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Manhattan Institute’s Tamar Jacoby defends the immigration bill.

Thursday, May 31, 2007
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HH: The immigration bill matters a great deal to you. And since we’ve been banging away at it with a sledgehammer pretty much for two weeks, I thought we would bring on one of the more articulate and forceful defenders of the compromise, Tamar Jacoby, who is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. Tamar, good to talk to you again.

TJ: Good to be here.

HH: Good to have you, it’s always a pleasure. I heard you on Laura’s show earlier last week talking about the deal. And so before I start asking questions, why don’t you give the wind-up and your endorsement of why it should be passed.

TJ: This bill, nobody’s completely happy with this bill, right? Everyone from every point on the compass has something to complain about. But we as a nation need to fix our immigration system. We have to get it under control, we have to start enforcing the laws, we have to do something about those 12 million illegal people living here, and we have to create a way legally to get the workers that we need to grow the economy, to get them, the ones who want to do that in the future, to get them coming here legally, as opposed to illegally. And I think this bill moves us forward on all of those fronts. It doesn’t move us forward perfectly, and as I say, everybody’s got something to complain about. But it’s much better than the status quo, which I think is unacceptable to everyone, and this has a little something for everyone.

HH: Now Tamar, you also write, you’ve been writing a lot about this, I’ve got your Dallas Morning News piece which may have been syndicated, as well as your…I don’t know where this one’s from, the L.A. Times. And so you’ve got a lot of stuff out there. You used the number 12 million illegal immigrants. Isn’t that a low estimate?

TJ: That’s the estimate from the best expert I know. It’s higher than what the government thinks. I mean, I think it’s about…no one knows for sure, but I think 20 million is way exaggerated.

HH: Okay, so you’re thinking 12 is reasonable. Okay, I’ll got with that. I though it was low. What about…you’re also an advocate for additional immigration, legal immigration, after this bill passes. How much additional immigration do you think we need?

TJ: Well, look, the situation right now is that supply and demand, our growing economy, generates about a million and a half people coming here every year to work, a million and a half. We give out visas for a million. It’s as if we were making cars here, and we have to import the steel, and a quota for steel was a third too low. And a third of the product that we needed to go on being as profitable as we could be had to be bootlegged. I mean, how stupid is that? That’s the system we have. I’m not saying we need more immigrants than are currently coming. I’m saying let the ones who are now coming illegally, but we need, who are hard working people, and doing jobs that we need done, let’s give them a way to come legally.

HH: And so, does that mean that you think we should have 1.5 million additional visas per year?

TJ: No, no, no. We have a million already. We have 1.1 million. I’m saying give that extra 400,000 people a way, certainly a way to come temporarily, and I think the bill does that. I mean, it got amended last week so that now it will only give 200,000 of them, but the original bill was close.

HH: I understand, but I’m just trying to get the audience to where you are, because always people walk into this discussion with a lot of baseline facts missing. You think we need a million and a half…

TJ: Not a million and a half. Not extra. We need about 400,000 extra temporary.

HH: Right, but that means a million and a half every year total additional immigrants.

TJ: Not additional immigrants.

HH: No, people coming in, we need 1.5 million new people coming to this country each year.

TJ: That’s about how many come now, generated by supply and demand.

HH: Okay, and so do you foresee that continuing?

TJ: I do.

HH: And so…

TJ: I don’t think America’s going to change in the opposite direction of the way it’s been going for the past forty years, which is that we’re getting more and more and more educated. I don’t think people…suddenly, people who now are sending their kids to college are going to suddenly decide well, I think my grandchildren should be busboys and farmhands. I think our labor need is going to continue.

HH: I understand that. So will that number then rise as well from 1.5 million to, say 1.7, to 2 million?

TJ: No, I don’t think necessarily. I think it’s been pretty steady for quite a while, and it’s been keeping up with our…it’s been making it possible our economic growth. In the past decade, half of all the new jobs created were created because there were immigrants to fill them. If there hadn’t been immigrants here to take them, the jobs wouldn’t have been created. Half of our economic growth has been made, for over a decade, fifteen years or more…

HH: But you don’t see studies indicating that we’ll have to increase that number, again, as a pure matter of economics, you don’t see studies out there saying we have to up it?

TJ: You know, it’s very hard to make that kind of projection going into the future. Let’s at least change the laws to keep up with the reality now. If it turns out we have a bigger need in the future, let’s consider tweaking it then. I’m not saying we should, we don’t need to be that proactive. Let’s at least catch up with the reality now.

HH: Now if in fact it was, if it was higher in those out years, your approach to this would say let them in.

