Archive | Immigration

How to think about Lou Dobbs

I was unsurprised to read that Lou Dobbs, the former CNN host who crusaded against illegal immigrants, had actually hired a bunch of them himself to maintain his large house and his horse farm. (OK, I have to admit I was surprised by the part about the horse farm.)

But I think most of the reactions to this story missed the point. Isabel Macdonald’s article that broke the story was entitled, “Lou Dobbs, American Hypocrite,” and most of the discussion went from there, with some commenters piling on Dobbs and others defending him by saying that Dobbs hired his laborers through contractors and may not have known they were in the country illegally.

To me, though, the key issue is slightly different. And Macdonald’s story is relevant whether or not Dobbs knew he was hiring illegals. My point is not that Dobbs is a bad guy, or a hypocrite, or whatever. My point is that, in his setting, it would take an extraordinary effort to not hire illegal immigrants to take care of his house and his horses.

That’s the point. Here’s Lou Dobbs—a man who has the money, the inclination, and every incentive to not hire illegals—and he hires them anyway. It doesn’t matter to me whether he knew about it or not, whether he hired contractors in a wink-and-nod arrangement to preserve his plausible deniability, or whether he was genuinely innocent of what was going on. Either way, he did it—even though he, more than most people, had every incentive not to.

For Lou Dobbs, as for so many other American individuals and corporations, going without illegal immigrants is like trying to live a zero-emissions lifestyle: it might sound like a good idea but it’s too much work to actually do!

This does not mean that Dobbs’s goal of reducing illegal immigration is a bad idea—but it does suggest that his attacks on illegal immigrants and their U.S. employers are simplistic, at best.

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Lou Dobbs hires illegal immigrants

This news story (from Isabel Macdonald; I followed the link from here) is pretty funny:

In Lou Dobbs’s heyday at CNN, when he commanded more than 800,000 viewers and a reported $6 million a year for “his fearless reporting and commentary,” in the words of former CNN president Jonathan Klein, the host became notorious for his angry rants against “illegal aliens.” But Dobbs reserved a special venom for the employers who hire them, railing against “the employer who is so shamelessly exploiting the illegal alien and so shamelessly flouting US law” and even proposing, on one April 2006 show, that “illegal employers who hire illegal aliens” should face felony charges. . . . Dobbs has continued to advocate an enforcement-first approach to immigration, emphasizing, as he did in a March 2010 interview on Univision, that “the illegal employer is the central issue in this entire mess!” . . .

Based on a yearlong investigation, including interviews with five immigrants who worked without papers on his properties, The Nation and the Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute have found that Dobbs has relied for years on undocumented labor for the upkeep of his multimillion-dollar estates and the horses he keeps for his 22-year-old daughter, Hillary, a champion show jumper. . . . Dobbs’s daughter keeps five European Warmbloods, a breed that often fetches close to $1 million apiece. . . . Every November, all five of The Dobbs Group’s show-jumping horses must be transported from their summer stables in Vermont to their winter stables in Wellington, Florida. The workers are transported to the tropics too, returning to New England with the horses in April. . . . For years, undocumented immigrants from Mexico have been relied upon to meet these labor demands.

Hey, if you make a few million dollars, why not spend it on a horse farm. . . .

And then there’s this:

During one of Dobbs’s many shows devoted to immigration, in April 2006, the host described $10 an hour as “a decent wage, not, in my opinion, an adequate wage, but a decent wage.” He then turned to his viewers with a pointed question: “How much more would you be willing to pay each year for fruits and vegetables if it would improve working conditions and raise wages for farmworkers?”

At the time Dobbs said that, an undocumented Guatemalan worker laboring in his own yard, Miguel Garcia, was being paid only $8 an hour. . . . On the morning of October 5, 2009, Miguel Garcia was arrested by undercover ICE agents while he was on his way to his work cleaning Miami office buildings. (After four years of landscaping at Dobbs’s and other properties, he’d quit because of the low pay.) . . .After a week in immigration detention, Miguel was deported to Guatemala.

