I have a story, I am working with a woman through the promised jobs program and welfare reform program, who is a battered alien. She came to the United States because of a relationship that she had developed over Internet with a man who lives here in this area. And she married the man and came here in the United States and now that he has abused her, and so she has left, she’s been left now kind of on her own and I understand that she does have rights as far as being able to stay here, because of that connotation, I guess, … it’s being a battered alien, but I’ve read somewhat recently, I guess in Newsweek, that that is a thing that’s happening quite often in the United States, that women are coming here to seek a better life and to find some stability and then things happen and that’s not working out, and so then they are kind of stuck with what to do now, so…
From my standpoint, I have a foot in each culture. Half of my family has been here a long time, but they were immigrants, and part of my family is… recent immigrants. My husband is a new American, I have one foot, you know, where “we’ve been here for a long time,” one foot where it’s new. And growing up with both of these issues, I see from both perspectives, you know, some people say “well, you shouldn’t be coming, because you should stay home or “go back to your country,” people take a look at me and my scarf and they say to me “Get out of my country!” (Challenging 0.3 people) You know, and they just see that, that’s all they see. But as far as the women coming here - there is a double sided issue there – you have women that come who come to marry and they want to stay here, and there is a battered spouse law, where they can stay, if they are battered, then there is the ones who come seeking a better life, but you’ve got men and women, I’ve traveled extensively and the people come to me and say: “How can I emigrate, well, how can I get into the US?” The only thing you can tell them is to go through the channels. But overseas the United States to some of these immigrants is a shining star, it’s going to allow them to get away from dictatorships, to have a better life, and when they get here there is a completely different reality.
All right. The um the frame we’re working from this morning regarding this issue essentially raises the question of whether or not it is time once again to change U.S. immigration policies for contemporary reasons. The frame offers us three different approaches, ways to look at the issue, or ways the issue is commonly seen and articulated and argued for in our society.
And uh one of those approaches says that um yes, it’s time to change what we are doing simply because there’s too much immigration. Immigration. The face of our country is changing more rapidly than we can handle. That’s at least at least one of the stances… The fear is… literally an national identity crisis, inability to assimilate at the pace people are entering the country from other parts of the world. So that will be one of the approaches that we uh that we look at.
A second and really quite different stance is held by people who say now wait a minute, we are a nation of immigrants from the beginning, unless you are a native American you are an immigrant, and then some of the native Americans will say now wait a minute, we are immigrants too, we just came over a different bridge you know to get here, and much longer ago, so, the, you know, the stance really from that perspective is we need to recognize and be true to a long national heritage of… welcoming accepting assimilating immigrants and building a national identity out of multinational sources.
A third approach says um lets get realistic folks, huh, it boils down to money, it boils down to economics, and let’s look at the economics of the situation, we need to put that first, there are some things that we can handle, some things we can’t handle, we simply can’t afford to do everything we might want to do. So there may be some overlap among those three approaches, but there certainly are distinctions among them as well.
But ultimately what we are really getting to is whether we can reconcile conflicts between our national heritage in relation to immigration and our current economic realities, and at the same time… especially in a post 9/11 world, address concerns about our safety and interests of American citizens. So, a pretty enormous backdrop to our conversation about this issue.
And what I would like to do now is uh is really direct our attention to uh the first approach. Uhm. The first approach uh essentially saying, there is too much immigration. too much difference. too much difference is occurring uh too rapidly. uh in our society, and that essentially our current policy uh of handling immigration around three reasons. family sponsorship which is still part of ya know of our national policy. uh uhm. humanitarian refuge. uh and really a kind of recruitment aspect to the policy around preferential job skills. the that uhm kind of three part policy, complicated by illegal entry, is not handling the uh the situation that we’re facing. that in fact uhm we should admit fewer immigrants in the interest of continuing to develop and preserve a national identity... ehm…
What’s your… what’s your response to that approach? Is there anyone here who finds…some… identification with um with that position?
