Wednesday, February 19, 2014

House of Cards: Immigration Reform Subsystems

Immigration as an issue stirs passions because people have to pick between American principles. Reform requires negotiating beliefs about liberty and security, law and morality, and opportunity and inclusiveness. Immigration reform impacts central duties of the federal government in both domestic and foreign policy.

Politicians crafting public policy have to construct coalitions to create a comprehensive bill. Negotiations over such a bill can breakdown in an instant. While the President and Congress can agree to certain goals, passing a bill with such a variety of interested parties calls for a legislative sleight of hand to prevent micro policy decisions from becoming macro political problems.

Starting Principles with the President and Congress
Compelled by the political imperatives expressed in the 2012 election, President Obama and Congress sought to address the problems posed by an immigration system in need of reform. As a result a “Gang of Eight” emerged in the Senate. Michael Bennet (D-CO), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), John McCain (R-AZ), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Marco Rubio (R-FL), and Chuck Schumer (D-NY) crafted the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013.[1]

The Senate held hearings in the Judiciary, Immigration, and Commerce committees. In addition to a series of hearings held by the Judiciary committee, the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs and the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship held hearings.

While the bill largely outlines border security, the Gang of Eight agreed to establishing a citizen path for undocumented immigrants, implementing business immigration reforms for visas/permanent residence particularly fast tracking graduates with advanced degrees in STEM (science, technology, engineering or math) fields, expanding the employment verification system, and improving work visa options for low-skill workers, particularly in agriculture.[2] The various actors involved in the negotiations exemplify James Thurber’s explanation of dominant, competitive, and disintegrating policy subsystems.[3]

Building Compromise between the Competitive Subsystems of Business and Labor

The process began with the White House coordinating efforts in January 2013 with organizations like the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, the National Council of La Raza, Voto Latino and Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles.[4] Tapping into these grassroots organizations after the 2012 election would pressure Congress to act on immigration reform. Most invaluably, January 2013 began with the Chamber of Commerce, Washington’s most powerful business lobby, and the AFL-CIO, the largest federation of unions in the United States, discussing the prospect of a coalescing around an immigration bill.[5]

Leading the Gang of Eight, Chuck Schumer noted, “The politics on this issue have been turned upside down. For the first time ever, there’s more political risk in opposing immigration reform than in supporting it.”[6] Schumer witnessed the issue unfold through his career in Congress--from brokering bipartisan immigration reform in 1986 working in the House of Representatives to watching Ted Kennedy’s efforts with George W. Bush fall apart in 2007 after a revolt by conservatives over border security.[7] In 2009, Schumer stepped forward to lead the Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees and Border Security towards reform.[8] Though the politics had changed in favor of the issue, Schumer knew first-hand that the proposed reforms represented a refinement of ideas built by numerous policy actors over his career.

Having banked his legacy largely on immigration reform, Schumer balanced the concerns of the Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO delicately.[9] Contention between these two parties threatened the life of the bill more than disagreements among Democrats and Republicans on border security. The competitive subsystems of business and labor made continual concessions and compromises to build agreements in the ensuing months.

Coalescing Conflicting and Disintegrating Subsystems
In addition to these powerhouses, a flash mob of American businesses and special interests sought to influence the legislation. 482 companies and organizations lobbied Congress on the Senate immigration bill in 2013.[10] Traditional advocates from the right and left like Heritage Action or Center for American Progress sought to wield political clout. More interestingly, a who’s who of American companies sought to influence lawmakers. Tech companies like Microsoft, Facebook and Twitter and agriculture-related interests like the American Farm Bureau or USAA vied for their say on the issue of work visas. A few American universities pushed to revise the issue of student visas.[11] Issue advocates like the ACLU[12] or Americans for Tax Reform swayed Congress to create a bill they could support. Even less obvious companies like Exxon Mobil, Coca Cola, McDonald’s, Walt Disney, GM, General Electric or interest groups on marginal issues like Drug Policy Alliance or Gun Owners of American saw it worth spending time and money lobbying on immigration.[13]

Many organizations negotiated behind the scenes in sessions with the Gang of Eight and the various appropriate committees in February and March to build a bill behind which key allies could unite. The sessions worked through the contentious and fragmented details of visas, E-Verify and other factors contributing to employment in the bill.

Not all fragmentation harmed the bill however.
Some niche provisions brought more companies into the fold. Lindsey Graham gained extra visas for the meat industry in his state, bolstering his ability to fend off likely primary challenges. The JOLT Act, a tourism-visa provision proposed by Sen. Klobuchar, gained support for the bill from tourism-related industries by adding a policy they had pushed for previously. This gave senators like Marco Rubio seeking to stir tourism for the cruise-ship industry in Florida and Michael Bennet pursuing stimulus for ski areas in Colorado helped bring more business support for the immigration bill.[15]

In April, the Gang of Eight and the negotiating groups presented a unified front in a series of Judiciary committee hearings to explain the possible effects of the proposed bill on the American economy. The first session brought former Congressional Budget Office director, chief economic advisor to John McCain’s 2008 campaign and current president of the American Action Network to bolster the bill’s positive economic impact. Peter Kirsanow of the U.S. Commission predicted the harm the bill might have on low-skill workers.
[16] The second Judiciary hearing featured four panels spanning nearly eight hours with proponents like Arturo Rodriguez of the United Farm Workers and Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform and opponents like Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies to explain the effects the bill would have in their area of expertise. After giving their testimony, groups continued to put pressure on Congress, particularly the Chamber of Commerce on Republicans who defected from the bill.[17]

