The Politics of Enforcing Immigration Law As the federal government steps up raids on businesses that employ illegal immigrants, officers are arresting people who have lived in the country for years, and may have American-born children. Guests discuss increased enforcement, and the changing politics of the immigration debate.
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The Politics of Enforcing Immigration Law

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NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

On Sunday, immigration officers in Los Angeles arrested and then deported immigration activist Elvira Arellano. She first crossed the border from Mexico in 1997, was deported, then returned to the United States where she got a job cleaning planes, and she gave birth to a son, under the Constitution, he is an American citizen. Five years ago, Arellano got another deportation order, and she spent most of the past year in a church in Chicago claiming sanctuary. She is now back in Mexico. Her eight-year-old son is in Illinois with his godmother.

The case is the byproduct of stepped-up enforcement. Over the last year, in particular, federal immigration officers have increased raids on businesses that employ illegal aliens. And many of the people they're arresting have lived in this country for years, and many have children who are U.S. citizens.

Immigration rights activists argue that it's heartless to separate families. On the other side, many Americans say it's about time that government enforced the law, and that any separations are the choice of the parents.

It's thought that there could be millions in the Arellano's situation. Does this change your mind about the immigration debate? How? Our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255. That's 800-989-TALK. E-mail is talk@npr.org. And you can comment on our blog, that's at npr.org/blogofthenation.

Later on in the program, we'll be joined by our political junkie, NPR's political editor, Ken Rudin. If you have questions about the weekend politics, you can send us e-mail now. That's also talk@npr.org.

But first, the politics of enforcing immigration law. And we begin with N.C. Aizenman, who covers immigration for the Washington Post. She's with us here in Studio 3A. Nice to have you on the program.

Ms. N.C. AIZENMAN (Immigration Reporter, Washington Post): Nice to be here.

CONAN: And tell us a little bit more about Elvira Arellano. How was she caught? And how common is her situation?

Ms. AIZENMAN: Well, Elvira Arellano - for the last year, since August when she took refuge in the church in Chicago - had been holed up there and had not set foot outside of it, even though she was quite active as a spokesperson for her cause. And then finally, she gave a press conference last week, announcing that she planned to start to leave the church and lobby members of Congress, and appear at rallies. She did not tell - she did not announce that she was going to Los Angeles. And according to people that I spoke with who were with her, she was actually quite secretive about how she got to Los Angeles. She drove non-stop. But she was very public when she was in Los Angeles speaking at several rallies and churches. And after she left, one of them - agents surrounded the vehicle she was driving in and then they very quickly arrested her, and within a couple of hours, she was across the border in Tijuana, Mexico.

CONAN: And not only she was a spokesperson for her cause, her son appeared as a spokesperson as well.

Ms. AIZENMAN: Yes. Her son, Saul, is now 8 years old. But he's been at this now for a year. And he has addressed the Congress of Mexico. He's met senators and representatives of our Congress. He's appeared at rallies. He's had quite a lot of experiences for an eight-year-old boy.

CONAN: And there is a lot of politics, it seems, on both sides of this equation or at least allegations of politics on both sides of this equation.

Ms. AIZENMAN: Yeah. There is approximately 3.1 million U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants according to estimates. And it is a fact that as enforcement is stepped up in the interior, more and more illegal immigrants who are deported are going to have U.S.-born children. And - but it's also the case that activists, on behalf of those illegal immigrants, recognize that this is a compelling argument or at least they think it's a compelling argument. And so they have started highlighting a lot of these cases in the last year, Saul being the most prominent one.

CONAN: Trying to use this as an emotional issue to argue their case for immigration reform.

Ms. AIZENMAN: Exactly.

CONAN: And on the other hand, they accuse - immigration activists accuse the government of saying, look, why are you doing this now? These are not the kinds of - these businesses that you're raiding aren't exactly, you know, this is not homeland security issues here.

Ms. AIZENMAN: Yeah, yeah. I mean, it's still the case, even though interior enforcement is - there's been step up in terms of the number of illegal immigrants that we have, it's still a drop in the bucket. And so the charge on the part of the immigration activists is that this is being - that the stepped-up enforcement that we're seeing, that the raids that we're seeing are more being done to get political points and to attract attention and to sort of bolster the administration's credibility when it says that it's serious about enforcing immigration law.

CONAN: And the - they're saying that they're enforcing the law. They're actually going after the employers and then finding the illegals who work there as sort of a byproduct. Though a lot of people would say, look, you're arresting and deporting hundreds and hundreds of undocumented workers. And so as far as we can tell, the employers aren't getting punished.