Yes, I think there are some identifications with that. Even … as a teacher looking at the school calendar and the school year, holidays that we used to celebrate are either no longer celebrated or their name has changed, we don’t have Christmas break anymore, we have winter break, um, in light of the fact that there are not just all Christians. This was founded as a Christian, Judeo-Christian country, and many of the immigrants ARE of that belief, but some of them are not… So, instead of going by still by the majority, we cater to the minorities, I am not saying that we shouldn’t be concerned about the minorities, but there seems to be more of a catering to the minorities and more of a, of an acceptance to allow them to tell us what things, what traditions we can throw out and what traditions they want to see maintained. It hardly seems fair to have it that way. So, it’s kind of like the upper cart’s been upset, and some people are very disturbed by that; for example, Easter isn’t called Easter break anymore, either that’s spring break and… many of the other very important Christian holidays that have been observed are more or less tubed. Before immigration became a real major issue, we’ve had enough atheists and the agnostics in this country to to undermine some of the Christian beliefs and the Christian holidays anyway, but then you add to it other religious beliefs and it makes it even more troublesome, it becomes almost a Pandora’s box. How do we deal with this?
I think one of the most important things to get on the table… to begin with, at least to start the discussion eh, is… I think you’ll find a lot of agreement around – at least in this group – that what is currently in place is not working by any means. And I don’t care what answers you… trying to… you have to get that out in front.
And, and I don’t care how much money you have for enforcement, until you can address the reasons why people eh-want to immigrate into this country, you are not gonna solve the… problem. And, you know, we… I would make the differ… before it was a Christian country, it was a democratic country, and I think a lot of those things that we held as important in the past, you sort of have to throw those out of the window, because the reality is… an’, an’… - I don’t have a real stake in it other than just sort of a citizen, a… citizen stake… but I can see as you travel, especially throughout Iowa, eh, the complexity of the state’s changed, and it’s changing almost every, every month, eh, and, and, and it’s… in a lot of places from what I’ve seen it’s been a good change. I mean a lot of them… in a lot of these towns, the smaller rural towns, these folks are actually coming to help with the economic model;… if you didn’t have these people coming in to do some of this work, a lot of these places would be really in a world of hurt(?)…
In your city government experience was there, was there a sense that there was, there was a strain on the system, because we were admitting too many immigrants? Or a concern especially around the kind of economic development issue you are raising in relation to small communities that we are not admitting enough or not admitting the right ones? (T 2? )
Unfortunately, I think… a lot of immigrants don’t even show up on the government… radar screen. Eh, if you are in the neighborhood you’ll see the impact of … you know, maybe ten years ago there was a heavy influx of Somali refugees, now you’ve got a lot of folks from Kosovo… you had, you know, if you go back twenty years ago the Laotians and the Mongs and the Hispanics were just a given. But… no, it really didn’t show up, unfortunately, a lot of times what shows up in, say, government is the person that speaks the loudest, and a lot of these people who need the help and need the social services are afraid to speak, and we all know why they are afraid to speak – they might get deported, so…
So, how complicated is the issue by… the distinction between legal and illegal immigrants? Is our policy working as far as legal immigration is concerned, but not working because we cannot control illegal immigration?
Well, I would say it would be both, really… we always had the illegal problem, we also have a problem since about 1990, our, the rate at which we immigrate people was, went up about five times annually,… it really took off, it’s not a flat one by any means, and I think that causes quite a bit of problems in terms of assimilation and also… are the people who are coming here have… are they skilled people or unskilled people, because the economics, come back to economics, unskilled their first generation, maybe, the second generation of the unskilled, probably have a net cost to society just economically, beyond the cultural … obviously if you get a lot of high skilled, and those people work for companies like Microsoft, there’s been a lot of pressure in Washington…
…in this approach um is that um um limiting immigration further uh further reduces our ability to um to deal with people who genuinely need refugee status. (FS 1.2)
So I I’m I guess I’m also wondering, there’s there’s the legal -illegal difference andtension, there’s also a difference, it seems to me, between immigrant and refugee. Uh they’re talked about the same, they may fall into the same category, but we have a little different history with refugees than we have with non-refugee immigrants...uh…
When I was … coordinator… the number of refugees that were coming into Cedar Rapids amazed me, it amazed me that the department of human resources had a person for refugees to help them assimilate. I think that it’s good that we have, that we’re open for refugees, but what the definition of a refugee is might be something that we could look at... whether it’s too broad or whether we need to consider what is a refugee.