The real question

Macdonald presents this as a case of hypocrisy, which indeed it is, but really this seems like a larger problem. The American economy is set up so that, for many things, it’s a lot of effort not to hire an illegal immigrant. Take Dobbs’s horse farm. It’s not like he could just pay $12/hour or whatever and get legal horse trainers. I doubt there’s a convenient supply of non-illegals to do this work. So to do it all legally, Dobbs couldn’t just pay more; he’d have to really change the system on his own. It could be done—find American horse workers and pay what’s necessary to keep them hired—but it’s not simply a matter of paying a bit more; it would probably take real effort.

I’m not trying to let Dobbs off the hook here—after all, nobody held a gun to his head and required him to say that employers of illegal immigrants should be prosecuted, and, for that matter, nobody told him he had to maintain show horses. He chose to fulminate against illegal immigration and he chose to engage in a pastime where it’s standard practice to hire illegal immigrants.

What I’m saying is that Dobbs’s situation illustrates the general entanglement of illegal immigrants in the economy. In addition to pointing out Dobbs’s hypocrisy, we could also turn it around and say: hey, hiring legal workers is so difficult that even Lou Dobbs—who presumably is motivated not to—still can’t avoid doing it.

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Latinos, Immigration, and the G.O.P.

Can immigration politics move Republican Latinos into the Democratic camp? Harry Reid seems to think so. And while only 30 percent of Latinos cast their votes for John McCain in 2008, survey data from the American National Election Studies (ANES) indicate that the G.O.P.’s presence among Hispanics’ ranks could shrink even further in an election dominated by immigration issues.

Republicans would be innoculated from losing Latino votes over immigration under one of two conditions: either Republican Hispanics have immigration policy preferences that are significantly more to the right than Democratic Hispanics, or they care less about immigration than do their Democratic counterparts.

Survey data indicate that neither of these conditions holds. In 2008, the ANES asked a representative sample of Americans (including an oversample of Latinos) how they felt about the U.S. government instituting a process to make it possible for illegal immigrants to become U.S. citizens. With a “branching format” question, survey respondents placed themselves on a seven-point scale ranging from “favor a great deal” (scored 1) to “oppose a great deal” (scored 7). The figure below displays where Latino McCain voters and Obama voters placed themselves on this scale, and where they placed the two candidates.


The graph shows that there was virtually no difference in preferences over immigration policy between Latinos supporting Obama and McCain: on average, both sets of voters favored establishing a path to citizenship to about the same degree. The big difference is where they placed the candidates on the scale: Obama voters saw a big difference between the two candidates, McCain voters didn’t. The ANES also asked Latinos how important this issue was to them personally on a five-point scale. Here again there was no difference between McCain and Obama supporters: both groups rated immigration as a relatively important issue (group means for the two sets of supporters were both 3.3 out of 5).

In sum, Latino Democrats and Republicans care equally about immigration, and they by-and-large support the same policies. The only difference is that while Democratic Latinos have long perceived big gaps between the two parties on immigration, Republican Latinos have believed them to be interchangeable. In a campaign highlighting Republican support for Arizona’s immigration law, criticism of birthright citizenship, and other strong stances against illegal immigration, this belief will become less and less tenable.

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Turning Latinos Away from the GOP

The Arizona law, the controversy over birthright citizenship—these and other aspects of the immigration debate are often thought to be politically treacherous for the Republican Party given the projected growth of the Latino population. But are they? Does advocating such positions actually alienate Latinos?

California provides some evidence that it does. Consider this from a 2006 article by Shaun Bowler, Stephen Nicholson and Gary Segura:

…we find that racially charged ballot propositions sponsored by the Republican party during the 1990s in California reversed the trend among Latinos and Anglos toward identifying as Republican…by shifting party attachments toward the Democratic party. Our results raise serious questions about the long-term efficacy of racially divisive strategies for electoral gain.

They examine the effects of Propositions 187, 209, and 227—which, respectively, sought to deny state services to illegal immigrants, end affirmative action in state government, and replace bilingual instruction with English-intensive instruction.

Before 187, Latinos had a 38% chance of identifying as a Democrat, a 28% chance of identifying as independent, and a 34% chance of identifying as a Republican. After 187, they had a 52% chance of identifying as a Democrat. After 209, that increased to 62%, and after 227, to 63%.

By contrast, their chance of identifying as Republican fell to 12% after the votes on these propositions.

At the same time, the GOP experienced no gains from other ethnic groups, notably non-Hispanic whites.