TJ: My approach would say no, if it started to turn out, look, we’re not just an economy, we’re as Pat Buchanan likes to say, we’re a nation, too, if it turned out we were having trouble absorbing them, and that once they got legal, they were creating problems of, any kind of economic problems, if they were taking jobs from Americans, or they were not assimilating, I would say well, wait a minute. The economy can’t be the only thing that’s driving it. But I don’t think it makes sense to have an immigration system that chokes our economy.

HH: How would you judge whether or not they were assimilating?

TJ: I think we need to be doing a lot bigger…making more effort to help them assimilate. Right now, we have 40 people waiting in line for every English class, in most big cities, and I think we ought to be studying it a lot more carefully. But I do study it, and what I see is that the kids of immigrants all want to learn English, most of them do. By the third generation, most of them can’t speak the language of their grandmother. I see people moving up on the job. But look, I don’t, it shouldn’t just be my word, and it shouldn’t just be impressionistic. We as a country ought to be looking very carefully at that, ought to be working to make it happen, and if it’s not working, if the flow exceeds our capacity to absorb them, we’ve got to think twice about…

HH: But I was looking for, Tamar Jacoby is my guest from the Manhattan Institute, senior fellow there, very forceful advocate for the immigration bill, I’m looking for, Tamar, what is your objective assessment of the success of assimilation? How do you measure that? Is it English language skills?

TJ: I think it’s the most important, English language skills and social mobility.

HH: Okay, and so if that began to show a generational refusal to adopt to English, then you would call a halt to Spanish-speaking immigrants?

TJ: Well, I would argue for reductions, and I would argue for more efforts to absorb, and reductions in the number if there had to be.

HH: All right. Now…

TJ: Loyalty is another important dimension of it, English, social mobility…

HH: How do you measure loyalty?

TJ: Well, becoming citizens, serving in the armed forces.

HH: Well, they do serve…illegals serve qute often in the armed forces.

TJ: Yeah, no kidding.

HH: But that doesn’t…does it suggest that the whole cohort is absorbing well if a significant number of them are serving in the armed services? I don’t think that necessarily follows.

TJ: That can’t be the only place, no, that can’t be the only measure. But if you measured English, social mobility, serving in the armed forces, and becoming a citizen, that would be a very good measure. You could add in home ownership, you could add things. But that would be a good measure of how well assimilation is succeeding.

HH: Excellent. That was the case made for immigration.

– – – –

HH: Tamar, in your most recent column, you wrote the immigration deal in the Senate is far from perfect. What’s wrong with it?

TJ: Well, the part that I don’t like is the part that has to do with what’s going to happen in the future. I think the enforcement parts are pretty good. I think the fact that there’s an enforcement trigger, that the enforcement has to happen first, I think that’s very good. I think the legalization is tough and demanding, and so I know there are people who don’t think there should be any legalization, but I think it asks people to jump through an awful lot of hoops, and it’s expensive, so…

HH: No, but the flaws. I want to know what the flaws were that you thought…

TJ: Yeah, I’m getting to the flaws. I’m getting to the flaws. I think the fact that it brings in workers, temporary workers is good, and I think the fact that it changes the way the basic criteria, and we’re not just asking about family, we’re asking about merit, do we really want the people here, that’s good for permanent visas.

HH: And the flaws are?

TJ: The flaw is that I think that the merit system is just going to reward, or is going to be skewed too heavily toward people with high skills who speak English, when we also need people who work in the fields, and work in restaurants, and work in construction. And we don’t want a situation where the only people who can get permanent visas are Asians from Europe. We also want the Mexican who starts out as a dishwasher, but rises up to manage the restaurant. I think he should eventually, like as immigrants always have in the past, he should get to stay permanently, too. And I’m not sure it’s going to work out for him.

HH: And should that balance be 50/50? Or should it simply be random?

TJ: It should be, no, it should be based on a merit system. You should earn points for things that we want here. There shouldn’t be quotas, it shouldn’t be random, there should be a point system that measures what we want. We want skills, we want PhD’s, we want English, but we also want people who work really hard when they’re here, and rise up on the job.

HH: What element of refugee point system would you use, a Darfur refugee for example?

TJ: They’re in a different stream. They…that’s a whole different matter, and what they’ve done in the bill is they’ve set aside a certain number for them, and they…a certain percentage for them, a high percentage, actually, it’s 20%. They don’t come under the merit point system.

HH: But do you agree with that approach?

TJ: Yeah, I think we should set aside a certain number for refugees, sure.

