Opinion

The Great Debate

Obama mobilizes his New America

There’s a reason why President Barack Obama has chosen to put gun control at the top of his second-term agenda. No issue draws as bright a line between the Old America and the New America as the gun issue. It will keep his coalition mobilized – the New America coalition that delivered for him in the election: working women, single mothers, African-Americans, Latinos, Asian-Americans, Jewish and Muslim voters, young people, gays and educated professionals.

Obama paid tribute to the New America in his second Inaugural Address on Monday. “We possess all the qualities,” Obama declared, “that this world without boundaries demands, youth and drive, diversity and openness, of endless capacity for risk and a gift for reinvention.”

Obama insisted “our journey is not complete” until the country finds a “better way to welcome striving hopeful immigrants,” until “our wives, mothers and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts,” until “our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law” and until all our children – including those on “the quiet lanes of Newtown” – know that they are “always safe from harm.”

According to the January Washington Post-ABC News poll, 68 percent of Democrats do not have a gun in their household.  Fifty-nine percent of Republicans do. Among Democrats, 53 percent say passing stricter gun control laws should be given the highest priority; only 19 percent of Republicans feel the same way.

The New America coalition can deliver in presidential elections. Democrats have won the popular vote in five out of the last six presidential contests. But that coalition is not as reliable in midterm elections, unless it’s mobilized by an impeachment issue (1998) or an antiwar issue (2006). Nor is it particularly reliable in battles over legislation. Obama nearly lost the healthcare fight because his coalition got out-organized by the Tea Party.

Demography as destiny: The vital American family

Recent reports of America’s sagging birthrate ‑ the lowest since the 1920s, by some measures ‑ have sparked a much-needed debate about the future of the American family. Unfortunately, this discussion, like so much else in our society, is devolving into yet another political squabble between conservatives and progressives.

Conservatives, including the Weekly Standard’s Jonathan Last, regularly cite declining birth and marriage rates as one result of expanding government ‑ and a threat to the right’s political survival. Progressives, meanwhile, have labeled attempts to commend a committed couple with children as inherently prejudicial and needlessly judgmental.

Yet family size is far more than just another political wedge issue. It is an existential one – essentially determining whether a society wants to replace itself or fall into oblivion, as my colleagues and I recently demonstrated in a report done in conjunction with Singapore’s Civil Service College. No nation has thrived when its birthrate falls below replacement level and stays there – the very level the United States are at now. Examples from history extend from the late Roman Empire to Venice and the Netherlands in the last millennium.

As Republicans court Latinos, they can learn from LBJ’s Great Society

Hoping to win the affections of Hispanic voters who scorned their presidential nominee in record numbers on November 6, some Republicans have embraced comprehensive immigration reform. But will the passing of one piece of legislation, however comprehensive, be enough to persuade significant numbers of Hispanics to begin voting Republican in 2014 and 2016?

History and recent opinion polls suggest not.

To understand why, look back to the 1950s and early 1960s, when both major parties were locked in intense struggles for black votes. That saga might offer some insight into the enormous challenges confronting Republicans.

For generations after the Civil War, most blacks considered themselves Republicans and were, until the 1930s, loyal to the party of Lincoln. But Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal in the 1930s upset that equation.

An altruistic immigration policy

Monday morning, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down much of Arizona’s controversial immigration law. It’s now confirmed that it’s not a crime for immigrants in the United States, even undocumented ones, to apply for jobs here.

That ruling dovetails with President Barack Obama’s recent decision to effectively forbid the deportation of upstanding young people who are in the United States illegally.

Immigration advocates rejoiced at both decisions, but neither the Supreme Court ruling nor Obama’s move resolves the economic dynamics that drive illegal immigration. Instead, they create a gray area for undocumented immigrants to live and work more safely here in the United States. The next logical step, reforming our guest-worker system to allow more non-citizens to work here outside of legal purgatory, would offer more protections to these workers and boost the economy, too.

The NBA has America’s model migrant worker program

If you’ve watched the NBA playoffs, you’ve seen the Oklahoma City Thunders’ rangy Swiss guard, Thabo Sefolosha, and his courtmate, human basketball swatter, and Spanish national, Serge Ibaka. To get to the finals, Sefolosha and Ibaka beat Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli, two international anchors for the very American San Antonio Spurs. In the finals, Sefolosha and Ibaka are facing off against Ronny Turiaf, the Miami Heat’s erstwhile benchwarmer, who hails from France, to see who gets to take the NBA Finals trophy away from German forward Dirk Nowitzki, the MVP of last year’s championship.

This seems like common sense – the best in their field want to come ply their trade in America, so why wouldn’t we let them? The increased competition has improved revenue for teams and created a better product for fans. But other sectors of the economy can’t follow the example of professional sport leagues. The government won’t let them.