Well, the definition of a refugee is set by the international law, by treaties that the US has signed. A refugee is someone who is fleeing persecution from his home country, because that person is being, because that person is being persecuted on the basis of race, religion or politics or belonging to a certain social group. I, my experience as an attorney representing refugee has been very rewarding, I have represented people who were slaves in Sudan, in the Sudan, I have represented women who were fleeing their countries because their daughters were going to be… to, to… to be endangered, because of the female genital mutilation. I think that we should not change our policy on refugees. The history of this country and the position of the United States in front of the world as the open country…an open country for people who are fleeing persecution should not change.
I think our immigration policies as they stand right now are, the more restrictive you make the immigration policies, the more you are going to have illegal immigration. We’ve restricted refugees, there is a cap on refugees that continues to go down, because that cap is going down and also because there is now caps on family immigration, all different classes of family immigration, also caps that are being reached on employment-based immigration, and also additional restrictions above and beyond these classifications… that those restrictions are causing more illegal immigration, because people cannot get in legally. And they are trying to reunify with their families, a lot of families-based immigration is splitting up families for not only years or a few years, for months, but is splitting them up for decades. And because of the splitting up of those families that is what’s causing people to immigrate illegally, because they have no other means of getting into the country to join their families. Or to get a better life.
For someone, a permanent resident from Mexico, who has a wife or a husband abroad, he has to wait between seven and nine years to be reunited with his family.
Yeah, I would reiterate to that… illegal immigration is a problem, it is a very significant problem and we, when finding a solution, we have to realize that the problem there are not the immigrant individuals, but actually the laws, and we are a nation of immigrants, but most importantly, we are a nation of laws, and right now the laws are not in sync with reality as well as our values as an immigrant nation, and what I think is something that we should definitely inform is that when immigrants come to the border they do not have a legal path and an illegal path and they deliberately choose the illegal path, the reality is that there is no legal channel right now for the immigrants to enter the country legally, if they are low-skilled, so that’s why you have such huge numbers of illegal immigration and undocumented immigrants living and working now sometimes for ten to twenty years…
But should there be a legal path for anyone who wants to come in?
Oh, abso… absolu… I believe that there has to be restrictions, that the system has to come under the rule of law, and the issue is that all the undocumented immigration is occurring right now would be legalized, if those legal channels are instituted. And thus we would basically be bringing the… transforming the system which is right now ridden by human smuggling and by fake documents to one that would be legal, orderly and also humane and dignified. And to respond,… eh… I’ll just finish with that… for the past fifteen years what we have been doing is actually increasing border controls, increasing security, to an about of probably 300 percent in terms of the numbers of border patrol agents, as well as the budget of the patrol agency, and we have seen is that while we have increased so much that is that illegal immigration has actually doubled, so we have been trying to enforce a policy that is not working and that’s why it’s important to institute those legal channels.
Were the caps there before 9-11 and not enforced or is this the result…
Truncated 1.1.2 After 9/11 it is more difficult for high-skilled specialists to get to the US because of more border control
Yes, right. The caps, they were significantly higher prior to 9-11. Since 9-11 the caps have been reduced to a point where it’s causing people that would normally have been like for instance on employment-based, non immigrant visa H1B would be able to have come in almost immediately after the approval, where now even though they have an approved visa, they can’t use it, because there is a cap, and they have to wait sometimes over a year to be able to enter, even though they have an approved visa…
This is the visa… a work visa?