HH: All right. Now what is your understanding of who’s going to do…you said there’s an enforcement trigger. One of the reasons I’m opposed to the bill as it presently is written is that there really isn’t an enforcement trigger, since everyone gets their probationary status if their background check doesn’t kick them out in 48 hours. How do you see this actually working, Tamar Jacoby? Who’s going to get the paperwork? Who’s going to do the security background? Where’s the bureaucracy that’s going to implement this?

TJ: We’re going to have to start spending, and make that bureaucracy work, no kidding, and that’s a fair, legitimate concern. We are going to have to make this machinery work. But what encourages me is that Jon Kyl, who really is the person who’s, the Senator who drove this deal in the Senate, and will, I think, drive it to its conclusion, really, really, really cares about that part of the bill, and is already working with appropriators in the Senate to make sure that we have the money to beef up the bureaucracy.

HH: But the appropriations aren’t there right now, are they?

TJ: The administration has been pouring money into the enforcement side at DHS.

HH: But the bill is silent as to who’s going to do this, and where the new positions are.

TJ: Yeah, yeah, yeah, but I mean, that’s, but that is…

HH: Do you even know which department’s going to do it?

TJ: Which part of it? The Registration?

HH: Yeah, the registration, the background checks of the 12 million who get probationary status under 601H.

TJ: I assume that it will be the CIS, which is…

HH: Assume?

TJ: Citizenship and Immigration Services, yeah, sure.

HH: It’s not in the bill.

TJ: It might be in the bill, Hugh. Now you’re really at…it’s a 400 page bill.

HH: I read it. It’s not in the bill.

TJ: Okay.

HH: I went through the whole bill. It’s not in there.

TJ: I trust you.

HH: And do you think we have in the government anywhere near the kind of resources to check these people?

TJ: I think we’ll set that up. I believe that they’ll set it up. That’s like saying, your argument is like saying there’s a serial murderer loose out there, do we have the capacity to go after him. This is a law enforcement security issue. Our country’s security depends on knowing who these people are, getting them on the record, fingerprinting them, doing security background checks.

HH: But we’ve never done it before, Tamar.

TJ: So we have to avoid it because we haven’t? I mean, what are you saying? Let there be 12 million people here whose names we don’t know and who are…

HH: I’m saying there’s no reason to have any confidence whatsoever that any of it will get done, that…

TJ: So is that what you would say if you were in the police department, and they were saying we’re going to now start, go out and investigate this serial murder?

HH: If they had never caught a serial killer, if they had never caught one. I’ve got to go to a break, if they had never caught a serial murderer before, yes, I’d say they’re not going to catch the next one.

– – – –

HH: Tamar, if…would you object to distinguishing between illegal immigrants from non-Spanish speaking countries and Spanish speaking immigrants? Because I think the former present national security issues that the latter don’t.

TJ: So you would have the people from Spanish speaking countries just live underground, and you wouldn’t support…

HH: No, no, I’d regularize them in a heartbeat. They’re the ones I think present no national security at all, because they’re economic immigrants, and you know, there might be one or two sleeper among them. It’s people…illegal immigrants from countries with known jihadist networks that alarm me.

TJ: Right, but that’s…those are precisely the people we want to send through the security background checks and really vet.

HH: Only if you believe that it’s a real vetting, and that it’s a real security background check, and only if you believe that they’re not smart enough to send over clean sleepers.

TJ: Yeah, well, I mean, I don’t think it’s going to happen, but I wouldn’t object to an additional layer of, additional layers of scrutiny on people from terrorist countries.

HH: Because it seems to me that what we have right now is unless you’re kicked out of the system under 601H, you’re going to get your probationary papers. Due process considerations are going to attach to those probationary papers. You’re here. If you’re in the country and this thing passes, you’re here. It seems to me that we ought to at least have a category of illegal immigrant who has to prove the case that you don’t get probation until after we’ve actually affirmatively vetted you, and you’d never get affirmatively vetted, and I’m thinking Saudi Arabians, for example…

TJ: Right, right.

HH: …that that makes a lot more sense. Would you object to something like that?

TJ: Even those people…I hear where you’re going, and it’s a valid point. We do definitely want to check those people, you know, absolutely, absolutely as thoroughly as we can. But even those people, we’d rather have them in the system at some level, know where to find them, even if it’s a fake name. I mean right now, if somebody, if Osama bin Laden’s brother turned up on a watch list, we wouldn’t know where to go looking for him, because we wouldn’t even have a system of fake names that we could start to connect to these people.

HH: But Tamar, that’s not true. If you were just giving them the right not to be thrown out, they get the right to travel around the country, to be employed, and to go back and forth to their countries anywhere in the world.

TJ: They’re already doing all of that stuff.

