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Immigration Bill Collapses, Debate Continues

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Immigration Bill Collapses, Debate Continues

Law

Immigration Bill Collapses, Debate Continues

Immigration Bill Collapses, Debate Continues

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A sweeping plan to overhaul the nation's immigration laws failed to get critical support in the United States Senate, but the national debate continues. Heather MacDonald, of the Manhattan Institute, and Linda Chavez of the Center for Equal Opportunity debate the cultural impact of Latino immigrants.

MICHEL MARTIN, host:

A sweeping plan to overhaul the nation's immigration laws collapsed last night after a series of amendments unraveled the carefully crafted compromise. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said last night he will try to find a way to bring the bill back to the floor in a few weeks. But it wasn't clear last night whether that would actually happen. The bill had been endorsed by President Bush and a group of bipartisan negotiators, but it could not overcome the strong objections voiced mainly by conservatives in Washington and across the country.

Joining us now are two well-known conservative analysts who have written about this issue for years, but from very different perspectives. Heather MacDonald is a fellow at the Manhattan Institute in New York. She's in our New York bureau. And Linda Chavez is a syndicated columnist and chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and a former Reagan administration official. She's with us here in our studio in Washington.

Ladies, thanks to both of you for joining us.

Ms. LINDA CHAVEZ (Center for Equal Opportunity): Great to be here.

Ms. HEATHER MACDONALD (Manhattan Institute): Thank you, Michel.

MARTIN: Heather, there were objections to the bill from across the political spectrum, but I wanted to know what was your main objection to this bill?

Ms. MACDONALD: Well, first of all, let me say I was honored to be a co-signer with Linda of a provision that Ward Connerly proposed that would prevent recent immigrants from receiving racial preferences, so I join with Linda in that endeavor. But I thought the bill was trying to do way too much. I thought that the immediate amnesty would send a wrong message to people across the world that once again we're not serious about enforcing our immigration laws.

I would have liked to have seen it, the bill, decoupled and work first on enforcement and making sure that we have the capacity to prevent the flow of people coming in, breaking our border laws. And then once that's secure, to then start talking about what, if anything, to do with people that are here illegally.

MARTIN: Linda, what do you think doomed the bill?

Ms. CHAVEZ: I think exactly the kind of rhetoric that Heather just used about amnesty is what doomed the bill. In fact, I don't know how Heather defines amnesty. I will say that when you're going to give an individual a $9,000 fine, if you're going to give a family of four, you know, almost a $20,000 fine, you're going to make them wait some eight years before they actually get legal residency, permanent legal residency, and another 13 years before they become citizens, I don't call that amnesty. And in fact, if you look at uniform sentencing guidelines, the federal guidelines, that kind of fine hits about the median for all crimes that are covered by the uniform guidelines. So I don't call that amnesty, and I think the debate over that word is part of what doomed this bill.

MARTIN: Heather, I wanted to talk about one aspect of the bill that I think generated a lot of intense discussion, not just among sort of political pundits but among just average citizens, because it hit very close to home. And that is the question of the bill wanted to move the priority for immigration, voluntary immigration, from emphasizing family ties to emphasizing skills and education. And you've written quite a lot about this because you think that one of the underlying arguments of the people who object to that is that family ties, strong family ties are one of the great assets of the immigrant population. And you just don't think that that's true. Can you talk more about that?

Ms. MACDONALD: Well, Michel, first of all, I think that there's no question that many, many Hispanic immigrants sort of come into this country, including illegally, are an extraordinary asset to communities. They're turning communities around. They're precisely the type of Americans that we want. But in equally undisputable fact is that the second and third generation of those immigrants are getting sucked into underclass culture.

If you go to high schools in heavily Hispanic districts - and I would invite anybody to spend time in the Los Angeles Unified School District - you will find a culture of out-of-wedlock teen pregnancy, truancy, a high dropout rate. And there is, in fact, now high out-of-wedlock childbearing, almost 50 percent among Hispanics. The teen pregnancy rate is the highest in the country.

So I think that in evaluating whether the current low-skilled, low educated flow of predominantly Hispanic immigrants is a overall positive asset for a country, we have to be honest about the cultural behavior we're seeing. This, again, does not apply to everybody, but anyone who goes into an inner city school today is going to find the same underclass culture that conservatives have long worried about when it comes to blacks.

For young males there's a sense that being a player means having children out of wedlock. And 56 percent of all Hispanic kids now in the second and third generation are being raised in single-family homes.

Ms. CHAVEZ: Can I just interrupt?

MARTIN: Go ahead. Linda, let's hear from you.

Ms. CHAVEZ: Yeah.

MARTIN: This is really an argument about assimilation, isn't it?

Ms. CHAVEZ: It is.

MARTIN: About whether Hispanics are going to assimilate at the same rate, so what you do take on that?

Ms. CHAVEZ: And first of all, let me compliment, Michel, I'd like to compliment Heather on finally admitting that in fact this does not apply to all Hispanics. That is not evident.

Ms. MACDONALD: Linda…

Ms. CHAVEZ: Just a second.

Ms. MACDONALD: I've written that in every article I've written.

MARTIN: Okay then, Linda, let's take on the substance of the argument.

Ms. CHAVEZ: Let's take on the substance of the argument. She talks about dropout rates. And Heather has used a figure, 47 percent, from a study that is just methodologically so flawed it's too much to go into right here. But let's look at the current population survey data on dropout rates. The problem with Heather's data is that she is including in that data half of the adults in the United States of Hispanic origin who are immigrants and who are new immigrants.

