This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 13th (it will be out in January 2020), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Wednesday, December 5, 2018

It's Still 1986 When it Comes to Immigration Reform

If you watched today's memorial service for President George H.W. Bush, you had to have laughed and cried a lot, especially at the stories told by Alan Simpson, a former Senator from Wyoming and a good friend of the late President Bush. He was essentially ambushed politically after co-sponsoring the Simpson-Mazzoli Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. The Daily Beast talked to him about it today:
Designed to stem the tide of illegal immigration, it was passed by a Democratic House and Republican Senate and signed into law by President Reagan. Former Wyoming Republican Senator Alan Simpson co-sponsored the legislation together with Democratic Rep. Romano Mazzoli from Kentucky. Neither lawmaker seemed an especially natural fit for an issue with little direct impact on their constituents, but as chairs of their respective immigration subcommittees, they were thrust together into a position of leadership.
It was a model for bipartisan congressional problem solving, but the legislation that resulted is widely viewed as a failure—part of the problem, not the solution. It built on a three-legged approach—controlling the borders, increasing the number of visas for agricultural workers, and offering “earned legalization” to immigrants who had illegally entered the country before 1982. Instead of slowing the flow of people across the border, illegal immigration accelerated, and the politics of reform stretched to a breaking point. The cross-party alliances that had worked so well in the ‘80s crashed and burned as an effort launched by President Bush together with Senators Ted Kennedy and John McCain in 2006 imploded in the face of grassroots opposition.
Why didn't it work? Simpson argues that the "guts" were taken out of the bill before it could be passed. The visas for agricultural workers--essentially a guest-worker program to replace the earlier Bracero program--were viewed as being dangerously close to a national ID card, to which people on both the political right and left objected. Without this in the bill, employers couldn't know who they were hiring and could thus be accused of hiring undocumented immigrants.

Three decades later, Simpson sums up where we currently stand with undocumented immigrants:
“They (critics of reform) think these people are expendable,” says Simpson. “If you think America is good to them, you’re crazy as hell. They’re used and exploited and they work for four bucks an hour. It’s a pretty sick country that uses human beings like this. They sit on corners waiting for some guy to come by to get the gardening done at his estate. It’s a sad situation; it’s not pleasant to watch.”
Also not pleasant, as I noted yesterday, is that living in fear is not good for women and their babies, either. 

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