HH: Not legally. Every time they cross a border without appropriate papers, they tripwire, they get the chance of being caught. Once you give them a 601H probationary visa, they go back and forth, and they can work anywhere.

TJ: Yeah, no, but then, every time they go across, they trip a wire of a real check, and we…

HH: But it doesn’t…I mean, I honestly do not understand how proponents of this bill won’t come to grips with the fact that we’re empowering bad guys if you give them papers. You’re not disempowering them.

TJ: I think we’re putting bad guys into a net where we can check them and look for them and find them, and do a better job of catching terrorists.

HH: But just having, just having a name, you know, Abdul Sam Jones, does not help you in any way. If they come in and they say I’m sorry, I’m from Kabul, they blew up the records building, my name’s Abdul Sam Jones, what happens to him?

TJ: Every time he goes through Customs, every time he has to deal with somebody at a checkpoint, his name will get run through a system, lots of systems…

HH: Yes.

TJ: And the chance that something on the record, in his record, will snag one of those systems, rises. It’s better than not running them through the system at all.

HH: No, that’s just not true. Right now, he’s Abdul Sam Jones, and he has no status, and he’s here illegally, and we can throw him in jail for immigration violations, and we can question him and detain him, and we can throw him out. Once he gets a 601H visa, he can go back and forth, he can be tracked, yeah, but we don’t know who he is and we don’t know where he came from, and we don’t know why he’s here.

TJ: And the chances that he’ll do something, he’ll do something along that way…

HH: Yeah, he’ll fly a plane into a building.

TJ: No, he’ll go to Pakistan and have a meeting with a wrong person under that name, and then we’ll find him next time he goes through Customs.

HH: That’s your theory?

TJ: So it’s a way to start checking people.

HH: Your theory is that terrorists are stupid enough to do that?

TJ: Well, I think real terrorists are not going to come forward and register, probably, so it’s better to get everybody else registered, and check everyone else in the haystack that stick out.

HH: That flies in the face of everything we know about counterintelligence. They always want better legends, they always want better papers. They…did you ever see the movie The Great Escape?

TJ: I’m not sure I did.

HH: Oh, you didn’t see…with Steve McQueen and the cooler with the baseball?

TJ: That was a long time ago. The Great Escape? I think you and I were both children.

HH: Yeah, it was 1960’s, but it’s still a good movie. You ought to watch it. Well, the whole key is to get papers. The whole key is to be able to move around the country without being stopped. It’s papers. All you want are papers.

TJ: Okay, I’ll never forget the Border Patrol agent, this was in Arizona, a thirty year veteran of the Border…

HH: I know, I’ve heard you tell this story ten times.

TJ: Let me…your readers probably haven’t….

HH: Oh, my gosh. It’s like Ronald Reagan and the welfare queen. Go ahead.

TJ: Can I tell your listeners?

HH: Yeah, go ahead.

TJ: Border Patrol agent, 30 year veteran of the system, before that, we was a veteran in Vietnam, you know, done everything undercover work. When I finally got his confidence, he said to me look, Tamar, if another 9/11 happens, and it happens on my watch, and it’s because I’m busy chasing your next busboy or my next gardener, and I don’t have time to chase the terrorists, I’ll never forgive myself.

HH: I know, the apocryphal Border…

TJ: You can stomp all over the story, but it’s true.

HH: If we want to do…

TJ: Right now…

HH: …the duel of the apocryphal Border Patrol agents, I can win because I’ve got 25 who will call the show and say you’re out of your mind, that that’s not the problem.

TJ: Not on that point. I doubt on that point. I doubt, I strongly doubt it on that point. Those guys do not want to be in the business of chasing busboys and gardeners. They want to be chasing terrorists, smugglers, criminals. They don’t go and to serve the U.S., and put on that uniform, and do what they do to chase busboys and gardeners, and I defy you to find one who does.

HH: Are you in favor…they’re in charge of security the border, and they do a very good job, and they’re undermanned, and this fence would help them. Are you in favor of the fence?

TJ: I’m in favor of the fence in the places where they want it, where Chertoff wants it. Chertoff thinks we need about 370 miles of it, and he should have every single one of those miles. Where he says it’s a waste of time and money, I defer to him.

HH: You think he’s competent?

TJ: I do, yeah.

HH: Okay, Tamar Jacoby, what’s your assessment of where this bill’s going?

TJ: I think it’ll pass. I think it’s going to be hard, but I think if you have me on again in August, and we’ll celebrate.

HH: And by that point…well, we won’t celebrate unless they change it, because right now, it just does not have what it needs, and we have the same objective. But right now, it’s just a failure waiting to happen. Tamar, always a pleasure, Tamar Jacoby, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute.

End of interview.

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