Politics of Immigration Reform

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President Obama is asking Congress for $3.7 billion to address the surge of illegal crossings by unaccompanied minors from Central America. Associate Professor Lisa Magaña of the Arizona State University School of Transborder Studies will talk about the politics around the request and immigration reform.

Good evening, I'm Jose Cardenas. We'll talk about the politics surrounding immigration reform. Plus, an annual art festival turns sidewalks into colorful canvases. And Arizona continues to be near the bottom nationally for the overall well-being of its children. We'll talk about the annual kids count report. Coming up next on "Horizonte."

Funding for "Horizonte" is made possible by contributions by the Friends of Eight, members of your Arizona PBS station.

Jose Cardenas: President Obama is asking for $3.7 billion to address the surge of illegal crossings by unaccompanied minors from Central America. Joining us to talk about where politics of immigration reform go from here is Lisa Magana, associate professor of ASU's School of Transborder Studies. Dr. Magana, welcome back to Horizonte.

Lisa Magana: Thank you very much, glad to be here.

Jose Cardenas: We talked about in the introduction where the politics go from here. This is nothing new in many ways. And you and I were talking before and you said it kind of breaks down into two types of immigration reform.

Lisa Magana: Right, typically we think about immigration politics and policies in two ways, enforcement, such as the policing aspect, deportation and more border enforcement. And I have to say, I think the enforcement part is usually a little more popular in Congress. I think it's a little more sexy. We like to think of sort of funding the enforcement part rather than the bureaucrats or the people helping to facilitate the service needs of immigrants.

Jose Cardenas: We talk about the other part when we want to say, no, we don't want to do that. For example deferred action and so forth.

Lisa Magana: Right.

Jose Cardenas: So much seems to be symbolic in connection with the most recent issue, the children coming from Central America. A lot of people blaming the Obama administration saying it's not protecting the borders. Not that much substance.

Lisa Magana: There isn't a lot of substance and I'm so glad you said that. We know historically when apprehension rates go down, it's not because of a policy that has been passed or a law like SB 1070, it's because the economy has tanked. I've had numerous conversations with border patrol and people who work with immigration policy. That again they say that people won't come when the economy is not robust. And of course, when the economy isn't robust, we don't have these types of laws and sort of anti-immigrant legislation. I'd like to give you a few examples of some of the more symbolic immigration politics or policies. So we talked about, you hear this a lot, securing the border. And if we think about this, almost 40% of the unauthorized population, which is estimated around 11 million, are visa overstayers, which means, these aren't people that are racing through the border and trying to circumvent this big wall. These are people that have come in legally and their visas have worn out.

Jose Cardenas: And this is particularly true of this most recent group. They are not sneaking across the border, they are turning themselves in to authorities.

Lisa Magana: Absolutely. This part of it. Again, we like to think of the idea of people racing across the desolate Arizona desert, when we know this is not the case. This is the same argument for why we need to build a wall. And we know, again, this is symbolic rather than substantive because Congress tried with the defense act to put a wall across Arizona. As you know and I know, it's not completely flat, it's very expensive, spatially and environmentally impossible. But you'll hear candidates say we need to finish the wall, we need to finish the fence.

Jose Cardenas: He we been hearing a lot of that lately from the candidates for governor. I want to come back to that. Before I do, going back to the entry of these children, the reason they are doing what they are doing, in terms of turning themselves in, is because of a law that applies specifically to them.

Lisa Magana: I want to say there's a difference between what the candidates are saying is a border crisis, and what is in fact going on. This is a refugee and humanitarian crisis. There's a real distinction. These people are fleeing for well-founded fear of persecution or their lives are in danger. This seems to be consistent, whether it's poverty, drugs, simply dangerous to live where you're living. Again, these are Central Americans. You hear that a lot. Sort of using two terms. The law is people that are not from Mexico or not from Canada, that they will be given a fair proceeding to see whether or not they should be sent back home, or sent back to their country of origin. Again, these are children. This law was created in 2008 by President Bush because of humanitarian and reasons that these are, again, children.

Jose Cardenas: We have President Obama criticized by many for a bunch of what would seem to be contradictory reasons.