Ms. AIZENMAN: Yeah. I mean, whenever they do one of these raids, employers who can be shown to have knowingly employed illegal immigrant workers are - you know, that is a crime and they are prosecuted, but it's still a very small proportion. I, you know, I was looking at the numbers, and it's in the, you know, it's about - I think it was like 716 people were criminally arrested in 2006. You know, and some of these are illegal immigrants who were using false Social Security numbers. So even that is not the number of employers. Think about the number of employers in the entire United States - that's not a lot of people.

CONAN: That's not an awful lot of people. So it's a selective prosecution, in other words, people are saying.

Ms. AIZENMAN: Yeah.

CONAN: And you mentioned this before, I just wanted to clarify. When these kinds of raids happen, it is a different kind of illegal alien than the people who are typically arrested at or near the border.

Ms. AIZENMAN: Yes, yes. I mean one thing, I think, that is not necessarily well understood is that the vast majority of people who are deported every year are caught as they're trying to come across the border. The year for which - the most recent year for which we have statistics is 2004. And it's only three percent of illegal immigrants, who were deported, had been in the United States for more than three days. That's about 51,000 people. So once you're in, at the moment, you have a pretty good chance of remaining.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. And there are, of course, their children who are American citizens. People have also pointed out, Saul, Ms. Arellano's son, he is an American citizen. He can go with his mother to Mexico and return to this country anytime he wants.

Ms. AIZENMAN: Absolutely.

CONAN: And so, therefore, if they're separated, it's by her choice.

Ms. AIZENMAN: Well, that is an argument that I think one of your guests may make today.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: We'll get on to this. And let's see if we can get some callers on the line as well. If you'd like to join the conversation, our number is 800-989-8255. That's 800-989-TALK. E-mail is talk@npr.org.

I did also want to ask a question. If an illegal immigrant has a daughter or son when they are in this country, does that give them any more right to be in the country?

Ms. AIZENMAN: It's interesting that you asked that because there is definitely a charge among some who are opposed to immigration, that immigrants are using these children, the ugly term for it is anchor babies. And that they're purposely having the children in the hopes that someday, once the child is older or turns 18, that they will then sponsor their parent for, you know, for residency. You know, having interviewed a lot of illegal immigrants myself and seen them with their children, I haven't really met anyone who seems quite that cynical. I think it's more of a natural situation where people have children, you know.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. And what kinds of - when the government first started stepping up raids, she was cleaning airplanes at O'Hare Airport, and this was - she was discovered in the aftermath of 9/11 when the security cracked down on all kinds of things. Typically, the government - what kinds of places are being raided? And we hear of garment factories in Massachusetts, for example.

Ms. AIZENMAN: It's - well, in theory, the administration says that they are trying to target places that have some link to national security. But that can sometimes appear tenuous. So you'll have a case of a company that has access to port location in Baltimore. But the company itself is not, you know, doesn't do anything with the military. It's not necessarily something that a layperson would look at that and say, ah, aha, a Dixie Cup factory, clearly, you know, a question of national security. And then some of them are meatpacking plants. So it seems to run the gamut.

CONAN: And how do the - how does ICE, the immigration officials, how do they find out about that?

Ms. AIZENMAN: It - again, as far as I could tell, there's a bit of a grab, bag of things, you know, in some cases they're, you know, there's different groups within them that get their information from different sources, sometimes it's tips coming in, sometimes they're looking at areas that seemed to be, you know, like I said, ports, places of national interest. It's, you know, it's pretty varied.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. Let's get a caller on the line. Why don't we start with, is this Josiah(ph), am I getting it? Josiah in…

JOSIAH (Caller): Yes, that's right, this is Josiah in Connecticut.

CONAN: Go ahead please.

JOSIAH: I'm calling, it's slightly tangential to your main story, but I'm worried about the human rights of illegal immigrants and whether this - I want - I almost want to call it paranoia - about illegal immigrants is affecting the population in general badly, and whether that reflects badly on us as a society.

Here in Connecticut, there's the case where a judge, who is been nominated for the state appellate court, tried to - has said on the bench several times that illegal immigrants were not eligible to use the court system, which is not what the case law or the state constitution says. And I was just wondering whether that - how widespread that attitude might be.

CONAN: N.C., can you help him?