It’s a work visa… eh, H1B is specifically designed for people that are qualified for what they call a speciality occupation, you have to have at least a Bachelor’s degree to qualify for that type of visa, but I think another point to make is, you know, the United States, you know, has a policy of all people are created equal, and is it really fair to exclude people who are either low-skilled or no-skilled workers for the advantage of having highly-skilled workers… I think this goes against what this country was founded on which is to give everybody an equal opportunity to contribute to our society, and at this point by adopting the format of “we only want high-skilled, highly educated people” and that’s already ingrained in the immigration system at this point anyway, but if we keep enforcing that, we are essentially shutting the door on a whole population that could potentially become great contributors to our society.
But then sometimes this poses a problem with so many people in our country. This country has quite few yet open spaces and places for people, but eventually, if we continue growing up at a geometric rate, at which we are growing right now, I think we are gonna have major problems down the road. We can’t allow everyone from every country who wants to be here to be here, it’s almost like what we are doing with Iraq right now, we’ve helped them to become democrat… democratic country, where they have actually had an election where they could go and vote, and some of them went and voted knowing that their very lives were in danger, as they traveled the road to the polls, but helping those people to establish a democracy in their own country, helping them to get the rights and the freedoms that we have here in their homeland, a lot of them really don’t want to leave their homeland, but they want to leave it because of extreme political, religious, all the other persecutions that they are suffering, they don’t want to leave their family behind and some of them have to leave family behind… Many many years ago my great grandparents, my husbands great grandparents burned all the boats, so to speak, knowing they would never see their family or friends and old home country again, there was no ease of the air flights to go back and forth from country to country, so they knew when they came here all alone or maybe with their spouse that that was it, they were making an new life and that new things would happen, they would never ever see their old homeland again or their parents before they died etcetera, some of them in their aging years now had had the opportunity to go back and visit the cemeteries where relatives had been buried, but never to have seen them again… and I think that we need to realize that it’s more important for us to take democracy, the idea of a republic to the world, as it is important for us to accept so many immigrants.
One thing that I will point out that I have learnt from our Irish son-in-law is that up until July of 2004 the green card immigrants were working and paying taxes, and paying taxes means that it goes for roads, sewers, and all the infrastructures of cities and towns; since that time, since July, they no longer have to pay any taxes…
THAT’S NOT TRUE (several people)
This is not true-He told me this is true-That is not true
…’cause this is not true.
He said that they are not having to be held accountable for that and maybe that’s why some of the people are not coming forth to speak when they have issues.
That is absolutely untrue. He is mistaken.
Well, he knows it from friends who have green cards.
Well, we are attorneys, we actually know.
Well, I am a green card holder, and I pay quite a bit of tax, I mean, every year …LAUGHTER… and every time I buy, I purchase something I pay sales tax, I pay income tax, and the state taxes…and what actually…
Do you file taxes? I mean…’cause…
Sure. If I didn’t, I’d be in great trouble.
Pay taxes to the IRS…
People talking together
The same tax is applied to all persons equally. And that even undocumented aliens, undocumented immigrants, also pay sales tax, and when they are working, they are working under a social security number and they pay… everything, they pay state tax, income tax, even though they never get it back.
With this, with this approach um, the the contention is that that we need to limit immigration for um some specific reasons: because of the stress put on the system (T 2), because of our inability to assimilate as rapidly as we are receiving the people. Is there legitimacy to that position? Christine?
