Session Moderator: Tim Sellers
Rapporteur: Richard De George
Theresa Beaumier, “At the Borders of Society: Border Control and the Perpetuation of Poverty Among Immigrant Communities”
John Francis, “Who Else Should Vote in Local Decision-Making: Enfranchising Part-Time Residents and Non-Citizen
Richard Barron Parker, “Two Visions of Democracy: Immigration”
Theresa Beaumier discusses the plight of unregistered immigrants. John Francis argues that even unregistered immigrants should be allowed to vote in local elections. And Richard Parker presents a compromise that could be accepted by both Houses of Congress and by the President and that would ease the plight of undocumented immigrants by granting them legal residence but would stop short of giving them citizenship. The three papers can be linked together. Yet the three papers evidently did not seem sufficiently similar to foster a discussion of common issues or themes during session III. Hence the session consisted of three discussions going on more or less simultaneously. For purposes of clarity I shall report each of the three as if the papers had been discussed serially, and then briefly draw a conclusion that the three discussions suggest.
On Theresa Beaumier’s “At the Borders of Society: Border Control and the Perpetuation of Poverty Among Immigrant Communities”
Theresa’s paper argued that many immigrants—especially undocumented immigrants– who come to the U. S. because of poor economic conditions in their home countries are disadvantaged and remain poor in large part because of U.S. walling, restrictions on employment, and lack of public benefits. In some cases the actions and policies are adopted to discourage others from seeking illegal entry and in the hope of encouraging the immigrants to voluntarily return to their homeland. In other cases, the negative effects on poor immigrants are unintended, but nonetheless damaging. After documenting many of the facets of the problem and the role the U.S. government plays in exacerbating the problem, she concludes that “At the very least, I hope I have demonstrated that the interplay between border control and immigrant poverty merits further exploration . . . .”
Tim Sellars started the discussion with a brief summary of her paper, and Theresa took the opportunity to emphasize that the problem of the continuation of immigrant poverty was a complicated issue, in part even a global issue, and that her paper dealt with only one portion of it. Reinforcing this, Matt Lister added that additional factors include, among other things, the fact that many immigrants struggle with English (which impedes employment), that they often suffer from discrimination, and that they are seen as a competitive threat to those who have low paying jobs. Theresa agreed, but insisted that government policy is the most important cause of continuing poverty. Moreover, immigrants suffer not only economic poverty but also lack of adequate health care and schooling for their children.
Deirdre Golash added that one reason we don’t have more effective immigration enforcement is the opposition of those who do not want to pay more for enforcement. In response to Richard
De George’s question about what she saw as alternatives to current policies, Theresa replied that she favors open borders. This would remove the stigma that undocumented immigrants carry, as well as eliminating other problems such as living in the constant fear of raids and deportation.
The upshot of the discussion was an acknowledgement that the problems that she raises are serious, but their solution seems to hinge on a revision of US policy which may or may not come with a new comprehensive immigration policy.
On John Francis’s “Who Else Should Vote in Local Decision-Making: Enfranchising Part-Time Residents and Non-Citizen
John’s paper argues for an expansion of the suffrage in American local government elections to include resident non-citizens and to allow those who live in two local area jurisdictions to vote in both districts. The paper cites the notion of dual citizenship accepted by many countries and the voting that some countries permit by people who do not even reside in the country. These at least show that his suggestions are not unthinkable and unworkable, and the change in dual residency would simply acknowledge a fact about both American and international mobility. The basic argument is that people should have a voice, and so a vote, on issues concerning their everyday affairs, especially on the local level.
Win-Chiat Lee started the discussion by asking John why he restricted the argument of his paper to voting on the local level, since many of his comments and the logic of his arguments would seem to apply on the national level as well. John’s reply was that although he hoped the precedent would lead to changes on the state and national level in the U. S., he was a moderate reformer and that reform on the local level was more likely to succeed and be seen as less threatening to the status quo than reform on the state and national level. That led Kenneth Henley to remark that reapportionment of congressional districts is based on population not on the number of citizens in a district, and that members of the House should take the interests of all in their districts into account—an apparently friendly addition to Win’s question. John agreed with the first part of Ken’s comment adding that in the Constitution slaves counted as 3/5 of a person, but Congressmen did not consider representing them as part of their job. Kenneth Kipnis noted in a similar vein that Arizona imports people into its private prisons and they are counted for reapportionment purposes.
Joan McGregor suggested that John’s proposal for voting in dual locations seemed to privilege the wealthy who have two homes. John replied that although they would be included, the rule also applied to the many people who work in one county and live in another as well as to migrant workers and other similar groups.
John concluded that although citizenship matters especially on the national level, at the local level policies should be determined by those involved. The paper seemed to have few critics, and possibly a good deal of support.