Ms. AIZENMAN: Well, I'm not familiar with that particular case, but I can certainly back you up in that, you know, just because someone, you know, is in the country illegally doesn't mean that they lose all rights under our system. I mean, obviously, there's some things they don't have rights to, they're limited in terms of the full gamut, for example, of welfare that they have access to. But certain basic things, you know, are still guaranteed to them.

JOSIAH: Mm-hmm. Now this case, the judge, it came to public attention when the judge was nominated for the appellate court, Judge John R. Downey, on the front page of the Hartford Courant today. I'm sure the listeners could find it on their Web site. And they…

CONAN: And I'm sure N.C. Aizenman will take a look at it when she gets to the Post.

JOSIAH: …have a - someone before him for a divorce case, something completely unrelated to immigration status, and merely because the individual has a Hispanic name, he asked if the client is a legal resident and demands to see the green card.

CONAN: Mm.

Ms. AIZENMAN: Mm.

CONAN: And, that kind - thanks very much for the call, by the way, Josiah. But that kind of inquiry, again, people are concerned about that police may be just looking at anybody who appears to be Hispanic and assuming that they may be here illegally.

Ms. AIZENMAN: Yeah, and it's not just police, you know. With the recent announcement that - of new guidelines - the government recently announced the new guidelines that they are encouraging - strongly encouraging employers to follow when they get letters from the Social Security Administration saying that an immigrant's Social Security number, you know, that - not an immigrant, that an employee's Social Security number doesn't match their records - you know, what they should do, there's a lot of fear that, as a result, employers will worry that they are open to prosecution and will look differently at a potential employee who is Latino because why even go there, why even put yourself at risk?

CONAN: N.C. Aizenman of The Washington Post. She covers immigration for that newspaper. With us here in Studio 3A. Thanks very much for your time.

When we come back from a break, we'll be talking with voices on both sides of this argument. If you'd like to join us, 800-989-8255, e-mail is talk@npr.org.

I'm Neal Conan, you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

We'll get to our Political Junkie segment a little later in the program. If you have to ask questions for Ken Rudin about what's going on this week in politics, you can e-mail talk@npr.org.

Right now, the political fallout from a deportation. Elvira Arellano is back in Mexico. Her American-born son stayed here in the U.S., he's a citizen. There are some three million American-born children of illegal immigrants in the country by one estimate, and more of their parents will likely get swept up in immigration raids.

While activists on both sides gravitate to stories like these, do stories like these change your mind on the immigration debate? How? 800-989-8255, e-mail is talk@npr.org.

Joining us now Michael Wishnie, a clinical professor of law at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. He and his students represent 30 illegal immigrants who were arrested in a federal raid in New Haven on June the 6th. Professor Wishnie joins us by phone from Maine. Nice to have you on the program today.

Professor MICHAEL WISHNIE (Clinical Professor of Law, Yale University): Nice to be here, Neal.

CONAN: And do some of those people you represent find themselves in the situation of having children born in this country?

Prof. WISHNIE: Well, yes, that is the case. Though I should clarify right off the bat that it's the government's allegation that each of those people arrested is an illegal immigrant. We haven't conceded that, and that's what the courts will have to sort out.

CONAN: Okay, well, point taken. But nevertheless, there are some who find themselves in this situation, which, should they be found to be illegal aliens and deported, would make for difficult choices.

Prof. WISHNIE: Absolutely, many of the people arrested have lived in New Haven for many years, raising families, working, worshipping together at the church in the neighborhood, and have deep ties to this community.

CONAN: And if they are illegal immigrants, though, they don't have much legal recourse?

Prof. WISHNIE: Well, one of the problems with our laws right now is that - and that's correct - is that our immigration laws do not offer opportunities for those out of status, with very few exceptions, to regularize their status. And that's a bit of a change. Historically, our immigration laws have offered people who've lived and worked here for many years, raising U.S.-born children in many cases, some opportunity eventually to regularize their status. But that's very much not the case today.

CONAN: Where was this raid conducted, and do you think that this raid and others like it are politically motivated?

Prof. WISHNIE: Well, I do. First of all, on a broad level, I think much of the immigration enforcement we're seeing in the country these days - whether it's worksite enforcement or arrest at private residences, as occurred in New Haven - is motivated by politics, in particular, I think, by the determination of the Bush administration to establish that it's tough on enforcement even as it pursues a broader deal on comprehensive immigration reform. And I think that the arrests in New Haven earlier this summer were just one illustration of this broader, politically motivated law enforcement.