The authors conclude:

The use of these three ballot propositions by the California GOP to improve their electoral fortunes was unsuccessful in the long-run and, in fact, constituted a significant political error with three demonstrable effects. First, they had a very sizable effect on galvanizing the rapidly growing Latino vote and shifting it toward the Democratic Party in California. Second, this shift actually reversed a trend that had previously been favoring the GOP. That is, up until the propositions, this Latino bloc had been drifting slowly toward the Republican Party. Third, there seems to have been no counterbalancing gain in party supporters from other groups, particularly non-Hispanic whites. That is, GOP alienation of Latinos may have been politically acceptable if it attracted Anglos in greater numbers. The evidence from our results suggests that this did not happen.

At the moment, the weak economy imperils the Democratic Party’s fortunes among most every ethnic group, including Latinos. The GOP could simply bide its time and benefit accordingly. So I’m puzzled by the sudden interest in a drastic constitutional change that (1) is unlikely to pass, (2) will mostly alienate Latinos, and, if the California experience holds, (3) won’t necessarily win over voters who aren’t Latino. What is the political upside?

Find the article here. Unfortunately, I can find only a gated version.

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What Do Americans Think About Birthright Citizenship?

Everyone knows this controversy by now. Here is the bill. Here is Mitch McConnell yesterday. It’s highly unlikely that this push to end birthright citizenship will go anywhere, but it’s worth probing public opinion on this question and on an underlying question: what should be the boundaries of the American national community?

Some quick searching did not turn up many polls on birthright citizenship per se. Rasmussen recently asked whether children of illegal immigrants should be citizens. In their sample, 58% of respondents said no, and 33% said yes. It would be interesting to know whether this is an objection to birthright citizenship per se or essentially an objection to illegal immigration.

Now to the broader question. In 2004, the General Social Survey asked a battery of questions on potential qualifications for being American. This was the preamble:

Some people say the following things are important for being truly American. Others say they are not important. How important do you think each of the following is…

Here is the average importance that respondents accorded to each qualification.


On average, respondents saw all of these qualifications are more important than unimportant. However, they also saw some qualifications as more important than others. In general, the more important qualifications reflect things that an immigrant can achieve: speaking English, becoming naturalized, respecting American institutions and laws. More exclusive criteria, and ones that immigrants cannot change (or change easily), are less important: being born in America, being Christian, or having American ancestry.

How might we interpret these results in light of the debate over birthright citizenship? Here are two possibilities.

First, Lindsey Graham and other opponents of birthright citizenship could take heart. Look, they might say, the public doesn’t even think being born in America is as important as other things. Given the importance accorded to American citizenship, we could make native-born children of immigrants go through the naturalization process and Americans would still see them as American. No harm done.

Second, some might object to that interpretation as a violation of the “spirit” underlying American public opinion. Americans’ sense of their national community is more inclusive than exclusive. Shifting American law in a more exclusive direction is not in this spirit. Why not recognize that more important than birthplace is speaking English, loyalty to the United States, and respect for its laws? And why not take heart that immigrants do learn English and are no less patriotic than native-born Americans? For evidence on this score, see this article by Jack Citrin, Amy Lerman, Mike Murakami, and Kathryn Pearson. Here is the abstract:

Samuel Huntington argues that the sheer number, concentration, linguistic homogeneity, and other characteristic of Hispanic immigrants will erode the dominance of English as a nationally unifying language, weaken the country’s dominant cultural values, and promote ethnic allegiances over a primary identification as an American. Testing these hypotheses with data from the U.S. Census and national and Los Angeles opinion surveys, we show that Hispanics acquire English and lose Spanish rapidly beginning with the second generation, and appear to be no more or less religious or committed to the work ethic than native-born whites. Moreover, a clear majority of Hispanics reject a purely ethnic identification and patriotism grows from one generation to the next. At present, a traditional pattern of political assimilation appears to prevail.

For more on this general subject, see my article with Jack Citrin, which compares qualifications for immigrants across the U.S. and Europe. More importantly, see Elizabeth Theiss-Morse’s new book Who Counts as an American? The Boundaries of National Identity.