Well, I am a former refugee resettlement worker and I can only speak from my own experience, but I… and as a social worker… the job was very demanding, but in the time that I worked the job it became more demanding, and I felt, again, only from my perspective that I couldn’t meet the needs of my clients. It was far too difficult and I think that’s a common scenario for many social workers. But the complexity of the issues in refugees that I saw – many mental health issues, medical issues, eh, employment issues… were so complicated, and I don’t know that we have an adequate system set up to handle that. And I don’t think we address it honestly. And in trying to… myself, as a social worker at that time, trying to express my own frustration, it was met with very much a closed door… So, I think we, you know, from both ends, we have entry, but we don’t have adequate services, but really nobody’s willing to address what’s the solution. So, I don’t… And I don’t have a solution myself. So…
I saw that with the Somali refugees. A lot of them came to Cedar Rapids and for a couple weeks they got food, they’ve got money, they’ve got rides, they’ve got some furniture, but then there is a cutoff point and, I mean, it was real evident in the community when that happened. But at the same time, I’ve seen a lot of those folks now, they’ve sort of done it on their own. Not to say that it wasn’t perfect, or that they didn’t have rocky times, but they’re working, they’ve got cars, have got kids now, and you wouldn’t know that six or seven years ago they came to this country with literally, with what they had on their back. But I am glad you addressed that because… it was… you saw this movement, all these people, and there was no real safety net… and…
… at a very critical time too, very sensitive time.
Even when they go to that point…, sometimes, like you mentioned, medical and health needs, … some of the things that were acceptable in their home countries to use for medication, for example, marijuana in some countries is quite acceptable and not a problem at all, and it’s illegal here. So, I mean, that makes a problem. In fact, we know that marijuana does have or at least from some studies that have shown that it has some beneficial qualities for people who are in dire pain and that small amounts should be administered to them in a hospital clinic or something like that, I don’t know, I’m not, you know, personally, I don’t know anyone like that, but I have read studies like that, and so, I am thinking, well, some of the people who came from the countries where either opium or marijuana or something like that was used and accepted in its use, but here it is NOT used or tolerated, it becomes a problem, how do we treat them in their pain, what can we find for them what… that it is legal and that they are feeling comfortable about using. I think that makes an issue for them, they are going in a totally different direction and then they themselves even are feeling, you know, somewhat, is this ok, is it safe for me, as opposed to what I was using at home and I knew and trusted.
That might be part of a larger issue, I think, in this approach which is the question of theability of a local community… I think you were alluding to that uh Dale...we had the example of the Lewiston Maine example in the materials, for example, about the capacity of a local community to provide services to, and to start the process of assimilating a large number of people from a particular part of the world, coming in and perhaps arriving without very much forewarning and without much in the way of assistance from beyond the community, and certainly beyond the state to meet those, to meet those needs.
And I wonder if that happens um as a function of policy, does that mean that our immigration policy is in effect creating differentially localized unfunded mandates?
I think within white community… First of all, let me just say one thing, the majority of the immigrants who come here, come for economic reasons, those who do come, do not come to stay on the system, they’ve come here for independence, that means financial independence, cultural independence, you keep saying assimilation, assimilation as far as language is concerned, but they have their own culture, what is acceptable to them, is not acceptable to us in some measure. You’re talking about communities like Lewiston, Maine, they had initially like a thousand Somalis came at first, they brought their families, they found that Louistown was a wonderful place to live, and decided “Hey, this is nice, let’s start businesses here!” And they brought their families, and now I think there is like five thousand of them there. And the same thing’s happened here in Cedar Rapids, you have Somalis, you have Kosovars, you have the people from Bosnia. They were brought here in resettlement groups, they found it was nice, they decided to stay. Most of them have businesses, there are very few of them, who are on the system, you have… they don’t want to live on welfare, to them that’s very denigrating; they want to be independent financially and culturally. In our mosque here we have people from more than 34 different countries, and very few of them are on the system. You know… and I think that for communities like Cedar Rapids, Lewiston, it’s not an unattainable thing to bring these people. They’ve added, you know, a deep richness to this city. Cedar Rapids has got a community of Lebanese that have been here for more than a hundred years, and they’ve added to this city tremendously. You know, ok, you have people who say “It’s no longer a Christian country.” So what? (LAUGHTER from some other participants)You know, that’s what America is. You’ve got to accept us whether you like it or not. No longer calling Christmas break Christmas break, because it insults you, well, what about us? Our religion… you know, don’t discount us, because we are not Christian, we are not Jewish. I don’t know any Jews who celebrate Christmas.