CONAN: And selective prosecution you're arguing?

Prof. WISHNIE: Well, certainly in the case of New Haven in which two days after the city council at New Haven, it's called the board of Aldermen, overwhelmingly approved a plan by the mayor to issue municipal ID cards to any resident in New Haven who wish to have on a purely optional thing. Less than 48 hours after the city council overwhelmingly approved this plan, ICE swept into town in the early morning hours, bursting through doors, rounding up, in the end, over the course of a couple of days, 32 people - all of them they arrested and placed into immigration proceedings.

CONAN: Let's get another caller on the line. And this is Janine(ph), and Janine's calling us from New Jersey.

JANINE (Caller): Hi.

CONAN: Hi, go ahead. You're on the air, please.

JANINE: I have a question about the status of the children of immigrants. I was wondering why the United States automatically grants U.S. citizenship to a child born here, even if the parents are illegal. And if that's the case in any other country, for example, if I gave birth in France, would my child automatically become a French citizen, German citizen, et cetera. That's the question.

CONAN: Michael Wishnie, can you help her out?

Prof. WISHNIE: Sure. I can't answer you specifically about France, but I - it is the case that different countries have different rules. Some grant citizenship based on the location of the child's birth that is within the country, regardless of the status of the parents. Other countries condition the citizenship of the child on the status of the parents.

In the United States, it goes back a very long way. In the 14th Amendment, following the Civil War, confirmed that everyone born within the United States, regardless of the citizenship of their parents, is a U.S. citizen. But in a way, it's a much older idea in the United States that we will not hold the child to account for the sins if they are sins of the parents, that we don't corrupt the blood in this country. And so, if the parents have engaged in some wrongdoing, the child, nevertheless, is innocent of that.

CONAN: And Janine, I can tell you, my son was born in London 23 years ago and that was just a couple years after they changed the law from children born in that country were automatically British citizens to saying, children born in that country would be regarded favorably if they chose to apply for British citizenship, but it was no longer automatic.

JANINE: I see. So…

CONAN: I don't know the laws in other countries, I just happen to know that one.

JANINE: All right. So, basically, anybody who is visiting here, if they happen to be pregnant and give birth here, would have the option to let their child become an American citizen.

CONAN: Correct.

JANINE: Interesting. Okay, thank you.

CONAN: Thanks, Janine. Joining us now here in Studio 3A is Mark Krikorian, he's executive director at the Center for Immigration Studies here in Washington D.C. Nice of you to join us in studio today.

Mr. MARK KRIKORIAN (Executive Director, Center for Immigration Studies): Thanks for having me.

CONAN: And, obviously, a lot of people are going to have some sympathy for Elvira Arellano who is unable to stay in the United States with her son and with the many, many children and parents in similar situations.

Mr. KRIKORIAN: Well, it's true. But children often pay a price for their parent's mistakes. For instance, if you take a mortgage out on a house that you can't afford and you end up losing your home, your children suffer because of that. That doesn't mean you get - you don't have to pay mortgage payments because your kids would suffer from your mistakes. And this is the case here. And, frankly, it's not even that big an imposition. I mean, the child is now staying with family in the United States, his mother's free to have taken him back to Mexico with him.

And the contention seems to be that Mexico is such an unbearable place that it would be inconceivable to have a child go back with his parent to the parent's home country. Millions of Americans go on vacation to Mexico. I mean, Mexico is an upper, middle-income country by world standards. The idea that we're somehow consigning this person to something like North Korea or something, is simply absurd. I mean, this really has been emotionalized.

It's an issue that's difficult, there's no question about it, but there is no clean resolution for this, one way or the other. And the question is, are we going to start enforcing the law and be serious about what - mean what we say and say what we mean, or are we going to continue this sort of nudge-nudge, wink-wink system that we've had for a long time.

CONAN: But because of that nudge-nudge, wink-wink system, as you call it, these people, like the Arellanos, like the people that Michael Wishnie represents in New Haven, have been in this country for a long time, have established roots, and have established families, and these kids - well, they don't know what life in Mexico is like. They're Americans.

Prof. WISHNIE: They are indeed. And - but the question is, do the illegal immigrant parents get a pass simply because they mistakenly came into the United States and then had children? I agree, actually, with N.C., that there's not a lot of people who calculate in Mexico to come have a kid so that they'll stay here. That doesn't happen. But, you know, people are here, they have kids, it's like a natural thing. Our responsibility is to make clear what the rules are and what the consequences are going to be. And we're only now starting to do that.