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Academic Social Scientists Frame Immigration Policy

Last week (April 15), Henry posted an interesting entry about the (ir)relevance of academic social science to policy. There is certainly a distance to traverse between the two, though I have recently been involved in a Brookings Institution working group crafting immigration policy alternatives for Congress and the new administration. (A book on immigration policymaking in Congress ‘won’ me this role). The group is comprised primarily of labor economists, sociologists, political scientists, and applied researchers in think-tanks, about 25 members total.

The political scientists involved are Noah Pickus (Duke Kenan Center) and Peter Skerry (Boston College), who are co-chairing the group; Christine Sierra (New Mexico); Bill Galston (Brookings); Francis Fukuyama (Johns Hopkins SAIS); and myself (Maryland). Other social scientists include labor economists Gary Burtless (Brookings) and Jennifer Hunt (McGill); and sociologists Ruth Milkman (UCLA), Christopher Jencks (Harvard), and Audrey Singer (Brookings).

We bring diverse views and scholarly approaches to a controversial area of law and policy. The discussions have been collegial, but also long and difficult. There have been times when I doubted that we were making any headway. Yet in spite of the enormity of the task of coming to consensus, after several monthly meetings, the group is converging on a set of policy proposals that we certainly hope will have relevance to the policy process.

Here is a sample of some of the topics that have been addressed:

1. Creation of a standing 9-member appointed commission to dictate immigration priorities and goals. This would be similar to the Base Closure Commission or the Federal Elections Commission.

2. The conditions and qualifications that should accompany the legalization of illegal immigrants. There is consensus that pre-conditions and penalties should come with the adjustment of status.

3. Impact aid should be directed toward states and localities facing the greatest immigration pressures.

4. Possibly offsetting the legalization of illegal immigrants with reductions in the number of legal immigrants admitted from specific origin countries.

5. Imposing a service requirement (broadly construed) as part of the pathway to legalization.

6. Greatly enhanced workplace enforcement and punishment for the hiring of illegal immigrants.

7. Making the use of work verification checks mandatory with E-verify.

8. The elimination of the diversity lottery for legal admissions.

9. The elimination of extended family categories of legal admission (adult siblings).

10. The move to a more labor-market oriented approach to legal immigrant admissions.

11. Foreign-policy relations with Mexico as a special case given the large number of immigrants it sends.

12. Border security and enforcement.

Having endured some contentious faculty meetings in my home department, I have been quite impressed by how a group so diverse in terms of social science training (to say nothing of life experience) has been able to work through these issues simply by virtue of their commitment to the mission of the group itself. The exceedingly patient moderation of the discussion by Professors Pickus and Skerry has been instrumental to keeping everyone on board. More work remains to be done to address important details. Unanimity may not be possible, but strong consensus does not appear beyond reach.

Once policy options emerge, there will be the added challenge of ‘selling’ the product to Congressional and Obama Administration policymakers. This will be a different kind of test for the group; not one of policy understanding, but of political strategy in a highly polarized environment. Meanwhile, the Obama Administration has clumsily announced the most controversial of its immigration proposals: legalization; which reflexively triggered the opposition of Republicans and restrictionist groups. Leading with the most polarizing of all policy proposals does not make the other side warm to the prospect of negotiation. At the end of the first 100-days, the journey to a legislative consensus is not off to an auspicious start.

Certainly all of the working-group’s members are well aware that the prospect for immigration reform is dim while the economy is under strain, but the Obama Administration is committed to taking up the issue sometime during these four years. Moreover, the history of immigration policymaking in Congress has shown that it commonly takes two or three Congresses to enact major legislation. Momentum is slow to build, so we need to get the ball rolling down hill.

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Immigration and Crime

This New York Times article discusses the current politics of immigration in Italy—in particular, new measures to crack down on illegal immigrants, who are believed to increase the crime rate. In a 2002 survey, respondents in Italy and 19 other European nations were asked whether immigration tended to improve or worsen crime. In a 2005 survey, this same item was asked of an American sample. Respondents gave their answers along a 0-10 scale. Here are the percent who gave an answer on the “worsen crime” side of the scale:


In almost every country, a majority of respondents believed that immigrants worsened crime. Interestingly, both Americans and Italians were less likely to say this than were respondents in most other nations. Forty-eight percent of Americans said that immigration worsened crime, as did 61% of Italians. These surveys also asked about the consequences of immigration for the government revenue and services and for national culture. On average, respondents were more concerned about the consequences for crime than for these other areas. Jack Citrin and I discuss these and other results in this paper.