On Richard Barron Parker’s “Two Visions of Democracy: Immigration”
Richard’s paper applied the framework he developed on two visions of democracy for the previous Amintaphil meeting. He describes the U. S. as equally divided between those who see democracy as based on an ideal of free self-governing individuals who form self-governing political associations (Type A) and those who envision a society in which social and economic equality among all members of society is primary and in which the state has the final responsibility for the welfare of the individual citizens (Type B). Both types agree that immigration is a matter for the federal government and that the presence of eleven million people living illegally in the U.S. is undesirable. Both want a reform of the present immigration. But Type A democrats believe it is morally wrong to allow people to become citizens who are in the U.S. through breaking the law and Type B democrats believe the morally right thing to do is to allow illegal immigrants who are here to remain as legal residents. Richard therefore suggests a compromise that he believes both Type A and Type B democrats could agree on, namely, allow current illegal immigrants to receive a “blue card,” similar to the current green card with all its privileges, but to exclude them permanently from becoming citizens.
Although he believes that such a compromise would pass both houses of Congress and be signed by the President, his proposal was greeted skeptically by a number of participants. Discussion centered on his division into Type A and B and his related argument that the U.S. is not a nation but a people held together by allegiance to the country and the system, and on his blue card compromise.
Ann Cudd voiced opposition to the blue card suggestion because it would stigmatize those who carry it and subject them to the harms that come with stigmatization. Richard conceded her point, but replied that 1) he was presenting a compromise and the illegal immigrants reap the enormous benefit of remaining legally in the U.S. for the rest of their lives and 2) the group of blue card holders would continuously shrink and eventually disappear. The reply did not satisfy Emily Gill who reiterated that the blue card was stigmatizing, that it made its holders permanent outsiders, and that she had strong moral objections to it. Matt Lister added that although Richard noted that one-third of the illegal immigrants aren’t interested in naturalization, that leaves two-thirds who are, and that is not an insignificant number. Helga Varden added to the chorus stating that the U.S. is a place where people have a future, and that a compromise that excludes people from citizenship is incompatible with the promise of the U.S. and therefore something she opposes. John Francis was more sympathetic to the proposal and indicated he could support it if the blue card was something an immigrant could choose and not something forced on him. Stephen Nathanson added some support to the blue card suggestion saying he might accept it if it applied only to adults and not to children brought here by their parents, since many immigrants just want to be left alone and to live without constant fear, although the blue card may bring with it some of the unforeseen consequences that Theresa described earlier.
In one of his responses Richard said that the U.S. was not a nation. The population of the U.S. does not have enough in common to be called a nation. A nation state is ethnicity with a state. The U. S. is a country held together by allegiance to the country and the political and legal system. Hence citizenship became especially important for the U. S., which is why the Type A democrats do not want to grant citizenship to those who broke the law in coming here. It is not clear how important this point is to his proposed compromise, but the statement drew a notable number of comments. Carol Gould added that the U.S. is not the only country that is not a nation. Germany, for instance, has repudiated blood as a basis for citizenship. Emily Gill claimed that the U. S. was a civic nation. John Francis added that Brazil says it is a nation of immigrants, and that if we are not a nation, many other countries are also not nations. In that respect we are not unique. The issue was left unresolved, perhaps since it was not central to Richard’s blue card proposal.
Laurence Houlgate raised the last question: why wouldn’t Type A democrats object to the blue card suggestion just as vigorously as they object to granting citizenship, since it involves a kind of amnesty? Richard had the final word. Neither the Type A nor the Type B democrats have proposed it or support the blue card idea. It is not the first choice of anyone. But that is its virtue. It is a compromise which gives both sides most of what they most want, just as it gives those here illegally most of what they also want.
Had the session been long enough to consider the three papers together we might have been surprised by the way the three papers form a coherent whole. The discussions highlighted the strengths and weaknesses of each of the papers. If we take the best parts of each of the three we get a solution to the current impasse on immigration reform. The paper by Theresa documents the plight of the undocumented immigrant and paints a picture of the morally intolerable situation current policy fosters. This provides the needed motivation to seek a just remedy, which must, if it is to be successful and enduring, be bi-partisan. In his blue card proposal Richard offers a compromise solution that respects the moral commitments of both the right and the left. The major objection to it was that it tends to stigmatize blue card holders and makes them permanent outsiders in what should be an inclusive society. John’s paper offers a remedy for that defect. By making residency and not citizenship the criterion for local voting and political participation paper, blue card holders become insiders and have a place and a voice in their local communities. That removes the stigma of the blue card and alleviates the immigrants’ alienation by including them as active members of the community. They would now have a path for them to live free of fear of deportation, enable them to seek employment with a future, and give their children a chance to pursue the American dream. The combination of the three papers sounds more promising than any of them taken alone does. Together they suggest that there are imaginative ways to break the gridlock that currently characterizes immigration reform. The joint result is worthy of an Op-ed piece to the major newspapers.