Lisa Magana: Right. And this is another one of those symbolic statements. You can look this up. We have some excellent studies that have been done out of ASU out of a book we did on SB1070. The administration is doing nothing about the administration is -- is disingenuous. You have a President criticized for deporting kids.

Jose Cardenas: Being criticized by Hispanic groups?

Lisa Magana: Exactly. He's been criticized for not doing enough and at the same time for doing too much. A lot of these quick phrases that we hear may not be so substantive. But again, we'd like to believe them.

Jose Cardenas: Let's talk about how much this has changed the political discussions, not just in Arizona but also elsewhere. You have Governor Perry sending the National Guard to the border.

Lisa Magana: Yeah, and this has been kind of a contentious issue. Just like Arizona, not everybody believes that agencies other than federal immigration agencies for example, not police or the National Guard, should be carrying out immigration activities. So certainly the argument is that if I may be afraid to call for help or somebody that maybe you can turn me in or I can be deported, right? Some of the same arguments we had for SB1070, and some of the same ones for the National Guard. They are not properly trained on immigration details. He made it very clear, though, they are supposed to be out there to help, with the drug cartels. They can help and they can detain immigrants, but again, a lot of people don't think this is a very good idea.

Jose Cardenas: And you have several of the leading candidates on the Republican side here in Arizona arguing for -- actually not arguing, they are saying if they were governor they would be sending troops, the National Guard, to the border.

Lisa Magana: Right, and we got into a little trouble for the State trying to carry out immigration laws when again, it's supposed to be the federal government carrying out these laws. A lot of these kind of statements you really have to check and see. Another good one is actual numbers that get thrown around during elections. There are a million people coming in every year, or we have a precise and accurate assessment of the unauthorized population. These are woefully, woefully inflated.

Jose Cardenas: And yet, even though there have been articles in the paper pointing out the flaws and logic of doing some of these things that the candidates are calling for, it seems to be gaining traction.

Lisa Magana: Right. There is a couple things that I would suggest for so many years that politicians or elected officials or political parties need to be a little bit more far-thinking, not so short-sighted. We know for various reasons that by being so short-sighted or wanting to get reelected, that the implications for politics down the line are pretty broad, pretty important. So for example, we know that the longer Republicans take to work on this comprehensive proposal, the more likely these people are going to align as Democrats. We know that. Another argument is that -- you know this big comprehensive proposal that they had last year, the bipartisan proposal with Democrats and Republicans in the Senate that was passed, right? There's a big reason why there's a fight about this. And if we were to legalize 11 million people and then naturalize, give them citizenship -- and this is after 15 years at least -- there's a real fear these people will vote and not as Republicans, that they are going to be voting as Democrats. There's a lot of -- you want to think long term, sort of quick, I need to get reelected. Some of these people that are in office are in safe districts, can be, you know, pretty tough on immigration. They know this has worked before and it's gotten them reelected. I would suggest thinking again about the long term implications. Here's a good example. Every year something like 200,000 eligible Latino voters over 18 will be eligible to vote. Every year. Because this is a community that's growing and getting older. It's a formidable force. The other thing with all the anti-immigration and with SB1070 we saw some new immigration politics. For example, the economic boycotts absolutely had an impact on immigration politics.

Jose Cardenas: But it's hard to convince a candidate running for office right now to think long term. And we're almost out of time, but I want to talk about some of the ads we've been seeing and some of the statements that have been made. Christine Jones -- Andrew Thomas.

Lisa Magana: The same one, we need to secure the border, we need to finish the fence, we need to send out the National Guard, those three. A more interesting ad I saw was Andrew Thomas' recent one where he has the Mexican flag and a big red circle and an X through it. He says I stopped the illegal immigrants and now they have come back to Arizona to demonstrate and protest.

Jose Cardenas: And then we've got Christine Jones, who if she did send the Guard to the border, sounds like she would send them to the wrong one.

Lisa Magana: There was an unfortunate event where she was at an Arpaio fund-raiser I believe, and talked about how Mr. Arpaio likes to help immigrants through the Rio Grande.

Jose Cardenas: Which doesn't run through Arizona.

Lisa Magana: Which doesn't run through Arizona.

Jose Cardenas: We're going to have to end our interview. Thank you so much.

Lisa Magana: Thank you so much.

Lisa Magaña:Associate Professor, School of Transborder Studies at Arizona State University;

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