The measures recently proposed in Italy have garnered the support of a majority of Italians:

Do you support or oppose each of these measures?
Allowing citizens from other EU countries to stay in Italy for more than three months only if they have enough income and inform the authorities of their whereabouts, and provide their name and address: 63% support.
Expropriating the houses that are rented to illegal immigrants: 58% support.
Allowing immigrants to reunite with their relatives only after a DNA test has been performed: 56% support.

More survey data are here (US only) and here (US and abroad).

Here is a study by Rubén G. Rumbaut and colleagues about crime among immigrants in the United States. One of its findings is this:

The finding that incarceration rates are much lower among immigrant men than the national norm, despite their lower levels of education and greater poverty, but increase significantly over time in the United States for those who arrived as children and especially among the second generation, suggests that the process of “Americanization” can lead to downward mobility and greater risk of involvement with the criminal justice system for a significant minority of this population.
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Anti-Immigrant Violence in South Africa

Given the recent violence against immigrants in Johannesburg, Capetown, and elsewhere in South Africa (see accounts here, here, and here), some may be interested in research on migration in Africa and South Africa in particular.

One resource is the Forced Migration Studies Program at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. (It’s director, Loren Landau, is a friend from graduate school.) See, for example, their response (pdf) to the recent violence, which undercuts the government’s claim that this violence was “a totally unexpected phenomenon.” See also these papers on migration from Zimbabwe. Other working papers are here.

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What If the US Treated Mexico Like Europe Treated Spain?

For Spain, the EU adopted full economic integration as the preferred goal, and substantial resources — equivalent to tens of billions of U.S. dollars — were made available to modernize Spanish institutions and infrastructure so they would harmonize with conditions in the north. As these investments were made, Spanish out-migration to the rest of Europe not only did not increase; it stopped, despite a continuing income gap between Spain and the rest of the EU.
In the U.S., in contrast, authorities chose not to pursue full economic integration, instead negotiating terms that were exploitive of Mexico and protective of the U.S. And since the signing of NAFTA, migration from Mexico to its northern neighbor has continued unabated as efforts to increase border enforcement have backfired, encouraging Mexican migrants in the U.S. to remain and actually increasing net undocumented migration.

That is Douglas Massey, writing in the new magazine, Miller-McCune. Here is the article. Here is an overview of the magazine’s mission. Here is the Miller-McCune Foundation’s website. I look forward to more from them.

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The Imagined Community in Europe and the United States

What are American and European attitudes toward immigration? Do they differ? Clearly, the centrality of immigration in “settler societies” such as the United States—both in terms of the literal populating of the country and in terms of its founding myths—is greater than in most, if not all, European countries. But does this make the United States “exceptional” in how immigrants are viewed?

Jack Citrin and I have a recently published paper in which we examine attitudes toward immigrants and immigration in the United States and 20 European countries, drawing on the European Social Survey and the Citizenship, Involvement, Democracy Survey.

Our results suggest that Americans do not stand apart from Europeans in terms of the perceived consequences of immigration, the desired qualities of immigrants, and the preferred level of immigration. There is, however, one difference: attitudes toward cultural diversity more generally.

The two survey items that speak to diversity asked respondents whether they agreed or disagree with these statements:

It is better for a country if almost everyone shares the same customs and traditions.
It is better for a country if there are a variety of religions among its people.

Below are plots of the percent of respondents in each country who endorse homogeneity—i.e., agree that everyone should share customs and traditions and disagree that a variety of religions is better. (See the paper for fancier plots with means and confidence intervals.)



“American exceptionalism” emerges fairly clearly. Relative to almost all European nations, fewer Americans endorse cultural or religious homogeneity, and the differences between the U.S. and these other nations are almost always statistically significant (see Figure 1 of the paper).

The paper has more discussion of these results, as well as the individual- and country-level factors underlying attitudes toward immigration. Another noteworthy finding: few of the most obvious country-level attributes—unemployment, inflation, the size of the immigrant population, the growth of the immigrant population, etc.—explain the differences among countries in attitudes toward immigrants. I’d be happy to entertain other possibilities.

Addendum: In the comments, Chris Zorn asked for a scatterplot, and I am happy to oblige.


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