CONAN: Let's get another caller on the line. And this is Robert. Robert's with us from South Carolina.

ROBERT: Yes, Neal. Thank you for taking my call.

CONAN: Sure.

ROBERT: Personally, I came to this country legally from Canada, I'm a Canadian, and I went through a lot of paperwork, went the legal route, the medical, paid the necessary fees, et cetera, et cetera, and I feel bad for the lady, but, hey, for anybody that comes to America illegally just go back to where you come from, file the necessary paperwork, go on a waiting list, et cetera, et cetera, and when your number's due, you know, come to United States, just like millions and millions of other people have done over the years, and come to this country legally.

As for the child, I think it's an archaic law, what you said earlier, it's been in the books for what, a hundred years, whatever it is, if the child is born here by an illegal parent, set of parents, I'm sorry, take the child back.

CONAN: Michael Wishnie, there are a lot of people who are here, legal immigrants, who make that same argument.

Prof. WISHNIE: Well, there's a couple of points. First of all, the mythic, sort of, opportunities of the past aren't there right now, and it's easy enough to debate numbers and waiting lists. But if you're waiting 20 years for a close family member to join you, the reality of human history is that families will reunite.

And we can take account of that reality and adapt our immigration laws to the 21st century, so that they do allow some opportunity for those outside the country in a reasonable period of time to come, and so that those who've been here for many years, productively working and paying taxes, can remain. But it's simply not the case, that most people who are here are going to go back, even President Bush says, look, there are maybe 12 million people in the country, we're not - who are here without status, we're not going to deport all of them. The more time we spend pretending we're going to deport people and making people's lives miserable while Congress debates, the longer we put off the meaningful solution that everyone recognize is going to come from Washington.

CONAN: You're saying - thanks, very much for the call, Robert.

Michael Wishnie, you say even President Bush is - if he was at the extreme end of this argument, he is not. He is, more or less, in the middle?

Prof. WISHNIE: That's correct.

CONAN: And there are people, one of them running for the Republican presidential nomination says, yes, we are going to deport all these people?

Prof. WISHNIE: Well, it's simply not realistic that we're going to uproot millions of families and disrupt hundreds of thousands of workplaces. It's simply not going to happen. And in many ways, it seems to me, we're in the -it's like the end stages of prohibition or something. The public wants the laws to change, the political leadership wants the laws to change, and I believe the laws will change.

But in this end game, there's sort of a frenzy of enforcement that is arbitrarily going to ruin lives of those thousands who are swept up before we come to our senses and adopt a 21st century immigration policy that serves the needs of our economy, our national security, and our communities.

CONAN: Mark Krikorian, I wonder if you had a response to that.

Mr. KRIKORIAN: Well, sure. The president is not in the middle of this issue. He's on Prof. Wishnie's side. I mean, he is probably the most…

CONAN: I think we could find some differences between the two. But…

Mr. KRIKORIAN: He's - yeah. But he's one of the most aggressive and implacable supporters of legalization for all illegal immigrants and for open immigration without limits. I mean, he's been quite explicit about that. Now, that's not what was in the legislation, but that is what he has openly supported. And the idea that the enforcement initiatives now are politically motivated is correct, but it's the wrong political motivation that a lot of people - wrong conclusion people are drawing.

The clear goal here is - Secretary Chertoff made this clear as well - give the people what they want good and hard to show them that the immigration law - the consequences of enforcing the law, in other words, make things as bad as possible in their view by trying to shut down companies, et cetera, through enforcement in order to get business and even the public to start clamoring to their congressmen for a legalization, for an amnesty. They've been very open about that being their goal. This is not about gaining credibility with the right or anything like that. That's just not what this is about.

CONAN: And Michael Wishnie, if that's the goal, it may - you're saying even if that's the goal, this is unnecessary.

Prof. WISHNIE: Well, it is. And it's certainly inflicting an enormous amount of pain on individuals and families. And that may well be the goal. And it's certainly been the case in recent years that regardless of where people start in the immigration, that they - in the political arena, when raids happen in their home district and business leaders and clergy and community leaders and local politicians come to senators and congressmen to say that this is terrible, this hurting business and families and parishes, then those political voices tend to shift a little bit.