The NBA is not alone in investing in importing the best human capital from around the world to maintain its edge. The Stanley Cup-winning Los Angeles Kings were powered by the goal scoring of Yugoslavian center Anze Kopitar; Ichiro’s arrival in Seattle to play for the Mariners was accompanied by a crush of Japanese advertising.

America is losing as many illegal immigrants as it’s gaining

You’d never know it from the Republican primary debates, but for the first time in more than four decades, illegal migration from Mexico has fallen to a net zero. All data indicate that the undocumented population of the United States is no longer growing. According to estimates from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, that population peaked at around 12 million in 2008, fell to 11 million in 2009 and has remained constant since then. Independent estimates prepared by the Pew Hispanic Trust show the same thing, and Mexican census data reveal unusually large numbers of former U.S. migrants remaining home rather than heading northward.

These population estimates are consistent with individual-level data collected by the Mexican Migration Project, a binational program I co-direct that has been surveying legal and unauthorized migrants on both sides of the border for 30 years. Statistical analyses reveal that the rate of new migration to the United States is essentially zero, while repeat visits by returned migrants are rare. In keeping with these calculations, border apprehensions have fallen to the lowest number since 1970 despite the fact that there are more Border Patrol agents on duty than ever.

Surprisingly, this turn of events does not likely have anything to do with border enforcement. Historically, the volume of undocumented migration is uncorrelated with the size or budget of the Border Patrol. According to a recent assessment by the National Academy of Sciences, studies of migrant behavior “generally show that rising enforcement has little deterrent effect on undocumented migration,” which instead reflects the economic trends in Mexico and the United States and ongoing opportunities for legal entry to the U.S.

Sarah Palin, big political lies and the U.S. immigration debate

The prize for the biggest political lie of 2009 went to Sarah Palin, the darling of the American right, for injecting fictitious “death panels” into the health reform debate. This year, fact-benders are hard at work to control the debate on another controversial topic, immigration. Competition is intense.

It comes from opponents of immigration reforms that would  simultaneously offer better control of the 2,000-mile U.S-Mexico border, a new visa system, and a path to legal status for the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants, the majority Mexicans, who are already in the country. The official term for this is “comprehensive immigration reform.”

But influential politicians insist there must be no reform before the border is entry-proof to illegals, and they portray the frontier as a virtual war zone, on both sides of the line.

George W. Obama and immigration fantasies

In the waning days of his presidency, George W. Bush listed the failure of immigration reform as one of his biggest disappointments and deplored the tone of the immigration debate. It had, he said in December 2008, undermined “the true greatness of America which is that we welcome people who want to work”.

The way things look a year and a half into the administration of Barack Obama, he too may end his presidency deploring the failure to fix America’s dysfunctional immigration system. The tone of the debate is even more rancorous now than it was when Bush pushed reform and it features the same arguments, including the fantasy that you can fully control the frontier between the U.S. and Mexico, the world’s busiest border.

That illusory target was set in the Secure Fence Act of 2006, signed into law by George W. Bush on October 26 of that year. It provided a definition of the term “operational control”, one of the most frequently used buzz phrases of the debate. (The other is “securing the border”). Under the letter of the law, operational control means “the prevention of all unlawful U.S. entries, including entries by terrorists, other unlawful aliens, instruments of terrorism, narcotics, and other contraband.”

In praise of Latin American immigrants

The United States owes Latin American immigrants a debt of gratitude. And Latin American immigrants owe a debt of gratitude to lawmakers in Arizona. How so?

Thanks largely to immigration from Latin America (both legal and illegal) and the higher birth rates of Latin immigrants, the population of the U.S. has kept growing, a demographic trend that sets it apart from the rest of the industrialized world, where numbers are shrinking. That threatens economic growth and in the case of Russia (U.N. projections see a decline from 143 million now to 112 million by 2050) undermines Moscow’s claim to Great Power status.

A country’s population starts shrinking when fertility falls below the “replacement rate” of 2.1. births over the lifetime of a woman. For white American women, that rate is around 1.8 now. For Latin American immigrants, the rate is 2.8. According to the U.S. census bureau, nearly one in six people living in the U.S. are Hispanics. By 2050, they are projected to make up almost a third of the population.

Migration statistics: our biggest weak spot

gurria-birdsallcomposite– Angel Gurría is Secretary-General of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development; Nancy Birdsall is President of the Center for Global Development. The views expressed are their own. —

All financial crises end. The question is not if we will recover, but how we can build a resilient global economy to speed and bolster that recovery. While many immediate dangers remain, now is the time to look beyond the exigencies of today.

We must take a hard look at weaknesses in the international system that might stand in our way as we rebuild. There are several, but we take this opportunity to highlight one weakness in our ability to build a resilient global economy for the future: the inadequate state of comparable data on international migration.

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