…I am married to a Lebanese that goes to the mosque. I think one of the issues taken from the personal… and I had a fellow who was a refugee from Iraq that worked for me; and honestly I don’t know anyone I respect more in the world, I mean, this guy came with literally nothing … now he owns a lot of properties, and he has a lot of business interests, he is a hard worker… So, I think most people would say that people coming here are hard workers, you know, in general, but I also tell ya that there’s limits to what this country can absorb; there are financial constraints, we have constraints socially, and I would beg anybody to go out to southern California, or Arizona, and not say that those areas have been overwhelmed with immigrants that they can’t handle. You would take neighborhoods even around LA, there used to be single-family neighborhoods and now you have situations where you’ve got five cars parked in the front lawn. I know this from personal experience. And multiple families living in what, a house that was designed for one family, so… That’s a reality. But at a personal level, these are good people, they are generally hard workers they probably wouldn’t be here, but… there are… this country does have limits to what we can afford. There is not, we are not unlimited, we cannot just allow anybody in the world to, to, to… come here, because they are in need… It would be nice if we could, but… that is unrealistic.
And I think this frustration that’s presently being shown by laws that… attacking illegal immigrants that they can’t go to school, that they can’t have driver’s licenses, other res… that they can’t go to college, these restrictions are shown in this way because of the frustration of the majority of people, and I think that it demonstrates the depth of the problem, and the fact that the solutions are ones that can be put into place, but may and cause more problems, because the solutions attack the surface rather than the underlying problem.
I think part of the problem is the numbers and concentration in certain areas. Canada allows immigration more… it is more open for people who are willing to go into areas where there isn’t anybody living, or where there is a very low population. Maybe the United States should look into doing that, we have… and we have concentrations in LA, in New York, in New Jersey of the specific groups, why don’t we just open up the interior of the country to these groups, say go there, we’ll let you come if you go to say Nebraska or Colorado or, you know, South Dakota. I mean, areas, where there aren’t many people. I think part of the problem is… ah… is that there is too much concentration in certain areas and I think that’s what insulting some people.
I will say one thing broadly philosophic and one thing particular to your statement. Broadly philosophically, Jefferson was our godfather in thought, and the Declaration of Independence is very religious-based, we were endowed by our Creator with certain rights. But Jefferson was also… very broad-minded and his emphasis on religion was “what all the religions of the world have in common was more important than where they differed” And so Jefferson was very broad-minded, the Declaration is very broad-minded in a religious sense; it was intended to have values, but not particulars… values.
Then when we come back to our state, we are a country of immigrants, we are also a country of migration that’s internal. This is very profound, the amount of migration we do internally. The state of Iowa is a state where we’re migrating out; it is also a state where immigrants are coming in and where some migrants are coming in. Migrants being people from other states. Internally we are going from the rural counties to the larger counties, but we are in a state that is going to be population shy of a working age level. And by shy I mean very shy in a very short period of time. And our state needs people, and one of the great questions is “Can we attract people from other states, which is something that we would like to do? Can we attract people that we’d like to have from anywhere?” And to, to meet our jobs needs. Obviously, we are first gonna take care of our own, but we need a whole new generation of people. Our state demographically is very old, and we are number 1 percent over 85, or number 4 percent over 65, we have this particular community just to maintain current jobs… and inability if we project out a decade, a decade and a half, unless we have people to come here. So, we have to figure out how we do that and with what kind of balance and with kind of respect. And it’s a dilemma that we just have to make decent judgments about.
And one of the more recent kind of high profile welcomes on the part of our state governor where immigration was concerned was a welcome to skilled workers… (Somebody: of course) not a humanitarian welcome, not a family reunification welcome, it was a skilled worker welcome.
Well, that’s a national should-do and that’s the one I might differ slightly with some things that we said