to be the last meaningful chance to address immigration before the character of migrant flows changed— dominated less and less by job-seeking Mexicans, whose numbers had plummeted long before Donald Trump announced his 2016 candidacy, and more by whole families seeking refuge from violence, economic collapse and the impacts of global heating back home, Massey told The Hill. Immigration reform has also become a bigger challenge institutionally for Congress, which over the past three decades has lost most members and staffers with experience legislating the successful 1996 and 2006 reforms. That institutional knowledge is not around in 2024, Lind said, making negotiations and their aftermath more about politics than policy. “You have a politically charged issue where people don’t necessarily understand the details on their own enough to form an informed opinion and ask for things because of their understanding of the issues,” she said. “Which means they’re all going to have to default to ‘Well, which is the bigger political liability for us: supporting this bill or opposing it?'” Unlike in 1996 and 2006, even election-year pressure wasn’t enough to get the Senate’s bipartisan deal over the finish line in 2024, showcasing how much divisions on the issue have grown. The reduction of the immigration debate to raw politics comes at a time of mass global migration. Amid the greatest migration of refugees since the end of World War II, Congress has left border agencies few tools to efficiently process people. This was a stark contrast to the 1970s, when the U.S. processed 1.3 million refugees from U.S.-instigated wars in Southeast Asia. “There, we felt we had the moral obligation to process the visa, and if you look at these populations now, they’re all pretty well integrated — no problem,” Massey said. But despite the significant role U.S. policy played in creating the violent conditions that new waves of Central American refugees sought to escape, “by the time they began showing up, we no longer had that conscience,” he said. Doubling down on enforcement Looking back, Gilman argued that the U.S. “would have been better with a looser system that accepted that sure, you’ll miss a few cases, but it’s for the best to let some people in who shouldn’t be here — rather than setting up entire system to avoid fraud, because the resources to fight fraud could have let you process people more quickly, and avoid problems with the backlog.” And Massey added that this underfunding of the asylum system also led to the acceleration of the “feedback loop” in which administrative delays drive asylum-seekers across the border — creating media-friendly spectacles of mass crossings, which push policymakers to rush more border guards to the border. This in turn drives up the number of “encounters” — a function of the fact that there are more police to count them — and further diverts money away from processing that backlog, he said. The Senate’s latest, doomed-to-fail bill, which focused almost exclusively on enforcement and drastically reduced the ability of migrants to claim asylum — doubled down on this old pattern, Menendez said. The senator pointed back to what he portrayed as the long arc of U.S. policy that had left the immigration system “in chaos decades after these laws were enacted.” For more information, visit us at https://www.beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com/.

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