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© Frank


A Lack of Political Will, Pt. II

by Rey Koslowski
August 10, 2021

This interview with Rey Koslowski,  Professor of Political Science at the University at Albany, was conducted and condensed by franknews. Part One can be read here

frank | What do you think we need to focus on in immigration reform? 

Rey |

I mean, I remember being at a conference in 1996 and saying, "we know how to fix this."

This can be addressed quickly and these numbers could be reduced very rapidly, if you enforce some kind of national ID, enforce employer sanctions, have some technology to take advantage of that national ID, and have an entry-exit system to record all of the visa overstays. We have been talking about the border mostly, but over the last decade, most of the unauthorized migrants in the United States entered through airports and overstayed their visas. That needs to be addressed. But guess what, we have no national ID, no enforced employer sanctions, and no entry-exit system. Well, we've got an entry system. What had been proposed after 9/11 – the biometric exit process is not in place either.

Why? Politics. There isn’t a constituency for national ID rights. The NRA and the ACLU are united on that. And, let’s face it. We demand unauthorized migrant labor; ultimately those who benefit are those of us who consume the food and the services of the unauthorized migrant workers.

Those of us who enjoy cheap food, cheap restaurants, and cheap strawberries, which are very labor-intensive, are able to enjoy these things due to unauthorized labor.

That becomes the real problem. I just don't think that there was a political will to really address the issue of authorized migrant workers in the United States. For me, anyway, it's been the same thing over and over since the mid-1990s.

I mean, I teach this and I am basically teaching something that is never going to happen; comprehensive immigration reform is unlikely to ever happen. We can go through the episodes of it over and over, but if you look at our purchasing and who we are willing to support politically as Americans, we really don't want it. We're too happy with our lifestyles. I mean, that might be extreme, but that is the way I feel about it after all of these years. 

Lots of circling. Lots of lacking political will. 

Every four years or so candidates will do their obligatory, "We are going to change, and we're going to get comprehensive immigration reform," speech. Obama did that. Biden is doing that. I just don’t see it happening. 

Things have changed a little bit, however. With what the courts look like, there is a possibility of a ruling that declares DACA unsustainable as an executive action. That would be a complete disaster politically for everyone, for both parties. I think because of that there's enough of a willingness to let go of comprehensive immigration reform and allow some version of the Dream Act to go through. That's my one thought here. 

This is an annoying question, but how do you wish politicians would talk about migration and immigration? 

Oh gosh. Well, first off I wish they would begin with legal migration. The United States has roughly a million people per year with have adjusted statuses, from temporary status or through family unification who have come from abroad and gotten green cards. This is an amazing policy that has worked well. There are some people who make this argument that we don't have enough skilled migration and that maybe should use a point system like Canada or Australia. But, you know, quite frankly, Canada and Australia have had challenges with the point system. Sometimes people don't end up getting the jobs they think they are qualified for, and end up driving taxis. And we do, in fact, give 144,000 green cards that are sponsored by employers.

In many ways, our system is a success, but you don’t see coverage of that. 

In my personal, anecdotal experience, it does not feel dangerous to walk across the El Paso / Juarez border. I don't feel the need for upped security, but people talk about it like a war zone. Why does that still work?

I have relatives down in New Mexico, just north of El Paso. Folks in El Paso really got upset with all of this focus on crime. If you look at the statistics of El Paso's crime rates, they are actually much lower than other big cities in the United States – until of course the mass shooting that targeted immigrants. We saw Trump heavily tie crime and migration together. But, the foreign-born population has slightly lower crime rates than the native-born population. 

In terms of the border, we hear talk about drug smuggling, human smuggling, cartels. Well, the vast majority of drugs smuggled into the United States are smuggled through the ports of entry, not between the ports of entry.

All of the walls and all of the fences and all of the border patrol, don't really have an impact on the operation of cartels. 

After the 9/11 attacks, you see a focus on border security. A lot of the power points and various reports that were originally oriented towards smuggling and crime came out of the drawers and were repurposed to focus on terrorism. This is when we also saw is a whole lot of proposals for more restrictive immigration policies and for more funding for the border. It was this merging of crime and terrorism and migration. Everyone was talking about terrorists coming across the Southern border at that time. The 9/11 commission went through and tried to find instances of this; they found one case to focus on, a was a Lebanese-Mexican restaurateur who had helped smuggle Lebanese into the United States that was potentially associated with Hezbollah. I mean,  you look at the Lebanese population and what percentage of the population has received benefits from Hezbollah, it is quite high. So, there was little to be found. 

The bigger issue is the crime and the security of Mexican cities on the other side. The issue is these criminal organizations are extorting people and taking advantage of Central American asylum seekers coming through Mexico. I don't necessarily feel, as you say, a sense of fear near the border. However, if you're on the other side of the border and you don't have a roof over your head, and you're far away from home, it's a completely different story. 

Does it bother you to see Ted Cruz wading through a river, like, afraid?

Patrick Buchanan, Tom Tancredo, Ted Cruz, they're all, you know, they've been doing that. I'm not surprised. I guess I try not to devote too much of my thinking and energy to what Ted Cruz does. 

Is there a way for the Biden-Harris White House to effectively address immigration concerns?

I am going to step back to how I wish policymakers might look at this. When we talk about security this association of terrorism with migration is just wrong. When we talk about security, global mobility is the security threat, whether we are talking about migrants or microorganisms, like the coronavirus. 

I don't think our government has adjusted to thinking about this in the long term. If the coronavirus was ever to be eradicated we would have to get to a position where the numbers are so low, that one can utilize contact tracing, isolation, and quarantine again. That is how you get rid of a disease. This is probably the biggest threat we are facing. We are at one 9/11 every ten days.

I would think that if the Biden administration or any members of Congress really wanted to address border security, they would focus on international travel and air travel. The administration could make a real difference by devoting resources to testing all travelers. That's really the place to start.