Immigration Reform Fly-in

December 7, 2013

In late-October I participated in an Immigration Reform Fly-in to Washington DC with six hundred representatives of business, law enforcement and clergy. I traveled with Bob Lyons, never an easy experience, and eight others from Ohio. We listened to speakers, got to know one another and visited the office-buildings next to the Capitol, calling on House Republicans. We left without much to show for our efforts. Dust and smoke from the recent shutdown continue to mask our nation’s Capitol. No one trusts anybody any more. Our GOP legislators seem spooked by challenges from the far-right and the cries against ‘Amnesty’. We all came back and wrote letters…provided interviews for the media…talked to our neighbors one-on-one. We remain fired up and committed…and yet…in the quietude of our own thoughts…we’re all wondering…will it do any good?

This summer I finally got to reading The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell. He is one of the brightest guys in America. The lesson I took away from the book is how a thousand small heroic efforts can eventually and inexorably cause a major change to occur.

Two days ago Speaker Boehner added a spokes-woman to his staff who is versed in immigration matters. Yesterday Congressman Valadeo from California, a Republican, sent a letter to the Republican Leadership (Boehner/Cantor/McCarthy) asking them to take up the matter of Immigration Reform. Other legislators are signing on. I urged our own Congressman to do the same.

Is is possible we are near the ‘Tipping Point’?

Yesterday I was invited to speak on a media conference call by friends at America’s Voice. There were sixteen journalists on the line and we talked for an hour. I said what I had to say but I felt like a minor side-show because the other speaker was Eliseo Medina. Eliseo just finished up over twenty days of a hunger strike, living in a tent on the grass beside the Capitol building. The Obamas visited him in his tent. The Vice President. Various legislators, journalists and even some ‘regular people’. Outside the tent were hundreds of crosses representing the Mexicans who died in the desert this year trying to cross the border.

Eliseo lost twenty six pounds. Now there are hunger strikes starting in California.

One of the journalists asked Eliseo whether he had really accomplished anything…whether there was really any hope for Immigration Reform during a time when our government appears so divided and broken.

One journalist asked whether we saw an opportunity in the Spring when Republicans know who their opponents will be in November.
Eliseo said he remains hopeful.

We should all remain hopeful…while we continue to do whatever small heroic acts we can.
The tipping point…

This letter-to-the-editor was based on our Flyin’ experiences. It was published in Crains Cleveland Business Review on November 17th and The News-Herald yesterday.

The Case for Comprehensive Immigration Reform

Over six hundred representatives of business, law enforcement and clergy from across the country descended on Washington DC in late-October to jump-start a conversation about Comprehensive Immigration Reform. The reform package passed by the Senate earlier this year is dead-on-arrival in the House of Representatives. Our Republican Congressmen prefer several bills to tackle individual aspects of Immigration, such as border security, guest-worker programs and mandatory E-Verify for all employers. While some of us in attendance have taken our leaders to task in the past for this ‘piecemeal’ approach, fearing that business-friendly measures might get passed with humanitarian efforts languishing for several more decades, we now view this as a realistic way to overcome controversy in a narrow window of legislative opportunity between now and the end of the year.
One of our speakers prior to the Congressional visits was Grover Norquist, conservative originator of the ‘Norquist Pledge’ by which candidates for federal and state office agree to oppose all tax increases. Norquist sees the estimated $66 Billion increase in federal tax collection over ten years as reason enough to support Comprehensive Immigration Reform. Other speakers from the Bipartisan Policy Center pointed out that Immigration Reform would reduce our budget deficit by $1.2 Trillion over twenty years and accelerate the housing recovery. Conversely, under an enforcement-only approach, assuming all undocumented persons were removed and future immigrants denied access, GDP would fall by 5.7 % over twenty years and the federal budget deficit would increase, according to the Bipartisan Policy Center.

The real facts about immigration are finally emerging. On the one hand, semi-skilled workers in agricultural and hospitality industries are needed to perform tasks that home-grown Americans will not. One attendee among our group from Ohio, a State Representative, described agricultural jobs going unfilled in his NW Ohio county, crops going unpicked, while unemployment ran as high as 11%. Similar stories emerge from Central Ohio, Michigan, North Carolina and elsewhere. In Lake County, each nursery job supports 3.5 jobs in the broader economy. Clearly, a reliable, seasonal work-force of semi-skilled agricultural workers is essential in order to maintain existing economic levels, let alone expand our economy.
At the other end of the spectrum, scientists, programmers, innovators routinely come to America for education. Many are forced to leave after college due to current immigration law. Some suggest we staple a green-card to their PhD in order to change that trend. That’s why Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, was one of the sponsors of our immigration ‘fly-in’. That’s whyApple Computer recently set up a research facility in British Columbia in order to take advantage of Canadian immigration laws and keep bright graduates in key disciplines in North America, accessible to Silicon Valley. American industry desperately needs Immigration Reform in order for these high-tech immigrants to stay and generate innovation, enterprise and opportunity.

During meetings with individual Congressmen, our group from Ohio learned that a piece-meal solution is possible within the narrowing legislative window, but public opposition to ‘amnesty’ might continue to prevent a resolution for the eleven million undocumented now in our country. The truth is that almost no one proposes ‘amnesty’ any more, although some continue to rally around this non-issue in a last-ditch effort to stop reform. Our Congressmen rightly insist there should be ‘consequences’ for those who entered our country illegally. Current reform efforts would require undocumented workers to raise their hands, admit culpability, pay a significant fine, undergo background investigations, learn English, pay taxes, and avoid reliance on social services, all in order to obtain a renewable green card. This process would take place over fifteen or more years, during which legal immigrants ‘waiting in line’ would gain entrance. A recent editorial in the New York Times takes President Obama to task for ‘needless deportations’, over 400,000 per year under his administration, dramatically higher than previous administrations. During a time of sequestration, this is not an efficient, effective or humanitarian way to deal with a population of workers and their families who support our economy and know America as home, yet continue to live in the shadows. Furthermore, by not addressing this matter in a straightforward and constructive way, we continue a painful process of ‘defacto amnesty’ at the hands of those who oppose immigration reform.

As individual Americans, let’s find the courage to address the problem of Immigration Reform… the entire problem… including the eleven million undocumented people in our country… whether it takes one legislative initiative or one hundred. We have an opportunity to do the right thing… and in doing so reap long-term economic benefits!

october masquerades
as a warm summer
breeze that caresses
the tall grass
and the cattails
at the water’s edge
looming in the distant clouds
gray and swift and full
of chilling revelations
there is a beginning
and an ending
to all things
even summer even
fall even our cocktails
on the porch
and our evenings
at the beach
and the sandy-haired boy
who runs along dusty
paths shirt tails flying
in the pale
afternoon light
that fades so quickly
into shadows