Immigration Reform 2013: A Small Group Could Ruin It For Everyone

Will the Senate come to an agreement about the 844-page immigration bill before their summer recess? There were echoes of encouragement in the Senate chambers on Tuesday, when the bill was advanced by an 84-15 vote to begin further discussion. As President Obama and senators race against the clock, they will have to have better answers to these questions so that their bill can stay alive.

Rhetorical Nitpicking. Some of the bill’s naysayers are taking issue with the words “naturalization” and “integration,” and are inventing arguments about “assimilation” and concerns that immigrants will not be American enough. Politico reported that some conservative Republicans want the bill to make more use of the word “assimilation” and are angry about the lack of patriotic principles.

Republican defenders of the current bill, such as Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), state, “We never really had a problem with any group becoming American … They have a lot of problems in Europe with people becoming French and German. We have like zero problems in this country with people — you know these young DREAM Act kids, they don’t need any assimilation classes from me. They’re going to knock it out of the park.” Graham and his fellow supporters will need to keep echoing this argument to show that there are more ways than one to “be American,” as critics create fake problems such as this.

Border Control. Opponents of the bill such as Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) emphasize securing the border and “putting real teeth into border security” as the only solution to our long-term immigration problem. They see insecure borders as a cause of immigration, not a symptom of a broken system. (For more on this thesis, see my previous PolicyMic article.) 

In the coming weeks, these opponents will make lots of noise about stricter enforcement and surveillance on the border. The bill’s current language about “90% secure borders in high risk areas” will need to be expanded for these opponents to be satisfied.

Healthcare and Entitlements. Opponents also love to harp on the strawman argument about entitlement spending, calling immigrants “free riders.” They argue that legalization and naturalization will be too expensive, putting too much strain on an already tight national health care system. The flawed study by the Heritage Foundation, which was heavily criticized by liberal and conservative groups alike, predicted that immigrant pathways to citizenship would cost $9.4 trillion in entitlements over their lifetime.

To dispel this notion once and for all, a group of professors at the University of Nebraska’s Medical Center just published a study analyzing the demographics of health care spending from 2000 – 2009. They found that only 7.9% of illegal immigrants benefited from public sector care expenditures. Additionally, they found that U.S. natives spent more than $1 trillion annually, while unauthorized immigrants, legal residents, and naturalized citizens spent a collective $96.5 billion annually. Of this, illegal immigrants’ share of the spending amounted to just $15.4 billion, or 1.4%.

Senate supporters of the bill need to have this information on hand when opponents bring out the “free rider” rhetoric. This is the most recent of a few studies that dispel the myth that they are “gaming the system” and reaping the benefits — very few have such luck. Nonetheless, Senate supporters should call out opponents for such claims, prove them wrong, and suggest that their claim is more relevant to the entitlement program in general, rather than solely to immigrants.

A very vocal minority is making a lot of noise about the imperfections of the Senate bill and the parts that are not to their liking, such as word choice, border control provisions, and their favorite strawman argument, entitlement spending. We will see very soon if they achieve their goals and if their voices are louder than those in the majority.

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Jessie Bullock

A Stanford University M.A. Candidate, Spanish and Portuguese speaking girl, Jessie focuses her research on Latin American policy, drug policy, and agricultural policy. You can probably find her talking about Brazil with a newspaper in one hand and glass of wine in the other.

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