Immigration Bill Defeated - Part II

In response to President Bush's failed immigration legislation, Heather MacDonald of the Manhattan Institute discusses the future regulation of undocumented workers and the likelihood that some immigrants will self-deport.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin. This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Coming up: A group of girls fight back against trash talk on the street with a new documentary.

But first, we're going to continue our conversation about what's next for immigration reform with conservative analyst Heather MacDonald, a fellow at the Manhattan Institute. She joins us on the phone from Irvine, California. Heather, welcome back to the program.

Ms. HEATHER MacDONALD (Fellow, Manhattan Institute of Policy Research): Thanks for having me on, Michel.

MARTIN: Thank you. Now, you are among the conservative writers and activists who spoke out tirelessly against the bill. If you would just remind people, what was your chief objection to it?

Ms. MacDONALD: Well, I think the public - and I was trying to express their views - was most upset with the massive disregard for American law. And they, I think, were curious that people who deliberately chose to jump the cue and ignore legislative procedures for becoming American immigrants, visa holders, were then demanding, as an entitlement, the right to legal status here.

And I also do think that it would be wise to look at the facts on the ground of what's happening with assimilation with mostly Hispanic immigrants, that many are wonderfully upwardly mobile and bring an extraordinary work ethic to this country, but there are also is a growing underclass culture among the second and third generation of Hispanics, and that we don't seem to figure it out how to avoid that from happening. And that, also, I think, should cause a rethinking of the current immigration flows.

MARTIN: I wanted to focus our discussion on what should happen now. And I wanted to ask you, do you really think that you can get 12 million people to self-deport, or that this country is really willing to forcibly expel 12 million people?

Ms. MacDONALD: Well, the forcibly expel is a red herring, Michel. Nobody has argued that. What people have argued is that up to now, there has been virtually zero immigration law enforcement primarily directed at employers. They have been given a free ride in violating the immigration laws. And were you to start enforcing laws on the books to hold employers accountable, that there would be an effect both on the flows coming in, where it's no longer simple to get employment here and on people already here, that some people would go back.

I don't think even - so, I think it is a question of attrition, of people voluntarily changing their behavior, either deciding not to come or some people leaving, but I don't even think it's necessary to expect that all 12 million self-deport. The status quo, frankly, is better than an amnesty, which sends a clear message to the billions of poor people in this world that America is not serious about its immigration laws.

So, I would say some people will self-deport, and some will stay with the status that they chose in coming here. And that's, as I say, a better situation than legalizing them, which will attract - as history shows both here and in Europe - another 12 million illegal aliens.

MARTIN: What should happen now, in your view? What should happen in the near term? And do you think - actually, those are two questions. One's a substantive question, one's a political question. Do you think, you know, what is - what do you want to see happen in the near term, and what do you think is likely to happen? Do you really think that this conversation is essentially over until after the presidential election? So I'd like to hear from you on both questions?

Ms. MacDONALD: Well, I think that what we saw politically was that the American public does believe in immigration law enforcement, and that there is a mandate for that. So, I don't think there's any need for new laws at the moment to be able to make immigration laws more meaningful. There has to be a greater willingness on the part of government to go after employers, and also a - the Social Security Administration has to work more closely with the immigration agency, ICE, to make sure that relevant data is available to ICE to find out scofflaw employers.

And the border, I think, is kind of a sideshow because, frankly, the real enforcement that needs to be done is in the interior of the country. But, there is, you know, resources that have been allocated on paper for a stronger border enforcement. I think that should be done. I think there probably will be small adjustments, say, in the agricultural visa program that can be done and will be done, but I don't think that this massive ram it down the throats of the American public juggernaut will go - will be reborn again before…

MARTIN: Okay.

Ms. MacDONALD: …elections.

MARTIN: All right. Heather, thank you so much for speaking with us.

Ms. MacDONALD: Thank you, Michel.

MARTIN: Heather MacDonald is a fellow at the Manhattan Institute. She joined us from Irvine, California.

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