Homeland Security and Justice – Departments of Dominant Subsystems
Outside observers might have thought border security the only guarantee in immigration reform. The Department of Homeland Security would create surveillance infrastructure, rather than a fence, consulting on technology with Department of Defense. The bill gave broad discretion to the Secretary of Homeland Security. In the third Judiciary committee hearing on immigration reform, Janet Napolitano expressed the need for the agency’s flexibility with funding. She told the Judiciary Committee that while Congress would appropriate funds on an annual basis, the dynamic nature of border crossings required giving autonomy to Homeland Security in securing the border.[18] 

The Department of Homeland Security manages three agencies concerning immigration: US Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS), US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and US Customs and Border Protection (CBP). The unpredictable event of the Boston Marathon Bombing raised circumstantial questions about how these different organizations coordinated data but the heated discussion did not derail the bill.[19] The distinctions in the bill had largely been the de-facto. During Napolitano’s testimony, Diane Feinstein alluded to the possibility of coordinating between these organizations better. Two of the agencies, CIS and ICE, were once under the Department of Justice as the Immigration and Naturalization Service until DHS absorbed the organization in 2003 and split them into two agencies.

The Department of Justice did regain some power in immigration matters. The bill solidifies the Department of Justice’s oversight into the civil rights questions involved in enforcing immigration and clarifies authority over law enforcement procedures. Napolitano asserted that the bill largely puts existing practices into statute. Following the Judiciary Committee hearings, the bill went through the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs in May to receive recommendations assessments from the DHS organizations mentioned earlier. Ultimately, DHS and DOJ remain largely dominant subsystems able to define the prerogative of their agencies in policy making, with oversight and funding controlled by Congress.

As well as coalitions kept together in the Senate process, the House of Representatives may strain the ties of even the most dominant of subsystems as it brings more micro-policy decisions into a macro-political context. The bill’s fate may depend on economic confidence as George Will suggested.[20] If the House takes up the bill it is likely to start in the Homeland Security committee for its border control components and the subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security, where conservatives may try to extract concessions. If it can withstand that pressure, the bill will likely go through the Energy and Commerce committee and the Ways and Means committee. [21]

In an election year, opponents that may have whimpered in light of President Obama’s 2012 victory may be able to make campaign issues in 2014 out of provisions regarding taxes, welfare, amnesty, and national security to create divisions and derail the bill. Regardless of the path, the crafters of the policy—from agencies to legislators to interest groups—will need to tread lightly as their bill faces new scrutiny or else their coalitions built around carefully compromises could collapse as they build their case to the American people.

[1] Clarke, Kimberly A., Nina Thekdl, and Luis E. Avila. "Senators Propose Immigration Reform." National Law Review. N.p., 29 Jan. 2013. Web. 18 Feb. 2014.

[2] Schumer, Charles E. "Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act." Immigration, n.d. Web. 18 Feb. 2014.

[3] Thurber, James A. “Political Power and Policy Subsystems in American Politics.” Agenda for Excellence, Administering the State. Chatham House, 1996.

[4] Fifield, Anna. "White House builds coalition to reform rules on immigration." Financial Times. 3 Jan. 2013. LexisNexis Academic. Web. 18 Feb 2014.

[5] Bogardus, Kevin. "Chamber, Union Leaders Mull Alliance to Press for Immigration Reform." The Hill. The Hill, 16 Jan. 2013. Web. 18 Feb. 2014.

[6] "President starts push for immigration reforms; Legislative agenda." Financial Times. LexisNexis Academic, 29 Jan. 2013. Web. 18 Feb. 2014.

[7] Fabian, Jordan, and Ted Hesson. "Call Immigration Chuck Schumer's Legacy-Defining Issue." Fusion. Fusion, 15 May 2013. Web. 18 Feb. 2014.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] "Clients Lobbying on S.744: Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act." Center for Responsive Politics, n.d. Web. 18 Feb. 2014.

[11] Nakamura, Ed O'Keefe; David. "Immigration bill is amended to reflect concerns over student visas." The Washington Post. 15 May. 2013. LexisNexis Academic. Web. 18 Feb. 2014.

[12] Stanley, Jay. "Homeland Security, May I Earn a Living?" American Civil Liberties Union, 07 May 2013. Web. 18 Feb. 2014.

[13] "Clients Lobbying on S.744: Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act." Center for Responsive Politics, n.d. Web. 18 Feb. 2014.

[14] Fabian, Jordan. "Senate Gang of Eight: "Immigration Is Ours To Lose"" Fusion, 18 Apr. 2013. Web. 18 Feb. 2014.

[15] "Immigration Bill Sprinkled with Pet Projects." Fox News. FOX News Network, 22 Apr. 2013. Web. 18 Feb. 2014.

[16] "Hearing Before The Committee On The Judiciary." United States Senate, 19 Apr. 2013. Web. 18 Feb. 2014.

[17] Haberman, Maggie. "U.S. Chamber of Commerce Ad Backs Immigration Reform." Politico, 23 June 2013. Web. 18 Feb. 2014.

[18] "Hearing Before The Committee On The Judiciary." United States Senate, 23 Apr. 2013. Web. 18 Feb. 2014.

[19] Parker, Ashley. "Heated Questions and Divisions Emerge at Immigration Bill Hearing."The New York Times. The New York Times, 22 Apr. 2013. Web. 18 Feb. 2014.

[20] Will, George F. "Why Immigration Reform Matters." Washington Post. The Washington Post, 14 Feb. 2014. Web. 18 Feb. 2014.

[21] O'Keefe, Ed. "If the House Ever Debates Immigration, Here’s Where It Might Start." The Washington Post. The Washington Post, 10 Feb. 2014. Web. 19 Feb. 2014.