I think it's a - I think you're certainly correct. There's a lot of space between President Bush and a lot of others in the immigration debate. But think it's telling that a border-state Republican, who has a different feel for these issues, is pushing for sort of sensible, practical immigration laws. And that Secretary Chertoff himself keeps saying, give me a law I can enforce. Allow me to focus on the terrorists, the drug smugglers and the human traffickers. Don't make me spend my days rounding off - these are Chertoff's words - maids and landscapers, which is what's happening now.

CONAN: Michael Wishnie of Yale University. Also with us, Mark Krikorian, the executive director for the Center for Immigration Studies. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And let's get Mark(ph) on the line. Mark is calling us from Oakland, California.

MARK (Caller): Well, hi, there. Well, in answer to the question as to the law in France or in Sweden or Switzerland or any other country in Western Europe is, no, the children of illegal aliens don't become citizens. In fact, the only country that had this law in Western Europe was Ireland and they put on a referendum a couple of years and they changed it by about a 70 percent vote.

But the - my point was, are we, you know, mischaracterizing this as forcing the separation of families. I mean, anyone is free to take his or her children when leaving the country. And so there is no family separation caused by American immigration law.

CONAN: Michael Wishnie? He's got a point.

Prof. WISHNIE: Well, it's true. Every family has the choice at some abstract level. And you can say to a mother of a young child, leave your child behind to be raised by neighbors or relatives or so forth if there are any capable of doing so. But I think the reality is a lot of families do take their children home and play it forward for a minute.

So, say, a young child, U.S. citizen born goes back home to a country, say, Mexico, with parents - well, then, when that child turns 18 or 19, as a U.S. citizen, he or she is free to return to this country to pursue a job or education. But that child will have missed out on the education and language training and other skills training that we could have afforded that person so as to be with the parent. And then that child will come back without the skills and education that I think, a 21st century economy likely demands.

CONAN: Mm.

Prof. WISHNIE. And then, we'll know we are putting these parents through horrible choices.

CONAN: Mark, I'm sorry. Did I hear you trying to get in?

MARK: Yeah. It is a little hard for me to feel sorry for people who decide to abandon their children.

CONAN: But they might feel that they were forced to abandon their children and…

MARK: Well, no, because they're free to take them with them.

CONAN: Yeah. But they may also feel that they're going to be culturally uncomfortable where they're moving back to and might be much better off in this country thinking of their child's future. But…

MARK: Well, it's funny that nobody worries about them feeling culturally uncomfortable when they move from another country to the United States, but will they become culturally uncomfortable when they move from the United States to another country. It doesn't really make sense.

CONAN: Mark, you can argue these six ways from Sunday. It's going to be a difficult decision no matter what. Put yourself in that place, if you would, just for a second. But, thanks very much for the call.

MARK: You bet.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get one last caller in before we have to go. Daniel(ph). Daniel with us from Portland, Oregon.

DANIEL (Caller): Hi. Thanks for taking my call.

CONAN: Sure.

DANIEL: My position is that I'm just shocked at the right wing which always portrays itself as the - our nation is the defender of family values, is so intent on breaking up hardworking immigrant families. And I think it really points out that this is really more about distraction from real issues that are affecting Americans like health care, the war in Iraq, which is a disaster. So I - yeah, I think that this is really just distracting us from issues that really matter to Americans that we need to pay attention. Because…

CONAN: Get a quick response from Mark Krikorian.

Mr. KRIKORIAN: Well, it's not a distraction. It's actually, in many ways, our broken immigration policy is the core of many of the issues that we're concerned about. Most of the growth in the uninsured population is caused by immigration. All the growth in poverty is caused by immigration. And so, it's actually very - it's centrally tied to the issue.

And, you know, this is something that people feel very strongly about, the public in general, because there is a sense that elites simply are not responsive, that they have a completely different set of views on immigration. And that's what drove, I think, a month and a half ago, that intense public pushback in Congress when the Senate was debating a bill on legalization, on amnesty, and they experienced the tsunami of public opposition like they had never seen before.

CONAN: And a lot of people would say it wasn't an amnesty bill. But we - let's not do that debate. We've been there. Mark Krikorian, thanks so much for being with us today.

Mr. KRIKORIAN: Thank you, Neal.

CONAN: Mark Krikorian, executive director for the Center for Immigration Studies. And Michael Wishnie, thank you for your time today, too.

Prof. WISHNIE: Thank you.

CONAN: Michael Wishnie, a clinical professor of law at Yale University who represents some people, allegedly, illegal immigrants arrested in New Haven. Coming up, Ken Rudin will be with us for our regular visit with the Political Junkie. 800-989-8255. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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