When you look at the second generation and you look at their school completion rates, 86 percent complete school. If you look at the third generation, it is 89 percent. Now, the comparable rates for whites is 92 percent. So that's, you know, and that is undisputable. That's current population survey data from the March survey, which includes nativity.

Let's also talk about her figures on out-of-wedlock births. Absolutely it is, I think, really too bad that we have 46 percent who are being born out of wedlock, but contrary to what she has said in her writings, Hispanics have a marriage rate that is equal to that of whites - 77 percent of Hispanic women will marry by the age of 30, compared to 81 percent of whites.

If you look at the children being raised out of wedlock, it is 67 percent who are being raised in two-parent households, among Hispanics. It's 77 percent for whites. All of these is from government data. It is from the National Center for Health Statistics, the Center for Disease Control, etc. Her figures are simply wrong and she misstates that Hispanics don't marry.

MARTIN: We're talking about immigration and culture with noted conservative writers Heather MacDonald and Linda Chavez.

Linda, when you've written about this in the past, you very often get some very heated reactions. One column you wrote at the end of May began that some people just don't like Mexicans or anyone else from south of the border. They think Latinos are freeloaders and welfare cheats who are too lazy to learn English.

Okay. So let's stipulate that some of the people who object to this are racist. But is it inherently racist to say that there are social costs to immigration of high levels of people with less skills, who are not native speakers of English, and that as a society we'd rather not pay that cost?

Ms. CHAVEZ: Well, first of all, let me say that in that column, I made clear I was talking about 10 percent of the population. That's a figure extrapolated again from studies, surveys on racial attitudes. I didn't just pull it out of a hat. I was, I think, angry when I wrote that column. But there are only so many times that when your family's been here 400 years, you're being invited to go back to Mexico on a daily basis that your blood doesn't start to boil, and so I was probably intemperate. And I'm actually have a piece pending now with National Review about the intemperate quality of those remarks.

Sure, it's fine to say that, you know, we can have some cultural objections. My point is, is that if you look at the overall picture of Hispanic assimilation, Hispanics are assimilating as quickly and as thoroughly as every generation of immigrants has. Ninety-seven percent of third generation and higher Hispanics living in Southern California actually prefer to speak English at home. They are, in fact, learning English. They are, in fact, assimilating.

MARTIN: Heather, is it - is there something about Latinos that you feel makes them less likely to assimilate than other groups who have come before them? Because as - we - there have been nonnative speakers of English who have come here before - you know, Italians, you know, the French, et cetera - and they do managed to assimilate over - so is there something specifically that you think about the Latino culture that makes that less likely than the historical precedent of other groups - Germans?

Ms. MACDONALD: Well, first of all, I completely reject Linda Chavez's accusation that people that are concerned about massive illegal immigration are racists. That is a…

Ms. CHAVEZ: That wasn't my…

Ms. MACDONALD: That is a…

Ms. CHAVEZ: That wasn't my intention, Heather.

Ms. MACDONALD: …a tactic of people that aren't willing to engage. It was an amazing column, but I think that people are seeing what's happening in communities. They're seeing the cost. And some Hispanics are getting sucked up into underclass culture, and there isn't - without question, there isn't as high a priority on education as other immigrant groups that have - are coming here now, for instance.

MARTIN: Heather, we're down to our last minute.

Ms. MACDONALD: And again that is…

MARTIN: I just wanted to ask you this, we're down to our last minute. So I think pretty much agrees the system is broken. What do you think should happen now to break the logjam. And Linda, I want to ask you the same question, too. So Heather, if you could?

Ms. MACDONALD: I think we should take up the enforcement provisions of this bill and pass those. I think there would be support across the board. There should be. And then when we are sure that we know how to enforce the law, we have the capacity to do it, then we can talk about legalization.

MARTIN: Linda Chavez, what should happen now to break the logjam?

Ms. CHAVEZ: Well, first of all, illegal immigration is down by more than a third from its peak in 2000. Yes, enforcement is terribly important. We passed an enforcement-only bill last year. But the only way you're going to be able to really stem that flow is by figuring out a way to allow people to come here legally.

There are a million or more people who want to come here every year to work. We desperately need them. We've got 4.5 percent unemployment. We're creating a million and a half to two million jobs each year. We need those people. Let's figure out a way to allow people to come legally so that they aren't sneaking across the boarding, and then let's concentrate on keeping out the drug dealers and the terrorists.

MARTIN: And you see the intensity of feeling that this issue generates. Thank you both so much for being here. We were joined by Linda Chavez, author, syndicated columnist and chairman of the Equal Opportunity Center. She joined me here in Washington. Thanks, Linda.

And we were also joined by Heather MacDonald, the John M. Olin fellow at the Manhattan Institute in New York. You can find both of their essays on the subject of immigration and cultural beliefs on our Web site at npr.org/tellmemore. Heather, thank you also for joining us.

Ms. MACDONALD: Thank you, Michel.

(Soundbite of music)

MARTIN: Just ahead: For years we've been told the breast is best, but mothers with HIV faced a dilemma, especially in the developing world. Are they rolling the dice with their baby's health?

Ms. VIOLETA ROSS (National Chair, Bolivian Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS): Every time a woman gets pregnant, HIV positive or negative, the easiest chance that this child may have a birth defect - nobody can guarantee you a perfect baby. It doesn't matter what your health think of this.

MARTIN: I'm Michel Martin. The conversation continues - TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

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