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Feb. 13, 2012

Nature of immigration has changed, and so has the debate about it, author tells UCSD conference on immigration

By David Gaddis Smith, MexicoPerspective

     Immigration to the United States has dramatically changed and the debate about it will never be the same again, researcher and author Roberto Suro says.

     Suro, the former director of the Pew Hispanic Center who now teaches journalism at the University of Southern California, said, "People have stopped coming." He also said, "The idea of federal preemption as an inviolable doctrine of immigration policy is gone."

     Suro, speaking to an immigration conference held by the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies at the University of California San Diego on Friday, said the United States is seeing an extended period of decreased flows of migrants for a variety of reasons, including the U.S. recession. He also said that illegal immigrants in the U.S. have generally stayed put and not gone back "to their communities of origin." He said there is some evidence of reverse remittances, whereby people are getting back some of the money they had sent to their home communities to survive the U.S. economic downturn. He said immigrant communities have been very badly hit by the real estate crisis, with a loss of an accumulated 10 to 15 years of wealth "and very hard work." He also said housing construction, long a driver of immigration, will not play that role again anytime soon.

     Suro said immigrant communities in the U.S. are become more settled and acculturated. He said that as large numbers of native-born second-generation youths move into adulthood, "the young workforce is becoming less undocumented, more native, more English-speaking, less poor, better educated."

     Suro said the pro-immigration progressive side has been split on how much to support border enforcement, saying some have seen making compromises on enforcement as an end to get an immigration deal, while others say stricter enforcement does no good. Suro said the other side has a more fixed position of greater coherence, giving it an advantage in the debate.

     He also said the legal context is changing. He said of the idea of the federal government being the sole arbiter of immigration policy is gone. "I don't believe that genie will ever be put completely back into the bottle. There is going to be state and local activity in some way or another and the Supreme Court in a couple of months may open the door to it substantially even if there is a narrow ruling on the Arizona case. I think you're going to see increased activity."

     He said of the changing political context: "Skepticism about government has increased. There's been a loss of confidence in national identity — all of the conditions that all the classic literature about nativism will tell you produces reaction." Suro did not see this changing anytime soon.

     Suro said it has become even more complicated to try to come up with an immigration deal, particularly because the old formula for bipartisan policymaking on the matter has vanished.

kris kobach     He said there are new, powerful players. Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kovach, a Republican who helped draft the Arizona immigration bill, "has set an agenda, defined a course of action and he is getting serious leverage," Suro said.

     Suro added, "The restrictionist side has an organization now: The Republican Party."

Suro bio (PDF)

      The Center for Comparative Immigration Studies held the Third Annual University of California Conference on International Migration: Politics and Governance on Friday.

     Also Friday, center founder Wayne budgeting for immigration performance coverCornelius (now at UCSD's Division of Global Public Health) spoke about a new study he was a part of, "Budgeting for Immigration Enforcement: A Path to Better Performance," and lamented that it has not been covered in the media. The National Academies of Science report can be found at: